What are the biggest challenges public sector CEOs have faced in dealing with COVID-19? How has the disruption spurred transformation? And how are they setting themselves up for the long term?
To get some answers to these questions and more, I was pleased to have the opportunity to interview more than a dozen CEOs of medium and large public sector organisations in the UK. The work was part of a partnership between Nous Group and the Association of Chief Executives. While the project is ongoing, I am excited to share the responses of some of the CEOs we interviewed.
CEOs are proud of what has been achieved...
We had a seamless transition - we'd invested in the technology and could move to remote working within 24 hours.
Our website has handled six months of visitors in six weeks and we're updating guidance within 24 hours, when previously it would have taken us a month.
We're moving to a genuinely agile organisation - set the direction and teams respond by making it happen. The pace of change means you can only succeed with delegated decision-making within a wider framework.
We've handled three major crises at the same time (loss of HQ, loss of outsourced provider capability and massive market disruption) and it was seamless to the public.
...but the pace and disruption has left organisations facing major challenges
We've created a system that is delivering for now. But how do we know which of the short-term compromises are creating wider systemic risks?
We've seen demand on our services quadruple, while reducing our capacity. We've lost capacity - across the organisation - as individuals working from home are constrained by caring responsibilities. This isn't sustainable.
Our revenue-raising activities have stalled, with significant impact for how we balance the books.
Emotionally-intelligent leadership was critical to the transition...
Staff wellbeing is at the heart of our approach – we know that if we treat our people right, they will make the right decisions for our clients
An experienced leadership team that knew the organisation was able to make the transformation happen at pace. We knew what we were doing and had the relationships in place to make it work.
I know we will get through this and have to provide the confidence and direction to the team so that their hard work will make a difference. It's my role to provide the coaching and support so that leaders can in turn support their teams.
Visible leadership – moving from in-person to online communication - has made a real difference. And now we are broadening that leadership to the wider executive team.
...but they will need to invest in capability and support for the longer term
Within the first couple of weeks, I had a bit of a wobble. I was needing to lead in a very different way, and valued support from my peers.
We need to move from a sprint to a marathon. I've told my team that now is the time to take a holiday. We have to move into sustainable behaviours, otherwise the organisation will break.
We're all adapting to the new way of leading our teams. How do we manage performance, and how do our managers learn a new way of enabling high performance, when their skill set relied on personal interaction?
It's exhausting - we're relentlessly available, and spend more time with non-execs.
How will we bring new people into the organisation, how will they learn our culture, and how can we support their development?
Significant progress has been made to digitally transform organisations and improve ways of working...
If you'd asked us in January whether this was possible, 90% of the organisation would have said no. We now have the belief we can achieve much more stretching goals.
Our 2030 location strategy should now be possible by 2021. What's next?
We've driven forward our digital and remote working strategy by five years ahead of schedule.
...but the world they engage with has changed significantly, and they must evolve
We're going to have greater demand for our services, and the way we deliver them will need to evolve.
The environment we work in is transformed - what we did in January 2020 will not be in any way relevant for July 2020.
Our operating model was designed on a pre-Covid world. We've changed, the organisations we engage with have changed, but we don't have certainty on what the future landscape looks like.
I've been inspired by engaging with these CEOs. These leaders are contributing to public good at a time of immense uncertainty, and their actions are making a real difference to their teams and those they serve.
We at Nous are excited about our exploration of leadership with the Association of Chief Executives , and we'd be pleased to hear from anyone who wishes to participate or understand more about this work. What are the leadership lessons you’ve learnt so far from COVID-19?
Nous Group is supporting leadership teams in the UK and Australia adapt to the 'new normal'. We've developed a virtual leadership program to support leaders to rapidly develop the capability to lead in a new way and respond effectively to change. Get in touch if we can help you: Peter.Horne@NousGroup.com