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The world of local government is changing and the skills its top jobs demands are too. Philip Cohen looks into the ...
The world of local government is changing and the skills its top jobs demands are too. Philip Cohen looks into the future of council work

Hay Group's research centre in Boston holds data about the competencies of the most successful performers in companies across the world. Earlier this year we brought this data and our understanding of jobs together. We examined behavioural data of about 400 excellent performers at senior levels and matched it against the different jobs which the individuals held when interviewed. We found that senior jobs fall into three main groups:

-- Advisory and staff - for example, finance, HR, legal

-- Co-ordination and partnership - marketing and project management

-- Deliverers - operational/business management, sales.

The advisory group are orientated towards solving long-term problems. The co-ordinators are delivery orientated, but have to work with partners who they do not manage. The deliverers are directly accountable for results.

The research revealed that high-performing private sector managers almost always require a certain core set of competencies, whatever their job.

They are all good at analysis, applying concepts, and recognising patterns. They dig for information, tailor the way they influence others, and strive to improve performance. But, beyond that, different behaviours underpin success for each of the three groups.

The differences between advisers and deliverers are significant. Excellent leaders in advisory jobs display characteristics which are much less noticeable among the delivery group. Furthermore, these correlate closely with many inherited assumptions about what makes a top public servant:

-- Higher conceptual capability than delivery or co-ordination colleagues

-- Understanding and interpreting others' perspectives in depth

-- High levels of customer service towards colleagues

-- Priority on developing others

-- Striking levels of integrity, putting the good of the organi sation and its stakeholders above other considerations. Deliverers display integrity but it is less fundamental to how they see their jobs.

High performance among advisers therefore rests on organisational understanding, empathy with colleagues and staff, conceptual thinking, and a sense of rightness.

By contrast, successful deliverers - towards whom much of the public service is converging - display different characteristics:

-- Focus on results

-- Broader awareness of the organisation in its environment

-- Self-confidence

-- Flexibility

-- (Often) visionary team leadership.

High performance among deliverers depends on results - setting and achieving challenging goals - combined with flexibility and leadership, including coaching, holding people accountable, and promoting teamwork.

Our research on the co-ordinators is incomplete. But its results may be important for councils. Preliminary findings suggest the competencies are nearer those of the deliverers than the advisers, though they may need more team working and a greater understanding of others' perspectives.

This research may provide a revised template for recruitment and career management across the public sector. In the past, we have valued conceptual thinking, strategic perspectives and influencing skills. But these generally cognitive abilities seem less important as needs shift towards delivery and co-ordination.

And beyond that, there is one uncomfortable issue. The public sector has always been expected to display the highest levels of integrity. This is a fundamental value. But, the best deliverers do not appear to see integrity as their principal driving force. Account will have to be taken of this if government is to deliver services in politically acceptable ways.

One possibility - which needs exploring further - is to work out how to measure integrity. After all, deliverers like measurement. It motivates them. The alternative is to subordinate integrity to achieving objectives. But is th at acceptable?

Philip Cohen

Consultant, Hay Group

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