Councils create coaching teams to up audit ratings

A DIY coaching programme for HR managers will be rolled out across England’s local authorities this year to sharpen their strategic leadership skills.

The initiative is being led by the Employers’ Organisation (EO) for local government to help councils adapt to change and improve performance.
It said a lack of strategic HR leadership skills is one of the key obstacles to meeting these objectives, but using external consultants to address the issue would be prohibitively expensive.

Instead, a pool of HR managers are receiving the necessary coaching in strategic leadership from the Institute for Employment Studies (IES). They are then being trained to pass on what they have learned to their peers in other local authorities.

Tracey Connage, EO’s assistant director for people management, said issues such as how to create a learning organisation, and recruitment and retention of staff, are proving crucial to the way councils boost their performance ratings from the Audit Commission.

“What we found was that HR managers were being significantly challenged in moving into a much more strategic agenda from the operational agenda that many of them would have been much more accustomed to,” she said.

The strategic leadership initiative was piloted among 24 councils last year. The first batch of 13 managers to become coaches in strategic leadership completed their training last month (May) following six two-hour sessions with IES, spread over six months.

A second batch of prospective coaches will be taken on free of charge in the autumn. Because of their experience, not all need to go on the 1,500 strategic leadership course beforehand. Once the training is complete, participants join the pool of coaches authorised by the EO to deliver coaching themselves.

Connage describes coaching as a “Rolls-Royce learning tool” but, because it is a one-to-one process, she said it is rarely used in organisations with large workforces.

“What we have learned is that you can unlock that practical application in the way that attending a good learning event does not necessarily do,” she said. “We think this will be a really good example of how you can conduct a skills capacity building programme on a sustainable basis.”

HR director of Bury Council, Guy Berry, who has just finished the coaching programme, said that the sponsoring councils also stand to gain as well.

“It develops me as an individual,” he said. “But the key to this is how it develops capacity within the sector. As it gains momentum, the whole sector will benefit.”

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