Belton Council is a district council that is generally recognized as BEIng a very well run and capable local authority. It is particularly goOD at dealing with the environment and, as the Chief Executive sAId: 'We tend to care so passionately about our environment that we focus an almost disproportionate amount of our resources on environmental issues'. He further commented that the critical success factors for the authority were meeting the perceived needs of the community, creating customer satisfaction with the services provided and, importantly, 'an overall appreciation of the effectiveness of members of staff and the contribution they make towards the organization as a whole'.
The following comments were made by the Chief Executive on how corporate strategy was developed:
We do not have a single document which says 'this is the Belton Council corporate strategy'. What we do have are tHRee processes which run in parallel and together represent the corporate strategy. These comprise a general strategy for developing services, a management strategy which concentrates on the managerial processes which we need to design to bring out the best in the organization, and the key areas for achievement document which focuses on specific actions.
Strategies are developed by a top-down, bottom-up process. The members of the Council, the policymakers, deBATe the strategic issues from which firm strategic proposals would develop. Individual members of staff are then given opportunities to contribute… A distinguishing feature of all our corporate strategy work has been the opportunity for widespread invoLVement in the process.
It is incredibly important that within an organization there is somebody who has the personal responsibility for monitoring, EVAluating and reviewing the effectiveness of that organization… That strategic management role lies at the heart of the Chief Executive's responsibility.
The Director of Planning commented as follows on the process of strategic planning:
The reality is you CHOose directions and you move in particular directions, then all sorts of things happen that you can't possibly have conceived of, and you weave these into your strategy. Strategy is rooted in the vision and the culture… Life's very complicated, there are no easy solutions, and you don't start at go when you throw a six and proceed from there. You pick up a very complex jigsaw and you work through it. But the vision helps.
On how the top team operates, the Director of Planning said that:
The things we bring to the team are personal characteristics as much as the management skills we all learn at various stages… the fact that we have a spectrum of personalities strengthens the team.
The expressed values of the Council are concerned with caring for customers, employees and the environment, encouraging openness and trust, good communications and positive thinking, and on working together to improve the effectiveness of its services, providing high quality and value for money.
The challenge of change
The Chief Executive commented that:
The outstanding issue is managing change effectively because whatever happens, there is going to be a massive change over the next five years. HR must be able to respond to the changes that are coming. One of the outstanding areas for improvement is the process of translating corporate and other strategies right through the organization to individual level.
The Chief Executive stated that:
Human resource strategy has got to be owned by the top management body within an organization. Their commitment must be absolute, otherwise it simply won't be applied in practice. Everything flows from the corporate strategies we have set down. It's about having a very strong focus on the overall effectiveness of the organization, its direction and how it's performing. There is commitment to, and belief in, and respect for individuals, and I think that these are very important factors in an organization.
When asked how HR strategies were developed the Director of HR replied:
Initially what I did was to list all the activities in which we were currently involved in HR and sent a questionnaire to all the directors stating 'This is what we are doing' and asking: Do you want us to continue doing it? If so, do you want the same, or more, or less? Are we doing it well? Could we do it better? What are the things we are not doing that you think we ought to be doing?' The next thing I did was to have two open days in which I invited managers to come in and tell us what their perceptions of HR were. And this confirmed our eagerness to get rid of duplication and delays in HR matters. We were fast getting in the way and holding the whole process up. And that's where we got the agreement of the organization that empowerment should be our strategy.
On this strategy for empowerment, the Director of Technical Services remarked:
The positive aspect of the devolution of responsibility for HR is that it puts people management back where it should be.
Role of HR
The Director of Planning commented on the integrating role of the Director of HR as follows:
In the old days the Personnel Manager was not a member of the management team and I got used to a culture where personnel advice was not really part of strategic direction. And any debate there may have been at corporate level came out in the wash. It was not led by our Director of HR. She is now on a par with the rest of us in terms of status and contribution and she brings the whole of the HR angle into the debate.
What do you think of the processes of planning described in this case? What are its strengths and what, if any, are its weaknesses? To what extent do you think that the way planning is handled in this local authority provides good practice lessons for other types of organizations?
Perhaps the most important lesson from this case is that it illustrates a fully integrated HR function where, without recourse to calling herself a ‘business partner’ the Director of HR demonstrated that she was playing an important part in the team alongside the Chief Executive and the other directors.