Six ingredients for collaborative, compassionate and inclusive leadership in public services

Welcome to the third instalment of the CES Leaders Digest, where we learn together, from research and real-world experience, about effective leadership and its role in public services. At CES we are assisting six government departments in Ireland and Northern Ireland in undertaking nine reform and systems change initiatives to improve outcomes for people using public services in areas such as education, health, and services for children and young people. This programme of work is called the Goal Programme for Public Service Reform, and leadership is emerging as an important feature across all nine projects.

One of the projects is the ‘Leading into the Future’ Programme for Grade Three officials in the Northern Ireland Civil Service (NICS) — similar to Assistant Secretary level in Ireland. We co-designed and delivered this programme with NICS to support the implementation of a new outcomes focused Programme for Government.

Professor Michael West came to speak to participants on the programme as part of the second module ‘It’s all about people’. Michael West is a Senior Fellow with the King’s Fund, where he is head of ‘Thought Leadership’. He is a Professor of Work and Organisational Psychology at Lancaster University Management School. He has conducted extensive research on leadership in health services in the UK. He describes the public services as being about:

“making sure we are working together to create health and wellbeing, and flourishing, and equality, and justice, and wisdom and compassion […] the core value of public services is compassion, is listening to those who we provide services for.”

But how can we make this happen? See what he had to say about the behaviours and roles of leaders that are important in civil and public services in the six short videos below.

1. Starting with the vision

In the first video, Michael West talks about the importance of prioritising an inspirational vision and narrative, and how organisational culture can support this. Do day to day behaviours and routines, such as the minutes of meetings, reflect your vision statement?

2. Setting objectives

Michael moves on to discuss how a commitment to effective, efficient performance can be supported by clear agreed team and individual objectives, that are aligned, measurable and challenging at every level. Motivation is optimised when teams and individuals have five or six clear objectives and receive feedback on their performance.

3. Engaging and managing staff

People management is essential to building cultures of high quality performance. Michael suggests that staff must be treated with respect, care, dignity and compassion in order to offer it to members of the public, each other and people and need.

4. Finding time for learning and innovation

People need the skills, space, time and opportunity for quality improvement. Michael proposes that innovation projects should be recognised and rewarded whether or not they are successful.

5. Encouraging team work, co-operation and integration

Michael's research indicates that teams should aim to work more effectively or cooperatively with other teams within or outside the organisation. Teams who regularly take time out to review what they are trying to achieve and how they are going about it are much more productive and innovative than teams who don’t.

6. Developing collective leadership

Finally, Michael talks about the value of collective leadership in public services. In a collective leadership context, he says, everyone sees that they have responsibility. To learn more from Michael West about how leaders can promote staff engagement, see his reflections on his recent research here.

See this previous edition of the CES Leaders Digest for reflections on taking advantage of the complex nature of the public services, with insights from Anne O’Connor, the National Director of Mental Health Services, Health Service Executive in Ireland.

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