Between June and September this year we’ll have around 7,000 people through our building on one of our programmes. I get to meet a good few of them.
Most of them are here because they are ambitious to move to a more senior level, to take on a role that comes with huge responsibility, enormous pressure, and the potential to improve the working lives of staff. All of them are in the room because they are deeply committed to providing exceptional care fit for patients, carers, and communities today and for the foreseeable future.
These people are invariably bright, some ferociously intelligent. They are caring and some are deeply compassionate. They have energy, enthusiasm and a desire for innovation and improvement.
I am weary of reading that we are struggling for senior talent in the NHS. HSJ’s Respect for NHS Managers inquiry is welcome because it asks all the right questions, makes some hugely helpful recommendations and shines a light on some challenges we need to address. It also makes the same point: Why is there a lack of ready now senior leaders for these complex roles in organisations?
Both the Smith and Rose reviews have been published over the last month. Both welcome as they reinforce the need to invest in our leadership community particularly now when investment decisions are so tough. But both point to the insufficient supply of talents leaders in the NHS, particularly at senior levels.
So from me, loudly, often and to anyone who will listen: there is not a dearth of talent in the NHS. We have it in diverse abundance.
We have a leadership community that many corporates would die for – bright, committed and no matter how often you tell them they are the problem they keep coming into work and getting on with it. No matter how often you reorganise them they will be flexible and creative and keep coming in to work and getting on with it.
And all of this is finite. There will come a point very soon when this isn’t enough. And there is something we can do.
Like any other industry and other large corporate organisation we should now be planning to make sure we have the expertise, diverse talent, experience and compassionate leadership at every level that we need. We should stop assuming it will happen by accident and that if we only tell people often enough what not to do, or shout ever more loudly about what they should do they will go through some process of osmosis and assume the skills, knowledge, attitudes and behaviours we need. We should stop assuming that if we don’t invest in our talent someone else, somewhere else, will do it for us and we can reap the benefits of that.
If there is a view that the right skills and knowledge aren’t available at the most senior levels, we need to invest at every level to create a pipeline to ensure we do. If your organisation is fruitless in its search for the next fabulous director you might ask yourself what you have done to create proper succession planning.
We have talent, we have values led leaders.
They need new skills, new knowledge and new expertise to lead in a world for which they could never have been trained. Our leaders need investing in so that they become the leaders we need. It isn’t for want of potential.
But the context in which they operate has changed hugely and we need to retrain, develop, stretch and challenge our leaders in safe ways to prepare them for this new context; to ready them for the new challenges they face; and equip them to lead with hope and compassion through expertise, competence and confidence.
The NHS Leadership Academy is here to help all those in leadership roles develop the potential we know they hold and make the contribution they are desperate to make. We are here to help organisations plan for the future leadership talent they will need and support their staff in gaining the skills, knowledge and behaviours to manage today and plan for tomorrow.
The talent is there for the picking. It is up to us to pick it up and start cherishing it.
A version of this blog appeared in HSJ leadership feature, click here to read it.