A time for reflection

Matt Jones and Rachael Morris assess the current HR and OD landscape from a Penna perspective, and look back at a successful PPMA conference which highlighted a lot of positives for the future.

One of the highlights of Penna's year as a premium sponsor of Public Services People Managers' Association (PPMA) events is attending the most important HR conference in the calendar. This year the PPMA annual conference took place on 24-26 April in Birmingham, and – as with previous years – included a prestigious gala dinner.

We had the privilege of presenting three awards all focused on our priority of identifying and supporting talent; Best Talent Programme, Rising Star and One To Watch, and our director Julie Towers had the honour of receiving the PPMA Special Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Sector.

Having now had a couple of weeks to reflect, the conference was a huge success. It offered a fantastic opportunity to network, listen and learn from a great variety of speakers and topics such as talent management, the power of brand, being an inclusive leader, collaboration and being creative in the workplace to name just a few. With many public sector organisations experiencing recruitment and retention difficulties it highlights the importance of all the mentioned topics and how human resources (HR) and organisational development (OD) can help shape organisational change now more than ever.

Congratulations to the nominees and the award winners from the gala dinner – we are proud to be part of an industry that recognises amazing contributions and brings together the public sector ‘best in class' HR and OD professionals in one place. Here are a few reflective thoughts about where the emphasis should be this year for those within HR and OD.

The ‘brand of local government' needs HR and OD's support

We have argued for some time now, that the local government brand has needed attention and focus. By 2030 The Economist expects the number of 18-year-olds to rise by 25%, so how can we excite this new generation to enter the world of public service? Succession planning remains a focus, but should there be more of a focus on building a talent academy? One speaker argued for this and explained that HR and OD play a vital role in shaping the future workforce. Together we can do more to accelerate an academy approach, which won't work without sector collaboration – this was a key message throughout the conference.

Creating a culture of ‘creative problem solvers'

One session which stood out was the notion of being a creative problem solver which had the room thinking about how organisational culture can breed new innovative ideas. It's exactly HR and OD's role to help shape this, whether it be simply creating better working conditions through agile working or by refreshing values and behaviours to fit a modern workforce. Once working conditions have been met, organisations will have a greater understanding of the employee mindset and then be able to disrupt the norms.

While taking risks and trying new things can be perceived by some as a daunting task, it's been proven time and time again that it can breed solutions. Much of the public sector faces similar challenges, whether that be increased demand, financial, infrastructure, cultural or sustainability challenges to name a few, but how often do we make the time to look ‘up and outside' of our own organisation to try and understand how others might be tackling the issue?

A flexible workforce needs flexible technology

The term flexible working can mean different things to different people, and we need to ensure there is an individual approach to flexibility. We've already seen a four-day week trial occur at South Cambridgeshire DC, and the Government's response to this, but it's important to recognise this might not work for everyone. Creating a workplace value proposition which focuses specifically on the benefits provided by the physical workplace becomes critical to understanding what the draw is for future employees.

IQ alone is not enough to thrive as a leader

Being a leader in the HR and OD community can be ambiguous, complex, and even uncertain but it can also be rewarding, motivating, and inspiring. However, during one session it was argued that ‘IQ alone is not enough to thrive as a leader' – emotional quotient (EQ) and cultural quotient (CQ) need to be considered. The six signature traits an inclusive leader needs are:

1. Commitment – being dedicated to reach a goal

2. Courage – talking about imperfections involves personal risk-taking

3. Cognisance – be aware of bias

4. Curiosity – think differently

5. Collaborative – promotes diverse and new thinking

6. Cultural Intelligence – not everyone thinks or sees things in the same way

At Penna, we want to change the conversation and encourage new thinking in the public sector, providing a platform for thought leadership, innovation, and new ways of working. On the theme of developing leaders and helping them thrive, our aspirant chief executive programme which looks at exactly how IQ, EQ, and CQ blend to provide today's leaders with the skills and abilities needed to lead today's organisation, just as was discussed at the PPMA conference.

Our role is to support, recognise, nurture, and promote the next generation of HR and OD leaders. The PPMA has incredible talent programmes and Penna is working together with them to support the next generation of directors. We recently released a webinar featuring tips and tricks on how aspirant HR and OD directors can land in this space, what to do to get there and what support you might need along the way. View online at to find out more.

The future of HR and OD is certainly in safe hands as we start to look ahead to the 2025 PPMA Conference.

Matt Jones is a senior consultant in Penna's executive interim practice and Rachael Morris is a senior consultant in Penna's executive search practice

If you want a conversation about how Penna can help you, get in contact at

This article is sponsored content for The MJ


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