Public sector HR should set an example in recession

The public sector must use the recession to show that good leadership does not need extra resources, with HR functions leading their organisations by example, industry experts have said.

Speaking at the Public Service Leadership Conference 2009, Michael Bichard, director of the Institute for Government, said leaders who can deliver fresh ideas and drive change using limited resources will be essential to the sector as many organisations face budgets cuts.

He said: “The only way to face the problems we have at the moment is through innovation. There are good examples of people innovating within the public service now, but these examples do not represent the norm.

“We need to challenge the prevailing culture right across the public sector so innovation becomes part of the life-blood of the service. We need people who don’t believe that you need resources to make better public services.”

Likening the current mentality of the public sector to a box of lobsters – where if one lobster tries to break out of the box the others will pull it back in – Bichard said future leaders needed to encourage and pursue new ideas, and welcome challenges.

HR professionals at the conference told Personnel Today that HR needs to set the example, helping to inspire managers across their organisations to identify future talent.

Miriam Stephens, talent manager at Transport for London, said: “HR is generally very poor at leading by example, but that is what it must do.

“If HR [teams] are expecting managers to identify innovative leaders within their area, they need to do that within HR too. Functions need to role-model what they are expecting from the organisation, otherwise people will look at them and say: ‘We have seen no reason to do this’. HR must play the game as it expects others to.”

Stephens added that HR needs to be more confident at driving change within organisations and approaching the board with the attitude of: ‘We know this is the right thing to do’.

Andy Shaw, leader and development design manager at the Department for Work and Pensions, echoed Stephens’ comments. He said HR functions needed to “demonstrate the benefits” of innovative approaches.

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