Head of Strategic Commissioning at Haringey Council Haringey Council
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Job shadowing, mentoring & open communication: developing future leaders in the public sector

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5th Oct 2016
Head of Strategic Commissioning at Haringey Council Haringey Council
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Having a positive impact on real people’s lives has always been a passion of mine. It’s what gave me the drive to establish a career in the public sector.

After several years at the Cabinet Office, I decided it was time to get back on the frontline so took my current role as Head of Strategic Commissioning at Haringey Council.

With no experience or contacts in local government, it was a daunting move but several key HR tactics have helped guide me through this journey successfully. It’s these that I want to talk about as I think they are the key to HR professionals in the public sector helping support the growth of the future leaders within their organisation.

Increasing importance of HR in the public sector

The public sector is evolving at an unprecedented pace thanks to radical political, legislative and financial changes.

Health, blue light, social, central and local services are being forced to radically re-think the way they operate. And of course, HR professionals have a central role in driving and supporting this change. Particularly when it comes to the development of public sector leaders of the future.

Innovative organisations require innovative, future-proof leadership that is able to keep up with, and even edge ahead of, external pressures.

External, rather than internal, mentors

One of the things that helped my professional development was taking part in the SOLACE Springboard Programme, which helps support ambitious and talented (their words not mine!) middle managers in local government to develop their skills and progress into more senior roles.

As a part of the program I was assigned a senior external mentor, Trevor Holden, Chief Executive of Luton Borough Council to give me invaluable insights into how local authorities work and whether the challenges I’m facing are “the norm”.

It is vital for employees to take part in such programs as it helps get rid of any previous pre-conceptions they might have had about a sector, role and the challenges – and opportunities – faced. It also helps the mentors (and mentees) network and share knowledge within an organisation and with others, both in the sector and outside.

Cross-sector job shadowing

Cross-sector job shadowing opportunities also generate real value, for both parties, helping them to get out of their sector-specific views and see things from a new angle.  

I took part in a job shadowing day with private sector organisation, Civica, which partners with over 900 government organisations, offering software, technology and outsourcing services. Spending a day sitting in on strategic meetings with all of its senior leaders allowed me to realise that the public sector faces many of the same challenges as private businesses.

We’re both being pushed hard by changing consumer demands and innovative new technology to build a clear vision and customer-focused strategy. And we both have common goals: improving organisational speed, agility, employee engagement, and of course building and maintaining a strong and trustworthy brand.

Open communication

Breaking down traditional silos and opening up communications within an organisation, across the public sector sector and outside it is vital to successfully navigating organisational change. During my day spent with Civica, I learnt that finding a right partner in both private and public sector can help us learn from each other and share best practice to deal with this time of increasing change and expectation.

I will certainly be bringing some “private” practices into my role at Haringey, while Civica has told me that their team will be using some of the “public” insights I gave them to shape the services and support they give other public organisations. 

Greater focus on leadership & culture

Unfortunately, according to a recent report I read, “Invigorating the public sector revolution”, only 7% of public sector employees at middle manager level and below view the public sector as an empowering environment. This worrying figure shows the need for public sector leadership revolution to motivate and encourage people like myself to take on and progress our roles. Just 29% say they are offered knowledge sharing sessions for best practice advice, 28% are offered digital training sessions to learn how to use new technology and 23% are offered job shadowing.

Helping employees experience new working environments and styles can help create public sector leaders of the future.

As such, I would encourage HR professionals across the sector to help turn the tables and create opportunities like those I experienced within their own organisations. Helping employees experience new working environments and styles can help create public sector leaders of the future.

Equipped with the variety of skills from both practices, they will be able to focus on delivering the best job for the citizens and inspire their workforce to do the same. It’s only by investing in training, relationship building and exploring outside of their organisation that they will be able to bring in the new, innovative ideas the sector so desperately needs.

Ultimately, everyone in the public sector needs more scope to think creatively outside the relentlessness of our day to day jobs.  I believe it is Haringey’s willingness to embrace these new ways of thinking and working which lead to our recent LGC business transformation award, whereby we developed partnerships with different organisations to ensure we were delivering outstanding outcomes for our residents. 

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