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Introducing Ben Parsonage

Time for a change; I am excited that I have joined GatenbySanderson’s Local Government executive search team. I have spent the last five years supporting local authorities in identifying their future leaders and am looking forward to continuing this journey at GS.

Why did I decide to join GatenbySanderson? In short: their reputation; the people I met during the interviews; and their purpose, which focuses on developing leaders that will shape a better society. This is something that resonates with me.      

As someone who struggled academically, didn’t go to university and is dyslexic, I am extremely driven to remove barriers from recruitment processes. Barriers that may mean excellent candidates miss out just because they haven’t had access to the same opportunities as others, or that they may have come into their careers through non-traditional routes.      

Over the last few years, I have seen a shift in how some local authorities recruit into leadership positions as they look to bring in candidates with different experiences and perspectives, and I want to share and encourage this, and support the sector to have less reliance on ‘traditional methods’. One element I have seen change is the focus on traditional supporting statements that ask candidates to answer how they meet the essential criteria in the person spec, compared to statements that encourage candidates to talk through their motivation for applying, their personal values and how they align with the organisations, how they lead teams & think about inclusivity. If this is supported with an achievements based CV it can give a more rounded view of a candidate.

I find it compelling when candidates are comfortable talking through lived experiences as this will often give a level of empathy that other candidates won’t have and helps when making decisions that affect the communities they serve. These could include experiences like helping parents who don’t speak English translate at meetings and appointments when they were young and still in school, or they may have grown up living on an estate or in a tower block and understand the challenges in this, or they may even have spent some time without a home.  Their different experiences and perspectives will only add to the decision-making process around the leadership table, which will help Local Government continue to play its part in solving the big challenges society face around inequality, social injustice, and climate change.      

Something else I also want to promote is the need to re-think the term “culture fit”, as over the years I have seen it used as an excuse to stand down candidates from recruitment processes. I think this has happened to many candidates, including myself, but if you consider this as telling people they don’t fit because they are different it takes on a very different meaning. Difference is a positive, and helping organisations and candidates move to a “culture add” mindset and think about how difference can positively add to your organisational culture is an essential step in an inclusive approach to recruitment.     

The future has many challenges: the current state of the world economy, the cost-of-living crisis, the polarisation of society, and, more recently, a widening gap of trust between communities, and those that represent their interests at the highest levels. Local Governments are feeling these as much as their communities and businesses. Whilst local authorities cannot fix each of these challenges on their own, they will continue to be a critical part of the complex solution.    

The recovery from the pandemic has hit an already stretched financial position for all authorities. This coupled with higher interest rates, the rising cost of goods and services, and the lack of available talent, is making it harder for authorities to deliver best-in-class services.

Whilst there are plenty of challenges, there are also opportunities. I am always impressed by local authorities’ ability to be creative and innovative in how they manage to do more with less. The creativity shown over the last two years needs to be harnessed and encouraged. Those newly formed partnerships, particularly with the voluntary sector, should start to take centre stage.

I look forward to continuing my work with the incredibly talented people that lead within this sector and supporting those that genuinely care about the future of the communities and businesses that they serve.    

Ben Parsonage is a Consultant in GatenbySanderson’s Local Government Practice. 

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