Leading Wales into the new normal

Leading Wales into the new normal

Covid-19 has given rise to a new set of champions. Alongside healthcare professionals and frontline workers rapidly adapting to new ways of working, are the friends and neighbours who have rallied to care for their communities. Businesses large and small have re-engineered their organisations to move services online, produce vital equipment, supplies and new solutions in this time of crisis.

But what can be said for those in charge – the leaders?

2020 is proving to be a testing time for everyone and many have risen admirably to the challenge. However, will others be exposed?

In the words of author Robin Sharma, “anyone can lead when the plan is working, the best lead when the plan falls apart.”

Leadership through recovery and into the “new normal” was explored in the second Cadenza Conversation, a series of discussions set up by the Wales-based consultancy to create a safe space for exploring what matters to organisations delivering public service outcomes.

It recognised, that amidst the tragic consequences, this enforced change to how we live our lives is generating positive results. The pandemic has proved the catalyst for implementing change that has been waiting in the wings for years. It’s reinforced well-founded principles about what it takes to deliver change and is teaching us even more. But are leaders prepared to learn the lessons?

Already, post-lockdown planning is almost entirely rooted in “service recovery”. We cannot simply go back to the way things were: having embraced online learning, GP consultations and use of social
media to combat social isolation. We cannot just phase these developments back out. So how do we balance getting things back on track whilst mainstreaming the positive impacts of change in building a new normal for all our futures?

The broad ranging conversation considered everything from sustaining changes to the way we commute, buy our food, procure goods, promote positive mental health and keep the gates open to community coproduction, three consistent challenges for leadership of a new normal emerged.

Brave leadership devolves decision-making

Are leaders in Wales confident enough to accept that they do not hold all the answers and competent in reflecting on where their personal strengths sit and where gaps exist? Can they build and lead diverse teams – some of whom will exceed their capabilities?

As a leader, responding to the current changes, where have you tightened or loosened controls and what has happened as a result? Where the consequences have been positive, will you continue as-is?

Where they are not, what have you learned and how have you responded? For example, many governing bodies have had to adapt their decision-making processes, reduce the number of voices involved, facilitate decision-making at lower levels in the organisation and even relax the rules and raise the limits of delegated powers?

Scrutiny and audit is now well-recognised for its role in either facilitating or blocking innovation – the benefit of hindsight is wonderful, but critical friend challenge through supportive check and challenge is of greater value. Audit Wales’ Good Practice team is already looking at how innovation happens in a time of crisis. Often it’s chaotic, but the assurance we seek is that the real and critical risks have been well-managed. Without trust or pragmatism you either over control or close the stable door after the horse has bolted. The role of a leader is to create the conditions that enable decision-making by those best placed to make them, sometimes providing but more often facilitating co-production of the answers.

Developing leadership at every level – across organisations and across communities

“True and genuine leaders are not nominated, voted-in or appointed. True and genuine leaders emerge from a crisis”, according to scientist and author Peterson Simbotue.

Who are your true and genuine leaders? Have you identified them in your organisation or communities – the people who make things happen despite everything?

Leadership isn’t a rank or reward. It is an inherent quality that rises to the fore when needed. Some communities and businesses have successfully adapted because leadership is present within them. Understanding what allowed leadership to come to the fore is as critical as creating the conditions that allow it to thrive beyond the crisis.

Wales has a strong sense of community and an active foundational economy. The Conversation delegates spoke passionately about the concept of relational equality contributing to a more equal Wales. The need to recognise, sustain and build upon the sense of community in recognising the fundamental role of the foundational economy (and our reliance upon it) is a role of leaders in every aspect of public service delivery.

Creating headspace

Being busy is not the same as being productive. Leaders need to create time to think, explore, engage, involve, inspire and be inspired by others.

Developing the space to lead is as much of a precursor to creating the new normal as involving others in developing and delivering it.

Pressing challenges for public service leaders as we emerge from crisis will surely include:

  • Homelessness: people have been swiftly moved off the streets and into otherwise empty accommodation. Is this a sustainable solution? How will leaders ensure we do not simply dump people back to their previous invisible anonymity?
  • Sustainability: lock-down has been temporarily kinder to the planet. Will its benefits translate to practical change in office hours, home-working, business travel and use of materials that deliver a step change in climate change ambitions?
  • Communities: Covid-19 has captured energy, compassion and drive. How will our traditionally paternalistic public service leaders harness people-power to sustain their own action without constraint of well-intentioned and auditable controls?

A timely post-script to The Cadenza Conversation is Welsh Government’s appointment of Counsel General Jeremy Miles AM to lead Wales’ recovery. Mr Miles has already been tasked to deliver Wales’ transition from EU membership. As First Minister Mark Drakeford says, “this vital work will impact areas of Welsh peoples’ lives; it will be profoundly important for public services, for the economy and society.”

Welsh Government has an opportunity for leadership by example, embracing co-design for the new normal. This crisis has re-emphasised that leadership comes from unexpected places. The role of Welsh Government and those it charges with all our futures must be to engage, embrace and nurture new approaches in building a better and more equal Wales for all.

