Last month we looked at how a new SOLGM-led skills strategy aims to make councils employers of choice. For this month’s follow-up article we asked four tier two senior executives to tell us about their own professional development. We also asked them to share their views on how the local government sector could attract and retain great people through a more coordinated skills strategy. By Ruth Le Pla.
Sam Rossiter-Stead, Kathryn Ross, Julie Gardyne and John Ridd are part of a 13-person cohort of senior local government leaders taking part in a SOLGM LGExecutiveLeaders programme.
They are approaching the halfway mark on a year-long programme due to finish in October this year. Their cohort of 13 tier two leaders comes from a range of district and regional councils across the country.
The programme started back in October 2016, when each of the participants completed a series of online assessments.
The first major component was a three-day residential introductory session held at Wallaceville House in Upper Hutt. This is being followed by a series of one-day follow-ups, masterclasses and mentoring sessions from Jenny McDonald of the Continuum Consulting Group.
There are also a number of online training exercises which are completed in the participant’s own time.
How much time are you spending on attending the programme and any associated work?
Sam Rossiter-Stead The sky’s the limit really, but to complete the programme effectively I would suggest a monthly commitment of around 10 hours is probably necessary.
What prompted you to enrol for the programme? What challenge are you seeking to address?
Sam Rossiter-Stead The programme is aimed at developing those managers who are considered to be ‘near-CE ready’ and each participant is required to be sponsored by their current CEO. In my own case, I had considerable experience at tier two level prior to moving into local government and am looking to fill in some gaps as I look to progress my career further in the sector.
I have made professional development a priority at this stage of my career and the opportunity to learn alongside my peers from a wide variety of councils is invaluable.
The SOLGM programme is based on neuroscience, which is what distinguishes it from other similar courses.
Kathryn Ross I want to be a more effective leader, improve my emotional self-management, promote a learning culture and inspire others to grow and achieve in increasingly complex and uncertain times.
Julie Gardyne My council and chief executive strongly support ongoing
learning opportunities for staff. I’ve been involved in several SOLGM professional development opportunities, such as the Management Challenge. I’ve also previously been on a working group before taking part in the LGExecutiveLeaders programme.
The programme is about leadership self-awareness and personal development. Following the first residential three-day workshop, I have a personal development plan which includes coaching sessions and support from a small group of course members to keep me on track.
John Ridd I was promoted into a group manager role and wanted to refine my current skills and broaden my skills base.
How, if at all, do you think your behaviour, thoughts or attitudes have changed as a result of taking part in the programme?
Sam Rossiter-Stead One of the biggest learnings for me personally has been the sheer quality of leaders working in this sector right across the board. We have been fortunate to have a special group of people on this course and that has helped to create a very ‘safe’ environment in which to share experiences, reflections and ideas. Not only have I learned a great deal about myself, I have also learned about the different challenges which are facing others.
No two councils are the same, but the process by which they can continue to develop for the benefit of the communities they serve is very similar, regardless of the individual circumstances.
Kathryn Ross I have had the time to reflect on the art of leadership and my role and responsibilities as a leader in local government. I have appreciated the opportunity to share experience and learnings with other local government managers and as a result of the programme I have greater perspective, self awareness and confidence. I can switch between leadership styles more easily and actively try to manage my pace-setting, goal-orientated tendencies with more focus on the people.
Julie Gardyne The brain-based science approach and 360 feedback have provided a chance for self-reflection and helped identify actions for me to take forward for the rest of the programme.
John Ridd The powerful thing for me was the 360 degree feedback which made me evaluate the way I approach some things. I have made some changes, some due to the programme and mentoring, and some due to the teamwork on the residential part of the programme and mentally making the shift. The combination of all these things has forced me to take a greater leadership role rather than a doing role, being the tendency of a third-tier manager.
What benefits, if any, flow through to your council as a result of you taking part in the programme?
Sam Rossiter-Stead The ultimate aim of the programme is very straightforward: to develop high quality leaders from within the sector, so that can be taken as a given. If the programme is successful, the benefits at that level are obvious.
However, the by-product is the best practice learned from the rest of the group. I have taken time out to visit several of the other participants and see how they operate within their own councils and that has been invaluable for me as an individual and to improve the way I can help my council deliver services to the Masterton community. We have even gone as far as ‘borrowing’ a specialist from another council to review one particular area of our operations and that has been a highly-successful exercise.
