Leadership, System Leadership

How do you lead when you’re not in charge?

The world of health and care has changed and is almost unrecognisable from a decade ago.  People are living much longer but with increasingly complex needs.  This means that they navigate across the health and social care boundaries and often into the voluntary sector as well, and more often than not the system does not act as such and makes it even more difficult for patients to get all the care they need.

Place-based care is looking to address these difficulties with the advent of Sustainability and Transformation Partnerships (STPs) and Accountable Care Systems to try and integrate the system for the benefit of patients.  This means that the traditional delivery of care within organisations and led from the top is no longer fit for purpose and the dawn of a new style of leadership is required; one that can lead across organisational boundaries and professions – one such as systems leadership.

So what does systems leadership actually mean? Traditional organisational leadership was very clear cut; the buck stopped at the top of the organisation and it was very clear who was in charge.  Now we are working in a complex, ambiguous environments that include many different agencies trying to work together to solve often intractable problems and therefore no single person is in charge, and moreover it’s a collective effort across a system.  The simplest definition I have seen of systems leadership is from the Leadership Centre who simply defines it as ‘how you lead when you are not in charge’.

This new way of working defies how we have understood leadership for decades, if not longer, and so requires a shift in mindset in order to move to this new way of leading. According to the research done by the Leadership Centre there are 6 key principles that can be applied to lead in this new world:

  1. Relationships, relationships, relationships – this is all about building trust with others so that you can collectively get things done.  Do not underestimate the time this takes and you really must invest the time with the right intention and level of commitment.  You do not have the same levers that positional power and hierarchy allow you to pull within an organisation and so you need a different approach. However, this is not about bending people to your way through manipulation of relationships, but working as a collective and building trust and commitment over longer periods of time.
  2. Start small – to build relationships you actually need to work on things together, but you will also need to see the fruits of that partnership very quickly so as to demonstrate that you can get things done more effectively together.  Start on something small and eminently achievable and start from where you currently are not where you aim to be in the future.  This way you will build relationships and demonstrate results quickly.
  3. Go where the energy is – if you want change to happen quickly, find the people who have great ideas and enthusiasm and champion them.  It is amazing how quickly people who are given support and encouragement can drive forward change.  The coalition of the willing is the best option to help you to start to reach a tipping point and then you can bring more sceptical and laggard people on board.
  4. It’s all about the conversation – when you think about your organisation and how things get done, often it’s about the informal organisation that nestles within the formal hierarchy and governance where the real work gets done.  It’s the relationships, networks and connections that people have that drives forward change.  This is the same at the system level.  It’s all about having the right conversations; building the right networks and developing trust and commitment right across the system.  So, go out for that coffee with your counterpart in another part of the system, it’ll be amazing what you might learn.
  5. Be brave and experiment – solving intractable, ‘wicked’ problems that are complex rather than complicated requires all parts of the system to have courage to try things out and seeing if progress can be made with a particular issue.  Cross organisational; cross boundary; cross profession challenges will not be fixed in one fell swoop and will require the learning to be iterative.
  6. Systems leadership is everywhere and anywhere within the system – there is a mistaken belief that you can only lead the system by those at the top of the organisations getting together.  This is the old-world thinking imposed onto the new problems.  Systems are everywhere and at all levels and are made up of thousands of connections and so people at all levels of the system should take these principles and lead from within the system to really make change happen.

 

I have been putting these principles into practice over the past two years as the joint lead for the development of the Foundation Healthcare Group; a collaboration between Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust (a teaching hospital and tertiary centre in London) and Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust (a local hospital in Kent).  The core principle has been that we can develop a sustainable solution for the NHS provider sector through acute care collaboration to ensure we make best use of scarce healthcare resources to continue to deliver high quality healthcare for local populations.

The focus has been both on patient pathways and overarching governance for how to formalise our collaboration.  The principles of systems leadership described above, were echoed in a recent report we published which described our learning for how we brought the clinical teams from both hospitals together to design better clinical pathways and better outcomes for patients.  This work is starting to demonstrate really excellent results for patients after only a year of being up and running.

The conclusion for me is that systems leadership takes time, energy and commitment but the results are worthwhile.

It relies on patience and the core values of the individuals involved to be able to put ego aside and to concentrate on the greater good, as often the answer does not clearly emerge and cannot be forced no matter how enigmatic and strong the leaders may be.

