Latest News

Crossing the divide: The CEO transition from health to social care

21 Sep 2021

Compass Executives Board & Leadership Practice consultants share insights into recent conversations with leaders in the Private Equity backed social care environments, who have made the transition from healthcare.

Client requirements: setting the expectations

Having worked on no fewer than nine social care CEO mandates in the last two years alone, Compass Executives are fortunate to be unrivalled in terms of insight into client requirements and expectations when sourcing a Chief Executive Officer.

Naturally, quick to mind of an owner or investor is “which markets will your search focus on?”. Hearing that some search firms evade answering this directly with “any market that you would like our research team to analyse”. This is poor in our view.

Our initial response to this question is threefold;

  1. The direct market space in which you compete;
  2. The broader care market (i.e. healthcare services);
  3. Out of sector markets where alignment or commonality exists in a macro context (i.e. regulation, NMW/NLW pressures, staff turnover challenges). Clearly the most appropriate markets are bespoke to each requirement but service sectors such as FMCG, leisure, hospitality, staffing, logistics and outsourcing typically have applicable levels of commonality.

As a slight aside, a much more pertinent and pointed question for an investor to ask is “where do you anticipate this individual will come from?” The answer here can only be derived from a rigorous brief in which the exact business need is unpicked. How well this is defined and the appropriate sectors crystallised, rests on the capability of the search consultant.

It is something that we have spent years refining at Compass Executives. It also ranks as one of the most critical factors behind our continued success which has seen more than 98% of Board appointments remain in post 3 years down the line.

The transferable skills healthcare professionals can offer

The “broader care market” is the loose halfway house from the list above in terms of candidate profile and there is an increasing trend for healthcare executives transitioning into social care. This is of huge benefit as it brings new energy and fresh, objective insight from businesses that are typically more systemised and digitally competent.

Social care, however, is in many ways a radically different proposition to healthcare (Speaking in broader terms here) and the success of those crossing the divide rests on mindset as much as skillset. Truly understanding the level of in-sector experience of a current Senior Management Team is of critical importance to an incoming healthcare CEO. If this is long-standing it can soften the adjustment by affording more time to get comfortable with the subtleties within social care.

The classic CEO attributes of vision, commerciality and inspirational demeanour of course apply, but such is the nature of social care, I would argue that visible leadership and empathy stand above all else. If these traits don’t run through the veins it may be the social care is not your natural home.

In many cases social care environments don’t possess the polish that many healthcare settings benefit from. We hear regularly of social care’s all-consuming nature. The vulnerability of those supported brings a sharp emotional edge. This can be difficult for some to begin with however the incredible sense of purpose social care leadership brings is difficult to compete with. It humbles, enriches and rewards in unique ways.

The view from the front

We recently caught up with two CEOs who last year made the transition from healthcare to social care. In their experience to date, social care does not quite yet have the “professional” feel of healthcare. They personally find this highly energising but this nuance may not suit all.

One admitted that when first approached about their CEO opportunity they needed some time to warm to the idea. Sharing their thoughts with others was particularly useful early on in the process. There is more interoperability between health and social care than ever and as such networks typically span its entirety.

A most obvious point but one not utilised anywhere near to its full is speaking to friends/acquaintances within the sector you are joining. There is no better insight attainable. Have as many conversations as possible and try to cross-section hierarchically to provide differing perspectives.

There was natural commonality in their biggest challenge to date: Staffing. Their healthcare experience is providing some level of familiarisation but the complexity within social care has taken both aback. Creating a harmonised, energised workforce is their absolute focus and both advise that that a CEO coming into the sector needs to put the people agenda front and centre at all times.

The social care sector in many ways is under greater strain than ever before. Bringing in expertise from healthcare is being accelerated and rightly so. From listening to many executives who have been presented with this opportunity, it is impossible to underestimate the importance of doing your research (As in really doing your research!). Risk/reward is applicable social care but it takes on a whole new meaning.

To find out more, or to enquire about the Board & Leadership Practice expertise, please contact [email protected]

Read more Compass Executives news here.