We speak to Andy Mayhew, chief executive, Praxis Care
How did you start out in business?
I am a qualified social worker. I had first become interested in this field through voluntary work with the probation service. I followed this working as a project worker in a night shelter for homeless people in central Belfast for a year. I then studied for my professional social work qualification at Ulster University and worked as a social worker in London and Newtownards, before taking my first steps into management.
What have you found the most challenging during your years of business, so far?
A particularly challenging time was when the 17 trusts in Northern Ireland were rationalised into six, under the Review of Public Administration (RPA). Such large scale change, while necessary, created widespread individual uncertainty and organisational upheaval. It took the focus of senior and middle management away from the much needed strategic reform of services for a period and the new organisations took time to operate as cohesive units.
How would you describe your management style?
I like to think I am consultative while being comfortable with taking decisions and providing clarity of direction. I believe people give of their best when they are working to clear goals which they understand, identify with and have played a part in formulating. There is a huge amount of experience and commitment in Praxis Care and any leader would be a fool not to draw on that, both in the big strategic decisions and in the resolution of important operational dilemmas. However, not all debate ends in consensus and having considered the views, I am happy to explain my rationale, make a decision and move on.
What would you change if you could go back and do it all again?
There have been times, particularly earlier in my managerial career, when I have tried to change things too quickly. A good example was in the aftermath of RPA, when, in my managerial role, I had to merge two systems/structures of community care services into one. I think I tried to get to a common structure for services too quickly. Bringing people along is important and I think on reflection I would have spent more time on that paced change more gradually.
Have you done it all on your own?
I have never achieved anything on my own. I have benefited throughout my career from more senior managers who encouraged and educated me and latterly relied on the support and advice of peers and the people who work for the organisation at all levels. Praxis Care is a complex organisation, operating across four jurisdictions and providing very individualised support and accommodation to people with complex needs. To get that right for one person involves collaboration internally and externally, involving a significant number of people. To get it right for most of our service users most of the time, and fix it quickly when it goes wrong, requires a culture of collaborative working across individuals and teams and organisations.
How would you like your business to be remembered?
Praxis Care was created to help address a gap in the available support for people with mental health issues who were being re-settled into the community. Over the years, the organisation has developed the range of services and expanded the service users groups to include people with learning disabilities autism and dementia. The common thread is our desire to develop services which address gaps in provision and provide opportunity for people who face the biggest obstacles to community living. Our success in developing a more individualised approach to service provision has driven the expansion of the organisation across NI, the Republic of Ireland, England and the Isle of Man. Our continued growth will rely on us continuing to innovate in light of research evidence and evaluation of what works and doesn’t work, with feedback from service users at the forefront of that. I want the organisation to continue to be innovative, evidence based, and committed to learning at the individual and organisational level.
What piece of advice would you give to a 20-year-old you?
Have more patience. Listen more. Learn from, but don’t be discouraged by the experience of others.