Facilitator of Joy – a new line on the JD for the 21stC Public Servant?

Catherine Needham

joy

Leaders need to see themselves as facilitators of joy say @helenbevan and others in a new blog for the Institute for Healthcare Improvement. The blog encourages us to go beyond the older idea of looking for ‘joy in work’, to get to a point where joy IS work. They are writing about a health context, in which intense funding pressures and rising patient numbers must make joy quite elusive, so it is good to see their chirpy optimism and top tips for joy (put down your smart phone and talk to people being one).
In local government where the cuts are even deeper and the existential crisis more intense, joy feels a long way away. Nor is there much of it within universities, where anxieties about performance management intensify as the next research  assessment process gathers momentum. At a system level, we know that the strains across public services are intense.

And yet on an individual level many of us experience aspects of work that make us joyful: a thank you card from a student/patient/resident/boss; a buzzy session of sharing ideas with colleagues; a long term problem that we finally work out how to crack; a mentoring session with a new employee.

Could it be possible that joy can go from being an incidental side effect to being part of the system design as Helen Bevan and co-authors suggest? Could we recruit for joy? I don’t know what an environmental health office based on joy would feel like (a five star hygiene certificate for every fast food outlet?). But fostering a university research culture based on joy is a challenge I would like to get stuck into. A study of what makes an effective research culture highlighted a lot of attributes that feel a lot like joy; those research settings are places for curiosity, entrepreneurship, egalitarianism, nurture, cooperation. Maybe as leaders we need to know more about what joy feels like for colleagues and how to stop designing systems that squeeze joy to the edges.

Creative, courageous and innovative – the council workforce of tomorrow

Outside the Box: The Council Workforce of Tomorrow

outside-the-box

By Lucy Terry, Senior Researcher and Claire Mansfield, Head of Research, NLGN

Councils are changing. Prompted by the funding cuts of the last decade, they have had to transform. No longer just seen as service deliverers, they are becoming collaborators, place leaders, commissioning councils, commercial councils and cooperative councils.

But ambitious transformation plans can only be achieved through a workforce with the capabilities to make them a reality. The 21st Century Public Servant project has already demonstrated that a completely new set of skills and values are needed in local government today.  Local government needs a workforce that is collaborative, commercially savvy, able to cross boundaries and be flexible, creative, and empowered to make change.

But that is a lot to demand of any workforce. How can councils attract staff with these skills and competencies and what can they offer them in return?

Last year NLGN carried out a research project that spoke to the current local government workforce  (including a survey of 2,500 local government employees), interviewed HR directors and identified some of the most relevant cutting-edge working practices both in the UK and internationally.

We wanted to understand how councils can develop a workforce equipped to use these new skills and address new challenges. How can councils enable their staff to flourish and thrive, and how can they make themselves attractive to new employees? The final report Outside the Box: The Council Workforce of Tomorrow was published last month.

The most promising finding was that the greatest motivation to work in local government was the “public service ethos” – people wanted to make a difference to the community. But the workforce we surveyed also felt hampered by a hierarchical culture; by layers of management and slow decision making processes; and by managers who micro-manage, rather than lead.

This hardly marries with what councils need today: creativity, courageousness and innovation. Outside the Box makes the case for a non-hierarchical working culture that allows these qualities to thrive; a supportive and enabling environment which means employees can do what they came into local government to do – make a difference.

We call for a fundamental cultural change within local government to enable the new skills and qualities local government needs, as well as attracting in new talent to local government. The working culture needs to be front and centre of any ‘new deal’ for the local government workforce.

As well as transforming working culture, councils will also have to change their external profile.  HR directors told us that the greatest barrier to recruiting talent is the negative perception of local government. Councils are not seen as places for entrepreneurial, dynamic or ambitious employees and staff are all too often stereotyped as ‘jobsworths’. And while that description was probably never fair, it is particularly inaccurate for today’s workforce as they innovate their way through the funding cuts.

