2nd April 2020 4 minutes read

The MJ | Resilience in action

Neil Lupin, Managing Partner at Green Park, looks at the resilience of our public services at a time of unprecedented demand.

I almost wish I hadn’t read my recent Recruitment & Retention articles in The MJ before writing this. Nothing could have prepared us for what we now face, but back in January I wrote about resilience. Personal resilience, workforce resilience and organisational resilience. Seemingly overnight our world has changed and the word ‘unprecedented’ is one I already want to stop using. I suggested at the time that we might want to challenge our assumptions about how resilient we are and what makes each of us more or less resilient from one day to the next. I had previously also said that 2020 would be uncertain to say the least, but we could never have predicted what is now before us.

Resilience as I said before is almost impossible to measure, and sometimes you find it in the most surprising places. Right now though, the resilience we are seeing across Public Services nationally is beyond humbling. It is extraordinary, it is frankly awe inspiring. But how surprising is it? It was Margaret Thatcher who famously once said there is no such thing as society but how wrong does that statement feel right now? We are seeing our society pull together perhaps in the most inspiring way since World War 2. We have seen it in the aftermath of more recent tragedies too, but I suspect we will ultimately look back at 2020 as the year in which our country, if not our world, changed. And while it may be hard to imagine at present, I’m sure I am not alone in hoping and expecting that there will be some good that will emerge.

The response has been phenomenal. The way our key workers have responded is incredible to watch. The NHS is making the headlines and for good reason, but my thoughts are with all key workers – social workers and carers, education professionals, and all those working at the front line to do everything humanly possible to protect communities and beat this. So often, the amazing work done by Local Government and its employees goes unsung. The NHS has been flooded with volunteers, which is brilliant, and I wonder whether similar will happen in Local Government.

Resilience, determination, grit, empathy and so many other wonderful traits are plain to see at all levels in Local Government. Everyone is playing their part, pitching in, trying to help in any way they can. I’ve personally seen Chief Executives, elected members, staff and interim managers all doing anything and everything they can to make a difference – working all hours yes but working collaboratively and selflessly. Sharing and borrowing staff, diverting talent to areas with the most critical demand. Pooling resource, co-creating ideas, putting aside egos. And in the main this is happening remotely through technology which in itself requires a whole new level of resilience.

I believe it is essential that the supply chain also plays its part and I include Green Park in that statement. The Crown Commercial Service has already stepped in with procurement guidance on keeping the sector moving and it is incumbent on the supply chain to step up too. Fortunately, technology means that we can remain working remotely on a near business as usual footing when it comes to being ready to support our colleagues and friends across the sector. We have seen a huge increase in demand for interims, advisors, consultants and senior people to backfill the roles of those taken ill or moved to essential services. We have a responsibility to stay ready to serve. Now is the time to make sure our colleagues can access the talent they need without a fuss, and I am immensely proud of how my own colleagues have selflessly risen to that challenge. We are asking a lot of them, perhaps rightly so, but again this whole situation means we have to be so careful to protect peoples’ emotional health and wellbeing.

While this will probably be our ‘new normal’ for another 4-6 months, to which we are all adapting, there will be an end to this crisis. As I said here in October, the sector is nothing if not resilient and we are already seeing our colleagues planning for the light at the end of the tunnel. Permanent recruitment hasn’t stopped, and if anything what we are seeing is much more of the planning and preparation that we have long advocated. So we are talking to Councils now about how they’ll recruit in the months and quarters ahead, not just in the days and weeks ahead. Preparation is key, and it is a certainty that there will be a surge in permanent executive search at some point later this year and prioritisation and planning have never been more important.

As we all adapt to a new way of working, our individual and collective resolve and capacity for resilience is being sorely tested. The harrowing experiences of those working on the front line are becoming a daily occurrence. Just keeping going is in itself a triumph but it is important to be mindful of the impact this situation is having on health and wellbeing. For many, the isolation of working from home full time has become an overnight reality. Technology is fantastic but it doesn’t replace human contact and fresh air, both of which are now in short supply. Many of those people are carers and now teachers. A lot has fallen on our collective shoulders and the more we can all support one another the better. Compassion, kindness, tolerance, empathy and sympathy make a difference even in the smallest of ways.

Many communities now have support groups running via WhatsApp etc. The spirit and vigour with which neighbours are supporting each other when often they have never met is inspirational, and the numbers self-isolating are shocking. We all have a role to play in protecting one another, saving lives and keeping things going. But as someone said to me earlier, “the light at end of the tunnel has not been turned off”.

 

This article is to be published in The MJ on the 2nd of April, 2020. To read the latest MJ magazine, click here

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