Leadership diaries: "I'm both energised and exhausted"

Kate Allen shares an overview of her first week as the new CEO for Ategi, a service delivery charity providing support to adults across Wales and England with learning disabilities, mental health conditions, physical disabilities and/or older people.

Unfortunately, she also experienced a sharp reminder that whilst the pandemic is easing, Covid-19 is very much still a problem.


Monday

With a delayed start thanks to contracting Covid, I am finally well enough to commence my first day in role. Preparing to leave my last chief executive role of seven years with Autism at Kingwood was intense and the time I’d hoped to take a break was absorbed – mostly in tissues! I am eager, keen and not at all nervous as I leave for the head office in Pontypridd, yet I wonder to myself as I drive how the team will be feeling with my expectant arrival?

I am met with a genuine welcome and guided around the office by the head of administration. With essential information absorbed on kettle location, toilets and car park etiquette - it is onto my first meeting. An online Teams call with a trustee, the new chair of the quality & safeguarding. An insightful call as she shares her view on the underpinning values of the charity. Although I had completed considerable research into the charity along the recruitment journey, it is reassuring to conclude the call feeling comfortable.

Then follows my first executive team meeting. A hybrid in-person and online meeting with the most senior employees. I’m not entirely comfortable with the name ‘executive team’ when used operationally, it feels a little hierarchical, but it’s day one, I make a mental note to process that thought at a later date. I briefly share an overview of my career and particularly how important working in the third sector is for me. I want to ensure my values are known from day one as that will contribute to the culture of the charity going forward.

And so laptop under arm, my first day concludes. The pandemic introduced different ways of working that seem so sensible now and I will be working hybrid myself, but I really enjoy the reflection opportunity the drive home provides.

Tuesday

I head to the office again, meeting more people with different office working days. I meet with the trustee and chair of our finance & risk committee who is truly demonstrating the benefits of remote working as she calls me from Istanbul. We discuss the current financial position and budget plans for the year ahead. The charity has an ambitious programme for extending its services to benefit more people and we both agree that clear indicators would be helpful to inform on progress. I take that away as a key action ahead of my first committee meeting in a few weeks.

I go on to meet the, also relatively new, head of operations who has been in post for just five weeks. My original intention not to bombard her with too many questions quickly fails, as we discuss the service delivery and supporting infrastructure. We are still engrossed in the discussion around quality frameworks when I need to finish in order to attend a Teams meeting with the chairman.

We discuss the governance structure, trustee profiles and she explains we are advertising for two more trustees with specific skills. She shares her view on priorities and we jointly agree on our communication and support approach for the next three months. It another positive, encouraging conversation that leaves me reassured and happy on my drive home.

Wednesday

The charity has two drop-in Teams calls each week to enable employees to generally share their plans for the day or week. It is only a 30 minute call but works really well to keep connected.

Immediately after I attend the final part of a Clore Social Leadership programme for Board Members. I’ve been a trustee for more than 10 years and currently sit on the Board for ACEVO. I’ve enjoyed the programme and it has provided some beneficial reflective learning time. There is an element of sadness amongst the group as we finish our last session. But no time thinking after, as I meet with the Head of HR for an introductory meeting and planning for Ategi’s first Staff Forum that launches next week. The charity is keen to ensure that staff from all geographical areas and departments have a clear path to voice ideas or concerns.

Thursday

I have a further meeting with the HR Manager this morning to get a general overview on staffing, people issues and general supporting processes. Again, despite my good intentions not to interrogate, I have a number of questions that just keep coming and coming.

Conversation goes off on tangents quickly as one topic leads into another. We discuss the salary uplifts applied to frontline workers last autumn and I’m impressed to see Ategi went over the Real Living Wage. However, the rising cost of living is affecting everyone and I need to follow up with the finance manager on the budget position for this current year and future uplifts.

Friday

Starting with a feedback session following the psychometric test completed during the recruitment process, I am not surprised that I scored high in resilience nor that I’m analytical and learning orientated. I do take away that I’m not self-promoting and make a note to ‘do better’. It reminds me of a line manager I had who told me “Kate, don’t hide your lights under bushels. No one else will take them out for you”.

I then have a welcomed discussion with the previous CEO who had an interim role for the 18 months. She shares the journey the charity has been on and is able to join some of the dots to the questions I have. I then start working through the wealth of emails that leave me with no doubt, everyone knows I’m here! I’ve a number of documents to read through from board meeting minutes to new Supported Living Tender bids; Health & Safety Policy Statement to draft Quality Frameworks.

And so the last day in my first week draws to a close, I quietly admit to myself I’m both energised and exhausted. It has been new territory as for the first time in a number of years I don’t’ ‘just know’ the answers. But despite that, I’m raring to go again next week.

If you would like to submit a leadership diary, please email melissa.moody@charitytimes.com

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