For Nadira Hussain, the former president of Socitm and, until recently, head of ICT at Enfield Council, heading up the organisation’s Leadership Academy is the perfect fit.
“While it’s very different to the environment I’m used to working in, which has predominantly been in local government, it’s a really exciting opportunity,” Nadira says. “Above all else, it’s building on what I feel passionate about, which is people and workforce development, giving colleagues the opportunity to develop by investing in them and diversifying their skill sets.
“People need to feel empowered, understand the vision and priorities and know that they will be making a difference, in order to make outcomes far more positive. If you’ve invested in people and created opportunities for them and provided them with an understanding of the direction of travel and why you’re doing what you’re doing, in my experience you’ll have healthier engagement, better support, improved collaboration and a greater level of trust. That, in turn, allows you to do what we’re all here to do in the public sector, which of course is to serve people better and deliver better outcomes”.
“Now being in a role that will allow me to deliver this person-centric development in a full-time role, rather than from the fringes, is hugely exciting and immensely exciting. I’m like the cat that got the cream!”
The importance of culture
Something we’ve been concentrating on at GovTech Leaders recently is the need for the right culture to be present in an organisation if true change is to be effectively delivered. Is this something Nadira believes in and will it be part of her new role?
“Absolutely. My recent experience at Enfield has shown that transformation and culture isn’t about working with people in isolation. A number of things need to come together and typically we’ve worked on technology, process and service re-design as components of holistic change management. However, public sector organisations need to bring all of these aspects together, plus the people element, to be able to achieve the overarching business transformation that they want to achieve.
“For me, change is about investing in people, processes, technology and, crucially, mindsets, so that everybody is aligned in terms of what the end goals are, the outcomes and the journey that’s required.”
Now that technology is so pervasive in every aspect of local government, does Nadira think that we need to consider removing the term digital – and instead just focus on skills?
“There’s currently so much debate in the public sector about what we mean by digital, but rather than fixating on semantics and definitions, I think we need to agree to a common definition that is well understood and move towards a mindset of responding to need, based on the clarity of purpose first and foremost. This approach is predicated on using the principles of ‘digital first’, configuring accessible services for the people that need them most and using the most appropriate tools to deliver the outcomes. As digital tools and capability evolve, and the power of technology continues to accelerate, it’s likely that in so many cases it will be ‘digital first’. As a result, the mindset and belief will develop that we can improve people’s lives through end-to-end process improvement and using the technology as necessary.
Given Nadira’s thoughts, does she think there are enough leaders in the public sector with the right leadership skills and mindset to deliver this clarity of purpose?
“No, not at all, and that’s why my new role is so exciting. We have some leaders – I could reel off a long list of names – but we need more. We need leadership, but we also need a collective, collaborative understanding through the tiers of our organisations. If not, we end up with a disconnect. We’ve got leaders articulating a vision and, in most cases, there are people championing the cause and following suit. But, unless you’ve got wholesale commitment throughout the organisation you’re only going to get pockets of success.
“The other thing that we need to move away from is the mindset that digital is the sole domain and responsibility of techies. Digital is a way of living, being, behaving and doing across the whole organisation, regardless of job function.”
Diversity and inclusivity
With that in mind, what role does diversity play in the digital mindset and culture side of transformation?
“Digital isn’t just about skills and development, it’s also about diversity and inclusivity. My ethics and ethos have always been that I’m only as good as the people who work with or for me, which is all about empowering, trusting, building confidence and providing opportunities to grow and develop. Secondly, it has to be about diversity because we’re not working with exclusive groups. Local authorities work with a vast array of different types of people with differing needs and issues. Therefore, the makeup of our workforce needs to be as diverse as possible so that we can respond in the most appropriate manner.
“As well as recruiting to fill certain skills gaps, organisations should bring on board people with a different point of view. In any organisation, it’s the sum of the people that will achieve the collective outcomes. Nobody is perfect, nor will one person have every skill that local authorities need. For today’s public sector organisations, it’s about creating teams that will allow a more holistic response.”
“I’m in my new role at the Leadership Academy to build on what has already been started by the society and to diversify the offering even further (click here to read more about future plans). More emphasis should be placed on apprentices, for example, as we need to nurture the future leaders in our sector. We’ll be asking our members what they want and what we can do to ensure the future leadership health of the profession and sector.”