In the world of public services, the new word on the street is ‘personalisation’. In this context, this means providing a front-line service for specific individuals, as opposed to the long-established system of delivering a service on a ‘one-size-fits-all’ basis.
From the confines of the HR function, it would be easy to let the world of personalisation go past without so much as a fleeting glance. After all, this agenda is surely more to do with public choice and the supply of front-line services, isn’t it?
The big question
The great thing about new initiatives such as personalisation, which are predominantly designed for others, is that it allows you to think laterally and to question whether they have a place in your world.
One of the problems associated with working in a large organisation like a county council is that, inevitably, the way in which you deliver your service ends up being the one vanilla flavour to suit all. In the past, for those customers who wanted services to be delivered in a different way, it was simply considered to be too difficult or too costly. The big question for me in HR now, however, is can we afford not to offer such personal choice when our customers will soon be expecting and receiving it from other council services?
Take recruitment and selection as an example. Many of us find ourselves being channelled into a process that operates to a standard methodology, one that is designed to fit the organisation first and the ‘would be’ recruit second. We predominantly cater for the whole rather than the individual and, as a consequence, perhaps miss those who don’t cope quite so well with that system.
Organisations that have signed up to Local Employment Partnerships (LEP) with Jobcentre Plus will know exactly what I mean, as the recruitment strategies required to engage those on unemployment and incapacity benefit, or lone parents, have to be more personalised to be successful.
The measure of success with the LEP is all about outcomes. For us in Somerset, we hit our target of permanently employing 100 LEP clients in the first nine months of operation, with a quarter of these having some form of disability. An interesting spin-off has been that the proportion of people from a black or minority ethnic background has been triple that which we achieve from our more usual recruitment pathway.
We think the reason for this lies in the way we have been able to personalise recruitment – by running workshops in local communities, job-taster sessions and arranging work placements. In addition, we have provided coaching, mentoring and training and development through our in-house adult education facility. All these initiatives have helped demystify local government and, while skills development has been important, what has been the most critical has been the raising of people’s confidence, not only to enter the world of work, but to work for our organisation.
High price to pay?
There may be some who think that personalising recruitment in this way comes at too high a cost. However, Somerset’s experience to date suggests otherwise as, when taken in the round, we think it works out to be cheaper. The new recruit is much better acquainted with the job at a much earlier stage in the employment lifecycle; the employer better understands the skills, abilities and needs of the individual, and so can better support them.
All this means that the employee is far more productive at the start of employment and, most importantly, wants to stay with the organisation longer. This we see as being true ‘engagement’ right from the start.
The obvious question is that if this works so well for this specific target group, why can’t it work for all recruited staff? The simple answer is: it can. Just as with the introduction of automatic doors that were originally introduced in many organisations for those with a disability, it wont just be a certain group of individuals who benefit in the long-term.
Richard Crouch, head of HR and organisational development, Somerset County Council