…part of the Diamond Dozen series
Simon Bland, Reigate & Banstead BC talks about
communication . connectivity . conflict
Elaine… You have first-hand experience of moving from a commercial environment into the public sector? What advice would you give to emerging leaders who are considering making a similar move?
Simon… I’m assuming that by public sector you’re referring to my experience in a local council. In this context the public sector is often considered to be rather sleepy, slow moving or set in ways of operating best suited to the past, and formal decision making processes can sometime feel to be overly protracted. However, nothing could be further from the truth. In terms of management and leaders we recognise that we need to respond quickly to change, and commit a significant amount of time and resource on talent development.
Of course formal decision making processes are taken forward over a prescribed timescale, but the real upside is that outcomes can be better considered and communicated. The obvious difference in operational terms is the sheer breadth of activity that the public sector has to engage in, and the ‘wicked issues’ that need to be addressed. As well as the obvious service delivery issues that go along with refuse collection and managing public spaces there is always the need to plan for future needs. To develop policies that will help ensure that social, environmental and economic issues are appropriately met, and to develop local legislation that supports the wider good. This creates a very dynamic environment and the sector enjoys a great deal of innovation.
The assumption that the private and public sectors are in some way completely alien from each other is undoubtedly flawed, but there is a communication issue. This is possibly as a result of narrow thinking from both sides. The current economic climate encourages greater cross sector working, and a number of people have enjoyed very successful careers moving fluidly between the two. Commercial skills are becoming more valued in the public sector as councils seek to generate income to address funding shortfalls.
I’d say a move to the public sector shouldn’t be seen as a move for life and down stream could well open new opportunities within private sector organisations looking to develop partnership opportunities. The public sector is a fascinating area to work in and anyone looking to deliver outcomes for the public good might well find it stimulating and rewarding.
Elaine… We have mingled at a few events together over the years and something that has always impressed me is the way in which you interact with others and make connections. How have you developed these skills?
Simon… As a northerner who worked in the hospitality industry in my formative years, I’m inclined to look to develop social connections and I’ve found that strong personal relationships help deliver better results.
Despite any tendency towards shyness, I think we’re all pretty much predisposed to want to make connections with other people. The initial challenge is to move away from looking to extend your network within your ‘own tribe’, or people that obviously have similar characteristics. Recognising that as individuals we probably have a great deal in common with a wide spectrum of the community creates the opportunity to reach out and explore what they might be. If you can start by assuming that some area of common interest exists and the challenge is to find it the dynamic of interaction and connection becomes a different sort of process. Having a genuine interest in differences, as well as similarities, is also helpful. Most people like to talk about themselves. Listen and people will talk to you, and be appreciative of the time you’ve given them.
I’d also say that if people see you enjoying yourself in networking situations they likely to seek you out. Start small and find a few people you feel comfortable talking too. The rest will follow.
Elaine… Community-orientated roles like yours require the balancing of many agendas, opinions and requirements, what are your 3 top tips for effectively managing conflict?
Simon… I’m sure I don’t have all the answers, and perhaps there isn’t a perfect model. However, I would recommend the following approaches:
a. Be honest about what your trying to do and what authority you have. Don’t make matters worse by creating expectations that you can not deliver on.
b. Treat everyone fairly and consistently. Try to understand everyone’s position and why they hold it. Different views can’t usually be distilled to ‘right and wrong’, so don’t make the mistake of making people feel that you think they’re wrong. It’s very hard to come back from that position.
c. Keep communicating. When communication stops people start to make their own assumptions, often worse than reality.