Successful devolution is all down to leaders.
They need the time and space to focus on what they have to do and they need the skills to enable those around them to do great work.
We recently carried out research into the leadership ingredients of successful devolution agreements. Public and private collaborations need leaders who have vision and great networks. Leaders have to focus on long-term, place-based plans that address economic and societal challenges in a sustained way.
This is a complex task. Leaders need the headspace to think strategically and conceptually, develop meaningful collaborations and manage change in critical services.
Chief executives must be supported by their senior managers in both the public and private sectors. They in turn need to be able to plan and integrate services for the long term while engaging diverse stakeholders, from partners to politicians, staff to citizens. Some of the people we spoke to were concerned about whether senior managers could deliver this; they worried about day-to-day operations ‘falling over’.
We also know that George Osborne is quite rightly concerned about UK productivity. Our research shows that leaders often fail to create productive environments. Just 18% create environments that are high performing, 13% motivating, 12% neutral and 56% demotivating.
Leaders are not making the best of the skills in their teams. They tend to focus on pace, task and applying technical knowledge, rather than enabling others to give their best.
We suggest three things leaders can do:
1. Involve senior managers in shaping why devolution offers the chance to change service provision and trigger economic growth. Develop a story about why it creates better locality, and how this relates to the organisation’s mission and managers’ motivation
2. Help senior managers understand their new role in the organisation, the wider public service system and in implementing devolution. Clarify wider system accountabilities and review capacity. You may need to rethink priorities
3. Provide space for senior managers to review their approach, behaviour and development needs, to lead change in this new working context. Align development work and conversations with the needs of devolution plans, which may require setting new standards.
At a recent devolution event, there was heated debate about whether the sector has the visionary leadership required to deliver the best outcomes. I’d argue that it will only exist if organisations make better use of the capacity that exists around them.