Hello PPMA members and friends

Last week I shared a stage with the HR Director of General Mills UK at a CIPD HR Leaders Form to talk about organizational purpose. General Mills make a variety of food products, but it is Haagan Dazs that for some reason sticks in my mind. They have very strong individual brands, but the company brand is less well known, so they focus the employees of the company around the theme of “Nourishing Lives”. This seems perfect, as it gives a sense of the social purpose of the organization, as well as its commercial imperative.

The situation at General Mills reminded me very much of the one of the issues that used to occupy my time as the HR lead in local authorities, how to ensure people in a broad range of individual services in a local authority, came together around a common organizational purpose. As we well know, people working in public services by and large have a very strong commitment to serving the community and it is commonly shared across our organizations. Their affinity though is to their immediate team, the library, swimming pool or children’s centre and perhaps to the department in which they sit. I probably have agonized too much in the past about how also to get our people to feel a sense of corporateness and an affinity to a vision which is a local variation on serving the community well, in the case of Barking and Dagenham, “raising average household incomes.”

My focus of attention has changed now and as I spoke about at the CIPD event, the challenge is that our people feel that the impact of the spending reductions is challenging their ability to do what they want to do, serve the community well and the organizational purpose, which helped people to understand why they are here, seems to them to be breaking down. The reality perhaps is that the purpose remains the same, but the means of achieving it has to change significantly.

The CIPD Employee Outlook Survey highlights the problem. In the most recent survey (Winter 2012/13) those responding from the public sector recorded their lowest levels of job satisfaction. Trust and confidence in public sector leaders is significantly lower than in the private and voluntary sectors and a sign of why that might be comes from the fact that the score for “clarity of vision” is at -7 in the public sector (this is the balance between positive and negative responses), compared to +36 in the private sector and +13 in the voluntary sector.

Now you might say that negativity is an inevitable consequence of the decline of the old “deal”, the lack of job security and frustrations over pay. What the EVP research we have been doing with the LGA shows is that this is only part of the story. The commitment to community and service remains strong, but it is the lack of support from the organization that really frustrates them.

The future does have to be different and whilst our staff may mourn the past, they will also be realistic enough to know that change is inevitable. Our ability to meet the growing demand for services with fewer resources is going to be about delivering services through different models, much closer collaboration between providers from different sectors, using data and technology to reduce demand and fundamentally changing the relationship between the communities we serve and public service providers.

The CIPD/PPMA research from the autumn around Leadership and Change identified a number of organizations that had sustained strong staff engagement through change. In many places though a lack of a clear strategic narrative around the organizational purpose maybe holding back engagement. As I say the core purpose may remain largely the same, but the way of achieving it may well have to change. My own organization may well focus on core values as the basis of that narrative, but very different values – “good enough” rather than “excellent” services, “helping people help themselves for example”.

What it also needs is for people to feel that they are valued and the purpose for which they strive is also valued. There was a very good Guardian article shortly after the budget entitled, “why exclude public servants from George Osborne’s aspiration nation?” The impact of continued negativity around public services and public servants is to undermine trust and confidence in the future.

These are themes that I have spoken and written about before, but as this is the last blog I will write as President, I hope you will indulge me if I return to them at this point. They are key reasons why HR needs to be “Centre Stage”, to ensure that the focus remains on sustaining engagement in our staff as we go through a long period of fundamental change. “Putting HR Centre Stage” is the theme of our Annual Seminar next week. I hope to see many of you there, but if not, then follow the debates on the new website (to be launched shortly) and contribute through twitter, facebook and our Linked In Group.

Martin Rayson

PPMA President