Friday, 11 March 2016

Reflecting and moving forward; Leadership Development Advisors’ Prototype Debrief

This week we hosted the first prototype debrief session, where we spent the day reflecting on the Firstline programme with our Leadership Development Advisors (LDAs).

The Leadership Development Advisors work closely with Firstline Leaders on a one-to-one basis, to challenge thinking, stimulate creativity, and provide tools and techniques to equip the managers to be even stronger social work leaders. The group of ten LDAs are from a diverse background within children’s social care, coaching and systemic practice, and all bring something different to the table in terms of expertise.  They have been pivotal in supporting and challenging Firstline Leaders in their learning throughout the programme.

Reflection and thoughts

The day kicked off with an open discussion on reflections from the programme. We were joined by researchers from the Centre for Child and Family Research from Loughborough University, who are evaluating the Firstline prototype.

Throughout the day LDAs took part in one-to-one interviews, in which they described each Firstline Leaders’ learning from the programme and how they use this learning in their day to day roles. We also spoke to LDAs in groups based around the local authorities in which they worked. In these discussions they reflected on the reactions and impacts the prototype had generated within each organisation. A whole group discussion then provided an opportunity for the LDAs to reflect together on all their experiences with the Firstline Leaders. 

A passion for learning

The atmosphere throughout the day was similar to the one which was present amongst the Firstline Leaders during the final residential; a feeling of passion for learning, a sense of achievement for what the Firstline Leaders have already accomplished, and excitement about the change that is yet to come as a result of the Firstline Leaders’ hard work and drive to make a difference in social work.

Respect for the Social Work profession

A set of common themes evolved over the day and LDAs identified that the Firstline Leaders have found the programme has not only had an impact on them in terms of their professional development – but has also increased their sense of pride in the social work profession. By working closely with a group of like-minded individuals and refocusing on their motivation and values they have left the programme feeling refreshed and reignited. It was apparent from feedback from the LDAs that Firstline Leaders have valued the opportunity to have one to one coaching and have practised their learning throughout the programme.

The themes identified by the LDAs highlighted the importance of the social work profession being valued and LDAs unanimously agreed that:

‘Social work managers display an enormous amount of courage, resilience and resourcefulness. It is a challenging job and it is hard work to keep going, and they do so, day in and day out. We need to recognise this and ensure the message is heard.’

Now that the Firstline Leaders are reaching the end of the programme, we have been hearing stories about how they are implementing their learning from the programme in their local authorities.  
As one of the Leadership Development Advisors commented:

Firstline Leaders are excited in the different way of thinking that has developed from the programme, and are really excited about the possibilities for the future.”

Monday, 1 February 2016

Making it happen: a review of the third residential module

Last month, Firstline rolled out the third and final residential module for the inaugural 2015 cohort. The atmosphere across the two-day event proved a celebratory one and it was clear from the buzz and engagement in the room that the Firstline Leaders felt a high sense of achievement and were ready for a change.

We kicked off with what has now become a Firstline tradition: a hearty meal in the beautiful city of York. The pre-night dinner enabled the Leaders to relax, step away from the stresses of their daily roles in preparation for a full-on couple of days, reserving a little energy for the customary quiz!

Leadership styles
Firstline Leaders recently underwent the innovative Hay Group leadership diagnostics. Following some individual reflection, the first day started with reflections on their leadership style which they discussed with peers. Firstline Leaders commented that the leadership diagnostics made them think about recognising which areas of their role they feel less comfortable with, and identify how to overcome these challenges and use their leadership skills to move forward.

Public Narrative
The second session of the day was led by Innovative Programme Coach, Ruth Kennedy, with a focus on Public Narrative, a tool which uses stories to motivate others to action. Firstline Leaders explored their own stories, considering what it was that motivated them to enter the profession; what was happening within their organisations and teams; and what it was that they wanted to change. Firstline Leaders shared their Public Narrative with the group, and the emotionally charged response highlighted just how powerful stories are in communicating values and influencing others.

