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Interview: East Riding’s John Skidmore on System Leadership

John Skidmore

System leadership is one of the key topics covered in The EDGEWORK Manifesto, IMPOWER’s recent book on understanding – and delivering sustainable change in – complex public service systems. 

After he’d read the book, we asked John Skidmore (Director of Adults, Health and Customer Services at East Riding of Yorkshire Council) for his views on this subject.

What is your role as a system leader?

I’m responsible for adult social care, public health and culture and customer services. I’m a member of the CCG governing body as well as being a DASS, so I work across the entire integrated care system.

What motivates you as a system leader?

When we experience health and social care, whether personally or via a family member or friend, it is not always the experience we’d like it to be. There are a lot of interfaces and handoffs between different parts of the system. As a system leader, my aim is to help develop a system that works seamlessly.

What are your reflections on the EDGEWORK Manifesto?

I liked the book. It helpfully describes how to deliver change in complex systems and the important role of system leadership. It resonated with my role in the East Riding and the things I grapple with on a daily basis. The conceptual understanding of complex systems is good – the opportunity now is to think more about how we deliver this on the ground.

What do you think are the key elements needed for achieving high performing system leadership?

  1. Put time and effort into building trust and relationships within the system. You need passion, drive and energy, and understanding of the pressures and challenges other leaders in the system are facing. Making time for one-to-one conversations with those leaders outside of formal meetings is really important. Be open and transparent with others – talk about what is working in your directorate, but equally, be honest about the things you need to improve.
  2. Become a trusted partner through collaborative working. Take opportunities to work together when they present themselves, because that will take other people’s trust in you to the next level. Anyone can say the words, but sometimes there’s nothing better than having skin in the game and taking a bit of risk for your system partners.
  3. Set a shared ambition. This requires a clear plan with clear actions, and a light touch governance structure where people are empowered to take action. The reality is that the delivery is always more challenging than the planning, so maintaining a shared ambition is a continuous process.
  4. Reinforce a system approach wherever possible. That means modelling the right behaviours, to show people that you really believe it. For example, in my council building the CCG Chief Officer has the same access to the building as I do, and a desk next to mine. All communications, from conversations with all levels of staff to newsletters, need to reflect a systems approach. The little things can be important signals. I’ve got an East Riding badge and a CCG badge. That is what modelling behaviours means.

How would you sum up system leadership?

System leadership isn’t having a monthly meeting and then not thinking about it again until the next meeting. It isn’t part of anyone’s job description or accountability, but it is the right thing for our residents. If you don’t change the ingredients of the cake, you won’t get a different taste!

Want to join the discussion? Please get in touch.

Written by

John Skidmore



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