The last two decades have seen the beginning of, and the adoption of, a consumerist trend in the service delivery approach in the public sector. This has necessitated more than ever the subscription to effective methodologies at gaining efficiencies through effective talent management. Essentially, modern local government needs to be viewed through the lens of a private business, which needs to recruit and keep adequate and relevant talent to boost and drive its performance as a means to an end of achieving effective public service delivery. It should been recognized at the outset that the Public Sector is in direct competition with the Private Sector in its quest for the attraction and retention of talented individuals who will hold the key to a successful and well-functioning local government.
The rationale for this report centres upon, and draws heavily from, the observations made by the Audit Commission in a report published in 2008 (Tomorrow’s People, 2008) where as the alarming decrease in fresh graduate talent opting for public sector employment, as well as the constantly changing nature of the service demand and delivery in the economy together with the constant issue of an aging workforce, were brought to the attention of the council chief executives and leaders. Such demographic and economic challenges can cause employee recruitment and retention issues if they are not fully addressed in a timely and effective fashion by local councils. A failure to do so could possibly result in an inability for local government to deliver and perform its public service duties.
In the light of the above, a number of considerations remain the focus of the desired outcome of this discussion. The first is the context of the concept of “talent” as it relates to the mechanics of the local government. On its own, the word ‘talent’ denotes the ability or quality retained by an individual which makes him or her well suited to a particular field or a sphere of activity (Armstrong, 2007). In business terms, then, “talent” remains a source of sustainable competitive advantage for a concern in terms of its long-term success, profitability and efficiency (Armstrong, 2007). In the same context, when such an analysis is applied to modern notions of a consumerist public sector where the taxpayer becomes an end user of such services, it is possible to note that the selection, retention and management of able and efficient employees who will satisfy the end user.
Furthermore, it is also necessary to view talent management as part of a more holistic framework mandating the review of a more unified and consumer-oriented talent management forum (Harris and Foster, 2010). It has to be realized that modern notions of talent management have become more than an abstract expression of adequate recruitment. In fact, the modern meaning of Talent management itself has become a series of complex human resource processes which come together to ensure that the right people are chosen for the right jobs and roles based on their intellectual and academic acumen (Phillips, 2008).
In this vein, this paper considers the methodologies and strategies local government organizations within the public sector need to address in order to be better able to adapt their mindset and recruitment processes to attract and retain a capable and talented pool of individuals.
Aims and Objectives
This report is an effort to highlight, discuss and propose a better approach to talent management within local government organizations. At present, the recession has caused, and will cause, severe challenges for local government, leading to cuts in funding and, inevitably, job cuts. The reduction in government expenditure and stringent budgeting might actually hinder and damage talent retention and management because employees may choose better paying options in the private sector. Another significant modern trend of local government has been to outsource its functions to the private sector. It is believed that talent management has to be managed even within such outsourcing points due to the direct relevance to performing governmental roles, even though at a more third party level.
Keeping in mind these considerations the author has formulated the following aims and objectives for this dissertation:
- To explore available literature and review contemporary academic opinions on the concept of ‘talent management’
- To understand the idea of talent management and its components in order to produce a more harmonized common definition of ‘talent management’
- To identify priorities of organizational demands in the current economic climate particularly in the context of public /local authorities
- To identify good practice of talent management in public sector organizations
- To ascertain what constitutes best practice in other organizations as compared to the one being studied here.
- To distinguish gaps in local government processes and practices and the implications of ignoring the issue of talent management
- To identify the processes being used to manage talent in an effective and transparent manner and to develop a proposal for a local authority talent management strategy keeping in view all these considerations.
Introduction: The UK Civil Service and its current challenges
The civil service remains the fourth most popular choice for young graduates today, and there is an increasing reluctance on behalf of talented and highly skilled graduates opting for local government (Phillips, 2008). This has arguably led to a number of major skill gaps and underemployment in the current pool of the local government workforce. One way in which it was hoped that it could be addressed would be through the “cross-cutting strategy” as suggested with in the 2008, Audit Commission’s report ‘Tomorrow’s People: building a local government workforce for the future’. This strategy would be aimed at making the civil service more attractive to young graduates by providing the information and advice relevant to how each profession can be accommodated within local government. In 2008, it was hoped that such a gap would be addressed by focusing on the pay gap between public and private sector salaries particularly in the context of graduate schemes. However despite this, it seems that there has been little improvement in the pay gap at the entry level lower grade jobs particularly for social work and social care, environmental health, and planning and building control (Harris and Foster, 2010).
In the (Local Government Pay and Workforce Strategy Survey (2006) it was stated that this pay gap affecting the talent workforce is more intense in terms of areas relevant to
- Organizational development and change management;
- Business process redesign and analysis;
- Performance management and people management.
