This week’s guest blogger is Joanna Ruffle, Head of People and Policy at Southend-on-Sea Borough Council and PPMA Regional Chair for East of England. Joanna talks about the behavioural changes necessary, in order to work in an integrated way with partners, in order to better serve our communities.

To integrate – to combine parts into a whole; to bring or come into equal membership of a community
Integrity – honesty; wholeness, soundness

As our organisations learn to live with financial insecurity coupled with increased customer demand; working more effectively with our partners across the public and voluntary sector becomes an imperative that no-one can argue against – surely?

However it is in time of crisis that we see the best and the worst of people – and of course it is people who make (or break) partnerships.

So how do we unlock the magic of truly integrated partnership which in turn will reduce the burden on the public purse and (possibly more importantly) improve the outcomes for some of the most vulnerable in our society.

The key, as it invariably is, is leadership.

Imagine a magical land – that may look a lot like the one you live in – where all leaders come together to listen to their people and to work with them to design solutions that may not be expensive or sophisticated; but that will make a real difference to real people’s lives and improve the future for the generations still to come. Imagine that in this magical land, leaders are more interested in outcomes for their communities than they are in the governance, financial viability, professional standing, branding and reputation of their own organisations – getting a bit harder isn’t it?

But in order to meet the challenges ahead of us and to leave the kind of legacy we all want for our children and grandchildren that is exactly what has to be done. Leaders must act in an integrated way, with integrity.

As HR/OD professionals, we are in a unique position to drive and support this behavioural change – we just need to remember that it is not only the behaviour of our leaders that must change but also the behaviours of partners and of the communities themselves. And if the model is to work then the change management/development process must also be truly integrated and not imposed by one partner onto the other. But that will take ages and be really complex, I hear you cry. Of course it will, but we are talking about confronting intractable issues that we have lived with for generations – there are no easy answers here, but we owe it to our communities and to ourselves to try.

In my own authority we are working with partners across the town on an integrated leadership development model and I know colleagues from other authorities are doing the same. We have had to shift our mind-set to think and talk about leaders who serve the community of Southend and not get hung up on which organisation they happen to come from. There is a long way to go and I am sure there will be challenges along the way that we haven’t even thought about yet but the important thing is that there is a passion and commitment to making things different. Some of that has been generated by the fact that there is no money and resources are reducing before our very eyes, but after all as Plato said ‘necessity is the mother of invention’! A significant degree of motivation and engagement, however, has come from a genuine desire to improve real people’s lives – or more accurately, to help real people take responsibility for their own lives and give them the wherewithal to improve their own outcomes.

So next time you find yourself in a room with partners, think about what brings you together rather than what keeps you apart. By all means respect differences (it’s difficult to act with integrity if you don’t) but don’t allow these differences to get in the way of solutions and outcomes for the greater good. Let’s be honest, whole and sound and come into equal membership of a community which can be sustained and of which we can all be proud.’

Joanna Ruffle

Head of People and Policy at Southend-on-Sea Borough Council and PPMA Regional Chair for East of England.