If councils are to attract the ‘best and the brightest’ it’s critical that they actively work to counteract this stereotype. A more outward-facing council with a focused recruitment strategy will be crucial to attract a diverse range of skills and experiences, including people who wouldn’t previously have chosen local government. Opening up the council building can make councils more visible to the public. Some councils such as Wakefield and Wiltshire are now open plan and integrate libraries or cafes into their buildings – getting people through the door other than to pay a bill.

Becoming much more outward-facing and ambitious about the potential of the workforce has the potential to make local government an exciting career choice for the next generation. Moreover, it means councils will be much better equipped to meet the considerable challenges facing them.

In partnership with the LGA, and supported by GatenbySanderson and PPMA, ‘Outside the Box: The Council Workforce of Tomorrow’ looks at the potential of workforce strategies to meet the strategic and operational challenges facing local government.

 

A 21st century public servant Christmas

xmas-picAs 2016 draws to an end INLOGOV would like wish Happy Christmas to all the inspirational public servants we have met and worked with over the past year. The work of INLOGOV and the Public Services Academy brings us into contact with a range of people dedicated to improving the lives of their citizens. These range from the graduate trainees who have just joined local government, to our part time Masters students, juggling full time, demanding jobs with gaining a qualification that will stand them in good stead for their future careers, the senior leaders who are working across organisations to develop innovative solutions to our most challenging ‘wicked issues’ and front line staff who continue to support residents in a variety of innovative and thoughtful ways, in spite of budget cuts.
This year we have been on the road a lot, talking to people about the 21st century public servant (and councillor) research. Reflecting on these conversations about how public servants need to be different in future, it strikes me that the one factor that the public servants we work with have in common is determination. Determination to gain a qualification, to make a difference, to gain new skills and develop new roles, with the end outcome to do the best for the people that live in their areas and need support from public services.
We have been particularly inspired by the way in which organisations have taken the 21st century public servant research and (in the words of an X factor judge) ‘made it their own’. In an attempt to travel the length and breadth of the country we have worked with organisations from Oldham to Cornwall, and from Suffolk to Cardiff. All have engaged with the challenge of creating a future workforce that will develop and deliver improved outcomes for residents.
To end the year on a festive, light hearted note we’d like to share the work that North East Lincolnshire council have been doing with the 21st century public servant concepts:

A 21st Century Public Servant Christmas

The System Architect has made sure the Christmas tree and decorations are all co-ordinated. The Resource Weaver has found all the gifts and stocked the Christmas larder. The Broker has worked out a suitable seating plan for the Christmas dinner. The Networker is in charge of the party games that get everyone involved. The Storyteller has written a ghost story to tell on Christmas Eve. The Commissioner is working towards the outcome of a happy Christmas for all. The Navigator is planning their new year’s resolutions and the Municipal Entrepreneur is thinking of ways to make next Christmas even more exciting!!

We wish you all a restful break, and a Happy New Year.

The Forgotten Importance of Government’s Workforce

By Howard Risher

risher-photo

Recently in  the US it has become apparent that government is largely ignoring the potential of its best resource to improve performance: its workforce. During the past 20 years, there has been a widening gulf between “people management” practices in the private and public sectors. Anyone who has a chance to interact with employees in a leading company would quickly appreciate they are talking to highly engaged and committed individuals. Those companies have adopted practices that reflect the old advertising slogan, “People are our most important asset.”

There is solid evidence to show the way employees are managed influences their performance. It is almost impossible to miss the new focus—the many lists of the “best places to work,” articles on employee engagement and books on high performance. The common goal is creating a positive work experience that gets the best out of employees. There is a list of the best federal places to work but nothing similar at the state or local level. Two independent surveys show workforce problems are the No. 1 management challenge. Election candidates frequently promise changes that would exacerbate the problems.

The challenge is multifaceted: the wave of retirements and loss of job knowledge, the low percentage of millennials interested in government careers, the pay freezes, cutbacks in training budgets, lack of advancement opportunities… I could go on. Gallup recently reported that low employee engagement levels in state and local government contribute to performance problems that cost $100 billion. This is not simply an HR issue.

