DoH quest to fill top HR job was a missed opportunity

I read with interest your ‘HR’s top job?’ front-page news story about the Department of Health’s (DoH) search for a new workforce director (Personnel Today, 25 April).

Out of curiosity – and, I should hasten to add, with absolutely no intention of applying – I requested an application pack for the post that Andrew Foster has just vacated. This has been a fascinating experience, and some observations I’d like to make are as follows:

  • The vacancy was advertised in the Sunday Times (9 April), and I’m not aware that it was advertised in the HR trade press. I notice that no search or selection work was commissioned for the role – surprising given the unique challenge it affords. The ad itself was a small and relatively low-key affair. Is this really how to promote one of the top HR jobs in the public sector?
  • When requesting an information pack for the post, I was advised that it was not ready. I waited to hear something, then had to follow this up – only to receive the information on 24 April, being advised that the closing date had now been extended to 5 May, and thanking me for my patience.
  • Reading through the information provided (a five-page Word document), the candidate requirements are couched in such a way that it is difficult to determine how they would objectively shortlist interested parties: “Your career to date will have demonstrated extensive HR management, chief executive or HR director experience within a major organisation, with the ability to forge key alliances through influencing, networking and diplomacy skills. Used to operating at a senior level within complex environments, you will understand how organisations deliver improved performance, and be able to demonstrate this through diverse personal experience. You will have exceptional leadership skills – embracing change, and the ability to provide clear direction and motivation to others.”
  • The fact the role does not require a Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) qualification somewhat flies in the face of the Professional Skills for Government agenda and the wish to professionalise HR in the Civil Service. While CIPD qualifications and their essential status is another debate, I was disappointed by the lack of any real person specification for the role that outlined what the “extensive HR management” experience was.
  • I agree that salary would not be the main reason for candi-dates to apply – or at least not in isolation. Once again, we have the usual problem: although the post is a DoH management board position, reporting to the chief executive of the NHS, the relative value and worth of the role is significantly lower than other roles on the board. In fact, it would appear to offer a salary that is only comparable to a directorship in some of the larger local authorities.

So, if the DoH is serious about attracting a world-class HR professional to lead the largest public sector workforce in Europe, shouldn’t it at least have embarked on a world-class process, with the supporting advertising, candidate information and selection process?

This little insight into the senior Civil Service recruitment process made me think that this was a perfect example of how not to keep a candidate ‘warm and interested’, and how not to use your employer brand – which in the case of the NHS is usually strong.

It also begs the question of whether it should adopt a formalised approach to succession planning, rather than wasting time and public money on ads and bizarre recruitment approaches.

In my view, this approach devalues HR in the public sector, and really is a rather good example of the Civil Service at its best. Sir Humphrey lives and breathes.

Stephen Moir
Director of HR, Cambridgeshire County Council

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