Going public

The
use of interim executives in the public sector is growing. Noel O’Reilly talks
to two interims who have taken the plunge and opted for a job in the public
sector

Private
sector savvy and experience is highly valuable to managers in the public
sector, both in HR and in other senior management roles. The public sector
needs to draw on private sector experience to increase its professionalism. For
instance, to protect naïve managers from being fleeced by private contractors more
intent on maximising profits that providing good public services.

So
it is no surprise that the use of interim executives in the public sector is
growing. A survey in February 2004 by interim agency Russam GMS shows that the
public sector is the biggest user of interims after engineering and
manufacturing, with 16 per cent of appointments being in public services.
Anecdotally, all interim agencies report a big growth in the use of interims in
the public sector over the past two years.

Growth
has been driven by the Government’s modernisation programme and the
public-private partnership agenda. A large number of new central government
agencies have been started under the Labour Government, and more demand for
external expertise has been generated by mergers of existing departments.
Interims are seen as a cost-effective way to introduce good practice into the
sector, whether by spreading the expertise of those within the sector or by
bringing in private sector skills.

The
Office for Government Commerce offers advice to public sector organisations on
good project management and contracting. It has developed a ‘special catalogue’
of approved suppliers, known as the s-cat. The s-cat covers consultancy and
interim services in HR, IT and financial services, and is designed to cut red
tape when tendering for contacts.

So
what are the key drivers for growth in interim use in the sector? In local
government, growth is being driven by the increasing use of targets and league
tables in the Continual Performance Assessment programme. Meanwhile, the
Government’s e-government programme, designed to allow better access to
information and services through technology, is driving the demand for outside
expertise across both local and central government and the agencies, notably
the NHS.

If
you want to take on an HR interim role in the public sector, it is useful to
have a knowledge of which jobs require a background in public services and
which need private sector experience. What professions are most in demand? And
what are the pros and cons for the interim in taking up public sector roles?

Interim
executive David Reynolds has worked in the private sector and now does interim
contracts in both public and private sectors. Like other commentators, he says
the public sector has a huge need for specialist professional expertise.

“One
of the business drivers for the interim management sector is that central
government has such an ambitious programme of e-government and change, and
there aren’t enough skilled resources in the sector to do the rest of the
work,” says Reynolds.

Among
those undergoing massive change are the Department for Work and Pensions, the
Home Office, the Depart-ment of Health and the Department of Constitutional
Affairs. A record number of new government agencies have been created, from the
National Care Standards Commission to the Comm-ission for Healthcare Audit
& Inspection. 

Huge
capital sums are involved in such change programmes, and the cost of failure is
high with intense public scrutiny. “There is lots of potential both for
improving and making mistakes, and losing even more money,” says Reynolds.

Interims
are being introduced in the sector to drive change, for project management, to
offer specialist professional expertise, to transfer skills and to introduce
best practice.

Stephanie
Campbell, a director at agency Impact Executives, says there has been a shift
from the traditional practice of using interims to do back-filling jobs, such
as covering maternity leave or unexpected vacancies, towards using interims to
manage change.

Raj-Christophe
Tulsiani, managing director at Penna Interim Executive, says people are being
hired from blue-chip companies and the big management consultancies. “There is
a trend in central government to use interims to add a skillset and leadership
to those departments,” says Tulsiani.

However,
there are roles where public sector experience is critical. These include much
of the Civil Service, and local government head of function roles in
departments such as environment, social care and education. Here, the
appointments tend to be of known individuals, says Tulsiani. These are people
with a high star rating in their department and they comprise a relatively
small community. 

Campbell
says that the culture of some central government agencies can rule out people
without experience of the sector, adding that within HR, public sector
employers are often looking for specific experience of employment law or
employee relations that can be specialised in the public sector, particularly
around areas such as outsourcing services or dealing with trade unions.

According
to Grant Taylor, head of the interim team responsible for the public sector at
interim agency MDH, there are HR opportunities both at strategic level, and on
the level of legal compliance, particularly regarding transfer of undertakings
law. The launch of new agencies and mergers of government departments are
creating the need for HR interim support around change management,
restructuring and resources planning.

Public-private
partnership is one of the chief drivers of interim use in the sector, with both
leading political parties committed to boosting private investment into public
services. Interims with private sector experience are often introduced to avoid
repeating the mistakes of the past when money was wasted and projects managed
badly.

Reynolds
is an interim executive who fits the profile of a ‘poacher turned gamekeeper’.
In a 30-year career in the private sector, he worked for major IT companies
with big public sector contracts, such as ICL and EDS. While at EDS, he worked
in the Ministry of Defence sector, and his roles included managing projects for
the Harrier aircraft. He has also worked for the AA, Railtrack, Rothmans, and
Courts.

Now
as an interim, Reynolds draws on this experience when working on public sector
contracts as a private sector executive. His first interim role was with the
Quartermaster General agency (part of the MoD). It was there that he began to
turn ‘gamekeeper’, making sure the agency got best value when giving contracts
to consultancies.

Reynolds
says that the tradition of central government people being generalists leaves
openings for people like him. “The most competent people are so generalist and
not experienced in managing experts, and that’s the role I end up doing.”

