The chance to make a difference

It’s about this time our New Year’s resolutions to change all begin to fizzle out. After some post-New Year reflection it strikes me that change is constant and faster paced than ever. It’s time for a big change for me personally as I will be leaving my role as chief officer HR at Leeds City Council, where I have been for the past 14 years.

I have worked as a senior business leader in HR and OD for long enough to see fads and fashions come, go and come back again. I have enjoyed a varied and interesting career in the public sector, undertaking leadership roles in authorities across the country, covering all aspects of HR and OD.

Throughout this time I have led many organisations and HR teams through change and transformation. I can honestly say the pace of change has never been as fast as it is now.

In this changeable and increasingly ambiguous context, the challenge is how to continue to deliver our ambitions to the highest standard while at the same time ensuring our people are able to be their best. It’s right that HR leads the way but everyone, especially leaders, need to play a role to ensure people issues are kept at the forefront of conversations across our organisations and beyond.

Throughout my career I have pushed the boundaries – from leading consultations and negotiations with trade unions at a time when women did not usually take on that role to advocating for and championing inclusion and diversity. I know that it can sometimes be an uncomfortable place to be and often frustrating, particularly when added to the changeable and ambiguous context. Within all this it is important to remember what the constant is, our values and ambitions can give us this both personally and for the organisation.

At Leeds City Council we have worked hard to embed a values-based cultural programme, enhancing city leadership and acting as catalyst for change, and we have seen staff engagement levels grow positively in the face of significant financial challenges. Our peer review said: ‘Leeds is clearly driven by its aspiration and values, to be the best.’

To have your organisation’s values embedded and acted upon at all levels of the organisation is a great strength. It enables those within the organisation to have a guide for their actions. It enables us to challenge each other, to have conversations when those values aren’t being upheld or acted out. It helps us to convey to those who want to join our organisations what to expect when they come to work with us.

What next then? That is often both the most exciting and the most uncomfortable bit for all of us. Many find change worrying, it’s even more worrying when that change is constant.

For me personally, I’m looking forward to working with a range of organisations and individuals to explore their challenges and bring my experience to help them to tackle these. Following the agreement of the new structure of the Public Services People Managers Association (PPMA), I will also be taking up a voluntary role as vice president – strategic themes at the organisation. I am looking forward to working with some fantastic contributors to focus on the key themes of leadership, digital, wellbeing, evidence, workforce transformation and future workforce.

As we continue to work to deliver the best services we can, these themes will help us to ensure our services keep up with the reality of the modern world and enable our teams to be inclusive, thrive and deliver the best possible experience for our service users.

As leaders or people managers I encourage you to:

Challenge poor behaviour

behaviour that is not in line with the organisation’s values or is simply unacceptable. Push others to enact, to the highest possible standard, the day-to-day leadership behaviours that enable others to be their best.

• Create spaces for others to learn and develop

Sometimes this is tricky to do with so many competing priorities, but it is essential to help your teams to deal with the complexity of the world we are working in.

Really champion equality and diversity

Start with yourself, what are your own bias and assumptions? We all have them, although it is uncomfortable to acknowledge them. Getting inclusion right will have an impact that reaches beyond your organisation. Be that catalyst for change, encourage others to be curious and experiment. The world can, at times, feel increasingly complex and ambiguous. To me this also means there are exciting opportunities to make a tangible difference, if we are willing to step out of our comfort zones and never stop learning.

Although I am moving on from my role at Leeds City Council, I am looking forward to taking on different challenges. A lot may be changing, but what doesn’t change is the challenge and variety of working in HR and the joy of continuing to develop both individuals who work in HR and the wider people profession.

Lorraine Hallam is chief officer HR at Leeds City Council

Lorraine Hallam

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