Leaders need strong back-up if change is not to prove a mission impossible, writes Matthew Simpson

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High profile reviews of healthcare following patient care scandals, new performance targets, changes to regulatory bodies and the promise of a new era heralded by the Five Year Forward View are the backdrop to a significant recruitment challenge for the NHS.

How do we ensure the best management talent is where it is needed most?

It is quite right that failing trusts need to be held to account and patient care has to improve. However, strong leadership is the catalyst for the organisational and cultural change that is necessary to make these improvements.

There has to be a culture of understanding rather than blame

Excellent candidates are available who are capable of turning around challenged organisations. Our growing concern is that in conversation with them they are beginning to consider the impact of such a role on their reputation.

The challenge in some trusts can be so great that it can potentially mean “career suicide” for any new incumbent.

The irony is that these organisations need the best talent to turn them around. They need strong leaders with a strong team around them. There has to be a culture of understanding rather than blame, if and when things don’t go to plan.

Fall on their sword

A compounding factor is the apparent belief that leaders, in particular a CEO, must do no wrong. They are held accountable and may have to fall on their sword if mistakes happen.

To ensure success, trusts should consider what they have in terms of wraparound support to help the new leader introduce change

This leaves little time for a new leader to become established, leading to a greater period of instability and a loss of trust among patients and other stakeholders.

We are now getting to a point where good candidates may not want to risk their reputation, or go through the personal turmoil of being in such a position.

To ensure success, trusts should consider what they have in terms of wraparound support to help the new leader introduce change. Most importantly, trusts must be honest from the outset about their weakest points and try not to have a rose-tinted view of the organisation.

This helps leaders to make a more informed decision and introduce improvements at an earlier stage.

Matthew Simpson is associate partner, Executive Search, Hunter Healthcare