Our Managing Director, Lucy Trueman, reflects on the last 12 months, and what the key challenges for local government might be in 2019.
Although it seems that New Year’s Resolutions are falling out of favour, I’m a big fan of having a new year review. It is important to pause for reflection and think ahead for the next 12 months. One of my personal resolutions was to write more. It seems a good time to capture thoughts and reflections for the sector I have worked in and loved for the last 13 years.
It’s been a busy year for Trueman Change and one full of variety. In no other sector would we have the chance to work with social workers, teachers, accountants, HR specialists and political members all in the space of a week! Change and transformation in local government is becoming the new constant, and 2019 is showing no signs of letting up.
Here are my thoughts as to what some of the challenges and opportunities might be in 2019.
I think we all know the huge uncertainty this is bringing to all sectors, not just ours. What I’ve seen so far from councils I’ve worked with is a huge commitment to carrying on doing the best for our residents. With increasing divides in communities, and such huge uncertainty as to the impact of Brexit, it’s very difficult to effectively prioritise and plan change.
Another negative, financial stability and sustainability is not looking any more possible in the near future. Many councils are struggling to meet their savings targets, and some moving further and further into difficulties. Many councils are now having to completely rethink the way they deliver services to stay afloat. This brings huge challenge, and we’ve come across many councils who have cut corporate services around change and project management to make ‘easier’ savings, at a time when people with that expertise are truly needed.
Collaboration with others, and true partnership working. We are seeing a move towards partnership working with others who share values and aims. Nationally there are a range of Combined Authorities being established, along with other, smaller partnerships and mergers within the public sector. We’ve done significant work with councils setting up shared services and I’ve had several conversations with Directors and CEOs around strengthening their relationships with local partners and community groups. This whole system approach is something many talk about. I can see an increase in this type of work over the next 12 months. There are lots of opportunities here.
Linked with collaboration is the concept of co-design. I’ve seen some fantastic work in councils involving groups and residents in the design of services going forward. As a change manager this is really heart-warming. We are huge believers in the importance of involving as many as possible on the change journey. During a recent Ofsted inspection with one of our clients, the inspectors commented on the positive feedback from staff about their involvement in the co-design of a new shared service. I’m pleased to see people are recognising this, as I really believe it has huge value.
5. Digital Transformation
Digital transformation is on everyone’s agenda, as it has been for a few years now. Interestingly though, I am seeing a shift from councils expecting technology to have all the answers, to better understanding the role that people play in change in this area. I think we have all been burnt, at some point, by projects where we’ve invested in technology without fully understanding the people side, and not realising the benefits we expected. One of my mantras is “change is driven by people not processes and plans” and I think this equally applies to technology.
6. Change Fatigue
‘Change fatigue’ is a phrase I hear often, where people are tired of change programmes and need a period of settling in to the new normal. I first heard this phrase a number of years ago. I do wonder how we are helping staff to adjust to the new world of “change being the new normal”. Change in itself is often a good thing (although perhaps I’m biased!). As managers we need to challenge ourselves, are we causing this fatigue because of the WAY we deliver change, rather than the change itself?
These are just the tip of the iceberg; councils are also grappling with core questions like ‘how can we be more commercial?’, ‘where can we generate income?’, ‘how do we reduce demand on our services?’, and ‘how do we focus our limited resources?’. We must do this within our difficult, turbulent, unpredictable and political local government context.
Within all this, we focus on getting the job done. Navigating this unique sector takes a lot of resilience, understanding and experience. Whether the job is business as usual service, or a large change programme, it’s all about delivering. It’s easy to make an academic industry out of project and change management, but what it really boils down to, is getting stuff done!
I have every faith that my local government colleagues will continue to do this. I look forward to continuing to support councils and “getting stuff done” with you in 2019!
What are your predictions and challenges for next year? Do these themes ring true for you, or does your council have different priorities? What stuff do you need to get done in 2019?
For more information about how Lucy and the team can help you ‘get stuff done’ in 2019 contact her here.
Interested in attending free learning events on an element of change management? You can find out more here.