One of the great aspects of working alongside Universities, is the breadth and depth of critical thinking that you get exposed to. Wednesday evening I was a guest at the Bristol Business School’s Distinguished Executive Address Series and the speaker was Karen Dunnell. Since her Wikipedia page was last edited the ONS has merged and become the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) with Karen as CEO.
In a wide ranging and refreshingly honest talk, Karen covered many of the organisational and structural challenges that she and the civil servants in her charge have faced over the past few upheavals.
The framework for her talk was the departmental model of leadership around four key factors. There are as many models of leadership as there are leaders, this is a particularly interesting one from a small company and social media perspective as I’ll try and indicate below.
As an organisation of knowledge professionals there is a delicate balancing act between “pure” mathematical “truth” and the political need for answers to quite specific questions. In providing leadership for the UKSA, Karen ensures that each individual maintains their integrity and thus the organisation remains true to its purpose. This is encapsulated in their Code of Practice, but we demonstrate our integrity (or otherwise) in everything we say, do and (increasingly) are perceived to be saying & doing.
We’re all judged and evaluated on our integrity, the concept of Social Capital or personal brand is an integral part of a wider corporate integrity. Ultimately your integrity is inextricably tied to authority and people’s willingness to be led by you.
This is the Vision/Mission/Strategy bit that applies equally for UKSA with over 3,000 staff and a wide ranging statutory and agile reactive environment as for new start ups and growth businesses. Do you know where you’re heading and do you have a plan & the resources to get from here to there. Do you have a contingency plan?
No organisation exists in a vacuum and whether it’s Government ministers or tabloid newspapers screaming for yet another set of stats to justify their hobby horse, or economic disruptors throwing a spanner in the works; a well articulated direction provides the framework and context for the other aspects of this leadership model.
There’s a delicate balance between being an intransigent branch of the civil service and a gadfly chasing policy directives. Karen was balancing some pretty tough negotiations on what the UKSA was about and could do, against having to please political masters that control her budget.
This was more than just the capability to deliver customer expectations. It also covered organisational capabilities. Getting the best from everyone when everyone’s moving around. Although a large organisation (around 3,000 people) Karen highlighted the incredible changes that have taken place as a result of the relocations that are leading to a need to balance capabilities across staff and plan for the future (link talks about changes to legal profession but I think the challenges are identical for any knowledge/professional based business).
It was very telling that this was the last on the list, yet the one that Karen felt the UKSA was strongest at. As a statistics authority you’d expect lots of measurable results. However, even the UKSA operates against Time-Cost-Quality results metrics. The interesting aspect from a senior executive perspective were the wider results matrix. How to measure the impact of an organisation (especially one that is not a profit centre)?
For Karen this was about raising the profile of the statistics service and educating the public in the role and benefit of stats in providing the evidence to inform decision making. A crucial aspect was the presentation of results in the media, not just the hard statistics but the processes and interpretation of those stats.
So what’s in it for me?
Good leadership means demonstrating integrity in everything you do, articulating a clear direction of travel, identifying and building the capability mix needed to get there, and bringing everyone along in delivering the results that stem from the direction you’re headed. This applies to running a start-up, established company, multi-national or nation.