Most local authority chief executives are heavily engaged in transforming their councils, in response to the resourcing pressures. Could they be doing more to achieve radical innovations more quickly and more successfully? From our recent interviews with 12 chief executives from larger authorities we believe many of them could.
We found that many chief executives were doing some of the things that encourage innovative working across an organisation, but that few had a comprehensive and systematic approach to fostering innovation.
How were chief executives encouraging innovation?
Most chief executives were optimistic and positive about the future. They had all consulted local residents about future priorities and supported politicians in agreeing their councils’ ambitions. Most had identified the major areas for radical innovations. Many had been striving to get the ‘right people’ in their top teams. Many talked passionately about the importance of honest, two-way communication (with employees, service users, residents and partners). All were conscious of the importance of employee morale, and the challenge of maintaining it given jobs losses and other major changes. And most were encouraging managers and employees to think about how they might ‘do things differently’. All were engaged in a range of cross-organisational and cross-boundary initiatives. And most had systematic ways of driving and tracking progress, to deliver new initiatives–with many highlighting the importance of their programme and project management systems in turning ideas into reality.
So what more might they do?
Not all chief executives were:
- Developing explicit politically supported policies on managing risk, including a no blame approach to intelligent failures.
- Working on getting the pace of innovation right, including creating as many positive moments as possible.
- Ensuring that their managers had a deep understanding of their services users’ aspirations and priorities.
- Deliberately attracting, retaining and making the most of employees with the skills and attitudes required to implement innovations.
- Working with unusual partners, such as people from the creative sector.
- Ensuring that organisational practices encouraged innovation.
- Safeguarding time for reflection and creative thinking.
- Recognising, rewarding and celebrating innovations.
And very few were:
- Ensuring that a major proportion of top team (politicians and senior managers) time and effort was focussed on achieving major innovations.
- Putting innovation processes in place, appropriate to each service.
- Ensuring that managers successfully operated these processes.
- Protecting those working on radical innovations from day to day work and organisational pressures.
- Involving ‘leading’ service users and front line staff in innovation processes.
- Looking at new places for fresh ideas, e.g. the creative sector, the private sector, other countries.
- Employing sufficient people with expertise in: a) innovation processes and b) the opportunities provided by latest new technology and social media.
Taking a comprehensive approach
To capture the key actions chief executives can take to support and accelerate innovation, we’ve created a ‘Local Council’s Innovation Framework’: http://creativity.city.ac.uk/accelerating_local_govt_innov.html. The current Framework is a draft, so please let us know what you think of it by 28th February 2012. Post your comments below or email them to: email@example.com
In late March, having reviewed your comments, we will issue a revised version of the Framework. Under each of the factors, we will be adding quotes from chief executives as well as examples of the actions they are taking. We will also create an anonymous electronic benchmarking tool, so that chief executives can compare their scores against different aspects of the Framework.
We will be using the Framework as the basis for more detailed research with frontline staff in two or three councils. If you would like more information about what this please email: firstname.lastname@example.org or ring: 0779 2952 498.