A time to lead

05 September 2022

A toxic combination of factors is coalescing to create an unprecedented challenge for the public sector. GGI’s newest principal consultant Aidan Rave, a former local politician and CEO, says it’s time for leaders to step up.

A series of recent conversations with colleagues and former colleagues in both local government and the NHS have led to similarly startling and frankly depressing conclusions; if you think Covid was bad, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet

A potentially toxic combination of rocketing inflation, exhausted public servants, uncertain public finances, and an even less certain political climate are coalescing to create one of the most challenging and volatile periods in recent memory. Throw in a global conflict or two, and a climate emergency and it’s not hard to see how the levels of concern are beginning to reach such dizzying heights.

It's in these worrying circumstances that system leaders are going to have to operate over the coming months and potentially years. These are the quintessential wicked challenges that we’ve all war gamed on those leadership courses over the years, except this time it’s all frighteningly real and the consequences of decisions made will have real impacts on real people.

This is undeniably a time for leaders to step forward and lead. Like the proverbial teabag, you will only discover the strength of a leader when they find themselves in hot water; and they are currently in water that is getting hotter all the time.

So, let’s cut to the quick; what is to be done?

There really are no simple fixes, no pithy one-liners, no grand sweeping statements that will gather everyone up and deposit them in utopia for a year or so until the worst of the tempest is past. No, this is going to be all about the rolling up of sleeves, the application of elbow grease and the accumulation of manifold small wins which will build a public sector led response that just might give us a fighting chance.

Here are three ideas worth exploring…

Trust your system: Whether you are a leader in local government, the third sector, the NHS or anywhere else within a local system – and however much you find the new ICBs to be yet another distasteful example of government meddling and maybe even fiddling – pinch your nose and get into a huddle with a view to pragmatically exploring what can be done. ICBs have plenty of weaknesses but they also have considerable potential, and this is not a time for making perfect the enemy of good. Get stuck in and let’s see what we can make happen.

Collaborate: This is not a time for egos or hero complexes. We need to come together and stick together and prove (as has happened so many times before) that when the chips are down, the public sector is the champion of place and the people who live in those places. We've been here before, we’ll no doubt be here again, but as Kipling reflected: the strength of the pack is the wolf and the strength of the wolf is the pack. This is a challenge we must meet together.

Use reviews: Use the principle of well-led reviews as a means of doubling down on existing performance and understanding what more might be done. Squeezing an extra percentage point or two out of a large and complex system has the potential to yield a disproportionate return. So, use the review system as a friend rather than an adversary and milk it for all it’s worth.

People are facing an existential crisis this winter and now is your time to lead them safely through it.

GGI has extensive experience of working with system partners: ICBs, local authorities, NHS trusts, voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) organisations and private providers.

Our systems work includes:

  • System working: how to develop system mindsets and behaviours, sharpening board skills around systems thinking and working, collaboration, partnerships, and co-creation
  • System strategy: how to influence and have impact in a system, including helping to shape the strategy and priorities
  • System risk: how to manage system risks, where the monitoring, controls and mitigation are dispersed across partners
  • Reviews: how to prepare for governance reviews and 'year-end' board effectiveness reviews, which, going forward, will include effectiveness of partnership working and new statutory and non-statutory duties and expectations, e.g. new NHSE and CQC frameworks
  • Delegation to place and provider collaboratives: how to play a role in the emerging models of place and provider collaboratives, including example roadmaps to delegation and business cases.

We’d be delighted to come along and talk to your senior team about the latest thinking and learning from our work across systems, or arrange a complimentary workshop to explore some of your ideas in more depth.

If you’d like to connect with us, please email me or call 07810656046, or email Fenella McVey. Or you could visit our website.

Meet the author: Aidan Rave

Principal Consultant

Find out more

Prepared by GGI Development and Research LLP for the Good Governance Institute.

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