Thursday, 10 March 2016

Easy chair

[This picture is from the website]

Another day, another Freedom of Information request. 

A pretty repugnant feature of recent Southern Health practice has been the threatening behaviour of the new Chairman of the Southern Health Board, Mike Petter, towards members of the public in board meetings. How he behaves as Chairman of the Governors (those are the governors that are independent and can hold the Board to account, including sacking Board members like their, er, Chairman - ooh stop it, my accountability sides are hurting) doesn't bear thinking about. 

Mike Petter's association with Southern Health is long (even going back to its previous incarnation before 2011). Given we're always being told how vastly competitive these senior Board posts are - and let's face it, for this post up to £50,000 a year for a part-time gig must be pretty tasty to a lot of people - I was interested in just how fiercely Mike Petter had to compete to get his job. Such prestige, Vanguard among Vanguards, working with former CEO of the year Katrina Percy, surely it was a comprehensive, searching, Apprentice-style selection process to pick out the Petter plum from the thousands of desperate applicants? So I did a Freedom of Information request to ask a few simple questions, via the excellent WhatDoTheyKnow (see here )

From this (and despite the expensive ministrations of executive recruitment wizards Odgers Berndtsen), we learn that a princely total of 7 people formally applied for the post of Chairman.

Of these, 3 were shortlisted by the 'Appointment Committee' on 22 June 2015. There is no more detail about who was on the Appointment Committee, but a previous (and rather sniffy) response to an FoI request put in by Richard West (see here ) basically says that the Appointment Committee is constituted of Trust governors. 

Of these 3 shortlisted candidates, 1 withdrew, leaving just 2 people.

According to the response to my request, "This was then followed by a Stakeholder Day on 29 June 2015, which was made up of Governors, Service Users and Board members". It is not clear what role this played in selection, or how this fed into any final decision, but it seems that the 2 remaining candidates must have been there, as they also 'took part in psychometric testing' on the same day (29 June). A couple of thoughts at this point. First, I would love to know what psychometric tests were done and what the criteria were for evaluating scores on them. Second, a week between shortlisting and final selection is an incredibly short period of time, particularly if they were hoping to attract the sort of highly competent people with busy diaries suitable for a big Trust like Southern Health.

 'Final panel interviews' then took place the next day, on 30 June 2015, with the Appointment Committee and also a shadowy 'External Assessor'. There is no more information about who this External Assessor was, and this information seems to directly contradict what Richard West was told in the response to his FoI request. 

Overall, this seems a remarkably light process for selecting a Chair of a large, vanguardy NHS Trust. Application form, chat to a few people, a few psychometric tests and an interview, all with people presumably well-known to the successful candidate. 

When I was a governor of my kids' primary school we had to appoint a new headteacher. The appointment panel was 3 governors (including me) and two external assessors with considerable and complementary experience and expertise. After shortlisting, the selection tasks included a data task (looking at school attainment data and interpreting it), conducting a short assembly, conducting a lesson, observing and providing feedback on a teacher's lesson, answering questions from pupils on the school council, and a structured interview. The tasks were designed to cover the range of things that a good head teacher would be expected to do, and to get feedback from kids and teachers as well as governors and external assessors. And they really made a difference to who we selected.

It's almost as if the process to select a Chairman of Southern Health Trust wasn't designed to attract as many high-powered, capable people as possible, and then really put them through their paces to see which one actually had what it takes to be a competent, ethical Chair of an NHS Trust. Surely not...


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