The difference makers

Written by: Rebecca Davis is Chief Executive of West Midlands Employers
Published on: 24 Mar 2022

It’s time to focus on our ‘People Strategy 3.0’ for a highly volatile world. Only a few months ago we thought 2022 would be a return to normal – we are now faced with new challenges, all of which offer both opportunity and threats to our organisations and people.

A recent PwC survey of chief executives reported that in 2022 73% highlight that there is a ‘skills threat’ to the sustainability of their business, compared with 10% reporting the same thing in 2014. We are seeing and feeling this in local government – the sector has many specialist roles and we are in direct competition with other sectors. Those skills in most demand are creating a ‘gig economy’, where workers are controlling where, when and how much they work for; and as a sector we can’t compete with money.  

We need to compete on our own terms, and that competition has to come through the concept of ‘making a difference for and through our people’. Organisational development in local government is as much about our internal people as the impact we have on people in our community.

Our people strategies need a radical, sweeping and progressive rethink, and if as a leadership team you don’t have that on your list of priorities for 2022-23, it needs to be. Our people strategy is the business articulation of how the business strategy will be achieved from a people perspective – and in a sector which is all about our ‘people’ and not ‘products’ we need to ensure we really understand the link to business value and report on it using the right real time metrics. 

Organisational development practitioners are the creators of the strategy aligning business value and facilitating organisational success.  At WME we are working with many top teams and HR directorates to really understand the challenges of the future workforce. In early 2022 we launched our West Midlands Workforce Strategy for Local Government, that is designed to fit alongside local people strategies.

People strategies need to ‘become’ something different, and top trends we expect to see include the following:

Equality and diversity will become EDB – Equality, diversity and belonging

Its not enough for people to feel accepted and a sense of organisational fairness, people want to feel they have a sense of belonging. This can’t be created in a strategy or policy. It’s about culture – and it’s clear people are looking harder at what that means and what their purpose is. Our people are also our community, they live and work in areas that have felt inequality through the pandemic and as employers we need to be acutely aware of the link between what we do and how that feels for our workforce and their families; as both members of our community and employees.  This is at the heart of creating belonging.

• Wellbeing will be become ‘financial wellbeing’

In 2020/21, wellbeing was all about mental wellbeing and supporting people through the pandemic. That is still important and there is still a need to help people adjust to the new ways of working. In 2022-23 we need to ensure we are supporting financial wellbeing – people will struggle and we need to help people learn ways to save money, budget better and where necessary support some provision of assistance. We also need to support the financial wellbeing of our communities, with a clear plan to help the thousands that will find themselves struggling to pay increasing energy bills, manage interest rate increases and needing to access food banks.

Managers will become more influential

As employees work more remotely, the sphere of ‘contact’ they have will be reduced over time. Employees will have less and less regular informal contact with managers and directors from other teams. The tendency of Zoom and Teams calls to be very tactical and functional will mean the influence of managers will increase. Effectively managers will become the face of organisational culture and pivotal to retention. Poor managers and management practices will be very costly for organisations, even more so in hard to fill areas. As the power of managers increases, so must our investment in their development and approach to addressing poor management behaviours.

• Employee engagement will become about digital dialogue

Within local government we have invested heavily in the role technology plays in engaging customers and our citizens, but we’ve lagged behind when it comes to the digital platforms and technology to regularly engage with our employees and understand what that data is telling us. Annual engagement surveys don’t capture the here and now, and it’s in the here and now that people make decisions about leaving or staying in an organisation.    

At WME we are supporting many of our councils to understand these and other OD challenges through our regional directors of HR network and our regional OD network. We also support the work of the national OD Network and deliver a national INPSIRE HR and OD practitioners development programme.  On top of all that, we have a bank of highly experienced OD consultants and interims that work with us in our councils, as we recognise that making a difference through our people is what we need to become focused on as a sector.

Rebecca Davis is Chief Executive of West Midlands Employers
@RebeccaDavisWME