(The following post was published in the MJ recently, for which acknowledgements)
I recently came across a statistic which made me think hard about workforce capacity and productivity. Apparently 0.5% of UK businesses have 250 or more employees. The majority of District Councils have hundreds more than that, yet we are regarded in government terms as small organisations. There is a line of conventional wisdom that goes further and says that District Councils are uneconomic and have serious capacity problems because they are too small. The smaller Unitary and County Councils increasingly have this challenge laid at their door too, because many of them will be left with smaller staff and a rump of services as they make significant changes to deflect financial pressures by outsourcing, creating new forms of service delivery and sharing with others.
With this in mind I have been thinking about how my organisation develops its innovative capacity and builds on a recent whole organisation restructure with longer term workforce planning. We designed the new organisation to meet high standards of customer care and intelligent use of service users’ and staff time. In the light of current challenges and constraints, productivity is key and attracting, developing and retaining talented people is vital. As the Leader of the Council recently said, we’d like to see an organisation of sparky people which, listening carefully to residents and partners and working effectively with them, is able to deliver excellence for the District
In common with many other parts of the public sector I do not have to look far to see the answer to this challenge within the staff team. Here are some examples: We sent four staff who are early in their career on the Young England and Wales programme and they came back buzzing from having been stretched to do things they thought they wouldn’t ever be able to do. We’re now looking to give them some projects to do as a team within the organisation. Another member of staff recently won a national graduate of the year prize, a credit not only to her hard work, but the learning environment within her team. However it’s most certainly not just a youth thing. We have older members of staff blossoming in new roles where we enabled them to get on and do things they’ve been wanting to do for years, others who joined us for their second career and are bringing new ways of doing things, and an established team of managers who wanted to work more effectively and so sought outside feedback on how to work better together.
A key strength of the organisation’s size is that we can communicate and learn from these examples quickly and effectively. Every one of these examples adds to our capacity and enables us to meet the challenges of change, and the willingness of our people to go the extra mile and make a real difference makes me proud. The key to future success is to develop workforce plans for the future that continue to build on this high energy and productivity. The capacity challenge exists for us all and we are all very good at agonising about the future, but there is a job to be done and our people want to do it. There may be strength in numbers, but particularly where innovation and nimbleness is called for capacity is much more than just size.