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John Dodd

John Dodd



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Thought Leadership


Commercial Skills Required

Bringing further commercial skills into certain parts of the public sector will continue to be a key priority, as the need for transformational change, financial performance and strong leadership is increasingly important. Benefits can include:

  • Introducing a more customer-centric approach
  • Streamlining operational effectiveness, deepening appreciation of cost-control
  • Commercialising the operation with an increased focus upon return-on-investment
  • Developing more effective MI systems, thereby enabling better business decision-making
  • Opening up new revenue streams
  • Innovative leadership with clarity of vision

Wickland Westcott is at the vanguard of this movement, helping to bring valuable commercial skills to public sector employers, and in this article we seek to share some of the challenges and pitfalls to be avoided when looking to facilitate such moves.

Avoiding the pitfalls

The first potential pitfall is a loss of conviction on behalf of the recruiting organisation. That is, having articulated a desire to take on leaders who will really shake things up and bring commercially-driven challenge, the organisation wavers in its commitment at the first sign of ruffled feathers. There can be no omelette without broken eggs, and therefore before commencing such a change programme the organisation should ideally test and explore the extent to which it is ready to change, fully evaluating the implications of doing so.

Sometimes it can go too far the other way, of course. The second pitfall – less common but nevertheless real - occurs where the recruiting organisation envisages the recent recruit as a new messiah. In such circumstances the organisation can abandon certain processes, procedures or even cultural norms that have underpinned its previous success. The trick, of course, is in balancing the old with the new – preserving the core whilst stimulating progress (as Jim Collins identified in Good to Great).

The third pitfall involves selecting the wrong person. As Search specialists we know where to look, and will refine our search depending on the precise requirements and culture of the recruiting organisation. For example, it is often the case that people who have worked in a large, complex and regulated commercial environment make a relatively easy transition into public service. In our experience, this hinges on their appreciation of policy combined with an understanding of the need to engage diverse stakeholder groups. People can make the move from fast-paced, entrepreneurial businesses, especially if they have a strong sense of vocation, but the gap is larger and the risk of failure greater. The deployment of rigorous assessment processes, of course, helps identify those most likely to succeed. Indeed Tests Direct, a Wickland Westcott subsidiary business, is currently developing a psychometric specifically to measure people’s ability to make this transition.

Having found the right person, there is still one further pitfall to be avoided – the risk that they will become marooned – a fish out of water in their new environment. Two specific actions help here. The first is a comprehensive induction programme that covers not just the hard facts but also the softer issues such as relationships, behavioural norms and expectations. The second helpful boost for a new recruit is to introduce him/her to informal networks of like-minded individuals, including either an internal and/or external mentor with whom they can share ideas.

Rare skills available

In summary, for public sector recruiters looking to strengthen their skills-base there is a ready-made market of talented people in the private sector. To ensure successful transitions, however, the process needs to be managed carefully and sensitively. When choosing a Search partner to work with therefore, rather than giving the role to a public sector recruitment specialist, give it to a consultancy like Wickland Westcott that also understands the needs and drivers of private sector employees. This will get you the best candidates who will arrive motivated and tuned-in to their new challenge.

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