How local authorities can create leaner organisations
While the challenges facing the economy are well-known, recent unemployment figures from the Office for National Statistics remind us of the stark reality of recession. The number of unemployed people has increased by 53,000 over the last quarter to reach 2.51 million, the highest figure in 16 years.
Times have been and remain tough. The new Government's plans to cut spending are immediate; we have reached crunch time and the public sector will be under enormous pressure to create smaller and leaner organisations.
Radical thought and new approaches are now the only hope in satisfying the need to reduce costs and minimise the impact on the UK's employment figures. It's a time for entrepreneurial people management. This will be tough but not impossible. Adaptability is not new to public-sector organisations. Habitual restructure and reorganisation means they are adept at handling change, maybe more so than other sectors.
Earlier this year the Audit Commission published its recommendations in order to redress local finances. Reducing headcount is one thing, but the impact on local economies, particularly where authorities are the large employer in the area, is significant. Given this will be the case across the country it is not difficult to see how local redundancies will very quickly start to impact national unemployment figures.
In our view there are four actions that could make a difference for local authorities, in both the short and long term:
Tap into existing talent pools
The rationale for redeployment is compelling. Realigning skills and expertise to the areas where they can make the most impact is critical to protecting the quality of services provided and, if undertaken successfully, can result in significant cost savings.
Future-proof the organisation
Establishing the ‘new world' requires alignment at an executive level and engagement throughout the whole organisation. The McLeod Review and countless other studies have provided evidence of the value of engagement. Key to this, of course, is the ability to connect your own role, contribution and development to the success of the organisation. Helping managers and leaders tap into strategies to manage and lead change is a key component of any transformational agenda.
Reducing staff numbers
While employer hiring plans are strengthening in the private sector, the public sector faces huge employment challenges. Helping employees affected by redundancy to make a successful transition to a new job, self-employment or retirement, delivers real value beyond financial packages. Support solidifies a reputation for valuing employees, and enhances the morale, engagement and productivity of those who remain.
Keeping people focused
Less than 20% of employee absence is health-related. Never is this more evident than during a period of change. Keeping people on track, contributing and focused on key activities are the mainstay of Employee Assistance Services. Providing immediate support, access to counselling via the telephone, online and face-to-face where needed will keep employees living and working well and achieving more at a minimal cost to the employer.
The implication of cost-cutting will include a change in work practices, for example, an increase in the sharing of services. Organisations that share knowledge and best practice across networks will strengthen and enhance their teams.
First-class planning and an ability to move quickly both in thought and action are just some of the skills that will be essential for senior managers over the next few years. When it comes to strategy, impact is needed now but not at the expense of long-term vision. With staff costs often the most significant cost for organisations, the immediate knee-jerk reaction may be to cut jobs but there are alternatives such as pay freezes, pay cuts, flexible working, reducing overtime and expenses.
Finally, strong leadership is going to be crucial. Leaders who can communicate their vision for the organisation with clarity are going to be best placed to steer their organisations through these difficult times.
Jayne Carrington is managing director of Right Management