Category: News

Rising to the Challenge – Building the NW Local Government Workforce of the Future

Gillian Bishop, Chief Executive, North West Employers Published: 08/08/2023

Irrespective of where the conversation starts within local government circles, you can almost guarantee that as part of the discussion you will end up talking about the biggest challenge that is facing us – yes, it is finances, but also our people, our workforce. The focus of the discussion centres around; where has everybody gone, why can’t we recruit, and how do we keep hold of our great people?

So why is this the case, and what can we do about it?

In terms of why this is happening there are several factors that are contributing to the grand resigns, and redesign of the workforce. From the ‘new-normal post-covid’ discussions, to the post-pandemic analysis of ‘what is it all about?’. The new Gen Z approach to working has evolved from that of the Millennial in that the outlook has transitioned to working as a means to an end instead of vice versa. Many preferring a portfolio based career with opportunities to switch activities, as well as flexible working arrangements.

This cultural shift has been compounded by the increasing competition within the private sector with the seismic shifts and growth of distribution and retail opportunities that are able to offer flexible working patterns and rates of pay that are more competitive than some of the pay rates and conditions that the local government sector is able to offer.

We are party to a range of debates and discussions focused on how we attract and retain our existing workforce and recruit and grow our future talent. We have just seen the publication of the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan, which is the first comprehensive workforce plan for the NHS putting staffing on a sustainable footing and improving patient care. It focuses on retaining existing talent and making the best use of new technology alongside the biggest recruitment drive in health service history.

Workforce planning, discussed in our recent Talent Rebels round table discussion in partnership with Gatenby Sanderson, involved several councils recognising that more focus is required in identifying critical roles and profiling the workforce, combining a range of initiatives and data analysis for a more coherent talent strategy.

At the LGA conference in Bournemouth this year, the local government Chief Executives considered what the local government equivalent of a long-term strategic approach to the local government workforce challenges and opportunities is? It is recognised that as a sector we are not a national entity, and that each local council, system and locality is different. However, it has to be said that although we can recognise and celebrate difference we can and should identify our similarities and opportunities and there can be enough common ground to enable a strategic agreeable geographical and sectoral response to one of the greatest resource challenges that we have experienced in a very long time.

So what is the art of the possible to address these challenges and opportunities? We need to develop a narrative, our elevator pitch that clearly and succinctly describes and energises our audience to the world of opportunity that local government can offer. We are surrounded by fantastic colleagues whose careers have been centred around working with, in and alongside local government over decades. However, when we are asked ‘so what do you do?’ how easy is it to describe the intricacies of what we do in our roles – not at all – so it is easier to just say “I work in local government”, but this masks the complexity and diversity of what we do and contribute. So, there is a challenge and opportunity to develop a compelling elevator pitch for local government!

This call to develop a clear narrative, and to use this as a campaign at a local, regional, and national level will assist us to clearly articulate why our young people and future talent should join us and benefit from the vast array of opportunities that the sector can offer.

Once we have attracted colleagues to join us then, how do we create the culture and environment for them to maximise their full potential? We know that there’s an amazing and innovative range of induction activities that take place within our authorities to ensure that colleagues experience a positive start to their local government journey. Once they have settled into their role, annual appraisals and regular reviews and development opportunities provide access to a range of internal and external opportunities to increase the depth and breadth of their local government experience and expertise.

We, at North West Employers, have the privilege of working with our member organisations on the co-design, delivery and evaluation of a plethora of networks, sessions, projects and programmes to retain and develop our existing talent and to recruit and secure our future talent.

Tri-Sector Challenge

One great example of our small contribution to developing the future talent in the NW is through the Tri-sector Challenge. The NW hosted its first Tri Sector Challenge in June 2023 at the Theatre of Dreams – Old Trafford.

The Tri-Sector Challenge offers a fantastic opportunity for aspiring leaders to gain exposure to issues outside of their normal work, giving them a taste of what senior management is really like. Teams from local authorities and partner organisations compete against each other as they are asked to be the Chief Executive and Senior Team of a fictional organisation in a fictional place for the day.