Dealing with the volatile; uncertain; complex and ambiguous world that we now find ourselves in will take a brand new set of skills that will require personal and organisational investment so that we can collectively all lead when we’re not in charge.

 

Systems Leadership conference for GSTT senior leaders held on 20 July 2017 opened by Amanda Pritchard, Chief Executive

2017-07-20 13.09.35

About the author

Sarah Morgan is the Director of Organisational Development and Programme Director for the Foundation Healthcare Group (Acute Care Collaboration Vanguard) for Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust and passionate about leadership and organisational development and the development of innovative strategic solutions for the NHS

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Health and Social Care Leadership, Organisational Design

Where does the future of the NHS lie – competition or collaboration?

Ever since the first purchaser/ provider split in the 1990s, patients and the NHS have been told that competition is the best way to drive up quality.  This has led to different systems over the years such as payment by results (the tariff based funding system) that have created incentives resulting in providers often competing with each other to provide patient care. All with the aim of driving up quality to attract more patients.  So far, so logical.

These principles worked to a degree when the problem was long waiting times (although arguably to the detriment of those services still on block contracts such as mental health and community); however the problem has changed.

Today demand has increased due to the advances in modern healthcare helping people live longer and survive premature birth and severe illness where previously this was sadly not the case.  This is at a time when social care has seen unprecedented reductions in funding, with 900,000 fewer people in receipt of social care than 2010 coupled with funding in the NHS not keeping pace with demand.

Patients have more complex needs due to chronic long term conditions and co-morbidity and so the logical solution can no longer be applied.  A more sophisticated funding mechanism that can cope with complexity is required.

In today’s world it is clear the pseudo-market economy logic and mechanism no longer works.  It’s yesterday’s solution.  Too often patients fall through the cracks of bureaucratic systems; clinicians are forced to find workarounds every day and managers are trying to make a square peg fit into a round hole so to balance the triumvirate of finance; quality and safety.

Another policy to cement competition was the creation of businesses or Foundation Trusts.  When this idea was first conceived in around 2004, the aim was to establish them as public benefit corporations.  Although a great idea in principle, Foundation Trusts ended up becoming legal business entities meaning that not only did they fall under the Enterprises Act 2002 and become subject to competition law but legally the first duty of the Board is to the organisation.  Great for competition, potentially not so great for creating a cohesive health and care system.

It is feasible that if health and care organisations had a first duty to their population, as a public benefit corporation suggests, then collaboration would not only be far simpler, but absolutely essential to deliver the right level of care to the population served.

All in all, it seems the competitive approach has served its purpose and now we need to move to a new world which sews back together fraying seams and in some cases, great gaping holes of the health and care system.  The needle we need to use is collaboration.

Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs) are going some way to address this conundrum and could start to pave the way for much greater collaboration if the incentives are aligned and executives are not forced to put their own organisations before the benefit of the wider STP.  It is crucial that the STPs give the proper time and attention to building the relationships and designing the clinical models that will become the bedrock of the new health and care system.  Tempting as it is, rushing into a new organisational form before this work has been thought through could actually worsen the situation.

In a previous blog post in 2015 I explored whether or not organisational form was seen as the silver bullet for the NHS.  It is dangerous to underestimate the impact of a restructure as often an organisation’s value is found in the informal structures created through internal relationships, shared history and the stories that are retold within the organisation, rather than the formal structures.  The risk becomes that in creating something new, the value is unwittingly destroyed.

Form follows function and therefore it is crucial to spend time creating shared purpose, building partnerships and strong relationships both at the top of organisations and also through bringing clinical teams together to ensure the clinical models are right.  The final step is to design the right organisational form to wrap around these new arrangements to cement in the new ways of working.  In this way we will find new organisational forms that are better able to solve the complex issues emerging today.

In order to ensure the NHS can not only survive this decade but thrive in the next decade of its existence, we need to find a way to manage the complexity in which we find ourselves in.  The only way to do this is through seeing the system as a whole and starting to form the relationships we need to design not only new ways of delivering care supported by new structures that make it easy to do the right thing, but most importantly, we need to find new ways of being so we can change things for the better.

As the old African proverb says; if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.
Guy’s & St Thomas’ partnership statute outside St Thomas’ hospital 


About the author
Sarah Morgan is the Director of Organisational Development and the Programme Director for the Acute Care Collaboration Vanguard Programme (developing one of the first hospital Groups in the NHS) for Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust.

Sarah was previously the Head of the Dalton Review which examined organisational form options for providers in the NHS

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