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Your place or mine?

Written by: David Slatter is associate director, executive search at Penna
Published on: 11 Apr 2019

Our recent Penna round table was entitled ‘Where next? The challenge for place leaders’. We explored the challenges, the experiences and the future views of our experienced guests who were managing the most varied portfolio of services; a range that varied from authority to authority, and further supported our view, shaped by our recruitment experience, that place directorates have become a destination for some of the most adaptable and versatile professionals in the public sector. With such diversity and experience, we had an excellent debate, and the sharing of plans and ideas was exceptional.

It was clear and encouraging that ‘place’ and ‘place shaping’ was having a bigger impact on skills, recruitment and attraction, retention, challenge and development and people in general than is evident at first glance. And for most this was becoming the key differentiator.

All agreed that making positive changes to place can take many years of doing the right things, including developing the infrastructure, encouraging business growth, business investment and new business to the area. It also means regeneration, actively creating space for housing including affordable housing. Above all it takes strategic leadership and planning skills and a desire to see it through – even when others might not always share the same view or ambition. Having all this in or around a given area makes it more attractive. The best people will look at opportunities in places that have planned well and covered all the options.

All this, takes much more than time and money. There are government agencies and a wide range of partners to include, collude and convince.

Development of place is now a real corporate contributor. And it has started to talk confidently about its positive impact on people. Everything from education, mental health, health and wellbeing, social care, career opportunities, building and rebuilding communities as part of a safe environment, were all part of our conversation. Place really has a role to play across all areas of a council’s work, even in supporting the authority’s ability to attract and retain its own talent. Perhaps this is not surprising, because in the war for talent, the attractiveness of the place in which people live and work is pivotal.

It was an interesting conversation that included major regeneration initiatives using the role of place in creating effective recruitment messages. Our participants were convinced that London and the big cities still needed to work hard to develop strong employee value propositions, by finding and promoting the truths about their environment, identifying the things that made them tick, and the stories they needed to be telling to people already in their organisations – as well as those who were about to join.

We were impressed and pleased to hear how far the place profession had come in influencing and supporting the people agenda, a divide that would have been so much more visible five years ago. In our executive recruitment work – both interim and permanent – in place shaping we have seen an increase in demand and a shortage of supply. So perhaps with a broader remit and a renewed emphasis on people as well as place, skills issues as well as infrastructure, we are seeing an increase in transferable skills and a move towards an agenda that is less about buildings and more about building communities.

There was much more discussed at our place round table, and thanks goes out to The MJ’s editor Heather Jameson who chaired the event. It will be featured in more detail in a forthcoming issue of The MJ.

David Slatter is associate director, executive search at Penna

David Slatter