Last year we wrote a post giving advice to new local government workers. We provided ten tips and our wonderful readers chimed in with another 16. Together this provided a pretty awesome collection of tips for new local government workers.
26. Move around and try to get experience in a few different parts of the council you work for (or councils). If you start out as a graduate accountant, planner, social worker, HR bod etc. then by all means hone those skills but then be prepared to move. Local gov is a rich tapestry of roles and systems, you’ll ensure your longevity in the sector if you broaden your skill set.
I was reminded of this comment again this week as I reviewed some data about staff retention in my Local Authority. Unsurprisingly, if you exclude redundancies there is relatively little turnover, either within or outside the council. Our HR team still present this figure as a sign of success and I wondered whether that was really the case. Indeed, I strongly felt it wasn’t.
I think there are two real challenges in the above comment which my HR colleagues, and indeed all of Local Government, will need to think about.
Firstly, encouraging staff to move into jobs that they don’t have a speciality in. Shortly afterwards, Haypsych (no more plugs today, honest) wrote an interesting post about her own career that looked at how she had managed services that had nothing to do with her professional background and had found that she could do them well.
What’s more, she was able to bring something to the role her predecessors had perhaps missed.
This has got to be encouraged. The best technician does not make the best manager and nor does the best manager have to stay in an area they know well. Indeed, I hazard that the best managers will be even better for having moved around a little. This is a massive challenge to local government but hopefully one it will strive to meet.
One word of warning; this should not be seen as a drive to take the professions out of management. Some of the best managers I have ever had are from a professional background. Let the moral here be that we just need to be more imaginative about how we develop those talented managers.
Secondly, encouraging staff to circulate around the sector. I know many people in my authority who have been here for many many many years and lots of them are good at their jobs. Nonetheless, without a wider breadth of experience I can’t help but feel that they could be even better.
When it comes to staff moving around between councils many councils are positively schizophrenic. On the one hand many managers will tell you that they really need a ‘breath of fresh air’ or someone who can provide a new take on the job. Admittedly these people don’t have to come from external sources but often they do. On the other hand HR will always talk about retention rates and the importance of developing talent and not ending up with staff leaving. What’s more the process of redeployment can mean that in this time of austerity it is very difficult to get a job out to the market without first finding someone ‘just good enough’ internally.
On both counts we should be bolder and on both counts turnover can be seen as a pretty healthy thing for local government.
Assuming all is equal we should be willing to say no to redeployees and look for people from other councils who might be able to bring a new look to the authority. Indeed, if we want to keep the same employment practices (understandable) why not look to form redeployment pools with other local authorities and make it clear that moving between councils is to be encouraged.
Councils should also be ok with developing staff who then move to other authorities and indeed should do all they can to ‘poach’ the equivalent staff from other authorities. Moving staff need not be a zero sum game.
There’s a lot more to it than that and Local Government has still not nailed the idea of it being one sector or the idea of transferring skills.
But then, which organisation has?
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