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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

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.