4 October, 2018

How should we respond to a perceived leadership crisis in local government?

Local Government is under immense pressure with continued budgetary constraints and an uncertain political environment. Against this backdrop the upper echelons of Local Government have been subject to a series of high-profile departures, such as Kingston upon Thames RBC Chief Charlie Adan and Bexley LBC Chief Gill Steward.

Given recent research undertaken by the Association of Local Authority Chief Executives & Senior Managers revealed 48% of respondents believe their workload has increased significantly in the past year to an almost unmanageable level, the potential skills drain in the sector needs to be addressed and recruitment measures reassessed.

Authorities across the UK face serious challenges; take the case of the Highland Council, geographically the largest Local Authority in the UK, which has been forced to defer non-essential spending, accelerate savings and cut back further on staff recruitment in to tackle an urgent projected deficit. How do you attract top talent in an environment where it is cuts rather than investment that leads the Board agenda?

Reorganisation of Local Government is also having an impact. It has been reported the prospect of a unitary model of Local Government in Northamptonshire has made it more difficult for Daventry District Council to recruit staff. A report to the council’s strategy group explained the authority was having to review its payment structure to not only bring it in line with the national living wage but also to help attract new employees.

In a tough environment how do we find solutions to ensure Local Government can continue to recruit the most talented leaders?

Expand the talent pool

One solution to attract top talent is to expand the candidate pool and to offer a new cadre of leaders the opportunity to set up to the upper echelons of management.  Those hungry for success, who may previously have felt excluded from the top tier positions, are far less likely to be discouraged by the challenge and more likely to focus on the opportunities at hand. Local Government needs to start broadening its talent pool and re-evaluating how it attracts diverse candidates, which means redeveloping their employee value proposition.

If you want to ensure you’re reaching the largest talent pool, encompassing a spectrum of diverse candidates, you need to work with suppliers with lived experience and credibility that these candidates already trust. Doing the same things as everybody else will create the same results.  By working with search and advisory partners that have extensive networks and can legitimately engage diverse candidates offers the greatest opportunity to secure talented individuals into Local Government management.

Looking longer term  

Interestingly in the United States innovators are starting to take a long term view of Government recruitment, with ambitious young social entrepreneurs hoping to lure talented graduates away from the usual suspects of McKinsey, Google and Goldman Sachs.

The organisation Lead for America plans to attract bright college graduates to such jobs as Policy Analyst, Assistant to the County Manager, and Parks and Recreation Manager. The organisation aims to jump-start a generation of leaders in State and Local Government, recruiting talent straight from college and keeping them in the pipeline through to Executive Leadership.  Though experts say they face several challenges, including how effective their recruits will be in complex work environments during fellowships that last only two years, it shows that innovative long-term solutions should be considered alongside short-term pragmatism.

The issue of inclusion

One oversight many organisations fall guilty of in the public, private and third sectors is solely focusing on attraction, but not retention and inclusion. Inclusion is a different board game, which requires Local Government to change cultures and perceptions and ensure that they are capable and willing to allow for an integrated diverse workplace.

An inclusive workplace allows Local Government to start building talent pipelines focusing on all levels of employees to ensure, when senior leaders do move on, there are suitable candidates to step up and fill the role.  Local Government organisations should be developing cohesive succession plans to ensure there is no leadership void and build on the quality of the diverse candidates throughout their management pipeline.

Final word

Local Government needs to change if it is to attract the highest quality of management talent.  Faced with perpetual media scrutiny over Executive pay and expenditure decisions, how do you attract and motivate leaders in this sector.  One solution must be to engage those hungry, engaged candidates just waiting for the opportunity to take the next career step.  Looking beyond the usual management merry-go-round there is an opportunity to bring in a new generation of diverse, motivated leaders bringing a fresh approach.

There are pressures to deal with, but with a focus on strategic succession planning and accessing a sustainable and diverse candidate pool, Local Government will remain a bastion of great leadership.  New recruitment methods are required to reach out to BAME and young candidates, which will bring in an efficient workforce with the skills and ability to cope with the challenges facing the sector.

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