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Solace blog

9th November 2018

Promoting good leadership and development

I’m not sure whether the list of priorities facing public services gets longer each year, or whether there is more media attention on a small number of priorities. Whatever, the answer to that, it is encouraging to see more focus on at least some of our priorities. It’s also deeply rewarding to see changes in policy – the most recent being the lifting of the housing lending cap. There’s a real internet here for HR & OD professionals in this episode.

For the policy change reflects well on some key aspects of leadership. Collaboration, advocacy, speaking truth to power, working across systems and sectors has brought about this policy change. We’ve also seen incredible work on Health and Social Care – and whilst the pace of action from Central Government won’t ever be as quick as we need, there is no question that the recent LGA consultation on the Future of Adult Social Care has ignited an enormous response. Critical work by Mark Lloyd, Chris Hopson, and many others shows that cross-system collaboration delivers.

How we develop, nurture and sustain current and future leaders is critical. We know too well the consequences of poor leadership across our organisations. And I don’t just mean a poor Chief Executive – leaders and leadership at all levels has a profound impact for good or bad.

In the worst cases where we don’t get this right, we see financial failure and shamefully avoidable errors in critical services. The instances of external commissioners being appointed is on the rise, which is disappointing. We also see poor leadership and management reflected high absence rates, poor employee engagement, difficulties in recruitment, higher dependence on contingent workers, etc.

Significantly, we also see a failure to provide development opportunities for the workforce as a whole. A lack of investment in our workforce means that we are storing up future difficulties – and in truth, we are already dealing with the consequences of cuts in training and development budgets. We often also see the death of an annual employee survey – the logic being if we know people feel bad, why ask them how they feel?

Leadership and engagement are important bedfellows. From a PPMA perspective, we do not have a preference for a particular leadership model or programme. We do though have a clear view that HR & OD professionals, working with senior leaders should choose programmes that will fit their particular needs, define measurable outcomes, capture evidence and build a constant learning loop to ensure ongoing improvement. We also take a strong view that employee engagement is a critical measure of effective leadership. We’re in the early days to trying to evidence the
link between leadership, employee engagement, workforce wellbeing, and productivity.

This to me makes huge sense. You can go back to David MacLeod and Nita Clarke’s 2009 “Engaging for Success: enhancing performance through employee engagement” report for an early link between employee engagement and ‘positive outcomes’.

They note that a number of studies demonstrate that high levels of engagement led to ‘better financial performance in the private sector’ and ‘better outcomes in the public sector’. By the way, we also clearly see better outcomes when organisations have more diversity in senior leadership teams.

MacLeod and Clarke identified 4 main drivers of employee engagement:

-Leadership which transmits vision and values and outlines how the individual contribute

-Engaging rather than controlling managers are more effective, e.g., showing appreciation, respect and
commitment to developing and rewarding good performance

-An effective way for employees to voice their views and concerns

-Behaviour which is consistent with the organisations stated values and evidenced at all levels in an organisation

To me it doesn’t matter that this work is 9 years old – it matters much more that a credible piece of work has not seen the take up you would expect across Local Government. Much of this is due to the very budget challenges that prevent a lot of this work being delivered anyway. But the sector is hampered, in my view, by the lack of a consistent voice on what leadership (and management) is required and what we should be doing to ensure it is implemented.

Here, NHS and Blue Light colleagues have an advantage with their national colleges and Leadership frameworks. I am all for ensuring that we reflect place in our leaders and managers, but that does not preclude the development of a Local Government framework that sets out a clear expectation of what leadership and management looks like across the sector.

Additionally – and this very much applies to HR & OD colleagues – it’s essential that we ensure that all of our investment spend on leadership and management is evidence-based.

The happy news is that SOLACE (with some support from PPMA) has been working on such a framework. On behalf of PPMA, I am very much looking forward to proactively supporting the rollout of this framework and encouraging HR & OD leaders to take a leading role in promoting good leadership and development in our organisations.

By Karen Graves, PPMA President