The Two Perspectives of Performance

Last year, I had a reason to look closely at the websites for the 15 highest ranked public administration (PA) schools. The courses and faculty publications say a lot about the priorities: workforce concerns are rarely mentioned. For reasons that are not apparent in PA literature, government’s efforts to improve performance, as well as the research, have focused on high level concerns—executive development, strategic planning and technology. This is consistent with the “manage more like a business” argument and the longstanding goal of increasing efficiency. Too often, training for new managers includes only a cursory discussion of their responsibility for creating a productive work environment. Today there are two surprisingly separate groups that focus on “performance management.” One deals with management systems, strategy, metrics, KPIs, etc. The other focuses on employees, goal setting, competencies and feedback. Each has its experts, jargon and literature. One focuses on leaders and executives, the other on workforce issues.
For more than 20 years, the PA community has concentrated almost exclusively on the former as part of “new public management” and reinventing government. Agencies have invested heavily in business management practices but the problems continue. The HR community, in contrast, focuses on employees, although in the public sector the literature includes frequent reports arguing employees explicitly or implicitly are part of the problem. Few public employers would argue their people management practices are truly effective. Antiquated civil service systems continue to impede needed change.

Evidence from the Private Sector

That contrasts with the attention to workforce issues in the business world. In hindsight, this did not start as an HR initiative. The impetus for change was the 1990-91 recession, which prompted U.S. companies to look for ways to become more competitive in world markets. They eliminated layers of management along with bureaucratic practices, decentralized decision making and, in doing so, gave greater autonomy to employees. The business textbooks were rewritten, dropping old phrases like “span of control” and highlighting new ideas like empowerment.

I know this history because when I developed my first book in 1995, the phrase “high performance” was not in use but was the theme. In all of our exchanges, government was never discussed. The experience in the private sector is important. There is a wealth of resources that highlight proven practices, including the APA’s recently created website, Center for Organizational Excellence, which “enhance[s] the functioning of individuals, groups, organizations and communities through the application of psychology to a broad range of workplace issues.” We know what contributes to a positive work experience and many of those practices could be adopted in government at minimal cost.

Government is People

Payroll, as well as employee-related expenses (e.g., training), are typically the largest controllable items in agency budgets. Despite that, employees and their performance have gotten very little attention. The potential for improved performance is surprisingly high; a meta-analysis of productivity studies once concluded changes in the work management paradigm can trigger 30-40 percent increases. Virtually every employee has untapped capabilities. This is a problem that can be solved but it will require leadership. We need a new “new public management,” one that recognizes, values and encourages workforce contributions. As I write this, The New York Times has posted the article, “The Incalculable Value of Finding a Job You Love.” When someone has a highly satisfying job, they look forward to coming to work each day. There was a time when that was true in government.

 

Author: Howard Risher has 40 plus years of experience as a consultant to clients in every sector. He has a BA in psychology from Penn State and an MBA and Ph.D. from Wharton. He is the co-author with Bill Wilder of the new book, It’s Time for High Performance Government: Winning Strategies to Engage and Energize and the Public Sector Workforce. You can reach him at h.risher@verizon.net.

 

This blog was originally published by the American Society for Public Administration’s PA Times blog

Being human

I made this point about shared humanity last week when I gave evidence to the Kirklees Democracy Commission. The Commission has been set up to do a ‘health check’ of local democracy in the area, and to work out how to ‘do democracy’ better.  Although the commission is focused on Kirklees, the questions it is asking about how to better connect councillors and councils to their communities have a much wider relevance.

I was reporting on findings from our recent 21st Century Councillor research. Of the various points I made, the one about shared humanity was the one that got the most interest and retweets. Similarly in our 21st Century Public Servant research, a lot of people latched on to our finding that’being human’ was a key attribute of effective public service workers.

