Being Brave

Being Brave

“Not again!”, is the normal reaction from hard working colleagues to a new top-down idea heralded to improve quality and, at the same time, a promise it will make their life much easier! In addition the colleagues in question were first line managers and the new idea would make a fundamental change to the way they interviewed for new recruits- a core competence as far as they were concerned and something most had been doing for years. The proposal was to introduce psychometric profiling along with a competency framework for all recruitment of MacIntyre care and support workers and learning support workers. They protested! “What’s wrong with our interviewing anyway- your fancy ideas might work for your fancy-pant directors but surely they will just scare away our front line workers?”

First line managers are the backbone of all organisations; in social care and health environments they are the home managers, the ward managers, the local team leaders, the domiciliary care team coordinators etc. Their work is crucial, and they hold together the whole chaotic system. No matter what organisational structure is created or recreated around them the role of the first line manager, regardless of what it is called, will be retained. Parents and carers often say if you have a good local manager then the service will be good- regardless of what organisation they work for. To cause widespread consternation amongst this cohort of colleagues is a risky strategy.

To help people gain a better understanding of the usefulness of profiling we persuaded the first line managers to have a go for themselves. For most colleagues, not being assessment centre hardened graduates, this was the first time they had ever completed a personality assessment. We agreed the results would be confidential to them and we would just get a group profile. It turned out to be a great success; after the first brave souls had a go and reported how accurate they found their reports, others soon followed and, in the end, we had virtually a hundred percent completion. The vast majority found the reports to be so accurate some were suspicious we had somehow influenced the study! We used the same test as described in the last blog. If you recall when we used it to assess the personality traits of excellent front line support workers we had the surprising result that they were significantly more “benevolent” and “introverted” than the average member of the public. For the other traits of “confidence”, “structured” and “conformity” scores were within a normal distribution. The results for our first line managers (over 100 participated) showed the same bias towards benevolence and introversion but slightly less marked. This was not particularly surprising as the vast majority were former practitioners themselves and having put themselves forward for a managerial role they had perhaps learnt to be a bit more outgoing etc.

However the shock finding was the fact that they were significantly less confident than the control group; on a scale from 1 to 20, zero confidence to extreme cockiness, the highest scorer was 13 and the majority clustered around 7. When I first saw the results of the study I thought there must have been a mistake: the backbone of MacIntyre, our colleagues who make the biggest difference to the quality of our services, had their confidence in their boots! How could this be? The vast majority were very experienced, all were qualified and well trained, turnover was very low and they were doing a great job. The answer was: we were mistaking being confident with being brave. They were doing a great job but a job that involves; being more public than they would normally choose, being accountable for challenging inspections, being expected to manage conflicting demands, dealing with the constant pressure of ensuring cover and meeting the challenge of the unexpected. They were doing all of this very well but it was clearly at a personal cost.

My guess is this is not unique to first line colleagues in MacIntyre. Throughout health and social care people in similar roles are striving in difficult circumstances and it is very likely to be at a personal cost. Many will be hiding this behind a cloak of competence and commitment. The lesson for us was to find better ways of looking after our first line managers. To find improved ways to build up their personal resilience; greater emphasis on mentoring, encouraging peer to peer support and ensuring we are listening to them more. If people are interested I should be happy to make this the subject of a future blog but, in the interim, do please share your experiences. As part of our response MacIntyre linked up with a number of excellent sector initiatives run by Skills for Care and the National Skills Academy:

I shall move the discussion from personality and profiling in the next blog and discuss “stem cell skills”- those micro behaviours which facilitate great interactions.