How HR Directors in Local Authorities can make the best decisions about employees

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Mary J Clarke, Chief Executive of Cognisco

With the financial budgets for local councils now confirmed, HR professionals face the difficult task of making employee cuts. They are under intense pressure as the headcount reductions needed are big €140,000 jobs will go from English and Welsh local authorities, 53,000 will be cut from the NHS and 10,000 from the police force. Additionally, 10% of the job cuts will include the HR professionals themselves.

Already, HR professionals are facing a backlash from employment unions and being vilified for carrying out their jobs. Any decisions they make about employees will be scrutinised, so it is essential they make decisions which can withstand any subsequent challenges. Managers must ensure that the quality of our public services and the performance and morale of employees who remain behind is not unduly affected by the cuts or the decisions they make. Is this a poisoned chalice or are there solutions available that can help HR Managers make the right decisions now, however tough?

One important consideration for any HR professional making decisions about headcount reductions is to put in place formal performance and evaluation processes that measure and assesses employee efficiencies in a number of key areas. While various tools have been developed to measure specific services, organisations now need to set criteria that capture key elements of performance in relation to:

  • Financial management
  • Human resources management
  • Information technology management
  • Capital management
  • Managing for results

Key indicators are essential in the following four areas: record management, internal audit, performance appraisal, and project evaluation. And within those four areas, three intermediate dimensions of performance are needed: “results focus,” accountability and employee morale.

There is no doubt that HR managers will have their work cut out establishing these new measures of performance and evaluation processes, whilst ensuring they are focused on results. They will also face other challenges including redundancy decisions, they may need to redistribute job roles, delegate additional responsibilities to individuals and achieve more with fewer resources.

One of the main stumbling blocks they face in addressing all these issues is often the lack of accurate and up to date information about the skills, competencies and knowledge of their workforce.

In fact, many managers are completely in the dark about how their employees actually perform in their jobs on a daily basis. The reason for this is that whilst employees may have been assessed when they were recruited, this is often the last time they were assessed, and many will have moved through several job roles since. Aside from annual appraisals and performance reports from line managers they will have little insight into skills, knowledge and performance of employees. Now, with shared services models being adopted by councils across the UK, this lack of insight about how employees perform will become problematic. It will force HR managers to make objective decisions about which employee to retain in a shared services situation when two individuals with similar skills sets apply for one job. How can they be confident they are making the best decisions if they don’t have information about how these individuals perform?

One solution is to introduce intelligent employee assessments that test an individuals skills, knowledge and how their knowledge is actually being applied on the job by assessing them in common job based scenarios and asking them a series of situational judgement questions. The assessments will not only highlight their skills but their likely behaviour on a day to day basis. Not only will managers get an accurate picture of the skills, competencies and performance of each individual – their individual skills gaps and training needs will also be revealed.

Managers can then tailor training and development programmes to the individual. This approach is likely to improve their performance quickly and boost their morale because training needs are being met and it will reduce the need for costly ‘one size fits’ all training.

Star performers in each department who have the potential to deliver training or perhaps mentoring or coaching their colleagues will also be identified. So, if managers have their training budgets cuts, peer to peer training led by these individuals could be a viable alternative.

Most importantly, the insight from assessments gives managers the information they need to make the right decisions about employees. This includes how best to use staff, who to promote and when, who they can redeploy in other areas and crucially who is not performing well and maybe a potential candidate for redundancy. This insight will ensure they make the ‘right’, objective and accountable decisions about which employees will be a part of the council’s future and which won’t.

There is no denying that HR Managers are facing really challenging times ahead, but their burden can be eased if they have formal employee performance and measurements in place and are using assessments to ensure they have the most up to date and accurate information about every individual in their workforce. With these elements in place, at least they can be confident they will make the right decisions.

About the Author


Mary J Clarke has served as Chief Executive of Cognisco since January 2004. Under her leadership the company has achieved sustained profitability and implemented a new operating model, developed a more customer and market driven culture and expanded the role and reach of Cognisco.

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2 Comments - Write a Comment

  1. I have a question about what happens when schools (Heads and Heads of Department) start doing their own HR, while leaving the actual HR Dept as glorified administrators.

    These two examples are real, and happened to colleagues of mine this week (in two different schools).

    1. Following interviews the Head arranged to call the successful applicant that evening. He called A, leaving a voicemail message offering her the post. A rang back, leaving the Head a voicemail accepting it. The Head called again, but did not get through. He called again, finally speaking to A, and told her that if she hadn’t picked up he would have offered the job – which she had already accepted – to B. He then called B, rejecting her, but told her that if A hadn’t picked up she would have been offered the job.

    What would the legal position be if A hadn’t picked up and he had offered the job – already accepted by A – to B? Would he have been obliged to create an extra post?

    2. After shortlisting and interviews another post is offered to C, subject to references. But the references were taken up a week earlier and were in the building, which C pointed out. She was told that ‘HR have gone home’. When the employer read the reference, C was rejected.

    Is it okay to make those calls when the references are in, rather than wait till the morning when HR come in (the post is to be taken up in September, and it’s now May).

  2. Things aren’t necessarily better when HR are involved. A case I’ve come across involved the Principal of a college telling all staff at a briefing that staff savings would need to be made. He then held a separate meeting with a group of staff suggesting that they might like to consider volunteering for redundancy. The people in that meeting were all part-time and/or disabled and/or approaching the age at which they can start to draw their occupational pension!

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