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The real levers of change

Written by: Ann Hartley is head of assessment at Penna
Published on: 31 Oct 2019

Against a backdrop of financial challenge in the sector, at Penna we increasingly work with local government’s undergoing change and transformation. A new target operating model will usually include a new culture and ways of working to be introduced. With this comes a set of values, and leadership behaviours, often defined at a number of levels. The authority sets the expected operating style and characteristics it requires and expects from its senior leadership team and defines how that cascades down and translates into meaningful constructs for everyone.

What sometimes happens though is that we arrive to support a senior selection campaign, or to discuss an aspiration for a team development activity and hear that the well constructed framework of behaviours has not been fully socialised yet, or ‘was designed last year but not been used yet’. Understandably, the authority has focused on the transformation of services and more tangible delivery processes and there has been less emphasis on the ‘how’. Organisation development through the roll out of leadership behaviours and values is next on the agenda but may not be a budget priority.

Often transformation leads to two key requirements: strategic selection choices for new roles and the mapping of the current talent to ensure that there is capability in place to delivery strategic goals. It’s essential the methods used for these activities are aligned to the values and behaviours required to transform the authority and equip it for future challenges. Our approach to supporting our local government clients is always to create bespoke solutions that are based on the client’s own model where this exists, but at the same time taking advantage of our established methods and activities. In this way we can bring the model out of the filing cabinet, use it to make real decisions and create a picture of talent about the leadership and management of the organisation. This data in turn informs the priorities for organisation development activities and identifies any key gaps in the top team.

For example, one of the most familiar activities for any senior leadership team will be to complete psychometric profiling – the use of personality tools and a debrief interview to provide a deep insight into an individual’s approach and ways of working. This might be as part of their selection process, or during a development programme. We believe the key to success here is that the individual can see a clear link between the tool used, and the traits or dimensions measured, and their own organisation’s leadership model.

They need to be able to understand how their own style is aligned to each of the behaviours or characteristics that are key to success for their authority. It’s important to do this piece of mapping at the start of the project. Working from industry standard benchmarks has merit, but knowing where you fit against your own organisation is more helpful in answering the ‘so what?’ question.

When thinking about other methods for understanding an individual’s profile of strengths and development areas, it’s worth reflecting on how well your chosen activities align, whether these are part of a selection or development process. We have established practices for aligning our existing methods, such as leadership simulation exercises, or brief scenarios, to different frameworks and models, meaning we can adjust our marking guides to specific organisations, but retain the sector benchmarks we have developed over time.

We advise choosing realistic scenarios and adapt these from an established library, to suit the client’s specific needs.

Achieving good talent data mapped to your values or behaviour framework provides you with a point of reference against which to measure your performance as a leadership cohort. Identified gaps become development priorities and plans can be put in place to address these, aligned to business needs. Specifically referencing and linking back to values and behaviours ensure a constant and firm reminder about the new ways of working and why this is required, and how it links through to the target operating model.

A final observation is that many of the leaders we work with forget about using their strengths. They work with their colleagues to identify their strengths against a new model, use language that is meaningful, current and aligned to describe their positive attributes, and the promptly forget the leverage they have from using these qualities. If you are an organisation that is working on a new format for personal development plans, take note to include a section called ‘my strengths and how I will used them’. That is where your success will come from.

Ann Hartley is head of assessment at Penna