The pandemic has brought into sharp focus the critical role HR and OD professionals play in enabling councils to quickly adapt and reshape the way they work. The world of work globally won’t be returning to how it was pre-COVID and local authorities are now weighing up what this means for their workforce.
A recent Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) report on the People Profession of 2030, mirrored themes and challenges we are experiencing in local government – an urgent need for the HR community to shift from a reactive role to becoming leaders of strategic change in organisations, acting as pivotal champions for large scale transformation and innovation.
A global shift in how organisations work has led to a collaborative response from the local government sector. Led by West Midlands Employers (WME), a partnership of Regional Employers Organisations, the Local Government Association (LGA) and the CIPD have formed a partnership to provide sectoral leadership for the development of HR and OD professionals. There is a unified commitment and agreement of how we will develop our local government people leaders across the country and together we launched the Inspire People Professionals Academy.
The Academy is fully booked until 2022 and an evaluation of the national pilot, funded by the LGA, shows that the programme is already delivering success in terms of its impact. Participants now feel more confident and able to take the skills and knowledge they’ve gained and apply them in the workplace. They shared how they felt the programme came just at the right time, with their councils facing major challenges during the pandemic and needing to see greater leadership from HR teams. One senior HR professional commented: ‘It’s given me the confidence to be like a mosquito and buzz in leaders’ ears – it’s not just me saying it; I can tell them it’s other councils, CIPD and our Regional Employers Organisation saying it. I’d give 10 out of 10 for this programme and would definitely recommend Inspire to others.’
The Inspire Academy is about creating a community for our HR and OD specialists that they join to build a long-term relationship with each other across the country – prior to COVID, such a thriving virtual network and programme would not have been possible. As such, participants have set up a Basecamp group to continue discussions, looking at how they’re putting what they’ve learned into practice. The sharing of knowledge and case studies will play a large part in how the Academy alumni continue to network, and with more programmes running throughout 2021 and 2022 we will see networking and access to resources grow.
Confidence comes from having space and time to test out your own thinking, with a safe environment, allowing participants to then speak with authority and backing of the HR profession when working within their own organisation. Innovation is thriving, we’ve also seen participants share insights with their line managers, teams and wider stakeholders particularly in the area of data analytics where there can often be an abundance of dashboards across a council, but very little meaningful insights and decisions being informed by the data itself. Data should be an aid to starting rich conversations and being able to bring that to life through sharing what other organisations are doing is adding real value.
The Academy is not just about future proofing the profession, there is a burning platform for the sector as across the country we have seen an increased demand for OD expertise. Senior OD and transformation roles are becoming hard to fill and the recruitment market for OD specialists is becoming extremely competitive, particularly for councils in the West Midlands.
The need to develop HR and OD professionals is being exacerbated by this growing scarcity of OD expertise. Most councils have either been through or are in the middle of workforce transformation programmes or have plans on the horizon. But there is no end game. Change is a continual process as councils deal with the cycle of financial pressures, restructures, skills shortages and evolving local needs. While COVID created a leap forward in the way organisations work, it accelerated the changes most organisations had already planned to make. We need to start preparing now for what comes next, with many predicting the climate change crisis will foster the need for further radical approaches to the world of work.
If local government is to thrive in a post-pandemic world and be truly people-centred then it needs to invest in these vital professionals.
The Inspire People Professionals Academy takes participants through eight modules spread over 12 weeks and the 4th cohort begins this month. More information can be found at http://peopleacademy.org.uk or from your Regional Employers Organisation.
Manny Sandhu is director of leadership, OD and resourcing at West Midlands Employers
• The Inspire People Professionals Academy partners include: CIPD, LGA, WME, NILGA, SEE, SWCouncils, London Councils, EMCouncils, NEREO, YHEA, WLGA-CLILC, EELGA