The day creates an opportunity for our future leaders to put themselves in the shoes of their senior team, and in a safe space allows them to identify which areas to prioritise, deal with politically sensitive issues and maintain customer focus when determining how to provide the public with the best services possible despite limited resource. Throughout the day, they will have to navigate requests for briefings from the Leader of the Council, requests for meetings from key strategic partners and deal with the media, all against the clock!

The NW had 12 teams enter the Challenge in our first year, which was a brilliant take up from our member organisations, demonstrating the commitment that our region has to talent development.

The participants had the opportunity to compete for different awards throughout the day, some they knew about, and some were a secret! From this year the winners were as follows:

We are committed to finding, securing, and supporting our existing and future talent. The Trisector challenge is just one way that we will continue to do this, and from our offer (Our Offer) and through our bespoke support we can work with and alongside our members to assist in tackling the recruitment and retention challenge and secure our future talent.

Looking forward

We will look forward to seeing our next cohort of future leaders at the Tri Sector Challenge 2024, and until then we will continue in our quest to raise the profile of local government as a career of choice, provide mentoring and coaching and a whole range of other opportunities for our colleagues to maximise their full potential.

The mantra of the All Blacks, the New Zealand Rugby Team recognised as the most successful team ever, is performance = capability x behaviour, they have 1 captain and 15 leaders with their values being humility, excellence and respect.

You can read more about when ‘you are on top of your game….change your game’ in the internationally bestselling book ‘Legacy’ by James Kerr, who provided another inspirational and thought provoking session at this year’s LGA conference. There is more to come on this when we do our book review.

Reflection Until then, there are some questions that we can consider as a sector:

1. What can be our NW Haka, our USP, our elevator pitch?

2. How do we create our plan for attraction, retention and creation of career pathways for future talent?

3. How do we develop opportunities for our future leaders to maximise their performance, capabilities and our collective capacity?

4. How do we maintain a culture of humility, excellence and respect?

Fulfilling these questions in our mind, will drive us to be the best ever just like the All Blacks. These are on our ‘to do’ list, so we will look forward to joining forces with you to drive this agenda further forward.

Thanks for reading, welcome your thoughts, join the discussion and let’s together make the Local Government Sector in the NW the place where everyone wants to be.

Talent in the North West – a round table discussion with GatenbySanderson and North West Employers

Blog by Sharon Senior, Executive Director at North West Employers, 14 November 2022

GatenbySanderson and North West Employers hosted a round table discussion with nine senior leaders in HR/OD from local government across the North West. Facilitated by Philip Emms (Senior Consultant – Local Government, GS), Phil Whitman (Client Solutions Partner, GS) and Sharon Senior (Executive Director, NWE), the theme for the conversation was the future of talent development and acquisition, with a view to looking at some of the trends that we are seeing in the sector in terms of challenges to attract and retain the best talent, and to develop some specific actions that enable us all to address the issues we’re facing.

As ‘Talent Rebels’, we set out our mission to understand the future of talent in local government, to rock the boat a little bit and really question what we are doing now/today to address the challenges that we all know exist – are we doing enough, are we heading towards ever more difficult pressures, how long before the services we provide begin to suffer, or are we going to do something about it today?

Scene Setting
So, what are the challenges we see in talent pipelines? We started off the discussion with some of our observations from the sector:

  • Senior leadership succession planning – where are the future Directors and Chief Executives – increasing numbers of people leaving the sector – retirement, early retirement/ lifestyle choice, pension restrictions, burnout.
  • Mid-tier talent pipelines – Service Manager to Assistant Director level – we are seeing that there are a reducing number of individuals ‘ready’ to make the move to middle level management roles. Why? – ‘Blockers’ in progression (people in more senior roles who have been in post for a long time), lack of investment in leadership development programmes (different to what we may see in other sectors such as NHS or civil service)
  • Entry-level training and development – investment in career grades, apprenticeships, accountants, legal, procurement, HR. Why? = short term thinking, headcount restrictions, investment/budget, not capitalising on apprenticeship levy.
  • ED&I – running throughout – the need to invest in developing diverse talent pipelines, promoting opportunity for under-represented groups, supporting under-represented groups to prepare for and apply for senior roles

What we are seeing here is that whilst we are seeing this in issues with recruitment, that it is only a symptom. The challenge is leadership and talent development and succession planning. The meaning of succession planning varies from one individual or organisation to another. The CIPD states that “succession planning focuses on identifying and growing talent to fill leadership and business critical positions in the future”. There is notable emphasis here on growing and nurturing talent, as well as simply identifying it.

