Posted tagged ‘training’

Use the staff-Force

June 22, 2012

What better way to end a week of posts reflecting on the wider context for local government than to reflect on the local government workforce?  Well, we couldn’t think of anything either, so here goes.

Like many service industries, and indeed like most organisations in existence, local government is almost entirely dependent on the quality of the people who work for it.  Whilst it is not universally the case, generally those councils who contain and retain the best staff deliver the best services, and the converse is just as true.  This poses the sector a number of inter-related challenges.

Firstly, the local government workforce is getting older and local government has struggled to attract and retain the calibre of new recruits to leave people confident in the future of the industry.  On the one hand this has resulted in staff who are increasingly experienced in their field, but of course holds the danger of a potential lack of innovative new ideas coming from people new to the sector.

A key point of ingress for these newcomers has for the last few years been through the NGDP programme.  However, it has become clear that this excellent stream of talent appears to have been dammed, with fewer councils taking on graduates as well as investing in their training and development.  This short term quest to save a few pennies promises to cost many, many pounds in the future.

Secondly, whilst local government staff are not, relatively speaking, badly paid the recent attacks on the pay and conditions of council workers has damaged morale and has the potential to put people off joining the sector. (more…)

It’s the people stupid

May 28, 2012

Are they truly smiling or just complying?

How many times have we heard the spiel from a consultant or a new Chief Executive promising us that a new structure, new way of working, new computer system or new approach to reviewing the local authority will deliver the savings or improved service we need?

The answer of course is many many times.

As regular readers of this blog will know we are generally fairly sympathetic to this approach. Too often local government is trapped in the belief that we should just continue to do things the way we always have and there is a lot to learn by considering problems from a different point of view or by applying sensibly thought through management tools and techniques. At the same time we get trapped in our management silos and forget that the main aim of the work we do is to serve our customers.

Indeed, sometimes the change is useful even if it is not perfectly designed as just the act of changing things can be beneficial.

However, over the past few months I have been reflecting on the changes we’ve tried to make in our local authority and the one deciding factor in each case of success, and indeed each of failure, has been the people involved. Perhaps, the hardcore systems thinkers amongst you will be shouting at this screen that if that is the case then we’ve obviously chosen the wrong solution to implement or simply not done it properly. My observation is based on nothing but anecdotal evidence but to me it seems that the people involved, especially at management level, are just as important, if not more so.

This should not be a surprise really. We all know who the really good people are in local government and have a pretty good idea who the poor ones are too. However, what was a surprise was how absolutely the staff involved influenced the success or otherwise of the work.

This has a few different elements:

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Training needn’t be a chore

August 4, 2011

Train yourself to be a better trainerThese are tough times. Costs are being cut and savings made, whether they are for long term gain or short term balance keeping. Basically, if it can be cut without raising an outcry, it will be.

Unfortunately, one of the first things being cut from many Council spending columns is the item marked ‘staff training’. If it used to be delivered externally then it is now being brought in-house, if it was in-house it is being scaled back. Many managers are refusing or ignoring applications from their team to attend training sessions as they simply don’t have the time available to release them for a day or more; fewer staff and greater workloads is squeezing this training time out.

With central training teams feeling the pinch, officers who perhaps have never delivered training before are being forced to take on the burden of sharing their skills with their colleagues. They often have little experience of doing so to groups of people, being more experienced using their skills rather than teaching them.

Training others effectively is a very, very difficult skill to master. It is more than simply talking in front of people with a powerpoint behind you, it is about helping your audience not just understand the theory but getting excited about putting it into practice. It is about encouraging them to question themselves and their working practices and supporting them to learn something new which will prove useful in their daily working lives.

The following observations stem from some of the many training courses we have experienced over recent years. Some have been excellent and left us enthused and more knowledgable than when we started; others have made us want to have a standing argument with the trainer and shake them until they realise that we will never recover that lost hour and a half. (more…)

Can there be Council Officer Prodigies?

