No, I don't think it is a storm in a teacup. I was proud to work for a service that was prepared, subject to the obvious limitations, to "put its money where it's mouth was". I benefited from an organisation that was prepared to be open minded and not dismiss my application out of hand because of a criminal conviction. I committed that offence over 30 years ago. I disclosed it, of course. It has never held me back or prevented me from doing my job. I hope well. I have not been civil service or Visor vetted since TR. My Visor vetting needs renewing next year. Theoretically, I should have nothing to worry about as presumably once cleared and assuming no change in circumstances the vetting should be a straightforward decision. I will let you know!
I think this is really interesting debate. I was taught to be a reflective practitioner. Is it any wonder we are met with 'resistance' from those we work with to our conditions and stipulations? They would say obstacles and downright jump, do as I say or else, hoop jumping punitive sanctions. And I would say that is where the art of Probation lies, managing those poles within a range of contesting demands, in a responsible and empathetic way. For me that is why Probation deserves its professional status and high regard. A difficult task but not an impossible one. I empathise with all those Probation staff who are now faced with their pasts being resurrected on the alter of 'past performance as a stable predictor of future performance.' Spare a thought.
What feels like a million years ago (how the time flies when your country and its moral backbone is being dismantled) a rather clever advisor to Probation Management said something along the lines of... this may not be verbatim but it made a huge impression on me at the time...
"You are a terrific organisation. You have enormous assets, in the main your staff and reputation, and deliver great value. You punch way above your weight. Your one weakness is that your corporate strategy appears to be to jump through every hoop that is presented to you. Without a strong and clearly articulated statement of your identity, purpose and values, you will have nothing to fall back on, to defend your organisation, and will be diminished by every hoop through which you jump. With a clearly articulated statement of your purpose and identity, good leadership would be able to embrace some demands, and refuse others, and every time this happened, the purpose and identity of your organisation would be strengthened."
My Trust paid a lot for that advice, and it was spot on, but not heeded. But still good advice.
Continuing this theme, twitter threw up the following piece published on the Medium platform and which rather neatly summarises my thoughts about being a probation officer and my growing irritation with managerialism :-
Ambition, humility, confidence and change
I have made no secret of the fact that this has been one of the most difficult years I have had in a work context. I have always struggled a bit, both professionally and personally with confidence — people meeting me may not realise it, but it’s the constant inner critical voice telling me I’m faking it and can make people think I’m competent and it’s all a facade which is going to be pulled away at any moment.
The year was difficult because it came off the back of having a deeply dysfunctional relationship with a previous line manager. I have now settled down to having a new manager who couldn’t be more different and with whom I not only get on well with but I genuinely like as a person, it has given me more time to reflect on management skills, styles and professional development.
But aside from that, it has made me think a lot about the importance of self-confidence in professional growth. I am not, I don’t think, an ambitious character. I don’t crave advancement. I have been in my current job for nearly six years and it has offered me incredible opportunities to learn and develop vast swathes of knowledge in the field of mental health particularly, when I came from having worked in a particular narrow field and for that I am very grateful. However, my lack of ambition has been interpreted as a lack of desire to advance or grow professionally. I have been told this repeatedly.
I have constantly remarked, to anyone who will pause to listen to me for a couple of minutes, that lack of interest in hierarchy and particularly a lack of professional ambition, shouldn’t be interpreted as a lack of interest in development but increasingly I see it to be the case. I look at the language around fast-track social work training which pushes the idea of leadership early on even when training and seems to imply the lack of desire to lead is somehow something to look down on. Leadership is all. Leadership is where the dynamism goes. You need to be a Leader — here, have some training so you can call yourself a Leader. Lead, Inspire, Put up a Wallchart telling people who come into your office what a good Leader you are. Nowhere does there seem to be space to learn about the importance of humility and yet, it is through humility that we both grow and learn — not just to listen but to change on the basis of what we have heard.
While I have never had much interest in management, I have constantly had a strong interest in professional growth. I don’t want career advancement based on a hierarchical model of climbing a structure and reaching a career ‘peak’ with a stream of underlings and a raft of powers. I have though, always sought and been ambitious to grow professionally within the role I have. I want to learn. I want to be the best I can possibly be in the current role I have because by being more knowledgeable, more understanding and more effective, I can make more of a difference — it might not be able influencing strategic directions of large organisations, but on a micro level it might make a difference to one or two people who might, in turn, go on to make a difference to others.
But this is not recognised as growth too often within organisations which are built on traditional power structures. We push people into feeling that they have little value if they do not constantly seek advancement through the structures that are in place professionally. We create leadership development courses and talent management programmes which define people by their ambition within organisations. And yet (while this isn’t the case for me), rely on those having the confidence to apply and put themselves forward for these courses or opportunities which filters out the potential talent that may not have the supportive line manager or self-confidence to challenge or push themselves into these roles. This means that those who have the necessary personal skills including humility, may not have the same opportunities to develop or grow.
Fundamentally the substantial changes which will come and are needed in this sector come by engaging with people who use the services which are provided or which are potentially provided and listening with humility in order to make changes. As staff, we are conditioned within the organisations and systems which train us. People who have gone from university into graduate training programmes can’t bring the changes if they don’t know what needs to change. Change projects which are internally focused at staff who are involved in them risk losing the purpose of why we are making these changes if they are not, from the start, co-produced with those who have experienced services which do not work, which exclude with too much vigour, which come from a position of arrogance of ‘me empowering you to give me feedback’.
So moving on from thinking about the way organisations value staff, to looking at the way the service-user/patient and carer voice is used in all changes which happen particularly around the development of strategic changes, we come back to the value of humility in leadership. I don’t want any manager of mine to flaut inspirational quotes or posters. I don’t want an inspirational leader. I want a manager who listens. I want a leader who has the humility to listen — not on the basis of hierarchical structures to those around them, but to those who are most affected by the direction of the organisation they lead. And I mostly want them to have the humility to push a change in direction based on this feedback.