A rise in public-private partnerships will force both sectors to work together

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According to the Government, public-private partnerships are a means of fuelling economic growth. So it’s timely to ask: what are the enduring barriers to effective working between the two sectors? Are there elements of good HR practice the public sector can adopt from our private-sector counterparts, or vice versa?

My view is that the barriers can be overcome and the HR profession has a pivotal role to play in spearheading the necessary integration of management practice across the sectors.

The 2011 joint report from the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) and Hays, The Challenges of Transition from Public to Private, set out recommendations to facilitate a smoother transition of staff from the public to the private sector. Two years on, there are still things we need to do to not only break down barriers to transition (in both directions), but to provide the public sector with a wider pool of potential employees accustomed to flexible reward packages.

Ask the average private sector worker if they would consider making the move to the public sector and there is a good chance they will say no; it is as true the other way round. So how can public sector employers attract, motivate and retain talented people, regardless of their previous career or experiences? Of course, the decision to work in one or the other sector is often a personal preference, but we need to understand the fundamental barriers to movement, and specifically HR's role in facilitating better coalescence.

Interestingly, the LCCI and Hays report said the most significant barrier to transition was the negative perceptions each sector had of the other. The perception of the public sector might not be fair, but it is understandable given the tangible differences in reward, performance management and so on. Private firms generally favour pay and reward schemes that reflect the value added by an individual, while the public sector is wedded to job-grading structures, with incremental increases in salary generally based on service length rather than value.

The time is long overdue for the public sector to move towards individualised reward, whereby an employee's contribution is the basis for recognition and reward, not the depth of the groove worn in the carpet over years of dedicated presenteeism.

A rise in the number of public-private partnerships will force the hand of both sectors to find ways to work together, but there are other options. We must recognise the importance of using best practice from the private sector and harnessing expertise around innovation and commercial acumen. John Lewis is famed for its approach to reward and innovation.Likewise, start-ups give room for staff to make a name for themselves, with rewards for risk and innovation.

The public sector has much to offer in return. Many private sector firms are interested in the way the public sector approaches stakeholder engagement and managing performance within financial constraints (something that crosses sector boundaries).

What can HR do in both sectors? Take a hard look at the extent and quality of skills analysis and workforce planning to ensure there is greater opportunity to align skills, rewards and culture. My challenge to the CIPD (and other professional bodies) is to make this a priority and position HR as the driving force of change. HR in the Boardroom, an initiative run by HR magazine, will play a key role in bringing together HR directors from public and private sectors to further this agenda.

Jabbar Sardar (pictured) is director of HR and organisational development at Cafcass

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