Expanding the candidate pool in an active chief executive jobs market

Expanding the candidate pool in an active chief executive jobs market

Jes Ladva, Odgers Berndtson Group – Odgers Interim and Odgers Connect Managing Partner and Head of Practice for Local and Central Government, explores the challenges of finding the right candidate amid a flurry of local authority Chief Executive appointments.

The local government Chief Executive jobs market is in the midst of an active phase. In recent months we have seen a wave of significant appointments, and more are in the offing. It has been a busy time for us.

There was a flurry of appointments at County Councils, with new Chief Executives placed at Surrey, West Sussex, Wiltshire and Hertfordshire. The situation was mirrored at City Councils, in particular the core cities, with many talented Chief Executives moving on to pastures new from high profile roles in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester, Birmingham – Joanne Roney, who has a CBE for services to local government, has in fact made the move from Manchester to Birmingham – Nottingham and Bristol.

For the latter, it was a pleasure to be involved in delivering an extraordinarily high quality field leading to the placing of Paul Martin in an interim capacity following Stephen Peacock’s decision to take over as the Chief Executive for the West of England Mayoral Combined Authority.

Another interesting appointment in which we played a part was Mel Barrett’s move from Nottingham City Council to be the new Chief Executive of Metropolitan Thames Valley Housing, founded in the 1950s to provide homes for the Windrush generation. His move is an example of a topic on which I have written for some time now, namely porosity – by which in this context I mean the flow of top talent into and out of local government from other sectors.

It is a trend to be encouraged because search criteria that are too narrow can preclude the best candidates for a job, and relevant expertise may lie in places some organisations might fail to consider. That is why as part of my responsibilities at Odgers I sit on our Head of Practice Board with colleagues from across the spectrum of our business (Financial Services, Consumer & Retail, Manufacturing, Utilities, Energy, Healthcare, Sports & Entertainment…).

Of course, we talk about economic conditions and market trends. But we also discuss the interesting, high-profile assignments we are handling. These are not predicated by a single sector, rather they are predicated by leadership abilities. In other words, this is a mechanism for encouraging and facilitating porosity, for unearthing the best solutions to the briefs from our clients. Wherever they might be found. Sector agnostic, if you will.

That said, the majority of high-profile appointments in local government will continue to come from within that sector. However, I have observed an interesting shortlist trend that is worth exploring. Around 18 months ago, the composition of shortlists was typically 75% aspiring first-time Chief Executives and 25% experienced candidates; whereas today, the balance has shifted slightly to circa 80% aspiring and 20% experienced.

As one would expect, experienced Chief Executives often have the edge. However, the point I want to make is that this is a limited talent pool, and it is unsustainable to bank on an unending merry go round of Chief Executives moving from one Council to the next.

The alternatives are porosity, as already mentioned, or making an investment in the future by hiring executive talent from the next rung down. But how to make sure talent of this kind is not only willing but ready to make that step up? At Odgers, we pride ourselves on our market-leading talent assessment skills, which are augmented with practical leadership development tools such as our mock interview programme (please contact me for more information) for aspiring Chief Executives.

Making the right choice is vital given that the role of local government Chief Executive is harder than ever. Workforce of the Future, a recent report by County Councils Network and PwC, notes that: “Leadership roles in the sector are becoming increasingly more challenging to fill. Now more than ever, local government needs its leadership teams to play a vital role in shaping transformation to execute strategic and budgetary objectives. To do this, they need to ensure they are performing effectively, with clear purpose, capabilities, and accountabilities to successfully drive forward the changes required to transform.”

Moreover, the report picked up on the need for stronger employer branding in light of the widespread belief that “local government is not currently proactive enough at showcasing the positive impact of the work and the initiatives it leads on and does not currently drive the narrative about work within the sector.”

Local government Chief Executives have a lot on their plates, yet they work wonders – sometimes in very demanding circumstances. If you are succession planning or if you are a candidate looking to develop your skills and/or make a move, please do get in touch.  


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