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Cath Everett

Sift Media

Freelance journalist and former editor of HRZone

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HR Forum: Shropshire Council – a talent strategy for change


In a bid to cope with huge organisational change as well as the implications of employing an ageing workforce, Shropshire County Council has introduced a proactive talent management strategy to try and ‘grow its own’ leaders of the future.

The Conservative-led local authority hit the headlines this July after sending letters to each of its 6,500 staff, indicating that they would be dismissed on 30 September but re-employed the next day if they agreed to a 5.4% pay cut and reduced employment terms and conditions.
The aim of the move was to cut the overall pay bill by 2.7%, thus saving £76 million, and to prevent 500 posts from redundancy.
Jackie Kelly, the Council’s corporate head of organisational development, said during a presentation at the Human Resources Forum in London this week: “Over the next three years, we’ll be fixing the inherent culture, but we’re already starting to do things more cheaply and, after that, we’ll do them differently. We’ve already hit half of our savings targets using business process reengineering and we’ve also taken out a lot of the fat in the structure.”
Such structural change is necessary because the local authority is in the process of becoming “strategic commissioners of some services” rather than providing the vast majority itself.
A key focus over the year ahead will be to ensure that agencies such as social services, the NHS and the police work together more effectively, not only to cut costs but also to ensure that citizens’ needs are better met.
But by the end of 2012, Shropshire expects the Coalition Government to have come up with another, as yet unannounced, “critical milestone” in terms of savings targets. This means, in reality, that it has an “18 month’s lead to exit services and allow mutual to unlock future costs”, Kelly said.
Because the first tranche of organisational change was due to kick in from April this year, however, it became necessary to establish which of the Council’s then 85 senior managers would be most suitable in the long-term to take up one of the 61 leadership roles that would remain.
Transformative HR
Therefore, as of autumn last year, the body took the “bold stance” of assessing its “talent before hitting budget targets”. The aim of the profiling exercise was to ensure that it did not lose the wrong leaders by simply slashing headcount indiscriminately.
The assessment, which the Council undertook with the help of HR consultancy, Penna, explored managers’ current capabilities in terms of both tasks and people management. It also looked at motivations, what it was that individuals found engaging, where they focused their efforts and what their behavioural styles were. Finally, it looked at reputation and how influential people were.
The findings then mapped individual’s perceived future potential and ability to adjust against the new roles. The end result was that some 57 existing leaders were re-appointed, while the rest left. The four remaining posts were filled by external candidates following a recruitment drive in both the third and commercial sectors.
Yet another consideration for Shropshire, however, was that a huge 55% of its workforce is currently over 50 years old. This meant, as Kelly pointed out, that: “It’ll be quite an empty place if a few years if we don’t attract talent, so growing our own is critical, for example, by offering graduate programmes and apprenticeships.”
Luckily, the local authority’s university leaver scheme, which is run by its existing graduate staff, has seen a 100% increase in applications over the last 12 months. Although its apprenticeship offering is much newer, the eventual aim is to triple the number of placements, not least to try and ensure that young people remain in the county.
A European-funded ‘Rural Talent’ project to attract and retain workers in rural communities is also starting up as is a ‘Talent Framework’ pilot, which includes 65 future managers and has been developed together with the local NHS Trust.
As to lessons learned from her experiences, Kelly believes there are several. On the one hand, she advised peers to think beyond their immediate needs and, against all the odds, to continue investing in their people in order to ensure that they remain motivated and engaged.
But she also encouraged HR professionals to try and learn from colleagues in other areas, whether the private, public or third sector, and not to be afraid of trying something new.
Most of all, however, Kelly believes in grabbing the bull by the horns and taking whatever opportunities present themselves in order to effect positive change. “It may be the worst time in the public sector, but it’s great for transformative HR,” she concluded.
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Cath Everett

Freelance journalist and former editor of HRZone

Read more from Cath Everett

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