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“Staff strategies must focus on reinvigorating existing talent”

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The NHS is facing a crisis of talent and there simply isn’t enough to go round.

That is according to a new report by Nursing Times’ sister publication HSJ, the Future of NHS Leadership, which says there is a real danger that talent will become too thinly spread. The proposed solution is simple: have fewer NHS organisations and trusts. This is preferable to coming up with ever more expensive and creative ways of recruiting, retraining and rewarding high flyers, a system that encourages talented and ambitious individuals to move on and up, hopping from one trust to another and never staying long enough to see through the changes they initiated.

It is managers who develop talent and keep people happy, so an updated workforce strategy for an NHS organisation or trust should focus on developing the people skills of their existing managers. The strategy is about rediscovering neglected talent. Most organisations focus on spotting and developing future high flyers; they neglect the majority and write off a minority as no-hopers. While the high flyers benefit, they invariably leave.

All managers at the time of their appointment were seen as competent, with the appropriate skills and knowledge, or they wouldn’t have been appointed in the first place. In some cases they haven’t grown after the first 12 months in post; in others the job that they are expected to do is very different to the one they were originally appointed to. Some have become frustrated, some cynical, while others have responded to the increased pressure by coasting. It’s not hard to imagine the effect this has on the staff they manage, the development and retention of talent and the reputation of the organisation which in turn effects the ability to attract talent.

Management development is either restricted to the few or focused on the practical; improving budget management, understanding performance indicators, getting to grips with your responsibilities under health and safety or policy and procedures for those involved in recruitment.

For managers to improve their people management skills, they must first gain insight into how their behaviour affects colleagues. When senior managers gain this insight they are more likely to address deficiencies in their listening skills, open up conversations rather than close them down and persuade rather than impose. This in turn has an impact on middle managers who feel more engaged and valued, while first-line managers have a model to follow. This insight can be achieved through executive coaching, where an independent management consultant observes a manager in a series of work situations. These include team meetings, annual appraisals, one-to-one supervision meetings, back to work interviews and meetings with partners or agencies, and provides detailed feedback.

Managers, especially more senior ones, rarely get honest feedback. Staff are understandably reluctant to tell their boss they talk too much and need to listen more, that what they think is encouragement is seen as hectoring and bullying or that rather than being approachable as they believe, they are seen by some as domineering and scary. Executive coaching gives managers a chance to see themselves as their staff and colleagues experience them and adapt their behaviour accordingly.

Where managers have improved their people management skills, staff report less management bullying, less mistrust of senior management, lower levels of absenteeism, greater confidence in line management and more reports of feeling valued. This is an environment that effectively develops and retains talent.

Blair McPherson former director of community services, author and blogger,

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