“The challenges of taking over a leading trust”

If you take over a failing trust - one in special measures - things can only improve, and if they improve significantly your career is made.

If you take over one of the leading trusts, expectations are often unrealistically high. All it takes is a critical report, a few missed targets and suddenly the talk is of crisis. It’s a bit like taking over at Manchester United after Alex Ferguson left.

When the winning formula no longer works

The dream job is turning into a nightmare. You knew this was a high profile job in a high profile organisation. You knew the previous chief executive had been in the post forever and had acquired almost mythical status.

‘The dream job is turning into a nightmare’

This was the top job in one of the biggest and most successful organisations in the country. Success last year meant the former chief executive went out on a high leaving the board and stakeholders with high expectations of continued success.

No one is more surprised than you that the winning formula no longer seems to be working. You have the same senior management team, the same resources at your disposal, the policies haven’t changed but the performances have.

A series of critical reports have highlighted weakness in services. You would like to reinforce the management structure to bring in some much needed experience and fresh ideas but there is no money. In fact the budget position is dramatically different to what you had been led to believe.

Your senior managers have a tendency to say they never had these problems before as if you brought them with you and the board is reluctant to accept that the previous chief executive glossed over weaknesses, preferring to emphasize strengths and successes instead.

The truth is that the organisation has been overachieving for some time and its reputation is based on past performance rather than recent.

When children’s services was hit by a scandal, the local media gave the former chief executive and senior managers sympathetic treatment, saying they were let down by those they entrusted.

The former chief executive seems to have been beyond criticism. The deal he advised members to accept - for BT to provide IT and a range of support services - has not only failed to provide the promised savings, it has tied us into a long term contract that the lawyers say will be horrendously expensive to get out of.

In the mean time we have the “Rolls-Royce” computer system when all we needed was the “Ford Fiesta” model.

Shooting the messenger

A recent industrial tribunal case has caused considerable embarrassment by exposing a disciplinary process in which scores of staff were found to have been suspended on full pay for more than 12 months. A major investigation found hundreds of staff were accessing porn on their laptops.

HR is in chaos and members will shortly receive a report which reveals the true extent of absenteeism within the organisation.

The local paper has just run a series of front page articles headed simply “Town hall in crisis”. The local radio phone-ins reflects the popular view that those at the top didn’t know what they were doing.

How long before the board decides to shoot the messenger?

You can only hope you’re given the time and support to address the issues. You put in the hours keeping members informed and on board. Openness is the “watch word” so you organise regular meetings with the editor of the local paper, an open door policy with the trade union and an endless round of meetings with service user groups to offer reassurance.

The biggest critics have been local MPs, some of whom have always been at loggerheads with their local council and now have an audience for their concerns.

Regular one to one meetings with them have been arranged over the next six months to listen to their concerns. Every day starts and ends with a catch up with the chair because the two of you are in this together!