Working in public sector HR at a senior level is tough and demanding - organisations now need to function as efficiently as their private sector counterparts. So how do the roles of working in a local authority and for a government department compare? Rob McLuhan talked to two high-fliers who are seeing through dramatic change programmes
Corporate services director, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA)
"I joined Defra last year, just after it had been set up as a combination of the old Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) and the environment section of the former DETR. As well as merging terms and conditions, I faced the challenge of modernising what had been one of the more old fashioned of Whitehall departments, where many of the systems are 10 years old or more.
When I joined the department, it was at the start of a long-running pay dispute, and shortly after I arrived, a second one-day strike took place. The problem had been caused by pay differences in the two former departments that came together as Defra. So, one of my first priorities was to sort that out, which we did early this year. In the future, I would like to ensure that staff are not automatically entitled to more just because someone else is getting it, but on the basis that we can afford it and they are delivering a good quality performance.
Defra has been developing a business strategy, and we are creating an HR strategic framework to sit beside it, so most of my efforts are on the policy side, getting the strategy into place and creating some early deliverables on pay and awards, and on performance management.
We are looking at developing people's skills to meet the challenges ahead, and one of my main activities is developing a workforce strategy. Today I will be making a presentation to the five departmental ministers and the management board on the process of identifying training and development needs. We need to know where senior managers expect their staff to be deployed and what sort of skills they have. We can then decide whether these are to be developed in-house, or whether recruitment is required. One element of the programme will be to put all senior managers, and probably other managers as well, through development