Warwickshire County Council’s radical approach to reassigning skill for future success
Like most councils, Warwickshire County Council (WCC) faced the challenge of managing more complex social needs, including those associated with an aging population, during a time of extraordinary budget cuts and digital transformation. Staying efficient was becoming increasingly difficult so it decided to radically change its approach in order to fulfil its aim of realising its ‘One Organisational Plan’ and deliver the best services to its residents.
This case study describes the process it undertook and, as Management Today, explains how new ways of working allowed it to be resilient during the pandemic.
Warwickshire County Council took the brave step to completely reorganise how the Council functions were structured moving to a two-part model of ‘commissioning and strategy’ to oversee the long-term planning, and ‘service delivery’, which would effectively manage the council activity day to day.
As part of this process, the Council recognised it needed to review staffing and identify where there was a match in the skills the council had and the skills it needed to support the new structure. The objective was to have the ‘right people in the right job’.
With a constantly evolving set of constraints the Council decided to assess the staff’s current performance against a new set of capabilities and to look at what existing staff could offer in the future, their potential to move up and into new roles and across departmental boundaries if required.
Elgood Effective Learning was asked to help discover and map the talent.
Starting with the Council’s 12 Assistant Directors (AD), Elgood ran a number of initiatives to provide the data needed:
- An aptitude test and psychometric test, to determine things such underlying personality traits, motivation and values, and default behaviours in pressurised situations.
- A simulation, in which the AD’s had to problem solve a true-to-life business scenario. The simulation was designed to provide the AD’s with an opportunity to display the capabilities the Council had identified as necessary for the role including strategic thinking, business acumen, people leadership and organisational leadership. This helped to assess each person’s capabilities and uncover ones they hadn’t demonstrated before.
- An interview with their line manager to probe specific areas and assess the individual’s appetite and cultural fit for the organisation going forward.
The outcome of the tests, observations from the interviews and simulation were put into an adapted nine-box grid that captured everyone’s performance and potential.
As a result, the council established which of its Assistant Directors were in the right job, which people were in the wrong job but with the potential to do another one to a high level, and those who were no longer suited to the future direction of the organisation.
After the AD assessment was completed, attention turned to the teams they managed. The process was repeated with 43 people at Tier 3. These individuals completed the process, excluding the psychometric test, using a different simulation relevant to their job and contribution level.
Alison Lehky, workforce strategy and OD manager, highlights how important it was to ensure the process was fair and had a clear focus on capability: “When I was investigating the best way to assess our staff as part of the transformation I felt it was extremely important that we valued potential and future capability not just historical subject matter expertise. “
“We worked very closely with the team at Elgood Effective Learning to ensure the material we created for the assessment focussed clearly on the specific capabilities and that there would be sufficient opportunity for staff to demonstrate both current and future skill.”
Alison explains why this was so important, “Like all transformations there was apprehension about the changes, so we needed to make the process challenging, fair and a real learning experience for all. “
“Elgood worked very closely with us to ensure that the end to end process represented the WCC values and was sympathetically and professionally delivered. The result has been an extremely effective programme that has allowed us to transform the people capability within WCC, and ensure we had the right skills and capabilities aligned to the new roles in our operating model.”
Warwickshire County Council knew it needed to ensure the feedback from the assessments lead to concrete change. So, those remaining with the organisation have worked with Elgood on very specific development plans to help them grow and progress, and ensure the strategic change is delivered.
It’s also committed to using the process more frequently to ensure the talent remains right for the organisation and guards against managers making appointments that fit the old ways of working rather than the new.
Craig Cusak, Assistant Director for Enabling Services, took part in the simulations and interviews and believes it’s an important approach to future recruitment, “I experienced the process myself applying for my current role, Assistant Director of enabling services. I completed the aptitude tests, psychometrics tests with feedback interview, the business simulation and an interview with our then joint managing directors. The report I received has been really valuable, helping me clarify my own strengths and weaknesses, what I bring to the leadership team, and has formed the basis for my ongoing personal development plan.”
“Assessing people in such a comprehensive manner has been really beneficial. The assessment and interview process are really robust and as managers we get a good picture of each individual, not just their technical skill set but their leadership capabilities and behaviours. This helps me recruit the best people for the role and provide the right support to ensure my team develop and grow.”
The council believes it has made significant strides in changing its culture, efficiency and effectiveness as a result. In particular it has seen the following benefits:
- The leadership is more focused, knowing it has a capable team to help deliver the strategic goals.
- People are clearer on the deliverables of their role and how they are measured.
- People know their capabilities and are more resilient as a result, capable of responding to unusual situations far better.
- People are motivated knowing they have a development plan that supports their career aspirations.
- People get things done more effectively and efficiently because they have been empowered to make change.
Elgood Effective Learning were invited to work with Warwickshire County Council by Claire Corbett, (Business Transformation consultant) and delivered the programme in association with the Transformation team and Psychonnaissance.
Post Script: Speaking to Management Today two years after the transformation process started Rob Powell, Strategic Director for Resources, and Craig Cusack, Assistant Director for Enabling Services share their views on the impact the project had on the Council’s ability to deliver during the Covid 19 pandemic.