How can newly elected council administrations implement their manifesto pledges and embed new thinking into the organisational culture? Andy Mudd, Head of APSE Solutions, takes a look at what is required for incoming leaderships to be effective.
The campaign is over, the votes are in and overnight you have gone from opposition to control. Time to make good on your election promises. But how do you do this if your manifesto pledges require a major about turn in council strategy? How do you reassure officers that your plans will not undermine the services they are expected to provide? What changes to processes and systems will be needed to push change through and embed new thinking into the organisational culture?
These are questions that are not likely to have been debated at party meetings or on the doorstep with voters but they are critical to going beyond winning the election to make a difference in the way that things are done. It is tempting to assume that officers will automatically adapt to a new administration to reflect a change in the political will but the reality is rarely that simple. Legal and constitutional constraints can get in the way of change but even more significantly, the culture of the organisation can be a dead weight, pulling all the time in the direction of the established way of doing things.
Newly elected leaderships need to develop effective working relationships with top management as an essential first step. Cultural shift requires clear and effective leadership. This means that on the officer side change starts with the top management who need to quickly gain an understanding of the new political direction and put strategies in place to implement it. Identifying gaps in skills and resources is a key part of this. An authority that is used to managing external contracts for example, may not have any knowledge or experience of running services directly. Officers will be focussed on procurement and contract management, rather than front line resources and day to day service planning. These are very different skill sets and it may seem very risky to officers to move away from what to them is a tried and tested approach. Factor in the fact that some people will experience change as a personal threat and it is not difficult to understand that officer resistance to change should be expected and proactively managed.
Beyond the culture and the people there is likely to be a need to look closely at processes and systems. Many councils have schemes of delegation that can make newly elected cabinet members feel they are excluded from decisions that a previous administration did not feel the need to be involved in. Where it is expected that contracts will be re-let as a matter of course for example, the formal decision to do so may not come to elected members until the end of a procurement process. At this point it is likely to be too late for a safe change of direction and elected members can feel they have been excluded, when all that has really happened is that officers have been engaged in business as usual.
Changing the way a council does things is not a swift or easy process. Winning the election might seem to be the difficult thing but is really just the start. Implementing a new policy framework requires a focus on people, culture and systems.
APSE Solutions provides advice and support to officers, members and trade unions in local government. The team includes former council leaders who have experienced the challenge of getting their policies implemented, former Chief Officers who have successfully delivered the political will and legal experts who can make sure the system works for you and not against you. From one off day workshops, through to in depth system reviews, Solutions is there to help when you need it.
For more information about how APSE Solutions can help you in this matter, please contact Head of APSE Solutions Andy Mudd on 0161 772 1810 or email firstname.lastname@example.org