Hello PPMA membes and friends
This week Barry Pirie looks at innovation in the public sector and how this has been influenced by the austerity measures of recent years.
“One of the more frustrating stereotypes every public sector worker comes across from time-to-time is the assumption that when it comes to working smart, coming up with new ideas and delivering innovation, it is the private sector that leads away.
Of course this isn’t true.
The reality of working in an environment constrained by policy, funding and politics means that, as much as any other sector, we have to find creative solutions to intractable problems or better ways of doing things without throwing money at an issue.
In fact, I have long been of the view that, if anything, the response to austerity has put us ahead of our private sector colleagues in this respect.
So it was good to see at the recent Personnel Today Awards – an event which recognises excellence in people management — the public sector dominate the shortlists and walk away with an armful of awards, beating stiff competition from the private sector, with a notable representation from local government.
As we face another year of reshaping our organisations, reorganising our people and in many instances, reducing headcount in our sector, the awards didn’t just show that the HR teams on whom we rely to help us through this change are in good shape but they are doing well in the areas which matter most to organisations in the future.
For every council, knowing that their employees understand the direction of the organisation, what changes lie ahead and why it is changing is critical to creating an environment where people can continue to work effectively and deliver services. The fact that half of the finalists across the employee engagement category were from the public sector shows the great work organisations are doing in this area and recognises the critical contribution it makes to change.
In the employee relations category, Warwickshire County Council emerged outright winners of the award. As the pace of change gets faster and the nature of the people related changes becomes more challenging – from harmonising pay to reducing workforce and transferring employees across to new organisations – having teams who can work effectively in this area is critical to success.
One of the dominant forces for change in local government is the opportunity to use technology to drive efficiency. As many internal processes start, end and involve HR at some point, making better use of technology in managing people is critical for councils as they go through change. Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council emerged as winners of best use of technology in HR for its new approach to teacher recruitment which was led by HR, not IT: proof, if proof were needed, that HR should lead on finding the technology solutions to people issues.
With pay capped in our sector for the next five years and an ongoing need to attract the talent to take us through future change and replace staff who leave on the way, a key objective for any council is to position itself as an employer of choice. In this context, benefits are a critical part of the reward mix for councils who want to differentiate themselves in a competitive employment market. The work that Nottingham City Council did in this area as the ultimate award winners – up against the likes of Virgin, BMW and HSBC – is a great case study in the kind of thinking that can deliver excellent results in the war for talent.
While our current immediate pre-occupation in the public sector tends towards the short-term challenges of the next 12-18 months, it is also important to focus on the broader issues which matter beyond that.
One of these remains diversity and inclusion where, we need to continue to do more to reflect our society better in our workforce at leadership level and particularly among the managers who make up the pipeline of future leaders. It was good to see the public sector leading the way in this category and the ultimate winner, HMRC, showed how proactive and targeted action can make a real difference in a short time.
A second challenge we face is replacing our aging council workforce with younger workers from a diverse range of educational backgrounds so that we can grow talent from within and attract young people with the right mindset to deliver public services of the future. Both the winner, Nottingham City Council, and Chelmsford and Coventry City Councils who were shortlisted alongside them, showed the importance of using apprenticeships, internships and educational interventions to build a pipeline of talent in these areas.
A final mention should go to North Ayrshire Council who made sure it the excellence in public sector HR category (sponsored by PPMA) had a local government winner.
Their work focused on a change programme led by HR team to ensure employees were more closely involved in coming up with ideas to drive change in their organisation which could cut costs and improve customer satisfaction. The impressive outcomes from their change initiative improved employee engagement, sped up key business processes and broke down a culture of silo-working.
So although as we end the year and look ahead to 2016, we are all likely to be contemplating a tough twelve months, anyone who works in our sector should be clear of two things: we have great people who can think as creatively as any sector and that when it comes to managing change, if you want to achieve the right results, you should make sure your HR team is involved from the start.”
Barry Pirie, PPMA President and Associate Director, People and Business, Wiltshire Council