In the midst of the Coronavirus crisis we caught up with CIPFA C.Co’s new Managing Director, Natalie Abraham, to understand how her role and the role of the Company has changed in response; and how she sees the future of the public sector when activity returns to relative normality.
Natalie, you’ve been appointed to head C.Co at a significant period for the public sector, how has that been?
As the new Managing Director of CIPFA C.Co I am acutely aware that I have big shoes to fill and having been in the business of change for a long time the importance of strong leadership in times of challenge and change is not lost on me.
But I am a firm believer that there are no hard and fast rules for ticking this box and one thing I’ve recognised is that to be a good leader, you have to be a good learner.
I have always tried to be responsive to the people around me, to learn from everyone I have the pleasure of working with and to ensure that I take positive experiences from every professional situation I encounter. Not always easy or even possible; so I will not preach that it is; but I have learned that you don’t always have to know the answer immediately yourself; the real beauty is bringing the right people together and asking the right questions to allow you to co-design what works best – Collaboration.
As the Covid-19 pandemic unfolds, I find myself in a very fortunate position to be part of a highly skilled and diverse team where collaboration is second nature. But being able to articulate clearly and concisely what we are here to do has never been so important.
C.Co has always been value driven with a strong public sector ethos and when push comes to shove, or a pandemic strikes, this ultimately boils down to us being good, decent people. But as a collective, what are we here to do?
To add value and capability to the public sector in a practical and logical way.
And that is what we have endeavoured to do.
Through collaborative management of our situation we have set the common goal of leaving as positive an impact as is possible in these times of national crisis. We have embraced the theory that sometimes you just have to do what feels right and work out the practicalities afterwards.
How has C.Co adapted in response to the crisis?
Whilst some contracts quite rightly are on pause, for others we were able to quickly innovate and offer technological or just simple tactical ways of undertaking the work which did not put people at risk or undermine the value of the work, but allowed us to deliver our intended objectives to original timescales. This aspect of our daily action planning really embraced the ‘keep calm and carry on’ rhetoric. However, this is time limited, we also need to adapt as the landscape will fundamentally be changed by coronavirus and we need to be ready for that.
I understand that C.Co offered practical support to the front-line, how did this come about?
Not being recognised key workers did not sit right with us and a pause on a number of key contracts meant we had the capacity to help, and this is what we wanted to do.
In a world of fake news, credibility is also key and fast forward a few weeks, months maybe and I know that to stand alongside public sector managers and help them realise their organisations’ ambitions meant we had to understand the journey coronavirus has taken them on, that meant getting stuck in and volunteering our time.. We reached out to our local Councils, previous employers and offered our full support. We were impressed with what we found, Councils had responded quickly to the crisis, implementing governance and order in what felt like a confused and fast paced remote working environment. Against all odds these organisations were trying to find order, making fast paced decisions and collaborating in a way not seen before. We have added to this, offering our expertise and capabilities to not only provide welcome capacity to support the front-line response but also providing constructive challenge based on our broad experience in the sector. This ensured that our contribution was value-added to the benefit of the overall response.
Whilst we are not qualified health professionals and therefore cannot claim to be experiencing the heart wrenching pain of the true coal-face, we are volunteering our time and skills to help support where we can. Sadly this has taken us into areas of the public sector we had never previously experienced, but what it has shown us is how adaptive, responsive and ultimately caring our public services are.
What will you take from the 2020 experience?
So whilst just a short month ago I was confidently promoting a revised annual plan to our Board, I am now not backing away from our grand intentions, but breaking them down into much smaller, short term goals which are predominantly aligned to ensuring C.Co is positioned to support our customers to evolve post this pandemic. The journey of internal collaboration, strategic planning, alongside optimism for future growth and impact was not a wasted one, but quite fittingly now provides fantastic context for our daily action planning and risk management.
We can do nothing if not learn from these shared experiences and ensure that what we put back into our public services is built on the foundations of responsiveness that Covid-19 showed us we had. Through our shared continuous learning this aspect of 2020 public service delivery should be protected at all costs when we start to rebuild our society.