Transformational change requires transformational leadership

Transformational change requires transformational leadership
November 13 2015

Transformational change requires transformational leadership, Chris Banks CBE, Chair, Public Chairs’ Forum

The Spending Review set the context for the address of Rt Hon Matt Hancock MP (Minister for the Cabinet Office) at the Public Chairs’ Forum (PCF) conference last month. With the scale of savings required on a par with the scale of savings of the spending review in 2010, there are significant challenges ahead for the delivery of public services. Meeting these, he said, would require transformational leadership, not least because many of the easy options have already been taken.

The right leaders are critical to achieving successful transformation. And as the Minister commented, the right process for public appointments must be in place to enable the right people to be found and appointed.

The PCF’s panel discussion showed that the current process for public appointments process is far from ‘right’. Sir David Normington, Commissioner for Public Appointments, said that a drop in department capability has led to a rise in the number of people in government departments who don’t know what they’re doing when it comes to making a public appointment. This leads to lengthy delays, often with no communication, which can result in good candidates, who are unfamiliar with the process, giving up on it altogether. Dr Jane Martin, Local Government Ombudsman, likened this to ‘falling into an appointments black hole’ for the months that follow your interview.

According to Normington, difficulties with the current process are not helping to create a pipeline for diverse public boards. Whilst there has been good progress with increasing numbers of women on boards, ethnic minorities and people with disabilities are still underrepresented. Andrew Timlin Executive Director at Hays said that difficulties with widening the talent pool extend to attracting private sector candidates too. The interview process is in danger of seeming unfriendly to those who are new to it, appearing to favour experience over ability.
During his speech, the Minister announced a new target of consistently achieving 10% of new appointments being made to BAME candidates. It is hoped that Sir Gerry Grimstone’s review of public appointments will be successful in identifying and resolving some of the main stumbling blocks standing in the way of an efficient and effective process, so that this and other targets around public appointments can be achieved. 

But what does good transformational leadership look like in practice? Vikram Bhalla, Senior Partner and Director for The Boston Consulting Group (BCG), heads the Leadership and talent Enablement Center (LTEC)  in Singapore and has worked on transformation programmes across both the private and public sector worldwide. He shared some important lessons and advice on how to lead transformation effectively (see box). In essence the role of the leadership team (and for many public bodies, that means the combination of executives and non-executives) during transformational change is critical; and it’s really easy not to do it well.

Lessons for leaders of transformational change – Vikram Bhalla, BCG
• Nothing can be achieved without perfect alignment of the leadership team.
• Spend 80% on the ‘why’ and the ‘how’, rather than the ‘what’.
• Make sure your vision of the transformation is crystal clear.
• Give people the ability to live the change, so they can see how they fit into the new world.
• Know when to go fast and when to go slow.
• Don’t be seduced by the need for short-term results. They can be helpful for building engagement, but can prevent you from ever achieving the longer-term goal.
• Persevere. Transformational change takes time.

So it’s important to get this right. My takeaway from the conference is that we need some transformational change to the public appointments system and the way we are able to lead, if we are to make a reality of the transformational change required to meet the government’s objectives. We’d better start soon…

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