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Tomorrow’s world

Written by: Terry McDougall is group director – Solace in Business
Published on: 10 Jan 2019

At the start of a new year I often find myself in a reflective mood, looking back at years gone by. As 2019 begins I can’t help but think back to a time in my career when the year 2020 was used as a focal point for future-gazing.

At that time I remember working on my authority’s Corporate Strategy and my Elected Members were horizon scanning to develop their 2020 vision for the council. 2020 seemed such a long way off back then.

I recall working with my HR colleagues on our council’s workforce strategy; anticipating what skills would be required to fulfil the roles designed to deliver the Local
Government of the future.

As we enter 2019 we need to ask ourselves if we got this right. Do we have the right workforce now and what do we need to focus on for the next 20 years? Are we in a better position now to predict the future? Have we got the right tools to predict and can we spot today’s talent correctly?

Seeing the many congratulations on social media this week, to those public servants recognised in this year’s Honours list, gives me great hope. The sector has clearly got something right in developing the current crop of leaders. While it is clear that we have some incredibly talented people leading our services into the future, we do need to ensure that the pipeline is healthy and full of next generation talent who will have the appropriate skills to enable them to continue the sector’s excellent work.

Predicting the future is not a new concept, there are recommended formulas and many ways to apply them. However in some areas it’s almost impossible to predict the level of progress we might expect to see over a 20 year period. For example, 20 years ago I would never have considered the possibility of using Artificial Intelligence to deliver council services. New technology was advancing and training in IT skills and software was becoming the norm but I’m not sure the investment we made in our people over this time was enough.

This said, however we provide services, we will need people; they will become leaders and visionaries. They will be the people who motivate others and embrace new ideas, all the while keeping their residents in the forefront of their mind.

So how can we make sure we learn from the past and forward plan more effectively? How do we ensure we have the right people with the right skills to step into challenging roles after the current generation moves on?

The sector and the work place are changing but this has always been the case. More flexibility in the way we work has created more choice about the different types of employment. Millennials are moving around more often than generations before them, leaving employers considering whether investing in staff development is commercially sensible. We have to resolve this conflict and establish how best to engage with and develop the generations of the future. We also need to ensure that the sector is attractive to new generations joining the working world. A “job for life” and great pensions are no longer on offer in the sector (nor desired by the current generation of new starters). So how can we ensure we attract the best talent and hold on to them for long enough for them to reach the leadership roles of the future?

What we do know is that people thrive in well managed organisations; organisations that have purpose and a mission, organisations that trust staff and empower them to make decisions and have a voice. Work life balance will also be a constant factor in recruitment and retention, so flexible and agile working must be a focal point. As we have learnt technology must also be a key consideration; digital advances have become a more natural part of our world but we still need to wholly embrace technology to unlock the full potential of our workforce and ultimately provide, in the most efficient way possible, what our residents need. We will need to ask the question, “does technology make lives better?” and that will be the determination for what you invest in.

In the next 10 to 15 years we need to continue to look to the future, ensuring our organisations are agile and able to flex and change. My final reflection as we enter 2019 is that the future is never too far away; plan for tomorrow today.

Terry McDougall is group director – Solace in Business

Terry M - Solace [square]