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Recruiting and retaining top talent in local government has always been a challenge – but is arguably now more than ever in an increasingly commercialised public sector. So it’s no surprise that human resource professionals raised a lot of questions on this topic at the recent Making your Council a Commercial Reality joint event with Alpine and the Local Government Association a few weeks ago.

The message was clear that getting this right is not only about having the best talent in the present, it is also a key succession strategy for the future.

Whether councils want to be more business-focused for post-cuts consolidation, or generate commercial and social value in a devolved local government landscape, our advice is that from the beginning the personal involvement of the council’s chief executive and others, such as the corporate leadership team, is key. They must have ownership over why the talent is needed, what is expected of the individual(s), and how they can be productive in their vision of commercialism.

It may even be beneficial to enlist a trusted recruiter to get an outside perspective on how to achieve the changes you are trying to achieve, as sometimes colleagues within the organisation may

subconsciously have a limited view of what’s needed. But regardless of who you partner with, your personal involvement as senior leaders is vital for recruiting top tier candidates. Not least because the best individuals will recognise your personal commitment through such involvement and this will want to join you.

In order to recruit and retain the best talent, we have identified six key principles for defining the what is needed in today’s local government landscape. These are:

1. Agility – Local government needs managers and leaders who can think on their feet, adapt and change. The best leaders use a variety of approaches to solve new problems. You should be seeking flexible and creative people who can ensure a return. They need to be nimble, so learning skills and competency are often more crucial than technical expertise.

2. Entrepreneurialism – successful leaders ooze self-confidence and belief in their own initiative, creativity and emotional intelligence. These individuals should be able to share the load and take risks. The challenge is to find leaders who can create – and maintain - an entrepreneurial culture, regardless of the size of the organisation.

3. Problem-Solving –Giving your employees information and the legitimacy to act ensures your council can be focused on the perennial challenges of: safeguarding the most vulnerable, managing demand, and delivering efficient quality services on a shoestring.

4. Collaboration – the digital revolution has transformed the way we communicate, interact and work together. Online processes mean citizens want to access information and services wherever they are. Employees can also be empowered to collaborate with data and have greater scope for more flexible ways of working such as remote, part time and role sharing.

5. Effective communication –Your best talent will have exceptional verbal, written and presentation skills. Find people who can be clear and concise, and who can put themselves in everyone’s shoes – from citizen volunteers to portfolio directors. These people can communicate their thoughts effectively, and motivate others to follow you and them.

6. Citizen focused – In the current landscape it is imperative that councils focus of the changing needs of citizens, rather than simply be top down providers of services. Your best people will be able to co-produce, nudge behaviours, and demonstrate value for money – without any dips in customer satisfaction.

So when recruiting, it’s best to think as an investor (for return); for retention, think as an employee who wants an exciting employee value proposition.

Employee Value Proposition: Below is a useful model to remind us what the employee value proposition looks like. It is a US model (sorry about that!) - but nevertheless useful. If you were to score yourself out of 10, how would your council rate?

Susan Turnbull is HR Director; and Ruby Dixon Head of Local Government Practice. You can contact us both at Alpine at: rdixon@alpine.eu.com (02034 781345) and sturnbull@alpine.eu.com respectively.


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