There will undoubtedly be plenty of distractions during the coming year: local elections and Brexit; crunches in public services and the seemingly increasing turnover of Council staff; financial stresses and as yet unknown crises. There is not a lot we can do about these distractions; they are just part of the job. Therefore whatever 2018 brings, the main job in public services remains the same: delivery in uncertain times.
I say ‘delivery’ as there has been too much talk of ‘transformation’. Most Councils have already developed and agreed their plans to transform public services in this continued era of austerity. The priority now must be to deliver them, and to ensure that they are sustainable, providing better outcomes for local citizens at lower cost.
Over the last year, I’ve spoken to numerous Chief Executives, and to many senior civil servants involved with local government and health. The common theme that emerged from these discussions was the need to deliver results and make an impact – to “shift the numbers”.
The question, then, is how to achieve this. My view is that the required skills and capabilities required are often misunderstood and in short supply. While many councils (with support from other management consultancies) have tried to apply commercial or private-sector models, these more often than not do not translate to complex, people-based systems that all councils and their healthcare partners manage where the outcome is public services with a social and moral purpose. We need to reframe the problem when operating in such complexity.
Most of the Chief Executives I spoke to told me that they recognise that their organisations do not have the required skills and capabilities to deliver their transformation plans. but only a minority are proactively seeking to solve this business-critical problem. This is partly because they know that what the traditional suppliers in the market offer simply does not hit the mark: a focus on private sector solutions, with little or no attention focused on whether they will actual deliver in a public services setting.
Inspired by this feedback, IMPOWER set out on a new path last year to build on our strengths and deliver capability-building solutions for councils. We have been working with clients to reappraise what skills and capabilities they need at all levels of their organisations, assess honestly where the gaps lie, and plan to recruit and train their staff to fill them.
Combining experience at the front line, the best of behavioural insight and a focus on avoidable demand analytics is much more effective than traditional programme or project management. This is demonstrated through:
- our ability to bring together local authorities to share best practice (our Collaborative has more than a dozen councils learning from each other on getting the best value from the improved Better Care Fund);
- our delivery partnerships that are implementing new models of adult social care at scale;
- and through new mechanisms such as our Valuing Care programme, which is helping councils to improve the life chances of Looked After Children.
The organisations that will thrive this year will be those whose people have the energy, integrity, and understanding of how to proactively influence staff and citizens to change their decision-making around public services. We mustn’t let the inevitable distractions that 2018 will throw at us from innovating, or from reframing the relationship between public services and citizens.
If this resonates with you or if you disagree, do get in touch!