Cadenza Conversations are a mechanism for bringing sectors together to define the solutions to the challenges and opportunities facing organisations as they deliver services for today and improved outcomes for tomorrow.

K Carr/K Cherrett

New Leadership for a Digital Age

New leadership for a digital age

Bringing public, 3rd sector and private sectors together to define and co-design creative solutions to public service challenges.

The future workforce is predicted to be full of generation-Z giggers, managing portfolio careers who pitch their talent to the employer who offers them the best reward for work and life.

Our future economy will be fuelled by digitally-enabled workers operating upon a virtual platform that facilitates intuitive, solution-focused collaborations to generate and game solutions. Gone are fixed work places and steadily trodden career paths: in future work will be an experience, the career path an adventure and the work place an environment of fun, freedom to explore and self-determined expansion of virtual horizons.

We know that the fourth industrial revolution will follow the previous three; it will present and deliver change that many of us are not yet ready to face. The difference is the pace of change and that the change itself, being digitally driven, becomes the driver of ever faster, even further-reaching change as machines themselves learn and advance capabilities.

In the inaugural Cadenza Conversation* representatives of health, government, banking and service sectors considered the opportunities and impacts of workforce futures on the role of leadership in Wales. The conclusion is that there are three changes to address in order to attract, retain and develop digital age leadership:

Firstly, the concept of the employer-employee relationship. The work-place is no longer somewhere to go; employers must be confident in managing absent and remote workers. Presenteeism has never been an indicator of productivity but increasingly it will be a constraint. If the best talent does their best work at 2am business leaders must enable them to do their best work. Building ever more offices may not be the answer – what impact will that have on regeneration investment?

We also considered boredom to become a threat to employment retention. To attract and retain the best, employers must offer flexibility, mobility and a commitment to nurturing personal growth. Future leaders need reconcile themselves to harvesting the fruits of talent before releasing it to the next challenge with a mutual promise to endorse their capabilities on LinkedIn in return for them posting “likes” of their great experience of your employment!

As the employment relationship changes so must the models of leadership and governance. Flatter structures, fluid collaborations and giving way to the technical insight or relationship owner will quickly out-rank time-served or hierarchical position. How will risk-averse, Welsh public services accommodate lowest point decision-making – founded on subject matter or relationship expertise rather rank and technical credentials? Arguably emergency services operate this way in crisis management: a three-tier command structure places control of the scene with the often junior rank on the ground (the Bronze Commander). Silver command (senior peers one stage removed) provide access to resources and infrastructure support whilst Gold Command provides strategic oversight e.g. managing the media, reassuring the public and reporting on progress. Similarly, Japanese industrial culture set the trend in process-led, lean and agile practices where equally important insight from customers, creators, craftsmen, cleaners and corporate heads digest, diagnose and design solutions to advance competitive edge.

Finally, there is increasing societal recognition that the use of an evidence-base in decision-making  is suffering a seismic shift.  Formerly,  policies were developed, decisions informed and choices made using expert content, experiential information and unassailable fact or data analysis. Instant access to the internet is proving a leveller of learning, literacy and life-chances. But can it be trusted? The power of personality and celebrity challenges our reliance on data and evidence in favour of populist opinion.

The previously esteemed pronouncements of government, academia and institutions holds court on-line with the back-bedroom postings of teenagers, terrorists and self-proclaimed talent. Data and information may no longer be the currency of decision-making. It will be replaced by instant, often value-driven judgements presenting the choice to believe what you read hear or declare it fake news!

Already doctors find patients presenting with armfuls of downloaded expertise and convincing remedies switching their role to patient coach to help the patient differentiate between trusted remedies and snake oil. Likewise, new recruits can access as much Harvard business strategy as seasoned leaders. How easy is it to differentiate between the data rich / experientially poor employee and the insight led / intuitive brilliance of future talent? Increasingly it may not be based on who presents the best evidence but how persuasive their argument and what social media following they have that will benefit your business through the hire.

Preparing for the digital age requires leaders to re-think their offer to the workforce, becoming stewards of the best experience not providers of place. They need to lead, not just manage and that demands letting go and learning through others (even the most junior). They also need to engage all players (citizens, customers, corporate heads and practitioners) in defining and designing future solutions taking account of popular opinion not just facts and figures. Above all leaders should develop approaches that offer flexibility around the individual, navigate seemingly chaotic environments and embrace the people, structures and choices that enabling a digital future presents. Inevitably all our futures depend on it.

*The Cadenza Partnership is a cross-sector team of senior talent with diverse styles, knowledge and perspectives who work with clients across sectors to co-design tailor-made responses to complex strategic, organisational, service delivery and socio-economic challenges.  The Cadenza Conversations is a mechanism for facing organisations as they deliver services for today and improved outcomes for tomorrow.

Our next Cadenza Conversation takes place on 23rd April 2020 in Newport (08.30-10.30hrs). We will discuss inequality in the modern age – details to follow.  Please contact us on info@cadenzaonline.com