Leadership and Technology

There’s loads to read out there on leadership, and I can take or leave a lot of it. Occasionally though you come across something that resonates and feels relevant and up to date. This week I came across a newly published review of leadership conducted by the College of Policing. The REVIEW has been developed to take a look at the many facets of leadership as they sit within a context of institutional change on a scale arguably not seen before, something that I would suggest is also common to the Fire & Rescue Service. If you take the opportunity to read the report, and some of the appendices that go with it, it’s fairly easy to take out the policing specific elements and what you are left with is a really good assessment of the challenges and context that will shape the immediate future of the public service organisations.

Its not my intention to comment on every aspect of the review, hopefully you can take a little time to read some of it for yourself, but there are a couple of things that jump out of it that should strike a chord with any leader, particularly those of us in the public services.

The first of these are the 5 major trends which affect the context in which leaders will lead, namely:

  • economic challenges
  • shifting demographics
  • rising citizen expectations
  • rapid technological advances
  • the arrival of the internet as a social space

Section 3 of the report (its only 3 pages) talks about these trends, and I think that all of them can underpin some of our thinking in West Yorkshire FRS about how we operate in the future. Without wishing to state the obvious its probably the economic challenge that will be the catalyst for changing the way that leaders will operate. I don’t wish to suggest that we are going to lead differently because its cheaper, but the leverage that austerity brings will help progress some of the change that I want to see. For a start leadership does not translate directly into management, nor does it directly come with either rank or salary. Leaders are everywhere in our organisation, and by allowing people to have limits in which to work but to allow them to make choices in how they achieve specific tasks I both think and hope that we can raise our capacity to deliver real and tangible effects at the very sharp end of the service. Less managers within a shrinking workforce is inevitable, but the ratio of managers is also likely to change so that teams can, and are expected to, take responsibility for their actions that support the service strategy.

I do think that this is a bigger challenge for the FRS than it may be for the Police as we do have a longstanding culture with its roots in our hierarchical command and control environment that creates a strong  dependency on being told what to do, when to do it and how to do it. Its a bit cliched but as long as you select and provide your own underwear the FRS will provide most other things for you that you need in order to carry out your work. We have a strong rationale for working in teams, and I completely accept the importance of that, but this, coupled with our strong command focus, means that the dependency on directive management is difficult to break. Our future service must have more self starters, more innovators and more individual and team responsibility, and we as senior leaders must create the situation for this to both develop and prosper. Police Officers already operate more independently, and with more responsibility and accountability and it is a good model to look at.

Secondly, I was struck by paragraph 3.7. This paragraph is more relevant to the Police right now than it is to our own service as we currently have a recruitment freeze and, to some extent, our workforce is relatively static. There is, of course, some recruitment going on in the support departments largely on a one in one out basis, but the door from the operational side of the service is one way only – and that is out. When it becomes a door into the organisation, and the first new recruits enter our service they are going to have very different expectations which are as much of an issue for those of us already serving as it will be for them. Its not enough to expect them to change to fit the way that we work, and it would be wrong to do so. What the College of Policing report refers to as ‘millennials’ will have different approaches to use of technology, to social media, in attitudes toward authority and to life experiences in general. We can spend the next few years as we change planning to welcome them into our service and preparing ourselves to benefit from their diverse outlooks and ideas.

In support of this forthcoming, and ongoing, change I, and others, this week sat through presentations from the 5 companies shortlisted to support our review of information and technology over the next few months. As ever some were better than others, but I am genuinely excited about the project that we are just about  to embark upon. As one of the key enablers of the change that lies ahead I hope that we can now make massive strides, supported by significant investment, in the way that we use, process and capture information. Where appropriate we will also look at the opportunities to procure new hardware or software, or to better use what we already have. We know that we can do this better, and the appointed consultants will be engaging with as many of the West Yorkshire team as possible to listen to your thoughts and ideas about what we can do better and the systems that need to be improved. Please take every opportunity to make your voice heard when the opportunity is presented.

Finally, and returning to where I started, I had the opportunity to sit in on the end of a Police teleconference debrief this week. I’ll be going back soon to see one of their morning force briefings which is also done by teleconference. I’m keen to look at how they do this and how they use technology to improve communications from the very top of the service to the sharp end. The review of IT will help us to look at ways of doing this.

There’s plenty more in the College of Policing review, I may revisit it at a later stage.

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