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Learning to lead is essential to the future

Written by: Nadira Hussain is leadership director and research director for SOCITM
Published on: 14 Nov 2019

The main theme of October’s Solace Summit was ‘A fresh perspective on the future’. How do we reinvigorate and revitalise service delivery in a climate of technical disruption and constant change?

Reviewing this year’s event, The MJ’s Heather Jameson observed: ‘It’s the talent within that will fix the sector’. This is an opinion I wholeheartedly share. the society for Innovation, Technology and Modernisation (SOCITM) is actively promoting this through policy work, wider leadership development initiatives and through the creation of a talent pipeline and vibrant communities of interest.

It’s never been more important to attract, retain and develop people with passion, commitment, and foresight. Through their vision, we can transform public services and deliver robust, customer centric place-based outcomes for the communities we serve. The drive to deliver cost-effective, accessible, joined-up services and to remove duplicity demand a different response than previously. The cultural change necessary to achieve this is dependent on people’s ability and freedom to work collaboratively and share ideas and experiences of issues and challenges faced. They need to be able to do this in a safe and supportive environment.

When I joined SOCITM, just over a year ago, I wanted to help the organisation meet our members’ need for just such a community. I also wanted to put robust steps in place to establish a national network of confident, innovative leaders who – unencumbered by fear of failure – could appreciate fully the importance of celebrating and nurturing the talent and diversity among their teams.

In discussion with our members, and at each of our events, we are hearing the same message over again. It is universally acknowledged that positive change and progress cannot occur when people work in silos. Or if they’re not taking the necessary action to incorporate a more diverse approach to recruitment and retention and are neglecting succession planning and talent pipeline management.

SOCITM is now representing public sector digital professionals in the widest context. Digital transformation is everybody’s responsibility and not just that of the ICT service. Increasingly, our members tell us they’re desperate to work alongside different departments so they can create, implement and continually improve solutions that work efficiently and effectively.

These days, in response to central government’s digital strategy and the need to create ever greater efficiencies, the role of ICT has become more visible, more pivotal and more vital. It is integral to achieving organisational goals and good outcomes. Working with those delivering frontline services is now key to challenging convention, inspiring change and powering progress.

Getting this message across in organisations where cultures are longstanding and entrenched is often challenging. It requires support and sponsorship from senior leadership. Furthermore, collaborative working needs a skillset broader than technical knowledge and ability.

Digital leaders now need to be excellent communicators. They must possess empathy and a rich understanding of how technology improves people’s lives. They need to reach out, to listen, to learn and to challenge.

Our leadership academy programmes are all about harnessing and growing individual talent. They celebrate the diverse individual attributes and experience that make truly effective leaders. Developed with our training partner, QA, they build cohort confidence and centre on collaboration and sharing.

We hear a lot about ‘digital transformation’, as if that concept will somehow happen by osmosis and without human intervention. Our leadership academy re-addresses that notion by equipping people with the confidence to manage and thrive upon change.

But what about the future? How can we ensure the culture of positivity and proactivity we’re striving to create is a lasting and impactful one? How can the sector futureproof the continuous improvement of service delivery when technology and public need evolve all the time?

The answers lie in opening-up collaboration more broadly. Conversations and consultations need to take place not just within organisations but between different local authorities and on the global stage.

In December SOCITM is launching an alumni and development programme for our academy graduates. As part of this, we are establishing a mentoring initiative. This will help safeguard successful services and help develop more exceptional leaders, directly enabling ‘a fresh perspective for the future’.

Nadira Hussain is leadership director and research director for SOCITM