The NHS needs strong, stable leaders who are able to strategically plan and look ahead while taking the immediate needs of their staff and patients into account. We can spend years nurturing and supporting leaders to develop and progress into a chief executive role, yet the average tenure is just 18 months. What’s making people think about moving on so soon? And how can we get better at keeping them?
In the third of a series of blogs, Navina Evans, chief executive of East London NHS Foundation Trust and a graduate of the Aspiring chief executive programme, discusses her experience and the impact the programme has had on her, her colleagues and the system. The programme is a collaboration between NHS Providers, the NHS Leadership Academy and NHS Improvement.
I got involved in the Aspiring chief executive programme with a very specific end in mind. I had my own personal development plan which was agreed at the time with my chief executive, chair and wider executive team. We also had a succession plan within the organisation. My chief executive and chair saw it as part of their responsibility to develop the next generation of chief executives; getting on the programme wouldn’t only benefit me, but the organisation too.
I met a lot of leaders in the NHS before I went on the programme and got a sense that many people are feeling quite burnt out, negative and helpless. This was an opportunity to meet like-minded people who had energy and enthusiasm. Tapping into that was good; I felt really enthused about being part of this ‘club’ and I made contacts that will hopefully be lasting ones.
The Aspiring chief executive programme has helped me by challenging me to be active in shaping things rather than simply accepting that things are done ‘to us’ as leaders. It’s helped me project confidence and be much more considered about the way I react when people resist change, an example being the introduction of a new quality and improvement methodology which will involve large scale change in culture.
I’ve been able to talk to colleagues about how we will manage the change in our relationships and better understand our team dynamics together with the rest of the executive team.
We’re a stable organisation which isn’t in deficit so it would be easy to just focus on maintaining the status quo, but I’ve now become more heavily involved in engaging with external stakeholders around STPs and am able to support our staff to push ourselves even further in our ambitions to improve quality.
If you want to be a chief executive within the next two to five years and your manager supports that goal, this programme could be included in your personal development plan. People need to be more explicit about their career aspirations and be able to access the help available to fulfil them.
My chair and I are both BAME women, so our unique partnership was of considerable interest. Although things have probably improved, I think a lot of people from a diverse background experience subtle discrimination. We have a shortage of expertise, a shortage of skills and a shortage of staff and we’re not exploiting what is an untapped resource. It’s important that it doesn’t end up being tokenistic. We need to think equity rather than equality and I think the problem is that we don’t all start from the same baseline.
I knew what the end-point was going to be and I’ve achieved it: I started as chief executive last August. There’s no question in my mind that being on the programme helped me to secure this privilege.
The Aspiring Chief Executive programme is a collaboration between NHS Providers, the NHS Leadership Academy and NHS Improvement. It was created in 2014 to ensure a strong, ongoing, pipeline of candidates for the role of NHS trust chief executive. The programme is designed to prepare those with the potential to become chief executives in the next 12-24 months for these key roles. The programme has had two cohorts – one which graduated in early 2017 and one nearing completion. Of the 28 participants so far, 10 have gone on to become trust chief executives. Providing the right leadership support for these individuals will be key to ensure they have the right skills, attitudes and behaviours to build a better NHS.