How to do more with less

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Despite a climate of constrained budgets and a continuous need to do more with less, a majority of public sector organisations in the UK do not highly prioritise innovation, according to research from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). “In today’s challenging local authority landscape, innovation really is the key to making an impact,” Dr John McGurk, learning and development adviser at the CIPD, warned.

However, the same research identified seven key barriers to innovation:

  • Siloed working
  • Evaluation systems that are not designed to support innovation
  • Public service users rarely invited to engage in innovation
  • The inappropriate allocation of scarce resources
  • A lack of disciplined systems of innovation
  • Restricted focus on financial measures of value
  • The complexity inherent to serving too many ‘masters’

The CIPD report, HR and its role in innovation, recommends that public service users and providers collaborate in the innovative co-production of services. However, a new style of leadership is required for this to happen. “[These] are collaborative and consultative but they are not paralysed by process…They seek to build a coalition for change among elected members, employees, suppliers and customers,” McGurk said.

When leaders are more open, when they rely on informal, rapid communication, and create ‘climates of trust and self-belief’ this instils staff with the confidence to explore innovative approaches to their work.

Despite the general trend towards cautious innovation, the CIPD did discover some excellent examples of innovation in the three local councils that it studied. “Sunderland engaged on a unique “innovation bargain” with employees which offered jobs but not roles, security for employees but based on untrammelled flexibility in the allocation of staff,” McGurk said. This meant that staff had to be available for retraining and deployment to a different department.

And in another example, a council that had leading edge capability in conducting background checks decided to establish this function as a stand-alone business, providing the service to other local authorities, emergency services and not-for-profits.

“They [these councils] know that engaging everyone, from employees to customers and suppliers in the innovation effort will pay dividends in service delivery and efficiency,” McGurk concluded.

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