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Public sector leadership is failing to tackle reform agenda, say their own staff

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Public sector management lack confidence in the ability of senior leaders to meet the challenges of far-reaching reform, both now and in the future, according to research published yesterday by global management consultancy, Hay Group.

The research reveals a failure across the public sector to renew and adapt talent management strategies in line with radical changes brought about by government spending cuts - despite a widespread need to develop new leadership roles and workforce capabilities.

Yesterday's report also highlights a real danger that cost cutting will impact on the capacity to develop and retain future leaders and talent. The study, Mind The Talent Gap: Dealing with the deficit, was conducted with 131 public sector leaders, ranging from board and executive level to middle management.

Against a backdrop of comprehensive reform, 56% of public sector respondents (covering all levels of leadership) do not believe their senior leaders have the skills required to manage change today. The concern is even more acute when looking to the future. Three-fifths (60%) fear that their leadership population does not possess the right skills and capabilities to successfully meet future challenges. The majority (60%) of public sector leaders have reviewed the core purpose of their organisation. Of these, 58% are 'radically changing' their long-term strategy and some 70% are adapting their operating model.

More than two-thirds (69%) of this group recognise that new types of leadership roles are required to deliver future strategy. Yet talent management is not keeping pace. Almost three-quarters (73%) of organisations have not renewed their talent management strategy or systematically addressed how to identify and retain high potentials.

Budgetary constraints are also having an impact on the development and retention of talent. Some 70% of leaders believe that planned levels of redundancies will not allow sufficient space to bring in new talent and skills to their organisation. Less than a third (32%) are confident they will retain the right talent for their future needs. More than a third (35%) believe that efficiency savings are forcing their organisation to cut the level of training available to departmental managers. This jumps to almost half in local government (41%) and more still (47%) in central government.

Hay Group's report also highlights a failure to build new capability requirements into future workforce plans. A significant majority (62%) are failing to assess people based on new capabilities required to meet the needs of reform. Over two-thirds (68%) have not incorporated these new capabilities into their recruitment plans. Less than half (48%) have clearly defined the type of talent, skills and capabilities they require. Only a third (33%) have done so for the next two years, and less than a fifth (19%) have done so for the next five years. Jody Goldsworthy, associate director at Hay Group, comments: "The report raises concerns over whether public sector leaders can steer their organisations through unprecedented reform, and whether leaders are being developed for the sector's future needs. "Many organisations are overlooking the leadership and workforce development strategies crucial to success in a changed landscape. These need to be reviewed as a matter of urgency.

"To operate in a new way, it is critical that organisations identify the new structures, roles and behaviours they will need at leadership level and across the workforce. "As the landscape shifts around them, public sector organisations realise this, but are yet to take steps to address it. "Only with the right capabilities in place will the sector meet the challenge of maintaining and improving services against a backdrop of fundamental change," said Goldsworthy.