May 10, 2011

When I grow up, I want to work for the CouncilDespite the protestations of the rest of my household, occasionally I am able to catch the odd frame or two of snooker. The recent World Championship was as interestingas the cricket world cup – brilliant for me, but also the cause of much gnashing of teeth and fights over the remote control. For those of you who didn’t follow it, newcomer Judd Trump narrowly lost in the final to multiple champion John Higgins, meaning there is a new kid on the block.

Pundits and commentators have been gushing with praise over Trump, expressing their belief that he might be one of the most naturally gifted players since Ronnie O’Sullivan turned up, and that players like them are freaks of nature with a natural ability that means they would always have turned up at the final table of tournaments, even if they had only discovered the game a few months ago.

An alternative theory however has also emerged, which describes how these snooker players and other similar world class players only got that way down to years and decades of hard work. I won’t go into the theory myself (you can read it for yourself at the BBC website) but it got me thinking about the way we introduce newcomers to the world of local government, and inspire them to be the best that they can be.

Admittedly the money involved in elite sport makes the work worthwhile, but the theory is that should a child find a sport interesting then they should be nurtured and encouraged to practice at every available opportunity, meaning they will pick up the muscle memory and spatial awareness to enable them to express themselves to a good level consistently. They will then be able to refine the bits they aren’t so good at and rise above the competition.

We don’t seem to see this with local government officers. Children in nursery schools don’t have a Council Corner, where they pretend to hold meetings and take turns being the chair, or Officer Hour where they take turns to read stories about issuing fixed pnealty notices. If they are naughty they get their name taken on the Clipboard of Shame, and if they are good the get a Beacon Sticker. (more…)

How to stifle creativity in local government

March 11, 2011

Change is bad

As I have slowly climbed the corporate ladder I’ve gradually been introduced to more and more of the secret ways of local government.  When I initially joined at the bottom of the hierarchical ladder I thought it was all simple; everyone kept their heads down, got on with their jobs and it all came together beautifully.  I also thought that all strategic plans and policies were obvious, well thought out, planned and interlinked.

It’s only as I climb each rung do I realise that less and less is set in stone and that officers at every level are the same: doing the best they can, but often forced into making do with what they can get together.  And as I climb I get access to a few things; the senior toilet facilities (attendants, a range of bathroom products and silky loo roll), my own desk and training specifically designed for senior managers; training they don’t want you to know about, but which I’m going to blow the whistle on here.

So here’s a We Love Local Government EXCLUSIVE – the training notes for the training module entitled “How to stifle creativity” *

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Conferencing

February 23, 2011

Just waiting for the arrival of the 9:22 train

I was once invited to speak at a local government conference; I’d been doing some interesting work and someone somewhere thought I might be the perfect person to speak in workshop number 7 at some wonderfully specific conference.

I was absolutely thrilled and preceded to annoy my wife, my colleagues, my pets and even my car stereo by alternating between boasting and practising for my big moment.

Little did I know how monumentally insignificant my big moment would be.

You see, conferences in local government are a very odd thing. People from across the country cough up £100 or so (well their council’s do) and trek half way across the country to hear from ‘experts’ in the field about what it’s happening in their little part of the sector.

These conferences always seem to follow the same pattern:

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Twice as sick

November 16, 2010

Do we have to call it wellness-challenged?

As has been mentioned time and again by the press and the public, local government workers take a lot of time off sick.  Private sector workers do too, but not quite as much as their public sector counterparts.

This is as much news to us as it is to anyone else; i.e. it’s not news at all.  We all know that local government staff are off a fair bit and have a number of ways we are looking at reducing this.  Some well known things include offering incentives to people with 100% attendance, more flexible working (filing whilst doing the splits?!) and simply getting rid of those on long term sick leave.

I know this and many other sickness related facts because I recently attended my organisations’ sickness management training.

Twice.

The first time I attended it was back in April, when I found it interesting if a little unhelpful in its own way.  We spent the morning looking at why it’s important we focus on this, before the afternoon passed listening to people moaning about their own personal team’s examples of sickness.  Some relayed stories which sparked a sense of sympathy, others were barely restrained in their hatred of what they described as ‘work-shy slackers’. (more…)


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