Future Ready Leadership

How can public service organisations ensure they have the right leaders to keep pace with a constantly shifting landscape?  

The pace and scale of change, be that global or community led, puts extreme pressure on public sector organisations to reform and innovate while delivering business as usual. It’s already clear that, post the current Coronavirus pandemic, a new norm will emerge as expectations of work, home and communication patterns shift. For public services, whether innovation will result in new delivery models, organisational structures, agile working practices or a strategic change of direction, it should signal a review of whether the right talent is in place to lead and pioneer change. So how do organisations take a future ready and pro-active approach to assessing current resource and capability?

In preparing for change, decision makers can make a good start by establishing the following: 

  • Review whether you have the business-critical leadership attributes needed to deliver the future organisational strategy
  • Determine whether there is in-house skill and capacity to lead the change process itself
  • Evidence where in the organisation high performing leaders exist
  • Identify short, mid and longer terms successors to key organisational roles.

Where gaps are identified, the critical choice then becomes whether to develop internal capability or buy experience in. This is rarely a simple binary so how should organisations determine the pros and cons of both. 

To buy or to build to fill a talent gap?

Identifying leadership potential from within can drive engagement, spot and surface previously untapped talent and give individuals the scope to grow and develop. However, individuals are not guaranteed to succeed in a new role just because they thrived in their old one, so promotion decisions need to be as rooted in evidence against the new role’s criteria as would be standard practice when assessing someone from outside the organisation. At GatenbySanderson, we define ‘potential’ as the combined strength of technical competence gained through experience, having the right behavioural outlook, being a ‘fit’ for the culture and importantly having the aspiration, resilience and motivation to progress. Nor is it as likely that an incumbent of the organisation will challenge culture and the status quo as much as someone more objective from outside and sometimes diversity can be enriched by bringing in new perspectives from the external market.

Is it less risky to buy in experience?  In theory, a robust recruitment process will test whether a candidate with a proven track record is likely to build on prior experience and quickly apply to a new context.  Someone with parallel experience might bring more immediate strong leadership and rapid decision-making than a candidate who is growing into a role.  It’s critical, however, that leaders prove their adaptability in a new environment and avoid the short-circuit decision-making when assumptions on prior experience are made.

Whether a candidate is promoted, moved laterally from within, or brought in from outside, the assessment process should seek assurance that they deliver current and future leadership needs.  Peers and direct reports can feed back about the proven impact of internal candidates but these insights aren’t always possible from the external labour market. Organisational psychologists are clear that both personality and past behaviours are predictors of performance in role. As such,  objective diagnostic measurement, alongside validation from an expert will help uncover strengths that pose a good role fit and any risks that could derail performance.

Selecting the right tool to determine your leadership bench-strength

The most robust talent audits use objective measurement alongside subjective conversations. The latter should explore technical and behavioural elements driving performance in current role and fit for succession to specific roles. Objective tools should measure what matters most to your organisation in order to deliver strategic outcomes.  Off the shelf tools are likely to offer the lowest cost but a bespoke tool, created specifically to measure the needs of your organisation may be better value for money for their ability to pinpoint the things that matter most to you.

The competencies and behaviour needed to meet leadership challenges across public life are more complex than those facing commercial organisations where the balance sheet is the primary driver.  It is unlikely that off the shelf tools will accommodate this nuance.  We have developed our own model, Altitude, which focuses upon competencies that research has demonstrated will differentiate successful leaders in public life, such as the ability to balance a commercial head with a social heart. We’ve thus avoided off the shelf tools designed with private businesses in mind.

We opt for a process that combines face to face career coaching, behavioural profiling, use of objective psychometrics and our own Altitude 360 tool which collects feedback from stakeholders with whom the individual regularly engages. Combined, this approach provides the organisation with powerful talent data about individuals, about successors to key roles and about the leadership population writ large.

The great advantage of a well conducted talent audit is that leaders feel more motivated and engaged as a result of participating. To ensure this positive outcome, we opt for a strengths-based approach to assessing an individual’s current capability and potential, enabling individuals to understand their strengths and the organisation to understand how best to leverage them whilst of course, providing support with areas where people are less confident. Research shows that the quality of feedback given to an individual after a deep dive assessment impacts greatly on how they feel about the experience. Feedback, when evidence-based and delivered respectfully and sensitively, will see recipients respond very positively.

How GS can support a review of leadership talent

360 tools can be an effective way to audit your talent when they measure what is relevant to the success of your organisation.Off the shelf products or models based on measures of success in private sector organisations will not provide public sector organisations with the relevant insight to evaluate whether they have the ability to deliver sector specific needs.

Our recently updated Altitude model and 360 tool draws on data gathered exclusively from public sector organisations and global research on future needs.It provides a measure against which individuals, teams and leadership populations can assess and benchmark their own effectiveness. 

We would be delighted to work with you to bespoke a review or leadership to your organisational strategy. If you would like to discuss this or any aspect of your talent needs, please email jody.goldsworthy@www.gatenbysanderson.com.  

Jody Goldsworthy, Executive Director, Leadership & Talent Consultancy

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