I do not usually watch Question Time, as it is a programme that annoys me intensely as a series of politicians rehearse the party line on the topics of the day. I did catch a few minutes last Thursday before I was provoked into switching over to something less worthy but relaxing and so when I saw a tweet the morning after suggesting that the most insightful comments of the evening on the economy and growth had come not from the line up of politicians or political commentators, but from professor of classics at Cambridge University, Mary Beard, I was provoked to applaud, or that twitter equivalent, to re-tweet the comment. Clearly Professor Beard is a very clever and thoughtful person and therefore may have had insights that the others simply had not thought of (or could not say). However I think that people listened to what she had to say because they felt it was authentic, it was not the party line and was therefore more believable.
There has also been a discussion on twitter this week about leadership and the key qualities that leaders need to be successful. It is something that we asked of staff in my own organisation recently and the list that they came up with was:
• Committed to Improvement
• Sense of Humour
Anne Gibson in a recent blog talked about the challenges around leadership in the public sector workplace, the range of demands upon them and the work Norfolk County Council is doing to equip managers to be effective. As Anne recognises the focus has to be not just on what managers are doing but what they do, the leadership qualities that they display. The common theme that emerged in the discussions with our staff is that they are looking for authenticity; it is about the believability of what you are saying and the consistency with which you see things through.
Now I recognise that this may not be a “fall off the chair” moment for you, as this has been said before and I am sure there is a course somewhere on “authentic leadership”. However at a time when there are some very challenging messages for customers, staff and partners and it is difficult to provide the certainty that people are looking for in their “visionary leaders”, delivering that message in a way that is felt to be authentic is crucial. Now I have read quite a lot of stuff about authenticity being a “state of being” and I think goes a bit too far. You have to be genuine, you have to believe what you saying and you have to show something of yourself, but as important is the follow-through element, doing what you say you are going to do, or if you cannot explaining honestly why.
This week I was also interested to read the CIPD’s Spring Employee Outlook Survey. This survey is conducted quarterly and after several quarters in which indicators of morale and engagement, particularly in the public sector, have been moving in a negative direction, the spring survey shows some significant improvements in the scores. For example, while trust in senior managers in the public sector is lower than in both the private and public sectors, even in our sector there is evidence that trust is being restored. Now this is a survey with a small sample and the situation will of course vary between organisation and organisation, but our staff do understand the reality of the situation and they will have seen savings targets achieved, impact on services minimised and attempts made to minimise compulsory redundancies. Perhaps our staff are seeing the authenticity of the leadership in our sector and as a consequence trust is being restored.
The outlook survey also shows that whilst only a small percentage of the workforce is “disengaged”, a large majority are engagement “neutral” at the moment. This reflects my sense of where my own Council’s workforce is at the moment and our efforts are focused on having the kind of honest dialogue about the future which will move them to a position of stronger engagement. The challenge of course is that for many further savings are required that perhaps will change what we do and the way that we do it more fundamentally than we have done to date. Sustaining trust and engagement through this period will require real authenticity on the part of our leaders and HR I think can act as a challenge to our leaders to be clear and honest and to follow-through on the commitments they make.
By the way, you can follow me on twitter @mrayson if you would wish to do so.