By Claire West
The unprecedented scale of change set out in the Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) cannot be delivered without a concerted and committed focus on supporting, bolstering and improving public sector management capability, according to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).
Although employee morale and engagement is bound to suffer in the face of this scale of cuts, the CIPD is urging those with responsibility for public sector management — up to and including ministers — not to lose sight of the possibilities and opportunities to genuinely engage and enthuse public sector workers about new ways of working and to secure buy-in to new means of service delivery.
Research published by the CIPD on Monday, exploring public attitudes to possible post-CSR industrial action in the public sector, highlighted that striking workers would quickly lose sympathy amongst the wider public. However, Mike Emmott, employee engagement adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) warns that ministers cannot afford to take solace in these findings if the end result is a demotivated and disengaged public sector workforce:
“Our research shows unions cannot rely on public sympathy to face down the Government’s cuts through sustained strike action. But equally, ministers cannot rely on limited enthusiasm for strikes to deliver their vision of reformed, streamlined and diversified public service delivery. The reality is more complicated. Front-line commitment and industrial harmony can only be delivered by persuasive messages about why the cuts are needed, and an unswerving focus on excellent day to day management of the ‘survivors’. Effective and sustained change will only happen in organisations where senior leaders show a sustained commitment to building staff engagement to ensure there is buy-in to change and new ways of working.”
Warning that the way people are engaged and managed will be the critical factor in determining whether the scaled back public sector set out in the CSR is still capable of delivering on ministerial and public expectations, Mike Emmott, says:
“Proposals to improve the autonomy and empowerment of front-line service workers will fail if front-line managers are not equipped with the skills to support these behaviours. Radical plans such as employee-led public sector co-operatives and a step-change in co-ordination and collaboration between local public service providers can only succeed if there is a sustained focus on building management capability. Our research consistently shows a high degree of loyalty amongst public service workers to the services they seek to provide, and the people they provide them to. That loyalty cannot be taken for granted over the next five years. Instead, it will need to be carefully nurtured and harnessed by inspiring managers, focused wholeheartedly on their management responsibilities if the promise of wholesale changes to methods of service delivery is to be realised.
“As an example, the success of government plans to transfer health service commissioning powers from Primary Care Trusts to GP consortiums in the face of 45% cuts to management will hinge on whether GPs are equipped with the leadership and management skills that will be so important to their new roles. GPs will need to have leadership skills to take charge of service commissioning, as well as the people management skills to manage and motivate employees and partners in other services to work collaboratively and deliver for patients.
“How these changes are managed and the extent to which employees feel they are consulted and have a voice will also be fundamental to whether they understand and buy-in to new ways of working.”