Roger Greene, Director at Tricordant, looks to the English Cricket Board for inspiration in how to secure talent for the future success and health of public service systems.

Albert Einstein said insanity was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Much of the recent debate about Systems Leadership in place-based public services has focussed on the relational skills and trusting relationships required by good systems leaders. In this article I want to explore a different question – How do we secure talent for the future success and health of public service systems?

I would like to use Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) in the NHS as an example. Currently the focus on New Care Models and the geographically-based Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs), have created real momentum for organisational change. This however, is resulting in uncertainty for staff as many CCGs now have to rely on Interim managers to fill key Executive positions. Leadership and managerial talent are moving on and the trusting relationships, which are formed on shared history and purpose, are unwittingly and accidentally lost.

This loss of talent isn’t just a matter of concern for CCGs. It affects the whole system. Local Authorities and NHS Providers for example despair at the turnover and lack of continuity in their attempts to create collaborative partnerships with CCGs.

So what can be done? How can the talent and corporate memory of a CCG be kept secure regardless of the changing, future shape of the organisation? Can we look elsewhere for inspiration?

The England Cricket Board(ECB) might not be the first place you would look to, but their model is worth considering. Their success on the field over the last two decades is represented by their rankings and competitiveness on the world stage. It hasn’t always been this way. So what created the change?

In 1999, the ECB introduced central contracts. Top players are now employed by both the ECB and their own counties. Research[1] shows significant improvements in performance since the move; better win ratio and points per match over comparative 13 year periods, much greater consistency of selection (fewer changes per match) and reduced player turnover between matches.

The security of a central contract has been cited as a positive development by the players. This feeling of security has coincided with a significant culture change in the management approach towards players. A team atmosphere around the idea of ‘Team England’ has been created. The players “belong” both to the national and county teams. Outcomes are positive. In 2011, England became the top ranked country in the world. We are closing in on that position again in 2016.

So what could this mean for the NHS? Sustainability and Transformation Plans clearly need continuity of leadership and managerial talent to guide them through the unprecedented systems challenges they face.

If we took a leaf out of the ECB’s book and gave the top leadership talent dual contracts for the STP area and their home organisations, I believe it would give leaders and managers hope whilst creating more certainty about their own future, regardless of organisation change. It needn’t mean the dual contract being held by NHS England. They could be held by one organisation in the system on behalf of the partners, and would represent a clear and compelling signal of commitment to a sustainable future of Systems Leadership in the area for the long run.

It is time to do things differently and break the cycle of insanity. If we want systems leadership, we have to think about systemic models for managing talent in the NHS.

Can the ECB approach provide an answer?

Roger Greene


[1] The effect of central contracts on the stability and performance of the England Test cricket team. BULLOUGH, Steven, MILLAR, Robbie, RAMCHANDANI, Girish and COLEMAN, Richard. Available from Sheffield Hallam University Research Archive (SHURA) at: