Innovation and Efficiency

20.02.20

National Leadership Centre: Helping public sector leaders

Source: PSE Feb/March 2020

 

In the 2017 Autumn budget, an announcement was made for a Public Service Leadership Academy, to help share best practice across public services and drive productivity.

The Chancellor believed that the challenges and complexities faced by public sector leaders warranted more training and support, and so, a taskforce, chaired by Sir Gerry Grimstone, was commissioned to answer three core questions.

The first thing the taskforce needed to investigate was if it was necessary, to which the answer was a resounding yes. The second question was if there was an external organisation available to subcontract this work to, and while there were many of leadership training providers, none were operating in the capacity needed for the breadth of public services.

The final question that needed answering was who the provision should be for, to which the answer was senior public sector leaders, chief executives, constables, director generals and equivalent.

In response to these results, in Autumn 2018, the government created the National Leadership Centre (NLC) and recruited Kristina Murrin to run the operation. PSE’s Emily Rodgers spoke with Kristina to gain a better understanding of the body and its work.

The NLC works towards three key objectives:

  • To create a network among 1200 public sector leaders in the UK, enabling them to connect, collaborate and share experience to work towards the common goal of improved citizen outcomes. As this was the first time anyone had defined public leaders as their own group before, they had no easy way to contact each other. This revelation resulted in a sophisticated and secure digital communication platform and events for them to attend, to listen to peers and learn from them.
  • To deliver an in-depth, one-year training programme for the 100 most newly elected senior leaders. This involves taking three cohorts of 33 leaders at a time and delivering personal coaching and training visits.
  • To develop research on the work of NLC and how training leaders affects their job performance and the overall performance of their organisations. According to Kris, remarkably little peer reviewed research had been done on the efficacy of leadership until the centre’s creation.

“The feedback we’re getting is that it seems to be having a real impact. The more we dig, the more we think ‘it’s surprising this has never been done before.’”

Each individual sector has its own leadership academy, be it military, health or local organisations, to provide skills specific to that sector. NLC sits across the top and does something different;

“we say ‘you’re a great leader, but how can we give you the behaviours and traits to operate beyond your own organisation, to bring the systems in your area together?”

In order to answer this question, the NLC did a huge programme of research into the key things needed in this capacity, to which they found five behaviours that stuck out:

  • Purposeful - Successful public sector leaders tend to be clear on the ‘why’ and the ‘who’, with the ability to prioritise and allocate time and resources effectively.
  • Ethics – Equipped with a high degree of ethical behaviour, they navigate tricky decisions with the best principles for everyone.
  • Connection – They are highly networked, not just externally bur within their own organisation. Communicating with peers in and out of their own sector, allowing diversity of thought and innovation.
  • Questioning – A natural curiosity and questioning mentality means that leaders are often asking ‘could we do this a better way?’. Regardless if they have the answer, the questioning is a good start.
  • Adaption – With global connectedness and technological revolutions it’s impossible to predict what your organisation is going to need in two years’ time, let alone ten, so leaders who can adapt and respond are key.

When asked how open public sector leaders have adapted to change, Kris replied ‘incredibly’:

“100% [of public sector leaders] agreed it was critical to work together and collaborate with other sectors, so they know instinctively they have to change and adapt. When you then ask ‘Do you have a network of other public sector leaders? by and large they say ‘yes, not bad’, but when asked ‘Do you actively work effectively together?’ Sharing systems, resources, even budgets - the numbers are very low.”

 

“The will is there, no question. The beginnings, in terms of building a network is there but they’re not yet sure how they should be structurally coming together to work on projects. That’s where we come in.”

A Third of the NLC team are based in Manchester and two thirds in London, Kris is committed to this being a nationwide initiative and making it customised to individual areas.

“Different demographics have different set ups and different needs of citizens, so we need to respond to that.”

Which has been reflected in how she collated her board.

“I have a very simplistic view that our board should represent the citizens that they are responsible for. Half of my board should be women because that’s what the country is. Equally with religions and ethnicity. I’ve also tried hard to get a board that represented each of the areas of sectors, so there’s a deep knowledge of each, but also proper diversity of all factors that would be made up in a normal population of citizens.”

The main aims of the NLC moving forward are to ensure public sector leaders are highly engaged in using this resource to collaborate, continue our research to find out what makes a really successful public sector leader and impact citizen outcomes.

The interview ended with an inspiring story of how joining up public services can transform the lives of citizens.

“Some of the most interesting links are not necessarily that obvious. I had a fantastic connection between a major military leader last week and a guy who was running one of our biggest further education colleges.

“They started having a conversation and the man from the college said he had a real problem in terms of jobs, future opportunity and the demands of their kids – they’re fascinated with AI, cyber and tech – and he didn’t have enough teaching staff in those areas of expertise.

“The military guy said ‘Most of my military people are retiring between the ages of 50 and 55, I’ve got literally hundreds of some of the best cyber experts in the world, getting to retirement ages and still very keen and able and wanting to contribute to the public sector, is there something interesting we can do here?’

“So, that’s when you start to think ‘we’re on the right track here’”

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