Discussion Points

  • What is your organisation doing?
  • Who are your main competitors for talent? – Why is that?
  • Do you invest in graduates, trainees, apprenticeships?
  • What is your organisations approach to leadership development?
  • Do you know who your future directors might be?
  • Do you take a collective responsibility and understand that you may invest in talent development but that the investment may go to another authority, but that likewise talent from elsewhere may come to you?
  • How is your organisation inclusive to all talent that reflects the many diverse characteristics that we see in our workforce and communities?
  • Do you think about employer brand? – Not just of your individual organisation but as a whole sector. How do you distinguish yourself?

Group Feedback and ideas

  • The group welcomed the idea of coming together to share ideas and examples of innovative practice around this theme, recognising the need for creating the space and capacity to think strategically about the issues and opportunities
  • Reflecting on the profile of workforce transformation in our organisations – do we see this as transactional recruitment or real, transformational change looking at organisational design and the design of jobs? Do we have the skills and knowledge to do this effectively?
  • Progressive workforce characteristics, what do local government workers and leaders need to embrace/display? How are we recruiting for behaviors and competencies? Do we tailor our recruitment approach or are we recruiting in the same way for every role? How do we reflect neurodiversity in our recruitment practices? How do we remove the barriers to recruitment?
  • Talent movement – how can we work more collaboratively with each other and with partner organisations to promote opportunities for graduate and other placements across the sector to develop leadership capabilities?
  • Importance of incorporating talent into leadership development at all levels but particularly mid-senior managers
  • Is there scope for a North-West academy approach? We have a lot to offer and could be more dynamic in branding our offer and attracting new starters in local government who are looking for autonomy and purpose. How do we re-imagine local government in 5/10 years?
  • Relevance of tools such as market supplements v constraining frameworks such as Pay and Grading/job evaluation, risk of just going around in circles
  • Recruitment and retention is a key, strategic risk. How do we engage and influence Elected Members on this?
  • Would be helpful to understand the demographic data around retirement ages for the NW
  • How do we ensure workforce well-being and avoid burnout?
  • Could we develop a regional toolkit?

Commitments and Next Steps

This was a great discussion and led to a number of key actions being identified to take forward:

  • Group to reconvene to prioritise the key themes that will have the most impact; using an action learning approach with the next session focusing on Organisational Design ( focus on service and system redesign, rather than constant restructuring or repeat recruitment to address the current challenges)
  • North West Employers to facilitate a session to engage Elected Members in this important area
  • Consider our support for senior leaders – consolidating what’s needed/what’s likely to achieve the greatest impact
  • Identify the cultural enablers particularly amongst key senior officers and senior elected members to think about succession planning

Learning from Political Leadership

The Collaborative North West Partnership was delighted to welcome two north west politicians who described their inspiring and powerful leadership journeys.

Cllr Maureen Bateson MBE, Assistant Executive Member for Children & Education, Blackburn with Darwen Council

Cllr Bateson MBE has been representing her local community since 1983. She has held a range of roles including Mayor, deputy leader, chair of local labour party, working across a wide area of council services from housing to education and social services.

She described the formative parts of her life story, escaping an abusive relationship, surviving severe illnesses, living on benefits in a council house, working full time while bringing up her family and working as a councillor.  Explaining what attracted her to politics, Cllr Bateson said: “Political life is about people, this is where I felt I could do most good.”

Delivering services that reflect the communities they serve

Her life on a council estate informed her decision-making saying: “The council told people what they could have, how to live their lives. As Chair of Housing, I brought in a range of initiatives such as Tenant Boards and decentralised offices, taking the service out to the community.”

She fought internal resistance to these innovations because her lived experience told her that it was the right thing to do. She said: “I went out to meetings in the community, sometimes people were angry, but I felt it was important they should to be listened to.”

Listening to people is vital

Cllr Bateson recounted situations where council services can actually mean the difference between life and death, describing some of the most difficult incidents and the lasting repercussions that she has dealt with over her years of services.

She said: “Talking to residents first-hand is important, I’ve always made the effort to listen to people and hear their views on how services could be changed, it was a good way of making policy.”

