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Gate One’s ‘Think beyond’ series seeks to challenge conventional thinking across the public sector. As part of this series, we recently hosted a webinar on place leadership. The event involved a panel discussion led by Rob Bradshaw, a client director at Gate One, with guests Josie Wragg, chief executive of Slough Borough Council, and Nick Kennell, partner lead for public sector at Gate One.

If nothing else, these extraordinary and challenging times have highlighted the importance of working across partner organisations to protect our communities and local economies. Forward-thinking sectors are increasingly looking to the concept of place leadership as a new way of delivering services across multiple organisations in a more co-ordinated way.

But what does it really mean to be a place leader right now, and how do organisations need to re-adjust their thinking to successfully balance managing immediate pressures with enhancing their long-term impact?

Our panellists shared their own experiences and perceptions of place leadership, including how COVID-19 has accelerated the need to work together more closely. The discussion highlighted the following three key elements to successful place leadership.

1. Perspective

Effective place leadership and management is not one-dimensional, with benefits delivered through a number of bilateral partnerships. Successful place leadership approaches are multi-dimensional, mobilising, directing, co-ordinating and facilitating inter-organisational strategies and plans.

Organisations will often put themselves at the heart of an ecosystem, looking for ways in which their services can either be enhanced or used by customers. Instead, they should put ‘place’ or customers at the heart of the ecosystem and view their role as part of a larger network of services and needs.

This means the organisation moves away from taking a ‘command-and control’ approach to becoming more of a facilitator and enabler, identifying the different purpose of each organisation and collaborating to ensure that its needs are met by the most relevant service.

2. Culture and behaviours

A purpose-led approach requires a shift in thinking, away from ‘what are my services and activities’ to ‘how am I best placed to contribute to those gaps’. A key part of this is maintaining an outward focus and looking at issues through a number of different lenses, to develop a collective understanding of local needs.

Yet being a successful place leader not only requires understanding and buy-in at the top of the organisation, but across all levels of staff. While not everyone needs to consider the implications of their work on ‘place’, there is a need to ensure all staff have an end-to-end service focus and understanding of how their role impacts upstream and downstream services.

Promoting an ‘up-and-out’ culture that has staff looking beyond their individual tasks and being mindful of the impact of their work allows leaders to take a place position more easily. This culture can be promoted across the organisation, in staff inductions, through regular communications and in the way the organisation articulates its purpose within the wider ecosystem, and through how this drives individual expectations and potentially appraisal approaches.

3. Structure

Organisations can often have rigid structures and scope, which limits who they can support and where their focus is applied. Effective place leadership minimises the amount of structure between organisations to allow them to have the freedom and flexibility to come together over the right populations.

Some councils, such as Slough Borough Council, have implemented a locality model which brings services together around the needs of communities. These facilitate integrated services with partners and bring together data and insight to better tailor preventative and targeted services to deliver improved outcomes.

To watch a recording of this webinar, please click here

Rob Bradshaw

We are passionate about working shoulder-to-shoulder with the public sector to transform outcomes for citizens.