Transformation through restructure
May is here and many local authorities will have just gone through the first of what is sure to be a number of major restructures to take place over the next three or four years.
At the end of it almost 140,000 local government jobs that once existed no longer exist and a large number of local government employees find themselves redundant and forcibly retired.
However, there are many ways to skin a cat and this set of restructures has demonstrated significantly different approaches from different councils.
In fear of generalising (but doing it anyway) broadly speaking there were two approaches:
1) The ‘protect our staff’ model
In this model every effort is made by the local authority to find their staff a job. Although the new service structures and job descriptions will be significantly different to what was being done by the current staff lower thresholds will be set to ensure staff are able to transition into the new structure.
Under this model there is no attempt to ensure the removal of ‘deadwood’, by which we mean staff that are not performing up to the level they should be. Nor is there any effort to bring new blood into the organisation through the creation of new posts. The primary aim is to limit, at all costs, the number of redundancies.
In one example I heard about the primary determinant of whether or not a member of staff would receive a job in the new structure was their salary. So, if you were ‘overpaid’ in the old structure that would continue and if you were ‘underpaid’ then tough. This disadvantages those on short term secondments or who are acting up into managerial roles (who tend to be newer in the organisation and keener to get on) and advantaged those who’d got high salaries by dint of spending a long time in the organisation.
This model reassures staff in the organisation during the transition and keeps as many people as possible in post. It assumes that the authority has consistently worked to develop talent and performance managed those staff who are not performing up to standard and that development programmes are in place for all staff going forward.
2) The ‘we’ll design a structure and then try to get the best staff we can model’
In this model the council designs a structure that they feel will meet the authority’s needs going forward. All staff are told they are at risk of redundancy and have to apply for the jobs in the new structure. If the staff are good enough for the new roles they are appointed but if not the council is comfortable about going out to external recruitment.
In this model ‘deadwood’ is definitely gone and ‘slightly ok wood’ have to prove their worth in interviews.
I know of one council where a team of 15 was reduced to 10 and yet only 7 of them got a job with three posts being advertised externally.
The disadvantages of this model are that it is expensive; making a lot of people redundant is very costly, as is recruitment. It is also very destabilising for the local authority; staff feel under threat for most of the consultation period and subsequently you need to bed in a whole load of new employees.
It is also largely a one off trick; if the local authority has to do it too often then it is evidence of them failing in many other ways.
I don’t know which model is best but here’s my guess:
In one or two year’s time the authorities in model 2 will be far better off than those in model 1. Carrying staff who aren’t quite up to it might seem like a sensible option in the midst of a horrible series of redundancies but long term having exactly the right staff in post can only be of benefit to the authority and local people.
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