In July Dr. Anthony Hesketh, Senior Lecturer at Lancaster University Management School produced the key findings of â€˜Valuing Your Talentâ€™. Valuing your Talent is a research and engagement programme that the three professional bodies representing the accounting, management and human resources professions â€“ CIMA, the CMI, and the CIPD together with the RSA[i] â€“ have collaborated on.
The work, which is being supported and sponsored by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) and Investors in People (IIP), is designed to help employers better understand the impact their people have on the performance of their organisation and as a result make better people management and workforce investment-related decisions.
Although Valuing Your Talent is aimed at all sectors, in this article I will show why these lessons are so important for the public sector. As with any organisation, the way staff are measured will impact on their engagement and the pressure an employer puts on their staff has a direct correlation with the way â€˜customersâ€™ get dealt with. Back in the 1990s, as part of its public sector reform programme, the Labour government espoused how much the public sector needed to learn from the private sector.
Due to the government reducing budgets and pushing for efficiency cuts, the learning that took place was the easier issues of cost efficiency and quantitative performance measurement; the first two elements of performance – inputs and outputs. This focus on â€˜the bottom right hand cornerâ€™ has led to such clichÃ©d phrases as â€˜doing more with lessâ€™ and â€˜working smarter not harderâ€™.
The third element, the outcomes, both for the staff in the public sector and for the recipients of their services, was overlooked â€“ and still is. Often, it is not until you become the â€˜customerâ€™ that you experience whether the outcome is fit for purpose â€“ and I can confirm this from bitter recent experience. On 12th June 2013 our youngest son Adam, who was 22, was killed in a car crash â€“ and our family were entered into what we could only describe as a series of processes; some of which were helpful and the majority of which were not.
I would like to emphasise that everyone we came into contact with was really good. However, it quickly became clear they were promising a level of service that they wholeheartedly wanted to deliver, rather than what was realistic. It became clear, the way their performance is measured and the consequent pressure they are under causes this â€˜overpromising and under-deliveringâ€™.
Consequently, we felt that we were there to be processed and we needed to fit â€˜the systemâ€™, as it was clearly not going to adapt to fit us! Having spoken with other families since, it is evident that this is a common experience â€“ not only when there is a fatality but also when relatives are ill.
I shouldnâ€™t be surprised as, before I retrained as a Business and Leadership Coach in 2005, I spent thirty years in the police service. My last four years with the police were spent on secondment to the police college at Bramshill and the Home Office; during the introduction of number of quantitative performance indicators, for all the public services, not just the police. These were focused on cost cutting through â€˜efficiency savingsâ€™ â€“ but now my family and I were on â€˜the other side of the fenceâ€™.
After nine years, I no longer profess to know anything about policing; in fact I always tell people that, as regards policing, I am an antique. But I do know a lot about performance and leadership; both of which have continued to be my passion and continue to be my â€˜day-jobâ€™.
What became clear was a culture that has developed in the public sector, whereby the staff are viewed as â€˜resourcesâ€™ â€“ and increasingly referred to as such. For the reasons Iâ€™m about to talk about, this can have an adverse effect on them and their key customer â€“ the public!
Let me be clear, I am a fervent advocate of measuring an employeeâ€™s performance and anyone who knows me will tell you that I have a high ethic of people doing the job they are paid for. However, the public services have been pushed and pulled in so many directions that I am no longer sure they know what they want their employees to do â€“ or how to measure them.
I have spoken to police officers who tell me that they are no longer doing the job they joined to do â€“ to give the public a service. Instead they go from call to call as their performance is measured in irrelevant quantitative performance measures, such as how long it takes to get to a call without caring too much what they do when they get there and they are subject to more and more processes and spend increasing amounts of time doing paperwork to justify what they did the day before.
NHS staff I have spoken with are quick to tell me they are in the same position. The care patients receive in hospital is coming under increasing criticism, from both the government and the public, with it often being said that nurses no longer spend time communicating with patients. Yet the nursing staff I have spoken to want to give this care â€“ they want to spend time talking to patients, as they know the benefits this brings. What prevents them are the increasing quantitative performance requirements they are subject to, such as the time it takes to dispense drugs to patients; with increasing demands of â€˜more with lessâ€™.
With both of these services, the staff would like to spend time with their â€˜customersâ€™ the public, patients and their families. However, how do you measure whether a police officer talking to a member of the public prevents a crime? Does chatting to a person who has had a relative seriously injured or killed in an accident determine a better outcome? How does a nurse talking with a patient help with their recovery?
This lack of focus on outcomes has resulted in the current gulf between the front line staff of the public services and their leaders. This is evident by the increasing regularity with which front line staff are expressing their discontent through the media. The outcome of this gulf is staff, desperate to provide a high quality service, overpromising what they can actually deliver to the public â€“ the â€˜customerâ€™!
Well, there are two lessons the private sector has learned over the last fifteen years that it is time for politicians and senior leaders in the public sector to learn. They are called â€˜staff engagementâ€™ and â€˜customer engagementâ€™. Successful commercial organisations spend time listening to their staff and their customers. Under-performing companies regularly find out that it is because they are not engaging with their staff, and their staff are not engaging with their customers, that they are losing business. Just watch episodes of Channel 4â€™s â€˜Undercover Bossâ€™ to see how true this is. The competitive advantage of the majority of companies I have worked with in the last nine years has been the way they interact with their staff and their subsequent customer service.
This was best described by Charles Tilley, the CEO of CIMA, during a discussion on Valuing Your Talent, when he said, â€œThirty years ago 80% of the value of a business sat on its balance sheet, today that figure is under 20% and going down and so we need to think about the metrics that relate to what is actually creating value â€“ and at the heart of every business are people; the customers are people, the suppliers are people, the business itself is people.â€
The key lesson here â€“ your staff are humans, not resources!
Pleasingly, I have met senior leaders in Sussex Police who do recognise the need to learn these lessons. Following my sonâ€™s inquest I spoke with ACC Robin Smith, who readily and eloquently described the service as being â€˜processed p****dâ€™. Together with the head of roads policing for Sussex and Surrey, Superintendent Jane Derrick there is a clear determination to change the culture into one that recognises outcomes incorporating the second key lesson:
People cannot be processed!
All of us recognise that there will be a challenges for senior leaders of the public services. The first is to stop kowtowing to politicians. We can all recognise the â€˜bashing of public sector efficienciesâ€™ for what it is â€“ short-term political demands introduced to curry favour with the electorate. Strong and courageous leadership is required to say to them, â€œStop! What you are doing isnâ€™t working â€“ and hasnâ€™t worked through successive governments.â€
The second is to face the challenge of how to Value the Talent in your organisation. Monitoring â€˜the bottom right hand cornerâ€™ and dealing with austerity measures applies to organisations in all three sectors. However, the major challenge for the public sector to learn is how to balance the inputs and outputs and measure the outcomes.
Only by recognising staff as humans, rather than resources, can this be achieved and the outcome will be the â€˜customerâ€™ â€“ the public â€“ feeling less processed.
CIMA â€“ Chartered Institute of Management Accountants
CMI â€“ Chartered Management Institute
CIPD â€“ Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development
RSA â€“ Royal Society of the Arts
This blog has been written by Alan Wingrove. Alan is a Business and Leadership Coach from Blue Lion Coaching