On a more practical level there, there is also an underlying issue of equal opportunities and diversity at play here which is firmly relevant to the concept of better talent management. Almost two years ago, key local government jobs were concentrated with in Central London and South East London. The move to less privileged areas such as East London could actually bring these jobs within reach of a more diverse pool of candidates while at the same time ensuring that new talent is located, employed and retained (New strategy Document, 2008). It is possible to glean from 2008 statistics that increasingly there are fewer women than men opting for public service at local governmental level and there has been an overall decrease in ethnic representation as well; however, the majority of local government employees are women. It is, however, encouraging to note that there has been an increase in the hiring and acceptance of disabled persons according to the last CSFSARR (2007) published by the cabinet office in 2008. Another fact relevant to the issue of talent management is the aging population; Britain also has an e aging workforce, many of whose members are due to retire within the next few years, and this will arguably leave a significant recruitment gap and a talent vacuum. This observation was recently made by the NLGN: Leading Lights (2008) report, and accordingly it was suggested that, among other things, Britain had to start preparing for its “talent hunt” soon or staff shortages could become a looming threat to effective government planning.
The problems of resource constraints and workforce limitations
The main purpose of this literature review is to consider the implementation of talent management interventions from an academic point of view. One of the aims of such a review is to be able to better identify the particular challenges being faced by public sector managers in terms of their approaches to equality and diversity management. The idea of talent management as a strategic imperative for an organization’s success has been discussed in abundance in the relevant literature (see for example Phillips, 2008). Hymen and Summers (2004) have pointed out that talent management for the public sector is increasingly becoming a challenge due to the current economic downturns in the local economy. The current workforce is characterized largely by its skills shortage, evolving workforce demographics and locations and finally its greater diversity. Harris (2009) notes that despite the economic downturn, the demand for capable employees in the public sector has surged mainly due to greater pressures upon the current staff. Recent figures (SOCPO, 2005) reveal that there is a significant shortage of employees within the UK public sector to fill future executive vacancies in terms of education and talent. However, it should also be noted that while the promotion of talent management with the UK civil service, particularly in the context of the local government, has invited much enthusiasm, the task is far from complex once an effort is actually made to discuss and implement things at a practical level. In particular, there are arguably quite a number of dilemmas for sector managers now in terms of ensuring and balancing the need to retain the “best of the best” and the need to ensure diversities and equal opportunities
The expected conclusion of the literature review, it is hoped, will help the author of this paper reframe the concept of talent management within local government while viewing it as “comprehensive and integrated set of activities to ensure that the organization attracts, retains, motivates and develops the talented people it needs now and in the future “(Armstrong and Baron, (2007) as quoted in Harris and Foster, (2010)). This also relates in particular to how these managers should not craft their strategies in order to better achieve and explore “how individual talent (is) being defined, identified, developed, evaluated, progressed and rewarded “(Harris and Foster, 2010) within UK public sector organizations, and whether it is time such an approach were altered in the interests of a better and more capable civil work force in Britain.
The main difficulties for talent management being faced today
On a practical level, public sector managers face many issues. These relate particularly to the policies and applications thereof which will attract, develop and retain individuals whose talents can be particularly important to a public organization. The most significant issue here is that of “Workplace reality” as observed by Robinson et al (2008) and Reilly and Tamkin (2007). One problem that arises from this is the lack of a proper definition of the concept of talent management. This is because, academically and practically, the term ‘talent’ has remained a vague concept. Radnor and McGuire (2004) note that the most common notion of talent extends to qualities frequently associated with the demonstration of professional expertise and acumen for leadership. Tansley et al (2007:8) define talent as “individuals who can make a difference to organizational performance, either through their immediate contribution or in the longer term by demonstrating the highest levels of potential” (cited by Harris and Foster, 2010). This may not in itself be a convincingly coherent definition, yet it does refer to the elitist perception of “talent” and the special need of bringing and retaining it within an organization. This elitist view has often caused grave practical difficulty to public sector management in balancing the recruitment of the candidates for the sake of talent or for the underlying equal opportunities polices. There is a large amount of statutory pressure on these managers to take positive steps to eliminate racial, disability and gender discrimination in their hiring policies. This leads to the implication that the hiring policies of the local government will not exactly reflect the optimum aims of ensuring efficiency and competitiveness in their selection. One example is the hiring policy of the Women’s National Commission in 2002 which according to Harris and Foster (2010) was clearly an example of relaxed hiring procedures due to the government commitment to address the under representation of women in senior management roles, although progress in this area remains slow. Further problems are added to the task of public sector manager when it is seen that the government is the most likely party to be sued in employment discrimination cases. This may even be so while the manager has tried his or her best to formulate a decision which seems fair from the point of view of rational managerial decision making. It is feared then, as observed by Newell (2005) and Reilly and Tamkin (2007), that this may lead to checklist compliance by management of local authorities, if only to avoid the possibility of a discrimination case being brought against them. Such a focus on penalty avoidance, Warren (2006) notes , has to date caused a recruitment crisis within the British Civil Service. When such approaches are combined with the benchmarking and performance measurement tasks of public service delivery, it is possible to note that little room is left to formulate or promote ‘talent’ management.
