Local Government Magazine
LG Magazine

How to up your game: Better talent management

How can councils attract and retain talent in an increasingly competitive market?

Mike Stenhouse
Mike Stenhouse

Local authorities need to hit the right buttons with potential employees.

Creative, adaptable and engaged employees are a critical asset. But being an employer of choice isn’t simple. Money and stable career prospects alone won’t necessarily attract high-calibre candidates. Local authorities need to step up and be noticed in the talent attraction stakes.

Today’s talent is looking for additional rewards. Many are looking for challenging, autonomous work that also builds their skills. Candidates also seek leaders who share their values and beliefs.

Sheffield executive recruitment specialist Mike Stenhouse says that while this issue is not unique to local government, most organisations can significantly improve the way they present opportunities to the market. He also emphasises the importance of managing candidates with care through the recruitment process and during the critical first 100 days of employment.

Job profile

Leanne Mash
Leanne Mash

Central Otago District Council CE Leanne Mash says it all starts with thinking very carefully about the job profile. Do you know what the target profile is? Is the job description and person profile realistic? What are you negotiable on? What will you hold firm on? What’s really interesting and unique about this job? And how are you going to present the role across print, web, social and new media? Do channels such as LinkedIn featured in your recruitment plan?

Leanne says it’s important to consider not just the day-to-day aspects of any role but how the position relates to, and influences, outcomes for the community and ratepayers. It is also important to emphasise the challenges and rewards associated with being a major influencer in liveability factors associated with communities.

“Local government is an amazing sector: we just need to sell ourselves and the associated opportunities better.”

Think, too, about how ‘candidate-friendly’ your process is. Competition for great talent, especially in some occupations, can be fierce. One ill-considered action during the recruitment process and your highly-talented, sought-after, would-be employee might just walk away.

So try to see the process from a candidate’s point of view. For starters, eliminate the idea that this is just another process to be completed by someone at an administrative level in the organisation who doesn’t fully understand the issues and attractions of the role.

As a senior officer, how are you personally involved in the process?


Once at the interview stage, Mike says recruiters have 
three critical questions:

  • Can the candidate do the job?
  • Will they do the job?
  • Will they fit the role and your organisation?

In Mike’s experience, most organisations make a pretty good fist of evaluating candidates’ technical skills and experience. That’s the “can” do part of the equation. However, they’re often less skilled at assessing whether someone “will” do the job and whether they’ll “fit” the role and the organisation.

The “fit to the role” ascertains the extent to which the role responsibilities will give the individual job satisfaction. The “fit to organisation” checks out whether they’re likely to stay because they chime well with your culture and values.

This requires well-structured interview processes which provide a realistic job preview and a competency-based interviewing process around not only the technical skills but also the key behavioural competencies linked to job performance and your organisation’s unique culture.

To get to the nub of this, try to identify five or six behavioural competencies which really make a difference.

Think about a person who does really well in your workplace culture and why this is. What competencies / behaviours do they exhibit? Alternatively, think about why someone has not been able to fit in. Articulating this is a big step towards forming a picture of the characteristics of the ideal recruit for your council.

Mike adds that you should also think about how you will integrate the assessment of these competencies into the wider recruitment process, including referee checks and psychometrics. A quick tip: do the psychometrics before the panel interview. Then use the intelligence gathered from these tests to dig deep and explore the differences between candidates.

Holding on

It’s not just about hiring: it’s about making sure you hold on to good employees. Research shows people are looking for organisations that can demonstrate three things:

  1. Allow them to do meaningful work. Most council roles tick this box big time.
  2. Provide opportunities for personal growth and achievement. Think about how you manage your training and development budget.
  3. Share their values set. Skills can be taught – attitude cannot.

Finally, from Leanne’s experience, a good induction process is critical. On the to-do list are: good internal and external introductions (including to stakeholders and community leaders); regular check-ins; practical assistance with way-finding; discussions about values and culture; honest and early conversations about not only what is being done but how tasks should be achieved; followed up by even more conversations documenting the key priorities in the role.

Opportunities for personal contributions to organisation-wide agendas and leadership on specific projects can also be developed during these early months.

Remember to ensure your new recruit is getting what they need for the relationship. The early days are the building blocks to a solid, long-term working relationship and a great manager gives freely of their time and energy during the first critical months.

This article was first published in the March 2016 issue of NZ Local Government Magazine.

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