Never missing an opportunity to support her local community, she used her position as mayor to champaign against abuse and improving services for disabled people, recognising that many people need an advocate. As a local leader, she used her network to find an alternative way to deliver youth services using an external partner when funding to the service was cut.

It’s the little things that make a big difference

She explained: “Most of what people need are the small things, they can make a big difference to people’s lives. If you’re making policy think about the about the detail, think about who it affects.”

Cllr Joanne Harding, Executive portfolio holder for Adult Social Care, Trafford Council.

Cllr Harding has been an elected member in Trafford for 11 years being shadow executive role and a committee member before taking on her portfolio role.

She said: “Being elected as a councillor is my proudest achievement.” She had been involved in community groups and was a school governor, her passion and dedication make her stand out and she was asked to become a councillor.

She grew up in Beswick in east Manchester then moved a council estate in Longsight, an inner-city area of the city. Although she explained: “Nothing can prepare you for life as a politician.” like Cllr Bateson, her family experiences inform her political life.

Authentic leadership creates trust

Cllr Harding explained that it is important when talking to fellow councillors, officers and the public to be authentic and real.

She brings skills and life experience to her role, describing her background working across health and social care sector for 25 years, with experience in managing addiction services, mental health crisis services, working with probation service and prison services.

Ask the difficult questions

She explained: “I want to change broken systems for people who come into contact with those services but also recognising how hard the staff in those services work. I am known as difficult and belligerent councillor. I was elected to represent and serve and so I have to ask those difficult questions.”

Co-productions means really involving people

Cllr Harding emphasised the importance of people who design public services not being prescriptive, explaining: “We talk about co-production but it scares people, not many members of the public attend council meeting let alone a diverse selection of the public. Are we doing the right thing or are we just ticking a box? We need to be engaging better with members of the public.”

She concluded by saying: “I want people to understand what local government is really about and how it can change lives, we need to work together with the people we are serving and not work in an echo chamber.”

Chair, Gillian Bishop, Chief Executive of North West Employers, concluded by pulling together the key leadership takeaways from Cllr Bateson’s and Cllr Harding’s powerful and inspirational stories –

  • Listening to local communities and being their voice
  • Being an authentic leader guided by life experiences
  • Tacking issues with courage and determination
  • Passion about creating services with people at the heart
  • Treating people with respect and enabling true collaboration
  • Bigger and better things can be achieved by partnership working

Leadership through a lens of health and wellbeing

This blog, written by co-founder of HWBInspiration Claire Harris, provides a summary of the work they have just completed on behalf of the NHS North West Leadership Academy, exploring the development of a healthy leadership behaviour framework #NWHealthyLeadership

“Back in spring 2020 we were commissioned by the NHS North West Leadership Academy (NHSNWLA) to support them with their Health and Wellbeing Strategy, with a particular focus on identifying the leadership behaviours which promote and detract from employee wellbeing at work.  The reason for wanting to develop a framework was:

  • It can raises awareness of the impact that leadership behaviours have on wellbeing at work,
  • it gives leaders a remit to discuss and promote wellbeing at work (which is aligned with the requirement of the NHS People Plan to ensure from September 2020 that everyone has a  wellbeing conversation)
  • it outlines what leaders can do behaviourally to promote wellbeing at work
  • It allows for the development of interventions to ensure leaders have the appropriate behaviours to promote wellbeing 

The approach we took was to:

The resulting framework contains three competencies / clusters (identified from the stakeholder discussions):

  • How I am (being) Actively engage with opportunities to understand and enhance positive mental and physical health for self and others, sharing own experience, being authentic
  • What I do (doing) Actively support and empower others to manage work and how it’s done
  • What we do together (enabling) Actively empower an inclusive healthy wellness culture that mutually enables us all to bring our whole selves to work

Each competency / cluster contains both positive and negative leadership behaviours (examples given below):

  • How I am (being)
    • Positive – being open, honest and transparent (authentic)
    • Negative – lacking empathy
  •  What I do  (doing)
    • Positive – trusting individuals and teams, giving them the autonomy and control to do their jobs (empowerment)
    • Negative – making decisions without consulting others (e.g., authoritarian /autocratic /command and control/directive style)
  • What we do together (enabling)
    • Positive – creating an emotionally supportive and psychologically safe work environment (positive, caring and supportive climate where people can speak out)
    • Negative – micromanaging others and disempowering them