Steve
Hill, strategic adviser for the defence sector at interim executive agency
Russam GMS, says that the introduction of private-sector style budgeting in
central government is also creating a demand for expertise from outside. Rather
than have a set amount allocated, agencies such as the Meteorological Office
sell their services to clients, such as farmers, for example. This encourages
an entrepreneurial approach and interims are seen as an effective and
relatively inexpensive way to transfer entrepreneurial skills from the private
sector.

Hill
was previously chief executive at the Defence Aviation Repair Agency (DARA) for
five years, and had a career in private industry, including positions at board
level. At DARA, he brought in interims as civil engineers, sales and marketing
executives, and venture capital experts. “We didn’t have anything like a
critical mass of people who could do these jobs,” says Hill.

“You
need to bring in someone to protect your interests. If you have inefficient
project managers, you end up with contractors taking you to the cleaners.” 

Anybody
who is put off interim work in the sector by its traditional reputation for red
tape and bureaucracy should think again. The s-cat supplier list has streamlined
the process of finding work, and the usual lengthy recruitment process is not
applicable to interims, where the whole point of the appointment is often to
get somebody in quickly.

Concerns
about lower pay may also be over-stated. Most interim agencies agree that the
gap with the private sector has closed in the last 18 months as private sector
employers have begun to see interims as a cost-effective alternative to
management consultants. A survey by Russam GMS in December 2003 shows that among
the 61 full-time and 22 part-time interims in the sector surveyed, the overall
day rate was £457, which compares well with private sector assignations. The
most senior interims in the sector can earn £1,000 a day.

But
one of the main attractions for many interims with a private sector background
is being able to ‘put something back’ into the community. Peter Gregory is an
interim with a long career in the private sector. His experience at the
Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has put things into a
new perspective.

“The
impact of a department like Defra is on the whole of society. The implications
are huge,” he says. “The changes you make will affect generations to come. It
makes you think.”

www.s-cat.gov.uk

Pros
and cons of public sector interim work

Pros:


Variety of work


The public sector ethos, being able to ‘give something back’ to society


Exposure to a bigger client base


Opportunity to build a portfolio of options

Cons:


The slower pace


Cultural resistance to change


Vague terms of reference can lead to unsatisfactory assignments

Case
Study
Charlotte Grover

Charlotte
Grover, 37, has had experience in blue-chip companies including Unilever,
Toyota and Xerox. She now works as an interim, varying her time between the
public and private sectors.

One
of Grover’s typical interim roles was at the National Care Standards Commission
(NCSC). She was initially taken on for six weeks by the NCSC in April 2002 to
establish HR systems, but spent a year at the agency. The NCSC was set up in
2002 to promote and protect the well-being of users of regulated services, such
as residential nursing homes, private hospitals and boarding schools, and
brought together about 1,800 staff from 230 employers into one organisation.

Grover
spent six months developing all the HR services within the Trent Region, and
helping to establish all new services covering Northampton, Nottingham,
Leicester and Derby. Once a permanent HR manager was appointed, Grover helped
develop a new reward structure, a competency framework, and a performance
management scheme. She led a recruitment drive to hire 20 healthcare
professionals as inspectors.

Grover
was attracted to interim work because it allowed her to pursue personal
interests for periods of time between assignments. 

For
those considering following in her footsteps, she says: “As an interim, you’ve
got to be more influential. The daily rates are high and they expect you to
have an opinion – it is not like a full-time job.” You need to be a strong
self-starter as often the initial brief is very open, she adds.

Grover
says that one of the chief differences between working in the private and
public sectors is that much of the private sector best practice is new to parts
of the public sector, and, as a result, introducing change is slow. “You have
to have more theory behind some of your decisions. In business, there is less
debate on why you have to have an appraisal scheme, for example, whereas in the
public sector, you can spend a lot of time debating the benefits. You’ve got to
take four steps backwards to take one step forwards.”

Case
Study
Peter Gregory

Peter
Gregory moved into interim management after a 30-year private sector career,
largely in two organisations: Barclays Bank, where his last position was head
of talent programmes, and motor giant Ford. He now divides his time between
consultancy and interim assignments. Interim work appealed because it offered
variety and the chance to learn from working in different types of organisation.

Among
his interim projects has been developing a learning and development strategy
for the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs – a strategic level
role, which will prepare the way for a permanent operational position.
Typically, the organisation has used interims to support the development of a
new structure following the merging of two government departments.

The
appeal of the role was that it gave Gregory an opportunity to have a major
impact on the way the department will work in future, while giving him an
opportunity to work in a different environment than those he has previously
experienced.

Gregory
is one of a wave of interims that are helping the Civil Service to develop more
specialist professional competence. “I’m used to working in HR departments full
of specialists,” Gregory explains. “Here there’s been more of a generalist
culture and there’s been a move to bring in specialist expertise.”

One
of the challenges is understanding what makes each organisation tick, says
Gregory. “Never assume that what works in one organisation will work in
another. You have to understand the culture. Building consensus is particularly
important. Here you have less of a transient line leadership. You’ve got civil
servants with lots of years of service. You have to listen and be interested in
what’s going on.”

Gregory
adds: “The pace at which change takes place isn’t as fast as you might see in
private industry. In many ways, there are more barriers to overcome. There is a
level of public scrutiny that is considerably higher than in private sector.
Here, if something goes wrong, the taxpayer wants to know why. So there’s a
greater degree of caution about change.”

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