I joined hundreds of NHS colleagues at the NHS Confederation annual conference in Liverpool last week.
I spoke with a lot of delegates over the 3 days and the vast majority were very much aware of our work here at the Academy – both on and offline. I’ve been to many of these conferences over the years, but never has there been such a sense of change as there is now – of those changes that have happened and those that are yet to come. With that, I also saw a real openness and a refreshing acknowledgement that changes don’t just happen – they take time and a sustained effort.
As well as the exhibition, there were presentations and panel discussions, where key themes emerged around the increasing need for transformational change and how it will be achieved. I was a panel member on day 2 in the session ‘Great Leaders, difficult decisions’ (5 – ‘Leadership Panel Session’ on the video below) which is now available to watch. I would be interested to hear what you think.
The clear openness that emerged at the conference is, I believe, vital in tackling some of the issues raised. There are two issues in particular I want to mention.
Firstly, diversity – particularly at senior level.
This isn’t a new issue, and while there are some positive approaches out there, we really must continue to address the gap between communities and their representation in our organisations. It’s not a numbers game (although they matter) it’s about having the necessary breadth and depth of perspectives to innovate and take forward new approaches. There are some useful guides available on the website around this which I’d recommend having a look at.
Secondly, I noticed some differing views about the future.
While most were excited and up for the task, there were some who had that sense of caution and scepticism which is natural and understandable after a period of change. Though slightly polarised, I feel this balance makes for a healthy mix and think we are in a good place with both the energy and realism to work together to tackle the challenges ahead.
In the panel discussion I took part in, I spoke about ‘wicked problems’ – a term I first came across from Professor Keith Grint. These issues are defined by their complexity, changing nature, multi-dimensional issues and moral dilemmas. They are not resolved in just a few months; they require a sustained intervention and effort.
Many of these problems are complex, long term and are hard to measure in terms of success. They often don’t have concrete financial data or information and involve many organisations and teams. For example:
- Gaining better integration around vulnerable people
- Getting more support in the community for people with long term conditions
- Delivering a sustainable model of urgent care
If we analyse these types of issues, we see no immediate fixes and that they are different to those sort of “tame issues” we have seen in the past. It’s clear that people in the system need to work together, with concentrated effort over a sustained period, like never before.
So, is it reasonable for us to expect our leaders to be automatically equipped to tackle this different approach to wicked issues?
In many cases I think it’s unfair and like in most walks of life we need to give people the skills, experiences, knowledge and behaviours to take on these challenges. The Academy was designed to support leaders at every level in order to improve patient outcomes and people’s experience of the NHS. We are not the only answer, but we are certainly part of it.
I’m really pleased that we have received hundreds of applications in just a number of weeks for our new suite of programmes. I want to take this opportunity to ask you to explore these further and if you haven’t done so already, register your interest.
As always, I welcome feedback on these observations and what else you think we could be doing here at the NHS Leadership Academy.