A clear theme emerged from the Firstline Leaders’ stories - social work as a profession is often not valued or even properly understood. Firstline Leaders seemed to naturally arrive at a joint call for action; ‘to be proud of what we do, and show others that social work can make a real difference’.

As one of the Leaders also asserted: we need to have confidence in ourselves and believe in each other so that we can help the families who need it.’ The determination to help others and make a difference featured strongly throughout the two days of the residential.

Take a look at the following clip which was showed to the Firstline Leaders for inspiration for their own Public Narrative:

Sharing learning from the Firstline projects
As part of the Firstline programme, Leaders undertook a practical project, which provided the opportunity to apply their learning from the programme. The project was based on a tangible change or improvement that Firstline Leaders wanted to make within their local authorities. A key part of the third residential module was for Leaders to share learning from their projects.

It was great to see so many local authority senior managers joining in on these sessions and showing their support and commitment to the Firstline Leaders. It was clear that Firstline Leaders found the support and feedback very encouraging. The project sessions took place in three regional groups, and prompted thoughtful and productive discussions to consider how the Firstline Leaders and Local Authority could move forward, and achieve change within their organisations.

What will your team say is different in six months’ time?
As the prototype phase of the programme is nearing an end, Firstline Leaders are facing the challenge of maintaining their momentum. They need to continue to put their learning into practice, influence others, and make positive changes for their teams and the families they work with. The Firstline Team are confident they will succeed in this challenge!

In the very last session of the residential, the Firstline Leaders were asked to reflect on what they would like to change within their organisations and asked to respond to the question ‘what will your team say is different in six months’ time?’ 

Monday, 11 January 2016

Baroness Sally Morgan: developing social work leaders for the future

Ahead of the launch of our report ‘Developing outstanding social workers’, we spoke to Baroness Sally Morgan, Chair of the Firstline Subcommittee, member of the Frontline Board, and a former Chair of Ofsted.

How did you get involved with Firstline?

I have always been involved in education, and have seen it as the greatest potential changer of people’s lives. But I was also acutely aware that there were a group of children in any school who had a set of other issues that presented serious problems for their education. The schools just weren’t able to support these students sufficiently, and in many cases the social care provision wasn’t either. So when Josh came forward with the Frontline proposition it seemed both sensible and timely.

As we were developing Frontline we realised there is a real gap in the system for people who are leading teams in the frontline of social work. For what, in essence, Firstline has developed: a programme to support people at that first level of key leadership in the organisation. There’s such a need in the system to develop people to be great frontline leaders, and I think the reception from local authorities shows that they recognise too that there’s the gap in the system for this.

Why did you think Firstline is an exceptional idea?

First line social work managers are the people who absolutely make the difference, because they nurture the people in their team, they develop them, and in many cases persuade them to stay in in the profession. They are vital in keeping and developing the new generation of social workers, and they probably make the most fundamental difference to kids’ lives in care. They are absolutely the pivotal people that we have to build for the future.

How did you come to Chair the Firstline subcommittee?

In a sense, our overriding mission is part of the same family as Frontline’s. We therefore thought it best to initially draw people from the Frontline Board who understood the journey, and had learnt from its development. On the Board, I was one of the people who was quite vociferous about Firstline.

As a development committee, we’re supporting the Firstline team and providing necessary challenge. It’s interesting because it allows you to be part of helping shape a really good programme.

What impact do you hope Firstline will have on social work?

I hope it will provide support and challenge for good people in the system to recognise the level of difference they can make, and keep these really great social workers in the profession. I want it to be a fundamental beacon for developing excellent leaders. But I also want it to provide a great next step of personal development for very good frontline social workers.

What do you think are the most important qualities for leadership?

