Adrian Smith is Commissioning Director for the London Borough of Lambeth. Here he reflects on how public service careers at Lambeth are changing
“Lambeth is a cooperative council, using a cooperative commissioning cycle to transform the way we help communities achieve the outcomes that matter most to them.
Like many Council’s we’ve been on a whole systems transformation over the last 2 years, and it genuinely feels as though we’re a different organisation and working in a very different way. Transformation journeys always look neater when looking back, in truth we’ve had to pioneer a lot of what we’ve done, we are after all working in unprecedented times.
We’ve consistently held to our cooperative principles – rebalancing the relationship between citizen and state, building community and individual resilience, seeing people for the strengths and assets not the challenges they face, and focusing on outcomes not traditional services or silos.
To achieve this we needed to take the old organisation apart, unlearn lots of traditional ways of operating, and build new systems, processes, policies and procedures. A new more fluid structure also sat at the heart of our transformation, but as ‘culture eats strategy (and structure) for breakfast’ we knew we’d need more that just system changes.
The introduction of a ‘cooperative behaviours’ competency framework (now used for everything from recruitment to appraisal) was pivotal. The framework was of course co-produced and sets out that ‘working collaboratively with integrity’, being ‘politically astute’, being ‘citizen focused’ and ‘committed to the Borough’ amongst other behaviours are just as important as being skilled or knowledgeable in a particular field or service area.
Fortunately we already had some excellent commissioning practice on which to build; now we needed to build a ‘Commissioning Cluster’ that brought together commissioning functions from across the whole organisation.
To bring cooperative commissioning fully to life, we needed to recruit. This posed us several challenges. Who are the cooperative commissioners of the future, what values and motivations will they have, what behaviours will they exhibit, what skills and experience should they bring. It’s no surprise that the 21st Century Public Servant commission has been of such interest.
We’ve created new commissioning roles that incorporate many of the roles set out by the commission – our Lead Commissioners for example are expected to look at ‘total resource allocation’ bringing resources such as community capacity, capital and assets, information and knowledge or leverage and influence into the commissioning cycle as well as revenue or cash. Our Associate Directors are creating compelling visions of how public services in our borough can work together with communities to broker new ways of helping people ‘be healthier for longer’ or ‘live environmentally sustainable lives’. Our ‘Senior Commissioning Officers’ are not just redesigning systems, but transforming them, weaving together public, private and voluntary/community sector for place or outcome.
Building this new commissioning cluster has certainly not been without its challenges.
We found recruiting people from outside the organisation with the right behaviours and skills into commissioning roles particularly challenging for outcomes not related to health and social care. Too few potential candidates were able to express the potential of commissioning for ‘place’ and other outcomes.
We’ve chosen to ‘grow our own’ and we’re reaping the benefits of that, but we’ve not seen the sector or learning and development market grasp the need to build the capacity of our future workforce and prepare current and future public servants for the new roles that Councils are creating. We’ve found too little focus on leadership and helping people think differently. Many potential candidates are fully proficient in talking about ‘what’ they do, but too few were able to explain ‘how’.
Local public servants are so often in the media wrapped in negative stories, but I’m a proud public servant. I can see the need now more than ever for passionate, locally minded, entrepreneurial and resilient officers to feel that there is a valued career with progression on offer for them. The sector can still do more to promote this and retain or attract the talent we need.
There’s still a long way to go on our journey in Lambeth. It does however feel as though our approach fits with the new emerging paradigm for public services rather than the old. I’m really proud to say we’ve recruited the vast majority of our new commissioners from inside the organisation, but that also sends an important message to the sector. We’ve created a flexible structure that should help us nurture and harness the talent sitting in our commissioning cluster; it feels as though the future is bright!!”