Innovative working practices
1 Apr 2010
Paul Fairhurst, IES Principal Consultant
With pressure on public finances, organisations are looking to find innovative working practices to save money. Capital Ambition asked IES to explore how some London Boroughs (sometimes with local NHS organisations) are sharing professionals or teams across organisational boundaries. This might happen through the sharing of an individual (eg joint head of HR), sharing of a team (joint HR function) or through procurement of services from another authority.
Based on a series of case studies, IES developed ‘An evolving guide to shared professionals’ that considers and draws on experience of these arrangements working across local government and the NHS, as well as just within local government. It could equally apply to other sharing arrangements within the public sector (or even private sector). The guide explores why organisations might consider arrangements for sharing professionals, the types of benefits that may be available depending on the route taken, and the actions that have made these arrangements successful in different situations. It is planned to add to the list of case studies as the project progresses and update this guide as new lessons are learned.
It is clear from the work that these kinds of arrangements can and do work, delivering financial, service and partnership working benefits. However, it is also apparent that they may not be right for all situations and roles, and that they need careful thought and focused execution to ensure their success and avoid some of the potential pitfalls. Sharing professionals can be a sensible response to a short-term problem that yields useful benefits, especially in reducing costs. As some of the case studies show, you can go beyond this point, consolidating the benefits, but extending the model so that it permits a more strategic solution. Usually the latter is the movement towards greater organisational integration. This will only be successful if the primary goal (and this may no longer be cost but service harmonisation) is clear, and determined efforts are made to reach it.
There are challenges to be faced in the tactical sharing of professionals, but these become more pronounced as integration becomes the aim. Good preparation and execution of the necessary staff work remains, but the requirement to have proper governance arrangements in place becomes vital. Significant effort can be put into attempting to implement approaches such as these described here but, with limited resources it is essential that value is delivered. This may require significant cultural change and involve disruption to those who are actually making the decisions. These ideas will only work if all the partners have the required commitment – it’s easy to talk about transformation when it involves other people.
The work also raised some questions. Should any change be organic with ad hoc linking up of services, or should there be some scenario planning around a more considered approach to reconfiguring service delivery? There is perhaps the opportunity to undertake some ‘what if’ modelling around changing operating models to see how these could potentially reduce cost and improve service delivery, before starting down an implementation path based purely on short-term, reactive thinking.