Successful Transformation through Leadership Assessment – Are your managers equipped to lead sustained improvement?

Successful Transformation through Leadership Assessment

Siobhan Farlow, Government Lead at Odgers Interim, reflects on a very successful leadership assessment she conducted at a large County Council, which helped transform their entire Children’s Services department

How do we know if our management teams are performing at their optimum, equipped to meet the challenges ahead, able to ensure challenges are converted to opportunities and whether we have the right skills allied to the right areas?

Siobhan Farlow, Consultant in our Government Practice, has long since been running a management assessment and development programme that has proven to be hugely impactful as the necessary and pivotal first step in an organisation’s improvement journey, fundamentally addressing this very question.

Recently, Siobhan was tasked to assess the leadership team of a large County Council in the crucial area of Children’s Services, which had previously been rated “inadequate” by Ofsted. In this article, Siobhan explains how leadership assessment can help transform an entire service and position it for a successful future through providing the foundations in which to then build improvement and embed the principles of a high performing service.

Setting the scene

Further to an inadequate Ofsted judgement in Feb 2019, a new Director of Children’s Services was appointed to lead Children’s Services and specifically to tackle the root cause issues underlying the inspectorate’s judgement.  

In January 2020, West Sussex secured Lucy Butler, one of the UK’s leading Directors, who had successfully delivered in demanding circumstances further to her prior good work with Oxfordshire Council and Hampshire Council.

Following her appointment, Lucy and the leadership team quickly devised an ambitious and unrelenting focus on practice improvement, appointing some key new recruits to create ideal conditions for the management development programme.

Project Scope

The scope of the programme comprised the bespoke designed competency assessment of the entire middle and senior management cohort comprising 169 managers:

  • 13 Heads

  • 39 Service Leads

  • 117 Managers

Siobhan worked closely with the West Sussex Leadership Team and HR in then designing a competency-based management assessment programme. The results of which would then efficiently target improvement areas and accordingly the requisite development support to address improvement areas identified.

The Programme comprised of four elements:

  • Assessment

The Assessment team involved an independent Talent lead, Internal Subject Matter expert and an internal HR expert to support the process.

Each individual was given a 90minute assessment designed around the West Sussex framework and the National College best practice framework.

  • Individual Reports

Everyone was then given their own comprehensive personalised report outlining areas of strength as well as areas to consider as development. This report would then feed into one-to-one feedback/ supervision/ appraisal sessions with the evaluation panel and their line manager.

  • Feedback/Individual plan

The 1hr feedback sessions were a great platform for talking through their assessment, their individual report and development areas. The final part being a defined development plan with dates and expectations for each person to own and also to then work with their line manager going forward.

  • Organisational Themes

By aggregating the individual reports an organisational wide report could then be discerned, with valuable management information to then target development and improvement activities. Using the rich data gleaned to provide the baseline evidence of the strengths and developments areas of the service. By then addressing root cause any symptoms are then mitigated and a sustainable improvement model then implemented for lasting success and the springboard to consistent good and outstanding practice and management.

Successful transformation

The first phase of the programme has now been completed with a further phase planned across the wider Children’s Services, comprising the Education directorate.

Positive emerging signs are already evident from phase 1, and can be summarised as follows:

  • Engagement – open and transparent communication has led to 100% engagement to the programme with all recipients in scope attending an assessment session.

  • Legacy – the programme comprised the required independence using our independent team of assessors alongside service heads. This then ensuring the development needs of individuals and teams being ‘owned’ by individuals and their line management.

  • Baseline – A consistent baseline of performance, ability and competence has now been lain. This extends across the entire management workforce. Improvements can now be targeted on an individual, structural or on a service wide basis.

  • Active management – By including service leads in the assessment process as well as being assessed themselves enabled a ‘one’ service approach as well as an active approach as opposed to a passive one. In that service leads are then the ‘golden thread’ to ensure development areas are targeted, followed through, and implemented.

  • Learning culture – key to the success of the improvement strategy being embedded is the adoption of a learning culture, this exercise then providing the bedrock in which to establish a learning culture. Moving away from an organisationally directed ‘training plan’ to a more integrated, thirst for knowledge and professional curiosity.

  • Shared acceptance and goals – the programme has reinforced a common consensus around key priority areas centred around the best outcomes for all of the County’s children and families. Acceptance of the improvement plan and the determination to drive through the changes allows for a critical mass to move forward in the same direction in a ‘one service’ culture.

  • Monitoring Report – the most recent of which refers to several themes alluding to the progress already made:

  • “All managers have been through a comprehensive management assessment programme. This has provided a clear analysis of the strengths and areas for individual and organisational development. The assessments will be used to inform tailored management development plans, with the aim of strengthening the impact of managers on service delivery.”

  • “The local authority has maintained a clear and determined approach to improvement, despite the additional challenges presented by the pandemic. A permanent, experienced, and ambitious senior leadership team is in place. They have a clear and coherent plan and are realistic about the challenges ahead.”

Siobhan’s close work with Lucy Butler, Executive Director of Children, Young People and Learning (DCS), and Vince Clark, Children’s First Transformation Director, at West Sussex County Council has enabled the team to transform their services and utilise the great leadership skillset that the council has in place.

“The partnership work we carried out with Odgers and our internal managers has been exceptional . The programme of assessment that Odgers led was high impact, the fact that our managers worked so closely with Odgers gave us a real insight into the strengths and weaknesses of all our managers & also meant we really got to know them. This has helped us build a really strong individualised development plan for each of our managers,” Lucy reflected on her work with Siobhan and Odgers Interim.

Overseeing the successful transformation and best practice of the Children’s Services, Vince said that “Children’s Services within West Sussex County Council is improving quickly through our Children First Transformation programme. As part of this we wanted to undertake a comprehensive, yet rapid, assessment and development programme for all of our managers within Children’s Social Care. Following a competitive procurement process we chose Odgers as our improvement partner to deliver this project for us. We have been delighted with the approach taken by Odgers. They listened closely to the brief and executed it at pace and within budget which has enable us to maintain a strong degree of confidence with our stakeholders. It has also given us a comprehensive analysis and overview of our management team, our strengths and areas for development. Throughout the process, Odgers have worked closely with our senior leadership team and have provided detailed progress reports and support.”


If you would like to know how a Leadership Assessment can improve your teams’ performance, or you would like to have a general conversation with us about anything raised in this article, please do not hesitate to contact Siobhan Farlow.


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