We are currently discussing with the NHSNWLA, the recommendations that have been developed from discussions with stakeholders about how the framework could helpfully be used to help create cultures of positive wellbeing at work. Some of the stakeholder ideas include:

  • Recruitment – integrate the framework into role profiles, assessment processes
  • Development – integrate the framework into PDR, appraisal, 360, training, induction
  • Day to day – integrate into 1:1 and team conversations
  • Strategy – include in Board discussions to support the HWB guardian role in providing governance around health and wellbeing leadership behaviour

Claire and her team would welcome your views about how you could use the framework in your organisation, so please do get in touch with us here so that we can pass this feedback on.

The Road to Hybrid Working

Blog by Sharon Senior, Director at North West Employers, 12 May 2021

A year ago, if I’d have asked you what comes to mind when you hear the word “hybrid”, I’m guessing the answer would have been “a car”. It’s now the phrase being widely used to describe what the future of work might look like; a combination of homeworking and working from an office or other location.

Hybrid working, new ways of working, agile working – whatever you want to call it, one thing that is for sure, is that the way we work is changing. 

As lockdown restrictions ease, most organisations are now working through how to maintain some of the flexibility that remote working has highlighted.

Whilst many employees will have experienced working exclusively remotely during lockdown, fewer will have experienced a mixed model of both remote and office-based working.  So, what does this mean in practice? I wanted to share what I’m hearing across the North West and some of my own thoughts as a leader.

What I’m Hearing

A recent BBC poll of 50 of the UK’s largest employers, collectively employing 1.1 million people, found that 43 firms planned to use a mixture of home and remote working going forward, with employees encouraged to work from home two to three days a week.  This is echoed in the conversations I’ve been having with HR colleagues across the region with the majority of councils looking at options for a two to three day a week split where possible. One more radical approach is a pilot to try out homeworking by default, with employees only going into the workplace for 1 day a week when they need to collaborate.

Many organisations are carrying out staff surveys to better understand the preferences of their workforce and it’s expected that the results might be somewhat different to views this time 12 months ago. I know from my own organisation that some people who were really reluctant to work from home initially, have now found out that they quite like it and wouldn’t necessarily want to be back in the office 5 days a week.

There’s also talk of having bands or categories of workers, depending on whether roles have to be done at a fixed site, are mobile or can be done from anywhere.

What’s Your Destination?

All of this is throwing up lots of questions that organisations need to work through if we’re to successfully evolve from the temporary response into more of a longer-term mixed model. I’m not for one minute suggesting that I have all the answers and I think that’s a really important point. As senior leaders, we need to make sure that we’re clear on what our vision for the future of work is, but how this works in practice needs support and buy-in from managers and employees alike.

If we’re to be really flexible in the way that we work, a lot depends on the culture of the organisation. There needs to be trust. Trust that I’ll get the job done when it needs to be done. Trust that my colleagues will do what they say they’ll do. Trust in each other that we’re all striving to do the best we can for the organisation and each other.

I’ve read a lot about presenteeism and how managers of remote teams worry about how they can manage performance when they can’t see their team. I struggle with this to be honest and that might be from years of having worked in jobs where I have been out on the road a lot and so haven’t always been in the same place as my team from day to day. But even in those jobs where we have worked in close proximity, I don’t spend my time monitoring what everyone is doing – it goes back to my point above; it’s about trust and managing by outcomes. Of course, there’ll always be exceptions but that’s when you need to step in and manage by exception.

The Road Ahead

The changes pose a number of immediate questions relating to people policies. Organisations are working hard to review and refresh their approaches to agile working and flexible working to develop a framework that is future proof. There’s practical consideration needed on things like workspaces, equipment and health and safety.   

Light at the End of the Tunnel

We’ve learned a lot about what’s needed to support new ways of working over the last year or so and it’s important that we hold onto this as we look to the future. We’ve made massive leaps in terms of using digital technology to keep us connected so how do we build on this and ensure we have the skills and confidence to use technology to collaborate when there are some team members working from home and others in the office together?

We understand even more the importance of social contact and our mental wellbeing so we need to give thought as to how we enable this as part of our future plans.