Does the sector need to switch the narrative?

Sally Wilson, Principal Consultant in our Interim Leadership Local Government practice, asks why aren’t we shouting from the roof tops about the amazing things the sector is doing?

“Why not make 2024 the year of telling the positive stories? A year in which we bank these motivational narratives, in the face of the sector’s challenges, to build a more aspirational and diverse talent legacy.”

This article first appeared in The MJ.

I can’t tell you how many articles I read in 2023 that listed the challenges facing local government’s recruitment and retention efforts.

Just like I can’t count how many times my executive search colleagues shared their disappointment at initially smaller long lists for aspiring leaders in the sector. And don’t ask me to guess how many times I reached out to a long serving, retiring executive-level professional to explore a new career in interim management, only to be told they’d had enough. So, is this current narrative just a case of bad PR for the sector or is there something more intrinsic to tackle in the story we have to tell for local government?

Not so long ago, it seemed the outside world was looking in, newly appreciating the critical role the sector played in delivering and innovating services to protect the most vulnerable and whole communities during the Covid pandemic. Surely, this legacy should have acted as a magnet for the sector, drawing in new talent as well as securing existing leaders for the long term?

That’s not the case in terms of retention at least, even at the very top. In 2023 we tracked a 122% increase in the number of CEO roles advertised across local government. While some of these reflect new commercial vehicles or subsidiaries, most were existing CEOs stepping down. Though change will act as a catalyst for new ideas, this level of change is far higher than we are seeing in other sectors. In health for example, though we saw a significant increase in CEO turnover as we emerged from the pandemic in 2021 (around 115% higher than normal), the numbers have since stabilised and are just 15% higher than an average year. In central government, chief executive-level or equivalent recruitment is around 50% higher than we would typically expect.

So why the difference in local government and how do we positively raise its profile to inspire the next generation and retain the critical and flexible skills that interim managers bring? I think part of the answer lies in the narrative the sector collectively inspires. During a ‘transformation and change’ sector event GatenbySanderson hosted last year, each speaker recalled what had galvanised them to join the sector. One spoke of seeing, first hand, the impact of outdoor activity centres; another referred to a 90s TV programme The Troubleshooter and another referenced reading the book Beyond authority.

In the context of 2024, where would a future public servant be inspired to join the sector? Why isn’t one of the challenges on The Apprentice running/transforming a local authority service? Why aren’t tech innovators being profiled for their work to deliver community transformation? Why isn’t a TV company getting behind the Local Government Challenge? That would make a great TV show.

Read the full article here.

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