What does it mean to be more commercial in local government?

Amy FiddyAmy Fiddy, Warwickshire County Council



“What do you mean by commerciality?” was a question asked by some in our organisation. Senior leaders were clear that we all need to be more commercially minded but what does that mean in practice when you work in road safety, finance, country parks or HR.

As the ‘Twenty First Century Public Servant’ work has shown we will need to combine the ethos of publicness with an understanding of commerciality to meet the changing and more complex needs of local government. So identifying what behaviours and competencies commercially minded employees would display in Warwickshire County Council (WCC) was our starting point. It was key to have an organisational understanding so that managers and staff could consider their commercial strengths and development areas to move us forward and deliver the outcomes defined in our organisational plans.

Looking to experiences from the public and private sector, best practice and our own tangible positive examples, we developed a specific competency and set of behavioural indicators that define “Being Commercial” in WCC. At their heart is the balance between the different elements of commerciality; customer, market, finance, value delivery and accountability. Challenging the assumption that to be commercial is all about profit and sales. It reflects that not just traded services, but also those commissioning and working with internal or external customers can be commercially minded and business focused.

Key to their development was the strong message of the need to balance the public servant ethos, of care for our citizens with the development of our commercial skills. This raised some queries or concerns for some, and key to this was translating what that behaviour means in your specific role. What do I need to know about the market I operate in as a Property Surveyor or how can I be entrepreneurial in the Integrated Disability Service.

Fitting into our existing competency framework, the “Being Commercial” competency allowed us to focus initially on our services that trade with schools – where many excellent examples of commercial behaviours have been demonstrated through the years. It gave these services a chance to reflect on their strengths, sharing best practice and to identify how to further build on the skills and knowledge of their people. This becomes part of the ongoing performance management cycle and will allow the organisational measurement of the impact and return on investment.

In addition to the competency, commerciality for the wider organisation is also being driven through a package of developmental support including an Introduction to Commercial Awareness course – specifically commissioned to bring the behaviours to life. This is complemented by modules on procurement and finance with a commercial approach woven into them, along with online resources, coaching and the development of elearning. We have also delivered facilitated workshops for teams to support them to develop their commercial skills around their core priorities. Already we are seeing tangible results from individuals and teams of the impact these experiences have had on their behaviours and outcomes.

For colleagues as well as the behaviours and learning and development activity, we have worked in partnership with our finance colleagues to introduce new financial reporting and monitoring procedures that support colleagues to make more commercial decisions in service delivery.

We have also engaged with elected members to introduce commercial thinking, consulting with them on how the organisation may evolve with more commercial approaches.

With more analysis underway and further activity planned, we have a clear pathway defined for our workforce to demonstrate commerciality as 21st Century Public Servants.

Amy Fiddy is an Organisational Development Consultant at Warwickshire County Council.

2 thoughts on “What does it mean to be more commercial in local government?

  1. Thanks Amy Interesting to see the extent of your activity. How do you balance the problem of customers and citizens? As a council you could easily over egg the drive to treat things as contracts and people as customers and measure outcomes by surplus or income. Is there a separate strand of work that encourages officers to act like citizens and treat residents as citizens too? I leave this comment not as a criticism – I think local authorities can benefit from being more enterprising (which may not be the same as commercial) as well as acting more like a citizen might. I think the future involves being more commercial to make money do new things and more things, but being more focussed as a citizens to allow collaboration and new forms of civic good to emerge. It’s could be a very tricky cultural blend to develop.

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