What does this focus on humanity mean in practice? It means displaying honesty, empathy, humour and a willingness to learn when interacting with citizens. It means being aware that whilst today we might be wearing the badge of councillor or officer, in other parts of our lives we are citizens ourselves – we are not a breed apart.

Some public servants and councillors do this already. The police in particular have been quick to see the potential of Twitter as way to engage and entertain the public, as well as to fight crime.

If more councillors and officers are going to connect honestly and warmly with citizens, then managers (and party leaders) will need to have a sense of humour and a thick skin. Let’s look for those things when recruiting leaders, and help develop a culture of humanity in local government.

A councillor responds to our 21st C Councillor research

Councillor Ken Hawkins

Crossposted from https://cllrkenhawkins.co.uk with kind permission of Councillor Ken Hawkins @cllrken

BARRIERS TO COUNCILLOR DEVELOPMENT AND TRAINING

The report ‘The 21st Century Councillor’ identifies the importance of developing councillors skills and goes on to highlight the important skills required for present day councillors and also identifies some reasons why training and development has not moved on accordingly.

Since 2002 local government has witnessed substantial change; cabinet style governance, austerity measures, new ways of working, the push for regionalisation through combined authorities, and the growth of the digital age, amongst others. Most learning organisations will adapt to these important trends, identifying the key areas that affect their core business and developing strategies to ‘be ahead of the game’ – especially their competitors.

Successful and progressive local authorities have adapted accordingly, investing in staff development, especially developing a new breed of public sector leadership model. New ways of working are commonplace, as is agile working. These authorities have identified the need for greater engagement with the public it serves but I question whether local councillors have maintained the same pace.

The report mentions cuts in member training and development budgets following the onset of austerity measures and I believe councillors as a whole agreed to such cuts (or failed to challenge them) because they felt the public would wish that area of the budget should be cut before frontline services but also because of opposition, or not being confident about the need for councillors to identify individual training and development needs.

The new councillor:

Induction training for new councillors does exist and these are generally welcomed. Again, progressive local authorities recognise the opportunity for the more established councillor to take the opportunity to attend these events as a ‘refresher’. However, it is fair to state the take up of such invitations are not great. After the induction programme it seems councillors are left to themselves.

The established councillor:

Once established, perhaps gaining some expertise within scrutiny committees he or she serves on, it is my experience that any further development rests with the councillor. If that councillor has not had the benefit from working in learning organisations or within teams that do reflect then that councillor may not recognise the need for personal development plans.

My personal experience saw 30 years in West Midlands Police where as a police inspector I underwent a great deal of personal development, even undergoing 360 degree feedback as early as 1990. Following my retirement from the police I took, what was for me, a natural progression to lecturing at local college. Here, training and development was essential – for students and tutors.

My experience has reinforced the need for continuing development and that I found the report via twitter does I feel provide evidence that I do this. However, there must be thousands of councillors up and down the country who will be oblivious to reports such as this. Attempts within my own authority (around 2010) to establish personal development plans for some councillors was not wholly welcomed – I think I was the only member from a small cross party group to agree.

The concept of a councillor openly stating and admitting to a development need may be an anathema to them. They may feel this shows a weakness to opposition members, or competitors within their own group. Also, why bother with training and development if you own a safe seat? Of course, having the ‘Cllr’ in front of your name immediately identifies you as an expert in everything (or could do with certain members). If members have an employment history of working in progressive companies with established staff development ideals then they would no doubt appreciate the need and importance of such development as a local councillor. However, how many councillors actually have experience of working within progressive organisations that focus on the need to continually learn? If a councillor does not have this experience (and profiles of members might evidence this) then developing a need for training and development as a councillor might not be recognised.

