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Flexible Recruitment Approaches to Keep Ahead in the Race for Talent

Helen Winsor
Contributor: Helen Winsor
Posted: 08/18/2011

Graham White, Director of HR at City of Westminster Council, London, joins Human Resources IQ to discuss Flexible Recruitment Approaches to Keep Ahead in the Race for Talent.

Human Resources IQ:
Does your Council have a formalized talent management strategy, and if so, does it have some of the following features? Changing economic and operational challenges, adapted according to different operational functions within the organization, and a focus mainly on the senior executive level roles?


G White:
Yes, absolutely we have a formal talent management strategy. The good news is that it's not focused mainly on senior executive level roles, and our talent management strategy is designed around what we call the cascade, and that's because the council has gone through a major restructure in the last two years, and that's required us to look again at the role of everybody within the organization.


In terms of actual talent management, yes, it very much adapts itself around the economic and operational challenges for our different businesses, and changes as and when they change, and because of that the method of both identifying talent and developing talent is very much in a modulised process so that it allows us to make any changes necessary at any time, and because we've got many varied types of operations and professions within local government, it also means at different times of the year different elements of the program are operating in different functions.


Human Resources IQ:
How transparent would you say your talent development processes are?


G White:
This is absolutely crucial, because talent management can all too quickly be accused of simply being some kind of senior patronage of certain members of staff. It is absolutely transparent, as is everything we do within the council; everything from how much we spend to how much we earn is made available not only to all staff but to all general public and in particular the residents of Westminster.


Our plan in terms of talent management and its transparency is that ultimately we will have a development program that will have a range of modules designed to touch each of the elements of the organization, no matter what level they're at, and the only way we can do that effectively is to make it so inviting that staff believe that it genuinely is there for everybody.


Human Resources IQ:
What are the main challenges for your organization in terms of talent management over the next one to three years, and how is your organization preparing to meet these challenges?


G White:
For us the real issue is that the competitive landscape right now in the public sector is somewhat covered in fog. With all the reshaping, the budget cuts, the recessionary impact on services, right at this point in time it’s very difficult to put talent management at the top of any senior manager’s agenda, who’s trying to see how they can reduce their workforce, change the way they operate, and ultimately save money for the council taxpayers. So because of that the real challenge for us at the moment is to make sure it stays on management’s agenda, but at the same time we understand that it may not right now be a focal point. But what managers need to understand is that talent management will become crucial as we start to grow out of recession in the next 12 to 18 months, and that's how we are focusing our preparation. At the moment we have low turnover; staff are not moving. And we are limiting our spend on talent development, but we must be ready, as soon as this recession lifts, to make sure we don’t lose our best talent, who by then may have become frustrated through lack of development.


Human Resources IQ:
Will you be investing more resources into your talent acquisition and development strategies, compared with recent years?


G White:
Absolutely, and what will happen is that investment must begin ahead of recession lifting, so that the development is there, ahead of the process of the country finding itself in a better position. And not only that; we have to remember that having come through a period of significant recession, with many staff being made redundant, and many other staff who survive, taking on that survivor syndrome of guilt and uncertainty, it's absolutely critical that we are investing now in a small way so staff can begin to feel that there is a future.


Human Resources IQ:
Do you measure the return on investment of your talent development processes and if so how?


G White:
Yes, and I believe very earnestly that what gets measured gets done, so it's quite crucial we do not waste money in Westminster. Our philosophy is we should spend our residents’ money like it was ours, and so when we invest in the training of staff it has to be in a methodology that allows us to ensure that the spend was worthwhile. And so that means that there must be a purpose before you undertake the activity, so within our own performance development process each individual employee has, as part of their own talent development, a personal development plan, and that plan must have within it development opportunities that will not only enhance their current delivery, but will prepare them for future progression within the organization, and then, having done the talent management, or done the development, or done the support tools, we then ask the managers, are things better now because? And if not, we revisit why we invested that money or that time in that method of developing our talent.


We also of course track talent, to see whether or not the people that we spotted early in their careers go on to be successful, and especially with things like graduates within the organization our expectation is that the talent spotting of these graduates results in them going on to permanent full-time roles with us.


Human Resources IQ:
Earlier you mentioned the recession. Have there been any other big challenges in recent years in acquiring new talent?


G White:
I think for some time now the public sector has had a little of a shadow of not the most exciting place to work, so we've had to do a lot of work around our image, and Westminster in fact is a very vibrant local authority, but it's important that not only do we symbolise that in how we recruit but we ensure that when staff join us they realise that this is a vibrant place to work, where the what's in it for me argument is mutual. We gain by recruiting the best talent out there. They gain by getting the best development when they're with us. So I think there's something about the local government image recession hasn’t helped either.


And for us, in southeast England, central London, just sheer labor turnover and always seeking new talent, it will always be a challenge for us.


Human Resources IQ:
What are your key needs in terms of talent acquisition and development solutions?


G White:
I think the real message that we're putting out now is that the future local government professional will be very different from the current one, and the profile, the skills mix, the background, the academic preparation, all of that is changing because the way in which we deliver public services is changing. More and more of our delivery arm is being outsourced. More and more we're moving into a commissioning model, where we have to be much closer to the skills and expertise around customer service, around project management, around delivery analysis, so going forward the new competence framework for a public sector worker will be different from the one we have now.


Human Resources IQ:
Are you using digital media to source new talent? And do you retain all learning and development functions in house?


G White:
Absolutely we are using it. Social media is a fabulous tool in the arena of talent management, talent spotting, talent attracting.


Human Resources IQ:
It’s in synch with the new image you're trying to project as well.


G White:
Absolutely. And everything from Facebook to YouTube we take advantage of. Our Chief Executive regularly blogs to all staff, and we regularly put that on YouTube, because it symbolises to the watcher what this place is like as an employer.


So that's absolutely critical that we take advantage of all types of social media, so even the HR Director, who’s a boring old guy, he Twitters, he uses Facebook, he puts things on YouTube, and that's all about presenting the talent of the organization.


Human Resources IQ:
Taking the second point then, do you retain all learning and development functions in house?


G White:
No. As I said earlier, we are moving the public sector into a new commissioning model, where we have become the experts at defining what the output is, but by doing that what you actually define is what the outcome is. So in terms of training, which is a good example, we no longer deliver the training, and to some extent we don’t demand what the training should be like. What we commission is the outcome of the training. So if we require our organization to be more proficient at something, or to have broader skills within something, we would commission that from a range of providers, and whichever one we think delivers that solution, we'll work with.


Human Resources IQ:
How well does your organization align its HR and talent management functions with the overall goals, and how effectively are these goals communicated to the workforce, in your view?


G White:
This is back to our performance management process, which is absolutely critical and core to how we operate, and something that's often a challenge for new line managers, to see how the interdependencies connect, but from every element of an individual’s time within the employment it all links together, and each is interdependent, so the organizational goals cascade down to the departmental goals, cascade down to the team goals, cascade down to individual goals. So that's one way. And then in the other direction is the development program for our talent management, which is, I must have the skills to deliver my goals. I must have the skills to support and contribute to my team’s goals. I'm looking for the skills and development to add more to my overall department. So they work very much in parallel, and we ensure staff understand that by the development of their personal development plans, which must be the tool by which the bulk of their development and their long-term career succession planning is built around.

Helen Winsor
Contributor: Helen Winsor
Posted: 08/18/2011