A View from the Top
Martin Farrow

Martin Farrow, Chief Executive of Optalis

Reflections on the last decade

The last decade has seen a paradigm shift in our sector. 2008 saw the start of a period of uncertainty and fiscal challenge that I’d not seen before; the landscape was undergoing seismic change, driven by fundamental reform, challenging economics, and a re-alignment of commissioning routes and procurement methodology.

Ten years on and the challenges remain. The sector continues to re-think how it balances increasing customer complexities and demand, with depleted central government settlements. However, in a sector where the only constant appears to be change, one thing remains the same: the hard work, dedication and support of care staff across the sector in making sure customers experience the best care and support we can give them.

Projections for the next decade

Challenging times often provide the catalyst for positive change which drives innovation and momentum. When I look at technology, I see a progressive outlook. When I look at our teams, I see a continued focus on doing what is right for our customers.

As an organisation owned by two local authorities, we have seen the emergence of this business model, and I see this continuing, particularly where scale can bring resilience for customers and colleagues. The traditional view of these models delivering services such as reablement, day care and homecare will change. Optalis began in 2011 with a similar portfolio of services. Today, we offer those same services but also, uniquely, we also provide statutory services where the council remains strong and at the heart of current practice, but there are opportunities for refinement and innovation.

Integration with health will also drive the future. Whilst the policy-makers plan the journey, innovative pilots will help forge the future, supported by the right culture within organisations to let that innovation thrive.

Finally, the explosion in technology will have a profound effect on our sector, although we have some way to go to understand how we move from data to information to guide and inform.

Overarching all this is a desperate need to look at how we can finance this future, and critically how we look outside of parliamentary terms and set a health and social care strategy that spans forty years not four.

Insight

Our job at Optalis is to fulfil the potential of every customer, colleague and community we work with. In my role, I have three things to achieve. Firstly, to establish (with customers and colleagues) a strategy that can be articulated and delivered. Secondly, to have great people who are inspired to do great things, and thirdly, to ensure we have the right culture: the organisation’s ‘personality’. Interestingly, if you can achieve the right culture, you will attract great people who will be inspired to bring the strategy to life.

Influences

I have been lucky to work with some inspirational people but also experienced organisations where the culture hasn’t been so good. That has helped me shape what I think is important in leadership.

When I think of the people I admire, I associate them with words like authenticity, respect, courage, integrity, honesty and passion.

Lessons

Keep it simple and clear, keep close to the important things and be true to your values. I was told once that if you don’t start something or don’t finish something then you are in trouble. That’s good advice.

Advice

Choose your boss and have a constant appetite to listen and learn. Work with great people and recognise that your job as a leader is about fulfilling the potential of those around you to be the best they can be. Build the strategy together so everyone is involved and don’t give up or be a friend of phrase ‘the problem is’. Finally, try every day to be inspired and be inspiring.

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