Posted tagged ‘staff’

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:


The indispensable few

March 31, 2011

The indispensables ones aren't always highlighted in gold

Everywhere I have been in my local government odyssey there have been some constants. Bad catering, poor heating systems and numerous complicated templates are just an example of the commonality possessed across the local government sector.

Another, often unsung, constant is the presence of one person who knows everyone and everything about the team, and often the council, you’re working in.

I call these people the indispensable few.

The indispensable few don’t occupy senior roles within the authority.

Some will be PAs (long established as the most powerful position in any organisation) but more often than not the indispensable colleague is just an ‘ordinary’ member of the team, an ‘ordinary’ officer or a service manager, usually of a small service.

This person will have a set role to perform but will be found helping anyone and everyone achieve their goals. They will be a source of news and information but won’t be gossipers in the traditional sense of the word. They’ll know what’s going on but have a clear idea of what can be shared, to who and when. They will often be taken into the confidence of half the organisation; and never let anyone down.

The individual in question is the person we turn to when we need advice and aren’t ready to go up the chain to our manager etc.

They’ll know who to call and where information can be found.

In summary, the indispensable few act as the grease that helps the council operate smoothly. Without them I’m pretty sure the council would not function nearly as well.


Do not feed the officers

March 9, 2011

Can we trust staff to problem solve?

There are two main problems when you are good at your job:

  • No-one appreciates how hard it is as you make it look easy
  • People expect you to go the extra league, not just the extra mile

I’ve come across this a little this week thanks to my frustrating inability to tell people that it’s not my job, and that they should work it out themselves.

As my team is involved with public engagement we have all manner of gadgets and toys built up over the years to encourage people to get involved.  From facilitation equipment through to online widgets, we’ve got access to plenty that other teams want.

Recently a colleague asked if they could borrow some of our IT equipment for an event they were putting on.  They had used it in the past without problems, so I said it would be fine and arranged for them to pick it up.  I even showed them how to use it again as a bit of a refresher, to be sure that they would be fine on the day.

Over the course of the next three days I must have spent at least 40% of my time with them for one reason or another.  Firstly they couldn’t work out how to do something simple, so I showed them and helped get it prepped.  Then they forgot how to run it, so I ran through two practice sessions with them.  They then couldn’t work out how to link it to a projector – that’s linking a laptop to a projector, nothing more fancy than that – so I showed them.

They then broke the software.  Perhaps that’s not entirely fair to say; the software stopped working whilst they were in custody of it.  Despite being no more than a regular user I then felt duty bound to try to get it working for them, and proceeded to investigate everything in my power to do.  When these admittedly limited options were exhausted I proceeded to get our glorious ICT helpdesk involved (after answering the requisite twenty questions of course) and spent about three hours on the phone to them.

None of it worked. (more…)