What chief executives want from their HR teams

It’s a misleading title as this is only one chief executive’s perspective. It will be good to hear from other chief executives about whether or not they agree with me!

For me the answer is advising how – in organisational development and HR terms – to translate the responses to strategic challenges facing local government into practical steps that organisations can take to succeed in the coming years. Corporate and service managers are not going to have time to think about, design and implement these responses.

This list is not comprehensive:  growing income, commercialisation of services and investments; growth in housing and business rates, finance reform including a new distribution formula in 2020; commissioning, shared services; devolution (from central government and to parish councils or other local organisations); public service reform, better joined up services; implementation of truly digital services; maintaining resilience in the face of unpredictable threats as we have sadly seen in 2017; the impact of the national living wage and further reforms to exit payments.

No council can opt for inertia, freezing how things are at a point in time. We are good at change in local government, and we are going to have to do more of it. Changes are going to be more fundamental, and will need to be delivered at greater pace. But we mustn’t forget the basics – supporting managers to operate simple, effective HR processes around recruitment, attendance management and performance. There is a need for clear, simple policies that managers can use with the minimum of support from HR teams. For HR managers responsible for payroll, making sure staff are paid correctly each month is a given!

Investing in leadership has emerged as a widespread response – not just at the most senior levels in organisations, but recognising the role leaders at all levels can play in delivering transformation, efficiency and better outcomes. A particular need for system leaders has come to the fore, people who can lead across organisations. Devolution and public service reform will demand skills in this area, as various activities move into combined authorities or other delivery vehicles.

Keeping staff engagement levels high and maintaining morale will continue to be a focus. We have to attract and develop talent, both within our organisations and from outside, including apprenticeships; and provide the support and development that allows staff to practise and acquire new skills. We still need an affordable reward structure and package of terms and conditions that allow us to recruit and retain people, in a way that meets business needs.

Many councils are recruiting now more for people’s values and behaviours than the length of their experience or the number of sets of letters that they might have after their name. The shift is inevitable for more senior roles as spans of command become ever wider. Professional qualifications are not irrelevant. There are many roles – including in HR – where a qualification will still be demanded and necessary. We have to look at people’s flexibility and willingness to learn new skills. So are we seeing the rise of the generalist? As a lifelong generalist perhaps I have a slightly biased view!

Article by Ian Miller – Chief Executive, Wyre Forest District Council

(find out more about Ian)

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