A Government review into health management has reported “institutional inadequacy” in how managers are trained and valued. According to the BBC (8/6/22), while the review highlighted instances of inspirational leadership, overall the report found “a lack of consistency and co-ordination”.
We have a long history of working with clients in the NHS and other public sector organisations and the overwhelming majority of the people (staff and managers) we meet are good people who really want to do a great job, sometimes with one hand tied behind their backs. What they need is the support, time and training to do it.
We’ve met hundreds, maybe thousands of managers through training our NHS clients and, across every level of the system, they are working their socks off. They are frequently under immense pressure, not just from Covid or working long hours, but from trying to reconcile the juxtaposition of patients’ needs and Government targets. Those managers working in clinical roles, offer empathy to patients and families and can find ‘the well has run dry’ when it comes to themselves and their teams (you can’t give what you don’t have). And having been a manager in an NHS organistion, I know the role can be much maligned at times. When you’re spinning too many plates, it never helps to hear people belittle or berate your role.
And though they shouldn’t, sometimes where you’re tired, stressed and overwhelmed, those emotions result in less-than-ideal leadership behaviours. So, it’s not just about training or valuing people’s work. It’s about recognising management of other people is a profession of its own. And one that requires a lot of skill!
In truth, the NHS is no different from 1000s of other organisations across the public, private and charity sectors who have promoted bright, ambitious people who are good at their jobs without adequately equipping them to manage friends, give and receive feedback, manage attendance, motivate exhausted staff, deal with diverse teams and the inevitable conflict that arises (and that’s just a smidgen of the leadership challenges managers face on a weekly, if not daily basis).
Whilst it’s promising to see the report appears to highlight modernisations like improving the out-dated NHS appraisal system and encouraging progression and promotion, I’d like to see roles designed to give managers a realistic amount of time in their ‘day job’ to be a leader, and I’m not convinced by the suggestion of developing consistency through accredited training programmes.
There are already dozens of NHS-specific accredited training programmes available via the NHS Leadership Academy and staff often have access to degree-level management programmes through indirect funding and University partnerships.
To make a difference on an organisational scale, you need every manager on board. Whilst, some managers (and I would have been one of them) love the academic development, it has been our experience that what most managers want is not an accredited programme that requires them to complete assignments, it’s short (because time is patient care), highly pragmatic, skills-based development that is pitched at the right level for them and gives them tools they can use immediately. And from my own experience of training leadership and managers in the NHS over the last 10 years, there is always more for me to learn. Every year I learn a new tool or a perspective that helps to improve my own leadership.
We have had the privilege to work some fantastic teams who truly value their staff and their leaders.
Not least West London NHS Trust, who were well ahead of the curve and recognised these precise issues over five years ago. Our journey partnering with them has been one of the most rewarding projects we’ve undertaken. It’s engaging, fun learning that focuses on pragmatic skills not qualifications that matter. It has not only led us to win multiple awards together, but has supported the creation of a learning culture and organisation-wide improvements in management capabilities.
So, I’m really hoping that the outcome of this review is not another lengthy, accredited, academic leadership programme that will feel like a tick box exercise to staff, but an offering that helps to create an accessible, on-going leadership learning culture and focuses on ‘how to’ not theory.