Local Government: Transformation or Culture Change – Is it the same thing?

After a lengthy reputation as the “softer” sector, the one where people just plod along, with a misconstrued perception of easy hours and an easy life; in recent years Local Government has fought back and proven that it is fast becoming incredibly resilient, innovative and creative. Having rivalled the private sector with its ability to change, adapt and explore new models of working.

We have seen outsourced services, Local Authority Trading Companies and fully integrated teams across Local Government and the NHS which exist not just based on colocation but also on an inherent understanding that financial troubles are a shared problem.

So many would argue now that “Transformation” is the norm within Local Government and is actually just a part of their day-to-day activity. Gone are the days of looking outside for the answer; paying a fortune for a ‘big 4’ consultancy to tell you how to tackle your budget issues. Now, senior management teams are taking full responsibility for thinking outside of the box about how their business should operate in the most cost effective way, whilst keeping the customer at the heart of what they do.

The next question the sector is facing however is; what are the true core principles of their transformation plans? Is this about streamlining processes, reducing headcount and getting a better deal on contracts for services? Alternatively, is it something else? Having supported the sector for 7 years as an exec recruiter, I have certainly seen a shift in terminology and focus and the current topic of conversation is; should we be talking about ‘Business Change’ or ‘Transformation’ or actually should we be talking about ‘Culture Change’?

In recent conversations with directors, I have heard many references to organisational development being the number one priority for the authority, with investment in those skills to compliment current teams. We have seen HR fall under the remit of the Director of Transformation to ensure that the HR/OD function is not a reactive support function but instead embedded in each directorate to allow them to get to grips with current cultures and take it upon themselves to drive improvement in this area.

Unfortunately, reduced headcount is apparent in almost every authority in the UK as a direct consequence of budget pressures. Therefore now the sector has to think about not just how their IT systems and back office functions support better, but also how they get the best out of the teams that remain and encourage people to adapt to change rather than seeing it as a negative. If transformation and change is part of the day job for a director, then it makes sense for it to be the same for all levels. If we encourage people across all teams to think differently and share ideas about improvements to working practices and processes, then the culture of the authority will thrive and the organisation’s challenges will seem evermore achievable.

In summary, the answer seems to be that Transformation and Culture Change should come hand in hand. If it is truly at the heart of what you are trying to achieve, then when talking about change and improvement, why not use the terms Organisational Development or Culture Change instead? If the language becomes the norm, then the ambition to improve culture also does, in the same way that transformation is just part of the day job.

By Gemma Parlor, Business Manager - Local Government - Interim & Executive


Recruitment , HR , Local Government , NHS , Public Sector
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