Martin Hancock discusses how Regional Talent Boards came about and the core principles that underpin them

It’s two years since the Academy formally started to implement the national talent management programme and it’s great to see the ringing endorsement of this work now written into the recently published NHS long-term plan.

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While much has changed since the launch of Developing People: Improving Care (DP:IC) at the end of 2016, the actions it contains still form the basis of the approach we are taking in talent management and again you can see its principles and ambition also being reinforced in the LTP.

At the heart of the development of DP:IC was a lot of input from a wide range of colleagues from provider trusts and clinical commissioning groups.

The strongest message we heard was that – in the context of talent management at least – people missed the old Strategic Health Authorities, which in effect “ran” the regions (10 at that stage rather than the seven we’re now moving to).

It’s interesting of course to now see the re-emergence of an NHS Improvement/NHS England regional architecture under the leadership of the recently appointed regional directors, but perhaps that’s a subject for a whole other column.

The RTB core programme of work is well advanced in Midlands and East and the other RTBs are moving at pace to adopt and progress the various workstreams as well

While there was an acknowledgement that the SHAs’ approach to talent management varied quite widely from region to region, and in some cases perhaps didn’t exemplify inclusive best practice, people clearly missed the role the SHAs were playing in trying to understand and balance senior level “demand” (vacancies) and “supply” (people).

Their clear request was for us to create something which would fill this space and out of this came the Regional Talent Boards.

The work to establish RTBs started in the Midlands and East in March 2017. We now have four RTBs in operation (North, South West and South East are the others) and the London RTB will meet for the first time in April.

This will mean five when we’re creating seven regions, but the timings of our roll-out in Midlands and East and the North pre-date this. Both these RTBs have committed to staying as they are – for the time being at least – and I’m sure that this will be revisited once the regional directors are in post.

There are some core principles that underpin all of the RTBs:

  • They should be “of the region, for the region, by the region”. If that sounds a bit “libertéégalitéfraternité”, then that’s not unintentional – we wanted to make sure that each region’s organisations and the senior leaders that run them should be at the heart of the RTBs and their work, setting the agenda as much as possible and taking collective ownership for its delivery.
  • The CEOs, accountable officers, chairs and HR directors from these organisations should be supported by and working hand in glove with their senior peers from the Arm’s Length Bodies – NHSI, NHSE and Health Education England. In effect, a “One NHS” approach with a shared commitment to the same ambition and speaking with one voice.
  • Inclusion, and the intent to use talent management to improve the diversity of leadership, especially at senior levels, should be at the heart of the RTBs’ work.
  • There will be a core programme of work that all RTBs will adopt and deliver (so that we have a level of consistency that supports a coherent national approach to talent management) but that alongside this each RTB will identify its own additional regional priorities. In some cases these might be to address issues specific to a single region; in others it may be that one region leads on behalf of all and then the work is rolled out and incorporated by the others.
  • This is not a “programme” of work with a defined end point – this is about putting in place the resources and operating model for talent management at regional level, establishing it as part of business as usual for all organisations, Sustainability and Transformation Partnerships/Integrated Care Systems and regions.

The response from all of the regions to this work has been brilliant. Midlands and East is furthest advanced and has done a lot of the hard yards on behalf of all the others.

Each RTB has great representation from CEOs, AOs, chairs and HRDs (and is chaired by a CEO or chair), alongside the NHSI/E regional directors and their senior teams and supported by the national and local Leadership Academy teams.

There is a real sense of everyone uniting around a common cause to do their best for their regions, and a recognition that while it’s vital to embed the systems, processes and infrastructure that’s needed for talent management to be done well, perhaps more important is the work to shift the collective culture, mindset and behaviours relating to talent management.

This means everyone committing to the idea that “talent” should be shared, rather than jealously guarded at organisation level. It means commitment to a clear definition of what we think “good” looks like, especially when describing what knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviours we want in our senior leaders.

It means we need to collect and share high quality data to help us understand and balance “demand” and “supply” – and sign up to a level of transparency and collaboration that isn’t currently common practice.

Inclusion, and the intent to use talent management to improve the diversity of leadership, especially at senior levels, should be at the heart of the RTBs’ work

And it means that while we will look to all organisations to take action to improve their talent management approach, it’s incumbent on those of us in NHSI, NHSE, HEE and the Academy to create the conditions and provide the support to enable them to do so.

The RTB core programme of work is well advanced in Midlands and East and the other RTBs are moving at pace to adopt and progress the various workstreams as well.

The areas being tackled include communications and engagement, data collection, action to improve the diversity of senior leadership and supporting local system (STP/ICS) talent management to ensure collaboration (not competition). 

None of the impact and outcomes of this work will be achieved or felt overnight and – like any large-scale transformation change taking place in a complex and fragmented system of many organisations – it is difficult and time-consuming work.

We do now have real momentum though and are in the process of completing the recruitment to the dedicated teams that will support the RTBs and manage their programmes of work.

The commitment to the RTBs from NHSI and NHSE as they establish and strengthen the new regional structures and teams will only add to the pace and expectation of progress.

Having been part of the small team in 2016 which translated the feedback from the service into the plan for RTBs, seeing the way it has come to life since has been hugely rewarding.