According to Harris and Foster (2010:425), such a view only leads to a rather defensive and compliance driven approach, forged by the notions which have been spoon-fed to us in the name of public service and public good. They further note that, “public accountability, ideology and a strong trade union presence create a working environment, which predisposes public sector employers to pay greater attention to issues of demonstrating procedural fairness in equality and diversity management. An approach, which is reinforced by the sector’s traditional inclination towards a bureaucratic, administrative and regulatory approach to the employment relationship…” (Harris and Foster, 2010:425)
Thus the concepts of equality and non-discrimination do not sit in well with the principles pertaining to the implementation of talent management initiatives without giving rise to major contradictions in the decision making mechanism of public sector line management (Stiles, 1999). However, once considered in the context of individualism when candidates are actually seen for their abilities rather than their race, culture and gender, there is better hope for a more rational best practice promoting the effective selection and retention of such employees (Marchington and Wilkinson, 2008). According to Harris and Foster (2010), the problem arises when, talent management activities require managers to single out talented individuals to receive special treatment, which can create feelings of inequity or perceived unfairness among both employees and their managers, especially in the allocation of limited resources. Put another way, implementing talent management brings to the fore the “sameness/difference debate” ….as a dilemma for line management in the interpretation and application of HR policies” (Harris and Foster,2010:425)
Possible considerations for success in a talent management paradigm
A number of issues arise from the discussion above, which need to be addressed by those formulating talent management strategies for the public sector. Such considerations can be formulated from the guidance provided by Harris (2005,2008,2009) and Kersley et al (2006), and they relate primarily to the notions of whether, and how, such individuals be selected without offending legislative duties, and whether in the future local government should offer all vacancies for open access or if there should be a specific and closed pool of potential candidates. Hyman and Summers (2004) note that the main difficulty will lie within the point where such policies must be aligned with equality and diversity in the workplace, especially where government jobs are advertised with targeted under-represented groups in mind.
Harris and Foster (2010) have, in line with the above, proposed what they call “four interrelated and overlapping themes”:
- The alignment of talent management with other HR policies,
- Processes for selecting talent,
- the impact of resource constraints and
- delivering performance targets.
- Policy alignment
While the alignment of talent management policies with the Human Resource policies of a local government organizations have often caused confusion as discussed above, another issue has be the discrepancy faced by the procedure for selecting talent. According to Lutbish and Smith (2007), a common complaint by public sector managers is the lack of their direct involvement within the “selection” and recruitment of possible talent and the lack of confidence in “formalized assessment procedures” where statutory duties weigh so heavily. Furthermore, there has been a heightened reluctance on the part of managers for “singling” out people on the basis of “talented” and non “talented” because this had much more to do with the overall morale of the workforce. Feelings of inadequacy on the part of those labelled as “non-talented” in the interests of rewarding the talented few would inevitably affect production processes. This is a fact that has been well observed by the CSFSARR (2007) report as well.
Another consideration here remains the issue of openness and transparency of the whole process. In a study by Harris and Foster in 2010 of 9 Public Organizations, they observed:
“The openness and transparency of the process was singled out as particularly important by public sector line managers but even more so by employees identified as being in the talent pool. The potential for perceived special treatment and that their colleagues might be left to cover aspects of their work while they were undertaking special projects was an issue identified by employees and their line managers alike” (Harris and Foster,2010).
Coming to the problem of the burden on the taxpayer, as in the “resource constraints” pointed out by Harris and Foster (2010), it is possible to see that public sector managers face the overall problem of allocation of funds to talent development when other competing interests are there in terms of management training for the majority of the employee base. Whether to invest in the “cream” and the future of bureaucracy or look towards something more tangible and closely achievable such as the benefit of the majority of the workforce remains a true dilemma (Bondreau and Ramstad, 2005). Then comes the problem of performance management in the light of the Harris and Foster (2010) framework as discussed above. This relates to the conflict and lack of clarity within the current base of managers who are responsible for the conduction of performance management evaluations in order to be able to retain and develop the current pool of talent in the available employee base (Phillips, 2008). Often a manager may well be unclear about the expected role and contribution of an employee to be able to effectively devise parameters which will test, evaluate and monitor such an employee performance.
A few conclusions from the literature review
In conclusion, when we bring the above considerations to the discussion of a framework which will bring about better policy alignment for the talent management processes of public managers, it is possible to note that there is an effort on the part of the same to take notice of and value those individuals who currently and can potentially form the basis of solid public leadership. It can be seen from the literature review that most of the authors have argued the case for a more inclusive approach to talent management where talent is explored, encouraged and nurtured rather than expected as the result of a comprehensive foxhunt. For one thing, experience has more to do in shaping talent than raw qualities themselves available in an inexperienced individual. Such an analysis could also potentially sit well with the economic recession in the United Kingdom as well as the budgetary constraints being faced by local government.
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