‘Greater flexibility needed for public sector to meet its goals’

A new employment deal needs to be articulated in the public sector based on greater flexibility and autonomy for individuals, according to a report by the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development and Public Sector People Managers’ Association.

The report, Leading culture change: employee engagement and public service transformation, says the change is necessary since many of the characteristics of the traditional psychological contract in local government – including job security and a final salary pension scheme – have either disappeared or are in the process of disappearing. In addition to greater flexibility and autonomy for individuals, it says the new deal should emphasise skills and employability development and better quality leadership and people management.

It also calls for a new model of values-based leadership in order to reduce spending and provide more customer-focused services.

The report is based on interviews with leaders from 14 local service organisations including local government, police and fire services, and highlights the priority chief executives are placing on involving staff in creating new values that underpin the new customer-centric service delivery cultures they are trying to build. The research demonstrates that a radical re-engineering of public service delivery, coupled with cost cutting, can’t happen overnight – it involves changing public sector values and culture, as well as how people are led and managed from the boardroom to the front line.

The report considers how public service leaders are redesigning their organisations to enable them to deliver services in different ways. Many of the leaders interviewed have recognised that if public services are to engage staff to innovate and respond to changing customer requirements, then leadership can no longer remain in the realm of the executive board alone.

Ben Willmott, head of public policy at the CIPD, says: “The public sector leaders featured in this report recognise that the only way that public services can be made more efficient and more responsive to the needs of service users is if employees on the front-line are trusted to innovate and are empowered to act with more autonomy. This requires a fundamental culture change away from traditional command and control styles of leadership to one in which leadership is distributed across organisations. This will not happen overnight and can only be achieved if managers at all levels are equipped with the necessary leadership skills to involve and engage their staff. These same skills are needed to underpin the move to a different type of employment deal in the public services, which provides employees with more flexibility and improved skills development opportunities to compensate for the erosion of traditional public sector benefits such as job security and a final salary pension.”

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