Solace Blog

Culture change – the toughest nut to crack

By Rob Walsh, Chief Executive North East Lincolnshire Council and Clinical Commissioning Group

We’re in the people business, the change business, the leadership business, the relationship business. It’s no longer about organisation, it’s about place, the whole system, partnership , pooling resources, integration, breaking down silos; it’s about the influence and focus we can bring to bear to enable our local economies to grow and to support the growth in the resilience and independence of the communities we serve. It’s about doing a lot more with a lot less across the public sector spectrum. In other words it’s about culture change.

Embracing 21st century public servant principles encourages you to recalibrate your approach to organisational and workforce development. It absolutely encourages you to think seriously about succession planning and the skill set requirements of the future workforce. Combined with a concerted effort to embrace outcomes based accountability and restorative practice across the organisation, the ingredients for meaningful and lasting culture change have become evident. That’s what we’re seeking to do in North East Lincolnshire. We’re not imposing our will, we’re testing a different way of working, encouraging it, inviting interest and trying hard to model the right behaviours that will pave the way for our future leaders to embrace what is truly fundamental change. This  organic approach to culture change is not without risk, but the rewards, the visible ones at least,are richly satisfying.

Our Talent and Leadership Academy , in its first full year, embodies what we’re seeking to achieve – identifying the future potential in our organisation and challenging them to think differently, widening their understanding of the complex environment in which they operate and pushing them well out of their comfort zones. Think place first, organisation second; recognise the importance of relationships and the ability to operate beyond traditional boundaries and apply a lot less importance to hierarchy – playing to strengths in and across organisation and system being the key driver as opposed to name, rank and number. The feedback from delegates thus far has been enormously encouraging, with a refreshing admission that they’ve found it challenging, but stimulating. And it’s also had the added simple spin-off of bringing together people whose day jobs often keep them apart, a benefit I’m sure will continue to pay dividends in future years.

This is a long haul. There will be bumps along the way but that’s culture change – challenging people to think, operate and behave differently in an uncertain world is tough and sometimes we will and do get it wrong. Humility and the capacity to learn are essential pre-requisites. Leadership becomes everyone’s responsibility, not just those of us at the top. Even more so for when you’re thrust into the position of joint chief executive of your council and your CCG ! Bringing two organisations even closer together , after 10 years of strong partnership working, takes culture change to a challenging but exciting new level. Embracing the 21st century public servant principles gives you a credible platform to start from – playing to strengths across the strategic commissioning spectrum, combining resources, focusing on the wider wellbeing agenda for the benefit of place – a new set of skills, an important set of relationships, a new organisation in all but name.