There is no doubt in my mind that we need to ‘share’ far more, rather than work within 78 different silos. Every day around the country local government staff are facing identical problems and most of them are trying to find their own unique solution. My personal view is that this is the area where the biggest efficiency gains can be made.
Kathryn Ross Without individuals committed to learning then the organisations they work for can’t improve. I am spending more of my time leading strategically and making things happen through others, enhancing organisational performance and improving outcomes for our communities and customers. I and my team are less likely to be distracted by short-term imperatives and as a result we are firmly focusing on the future, what it should look like and how to get there.
My focus on developing talent and enhancing team performance lifts the capability of the organisation to deliver quality advice to our elected members and excellent service to our communities.
Julie Gardyne Aside from personal development, I have really enjoyed the opportunity to reflect on leadership in local government. We’ve heard a range of stimulating guest speakers, sharing their personal experiences and talking about the environment in which we are all working. We’ve also had the opportunity to discuss and debate issues facing the local government sector.
I’m lucky to be on the programme with a great bunch of positive, supportive and very clever people. Wider than the course itself, is the chance to meet and share with other councils. For example, since the first residential workshop, we have been able to share staff time and expertise with another council participating in the programme.
John Ridd Our executive is fairly new with a mix of both experienced and new second tier managers. Some of the skills I have developed as a product of the programme will ensure I can begin to sit equally at the table.
How, if at all, do you think such programmes address the sector’s need to attract and retain good people and provide career pathways for them?
Sam Rossiter-Stead Retention of staff generally in local government has rarely been a problem, but the retention of aspiring leaders is more of an issue. Nobody wants to be set up to fail, whether it’s those encouraged to apply for more senior positions or those who ultimately secure them and are given minimal support to perform to their potential.
An industry-specific leadership course of this quality is something the sector had been crying out for and SOLGM deserves great credit for recognising that need and addressing it. This programme will help to ensure that the cream rises to the top and maintain the interest of those considering other career options. The energy given off by our cohort in every minute of every session is a clear indication of that.
Kathryn Ross Professional development and coaching in a network of peers and experts across councils and beyond is crucial to developing the leaders local government needs. The emphasis on working together to develop the ‘who’ of leadership is exciting and stimulating – it reenergises and provides insights you do not get working alone. Other people’s leadership journeys inspire me and we have so much to learn from each other.
Julie Gardyne One of the reasons I enjoy working in local government is the support council staff offer each other. These programmes help to develop, share knowledge, and support career pathways within local government.
John Ridd Obviously the programme offers growth skills essential to develop good leaders in the sector. It will though still be challenged with the public view on local government as a career option. That can still limit attraction and retention in a good employment market.
In what other ways could the local government sector improve how it attracts and retains good people?
Kathryn Ross We need to promote the range of careers one can have in local government better and enhance our reputation as employers of choice in the market place. We need to ensure we are identifying and nurturing talent; not just giving busy, motivated people more and more to do. I’d like to see us moving people around the business more and within the sector through staff exchanges. We also need to give our talent the time to learn from their peers and link them up with suitable coaches and mentors.
Julie Gardyne There is such a broad range of roles and skills required in local government, and as a sector, I feel we can do better at highlighting these opportunities, particularly with younger people who are considering career choices. Part of this is around the community understanding of what local government does, and why it plays such an important role in our communities.
John Ridd Local government looks after its employees well, treats us fairly and offers competitive remuneration. The challenge I see is the next couple of generations coming through as their way of working can grind with the traditional methods in local government. The working environment will need to change to deliver what those generations see as a fit for them. In local government we are a little obsessed with being seen between 8am and 5pm and productivity, certainly with older generations, seems defined by that visibility.
The pace of technological and global cultural change means that local government needs to shift that thinking. It is important to begin focusing on how our organisations operate and what our values are and should be in the future, in order to retain and attract great people to the sector going forward. Great leaders have always had a reading of what the next five to 10 years will bring.
It is important our sector’s leaders have a similar eye on the future and are brave in our decision making.
This article was first published in the April 2017 issue of NZ Local Government Magazine.