The digital age is a great example to show which councillors embrace training and development and which councillors may not. The benefits of engaging in social media are real and clear to those who do engage – both councillors and residents. This though demands the councillor to recognise the value of social media and then make a choice to learn how to use it and engage with people on-line rather than face-to-face. Those that use social media do note this allows residents a voice and challenge their elected representatives in ways not experienced before. Engaging with hundreds, even thousands of residents via social media (as I do) certainly has its challenges but it is how you deal with those challenges that is important. Yes, there are those who will not ever appreciate what you do but there are those residents who do appreciate this wider engagement and support you at election time – voting for the candidate they can engage with, not the political party. However, why indeed go to the bother of engaging with residents and a wider public on Facebook and Twitter if you are only interested I getting the thousand or so voters out to vote for you at election times? Do they feel that attending a public speaking course, or some other staff training, really matter on their CV at election time?

Conclusion:

The drive for personal development for councillors must come from within. There appears no body that seeks to suggest to a councillor they might want to consider a specific training need; it would be a brave officer to suggest to a member he/she undertakes a public speaking course, but why shouldn’t this happen? As a school governor I receive plenty of opportunities to attend seminar, training and other events but this appears not to happen locally (I do know political parties advertise some training but do not know how much this taken up).

Report and letter writing seems to me an evident training need for some councillors in my authority (as evidenced by some emails I have received). We could all benefit from public speaking and certainly the need for developing our scrutiny and questioning skills is continuous. How we get there is by prioritising the issue and creating a budget, but in a way that will identify positive outcomes for members, officers and residents. We really need a sea change in how we see ourselves and see our role as 21st century councillor.

 

 

Combined Authorities and the 21st Century Councillor

Combined authority

Interviews for the 21st Century Councillor report were taking place during the move to combined authorities on a regional base and this was proving challenging for many councillors. Different local authorities in our research were at different stages on the journey to combined authorities, with some still at the pre-deal stage, and others having transitional arrangements in place.

Whilst there was enthusiasm for the idea of powers being devolved from central government, many of the councillors we spoke to, including those in leadership positions, were struggling with the complexity of the new arrangements and the lack of democratic mandate. Key issues were:

  • A loss of power from individual councils to the combined authority:

‘This needs to suck powers out of London and Westminster and not suck powers up from the districts.’

  • Tensions between different areas of the combined authority, in relation to identity and resources:

‘The requirements of [my town]…are so far removed from the other areas within the…city region that it’s nonsense.’

‘There’s definitely some nervousness around, you know, how we still retain our identity I suppose and that’s what really important for members, you know, that we don’t just all merge into one, sort of, blob.’  

  •  A lack of public awareness of combined authorities. One interviewee reflected on the lack of engagement of the public, but also of some councillors:

And I’ve had members of the public saying to me “I don’t even know what devolution is. What is it?” you know, it does feel very much like a bit of an entity on its own and yeah, I would say that not all of my colleagues have the passion and the kind of wanting to understand what it is and means and that worries me ‘cause it’s a huge thing.’

  • Concerns about leadership, particularly on an elected mayor model:

‘I’d welcome devolution, I welcome our ability to actually manage our cities. The irony is we’re all forced to have an elected mayor even though people didn’t want one and so that’s not devolution is it?’

Whilst there was scepticism about adding in an additional layer of (mayoral) leadership, many councillors also had concerns about the capacity of existing leaders to make the combined authority approach work:

If I was an executive member having to make these decisions I would be very concerned about time restrictions and sheer volume of how it’s happening really. I don’t think there’s enough scrutiny about devolution.’

Some councillors expressed concern that the combined authority agenda had been led by officers, with only marginal involvement of most members except the leaders:

Really big, strategic issues, very complex, rattling along at a huge pace and basically it’s expert officer professional led. There’s no political input in to that, because we’re not geared up process-wise how to deal with it.’

One councillor reflected on the sense of being in flux: ‘It’s difficult at the moment to know what the finished article might look like…We’re on a…devolution journey here.’

 

Full findings from the 21st Century Councillor report are available here.

Catherine Needham and Catherine Mangan are based at the University of Birmingham. They tweet as @DrCNeedham and @mangancatherine  using the hashtag #21cPS