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Leadership: reflections from NCAS

Written by: Nik Shah is Associate Director – Executive Interim, and Helen Alwell and Chris Barrow are Senior Consultants – Executive Search, at Tile Hill
Published on: 7 Dec 2023

Last week the Tile Hill team attended the National Children and Adult Services (NCAS) conference in Bournemouth, where there was an understandable sense of concern in the aftermath of the Government’s Autumn Statement. With local government again finding itself at the tail end of funding priorities, the anticipation of yet another prolonged period of substantial financial constraints looms large. However, this didn’t dampen the energy and enthusiasm in the room across the three days.

Beverley Tarka and John Pearce – Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) and Association of Directors of Childrens Services (ADCS) presidents respectively – opened the conference with inspiring speeches but also highlighted the challenges the sector faces. For instance, startling statistics reveal that one million children were living in destitution in 2022, three times the number than in 2017.

These challenges of course are part of a wider concern over self-sufficiency in various local government funding models, while the ominous threat of section 114 notices hovers over multiple authorities. In response we explore strategies to alleviate pressure in these services, in light of these challenging financial times, focusing on how workforce retention is key and looking at the pivotal role leaders can play in shaping solutions.

For instance, leaders in attendance emphasised the need for increased freedom to plan for the long term. This autonomy, they argued, is essential for striking a delicate balance between cost-effectiveness and the maintenance of high-quality services. This longer-term planning is paramount when managing and developing people and talent within this challenging landscape.

Consequently succession planning is crucial for long-term health. By identifying and developing potential leaders internally, councils can ensure a seamless transition of leadership roles, reducing disruptions during unexpected events. It will not only foster an improved leadership culture, but will also contribute to talent development and retention.

It will help align strategic goals, promote adaptability and will mitigate the risks associated with relying on a single individual for key positions. Crucially in light of the current climate, it can facilitate cost savings by promoting internal candidates and cultivating a pool of leaders who are well-versed in organisational know-how.

Secondment of leaders to different roles or organisations also yields many benefits crucial for long-term planning in this restrictive financial landscape. They help facilitate the exchange of skills and knowledge, injecting fresh perspectives and provide exposure to higher responsibilities. They also contribute to network expansion, fostering relationships that can be instrumental when times are challenging.

Once an organisation has invested in identifying and supporting its leaders, organisational-wide benefits will follow. For instance, exceptional leaders believe in upskilling their workforce through targeted team development programmes, promoting and fostering team confidence, and providing personalised professional coaching. They can identify and address skill gaps within their teams, ensuring employees are well-equipped to tackle the constantly evolving challenges. By instilling this confidence through constructive feedback and recognition, leaders empower their teams to take on new responsibilities and embrace professional growth.

Such leaders can encourage a culture of continuous learning and career progression by actively encouraging employees to apply their skills and knowledge, creating an environment where taking on new challenges is not only welcomed, but celebrated. Additionally, they encourage exposure to other roles across the council and with partner agencies, to broaden not only the skill set of their teams but also enhance the wider organisation’s longer-term adaptability.

Furthermore, leaders can motivate and inspire their teams by tapping into their sense of mission. Effective leaders skilfully articulate the cultural value that employees contribute to their organisation and the meaningful impact they have on their communities. The significance of having a cohesive and settled team becomes evident in this context. Team members who feel valued and supported are more inclined to go the extra mile, even in challenging conditions. In addition, those workplaces that support mental and physical wellbeing, will enhance workforce resilience and prevent burnout. Hence, implementing robust recruitment and retention policies is crucial to attract and retain the right leaders capable of building and supporting such dedicated teams.

Keeping this in mind, Tile Hill organised a dinner at the NCAS conference, drawing 130 senior leaders across children and adults services. During discussions, a recurring theme emerged – inadequate recruitment processes lead to sub-optimal hires, resulting in inefficiencies and exacerbating overall financial pressures. The message is clear: identifying the right recruitment partner is paramount for pinpointing and nurturing key talent.

A strategic recruitment partner, attuned to your employer brand, values, and culture, significantly enhances the likelihood of attracting leaders capable of addressing future challenges effectively. This will go beyond just matching skills, they will provide candid and honest feedback, contributing to better decision making.

With effective leaders in situ, councils gain the capacity to respond to upcoming challenges and empower their teams to thrive. 

Nik Shah is Associate Director – Executive Interim, and Helen Alwell and Chris Barrow are Senior Consultants – Executive Search, at Tile Hill