Firstly, clarity and the ability to focus on the things that really matter. The ability to think strategically, explain what you think needs to be done, bringing people with you in that thinking is also key. You also need to be open to new ideas, to take the best ones, and ultimately be prepared to make decisions – even tough ones. Those are the essential qualities for good leadership.

What impact do you want the report to have?

The report highlights the importance of quality first line leadership within social work. It is one way of engaging local authorities to work with us and undertake the level of reform that is needed to develop, empower, and support leaders working in this critical tier of the system.

What are the most powerful messages from the report?

The first line social work manager role is both vitally important and extremely challenging. The report demonstrates the degree to which social work managers play a critical role in enabling high quality social work, by improving the climate for the social workers they lead. Outstanding first line leaders create an energising climate for their teams that enables high performance, even when broader system conditions are challenging.

The report distinguishes the difference between good and outstanding leaders. It is apparent that good social worker managers require a high level of intellect, emotional intelligence and strong leadership capabilities. Outstanding leaders go beyond this by embracing the leadership role by: being proficient at influencing others, astute and considered in decision-making, effective in utilising their professional authority, and are reflective and understand how to translate this reflection into action. Finally and probably most importantly they need to have a strong, clear, moral purpose.

What response do you think the following groups would give to that question?

A)    Those in first line management positions?

Many of those in first line management positions may have not encountered this level of recognition before. I’d hope that first line managers reading the report will feel empowered to know that support is out there for them to develop, lead and make significant change within their role.

B)   Senior managers at local authorities?

The report is not only key in identifying what great leadership looks like within children’s social work. It looks at what, in the local authority context, helps or hinders first line leaders, and what organisations can do to improve effective first line leadership. Food for thought for senior managers whom aspire for positive change within their organisation.

How has the report been received in the sector?

There is a gap in the development of first line managers, which is what this report identifies. These findings resonate strongly with those working in the sector, and they are clear that an innovative approach to promoting and developing outstanding social work leadership is welcomed.

Click here to access the report, and here for the report appendices.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

It’s all coming together…

The last six months have been something of a whirlwind here at Firstline. Among other things, we’ve been meeting local authority leaders, interviewing first line managers, booking venues, and recruiting Leadership Development Advisors – all with the goal of creating a prototype development programme for first line social work managers that has a tangible impact on the lives of children and families.

But perhaps the most exciting part of the work so far has been collaborating with some of the best brains in the business on the Firstline programme itself.

Then came the tricky bit: figuring out how to support them to get there. Any development programme comes with challenges - after all, it's incredibly difficult for us to change our behaviour, especially when we return to the same environment as we were in before. But creating a programme for first line managers in children’s social work is especially challenging given the enormous pressure they are under in their day-to-day jobs, and the huge demands that are placed on their time and energy as a result.

So we were determined to draw on all of the expertise and experience we could lay our hands on. We sought advice from our subcommittee members, and drew heavily on the skills and knowledge of our Technical Advisory Group. This included input on systemic practice, coaching, behavioural science, and learnings from related programmes like Teaching Leaders and our colleagues at Frontline.

These discussions allowed us to develop the basic structure of the programme. We decided that a mixture of on-site and off-site sessions would be the most practical and impactful way to deliver the programme, and that it would be important to include a range of activities in order to account for the different learning styles that we all have. We also decided that a mixture of group, individual leadership development, and individual exercises would be most likely to lead to the transformational change that we’re aiming for.

Since then, we have been working to develop the detail of the curriculum, with input from experts at the Hay Group and experienced practitioners like Nick Pendry and Jeremy Greenwood. And of course we also sought feedback from our Local Authority partners on the structure and content to make sure it aligned with their expectations, which it is so far.

The next few weeks are likely to be just as interesting as we work to refine the curriculum, create the materials we need, welcome the Leadership Development Advisors to the Firstline team, and make the final logistical arrangements. But we know it will all be worth it, and can’t wait for the moment next month when we can finally welcome the 40 Firstline Leaders onto the programme. Then the hard work will really begin!