Mark Porter is Head of HR Operations at oneSource.
What do you do when you have to save lots of money quickly but have limited resources to do that?
How do you find out how well you are doing against others so that you see how efficient you are?
That was the problem London boroughs faced in dealing with the biggest financial challenge of any part of the public sector since 2010.
The government’s Spending Review in 2015 confirmed further funding reductions of around 30% in real terms over the next four years, core funding from central government will have fallen by a cumulative 63 per cent in real terms over the decade by 2019-20.
A need to make savings after the Spending Review
Fundamental changes to the way services are delivered were necessary to deliver the savings required.
One of the quickest ways to do that was to understand exactly where the issues were that affected our workforces (bearing in mind that the single biggest cost for a business is their staff).
Boroughs were helped by London Councils which is a lobbying organisation that promotes the interests of London’s 32 borough councils and the City of London.
A public organisation themselves, London Councils operates across political parties to deliver services on behalf of the public, by ensuring that its member authorities have the correct resources, freedoms and powers to deliver their services for residents and local businesses.
Introducing the Workforce Planning Group (WPG)
London Councils offers a number of services to support London boroughs to meet the challenges they face during this period of change including supporting professional networks, one of which is the Workforce Planning group (WPG) that enables HR professionals working at London boroughs to explore people data and share ways of using it to improve performance.
I chair the WPG and am more than ably supported by Tessa Mapley from London Councils!
The WPG meets quarterly at London Councils’ offices in London Bridge and consists of HR professionals from each council who are responsible for and/or use HR data most frequently.
They are often technical experts with an understanding of the specific measures and technology their council has access to which can provide them with people data. The meetings are always lively and a good place to share ideas.
The HR Metrics survey - what is it?
The key ‘product’ that the WPG supports is the suite of HR Metrics surveys that London Councils’ HR Metrics Service conducts using the online tool InfiniStats.
Boroughs input their own data locally and can generate sophisticated results, reports and scorecards each with their own council’s branding.
This has significantly reduced the manual processing of the data and enabled instant reporting and updating of results outputs.
Our online tool provides systematic analysis of data and offers instant, up to date outputs that would take weeks to produce manually and offer a cost effective solution to collecting and processing large quantities of data.
More importantly it has enabled us to benchmark across the whole of London.
The benchmarking of HR data from the London region enables evidence-based decision making on key issues and enables individual councils, groups of councils and the region as a whole to assess performance and drive improvement.
Councils can compare their performance on HR indicators ranging from the reasons why staff leave to diversity in the workforce, HR casework and sickness absence. Each council can see where its performance sits in relation to the others and they can share policy/procedure development and innovative solutions that work.
We use the benchmarks at a local level at Havering and at Newham not only to continually assess and improve performance in day to day HR activities but also to focus on emerging priorities.
We have been able to reduce absence rates for example by comparing data and targeting areas for support rather than spreading ourselves too thinly.
The fact that all London boroughs subscribe to the HR Metrics Service and participate in providing data is testament to its value and success.
Sharing and benchmarking HR metrics supports continuous improvement, both as individual councils and as a region.
It wasn’t easy getting 33 different organisations to co-operate and use standard metrics definitions when they were all used to working in a different way (have you ever tried to herd cats??!) but the effort was all worth it and the benefits are immense.
Having the service and the network in place also enables us to quickly access London wide data to provide insight and evidence to support the development of new regional strategies.
The London HR Metrics Service is recognised across the regions for producing some of the most highly reliable and relevant data and analysis and key London wide facts and figures are available and can be used to support London’s case on the wider national stage that includes Government departments, Parliamentary Select Committees and other decision making bodies.
It has been utilised by the national employers to maintain and build the reputation of the sector.
We have also been recognised as an example of good practice by the CIPD as part of their Valuing Your Talent project.
When resources are limited and reducing, sharing best practice and ideas is an important way that councils can be more cost effective and improve performance by learning from the best performers among their comparators and not having to come up with their own solutions in isolation.
For instance the WPG have been able to help tackle real business issues in London, for example the recruitment and retention of staff in specialised roles that are often in high demand and low supply.
One of the key issues for boroughs was the difficulty in recruiting children's social workers that had led to an over reliance on agency workers.
The high demand for these roles and agency worker rates had become inflated adding to costs for councils.
The London HR Metrics Service gathered information on agency pay rates for children’s social workers and produced an analysis of the rates across London which enabled us to bust some myths about the situation with real hard evidence.
The Directors of HR in London used this information as part of a project to broker a ‘memorandum of understanding’ (MoU) to be signed off by Chief Executives, Directors of Children’s Services and Directors of HR across London.
The MoU sets standardised pay rates across London for agency workers and an agreement not to go above those rates. At present there are 27 councils of 33 that have signed the MoU. Councils are now working collaboratively to manage the market and not compete with one another.
Initial results indicate a slowing of the rate of increase in pay-rates to less than 2% per annum after the implementation of the MoU from significantly higher levels reported by councils in previous periods.
There’s a clear financial benefit in using HR data to inform and enable collaboration across stakeholders, particularly within public services.
We are also looking at further cost saving measures across London, particularly with regard to managing workforce reductions to retain talent and avoid the potentially significant cost of redundancies.
Having solved some of the practical challenges we are now in a good position to share ideas and demonstrate the benchmarking processes and systems we use to other public service organisations including the Civil Service and the NHS.
Our work has shown that you don’t have to spend lots of money to save money.
Utilising data that you will already have in your business (somewhere!) will enable you to help managers to make evidence based, informed decisions about issues which in turn means your credibility as an HR professional in the business goes up too – everyone wins!
Screenshots: from the HR Metrics Service using the online tool InfiniStats
[Please note these use dummy data but are indicative of the type of data that can be extracted, as above. Click the images for bigger versions.]