Thursday 7 April 2016

Is this the beginning of the end of Brent Council's Human Resources scandal?

Brent Council has announced the appointment of a new Director of Human Resources. This is the post currently held on an interim basis by Mildred Phillips, who took over when Cara Davani left the Council. Presumably Phillips will now revert to her previous deputy role.

David Veale is expected to take up the post in July. He is currently the Assistant Director of Human Resources and Organisational Development in Ealing, a post he has held for 4 years.

Mildred Phillips was notable by her absence at the recent Scrutiny Committee where Michael Pavey  protested that the report on progress on his HR Review, that she had written, had not been submitted to him for approval prior to publication.

Pavey remarked at Scrutiny that the report felt like 'a ceremonial closing of the Pavey Review' he went on to say, 'as the actions are ticked off, I have a lingering concern that we will lose the imperative which launched this [review] process in the first place.

It will be David Veale's job to ensure that imperative is not lost and that the battle for racial equality and an end to bullying and harassment becomes a top priority in practical terms for Brent Council.

Veales has had experience of a dysfunctional HR department at Ealing where this was said about the department LINK:
In 2006 an Audit Commission report painted a gloomy picture of the HR function at Ealing Council. The troubled department was failing to provide a good HR service to the organisation and bringing little added value.

The team was feeling demotivated, overworked and unproductive following an intense period of restructuring. With so much on their plates, team members had lost sight of the big picture. A series of rapid changes in leadership, with five HR directors in almost as many years, had also lowered morale. The structure of the senior HR team meant that the five key senior leaders, each responsible for a vital HR function, worked in isolation.

To improve the service, the senior HR team needed to be re-energised and prepared for further change. Recognising this, Hilary Jeanes, the interim HR director at the time, appointed Paul Fairhurst and some of his colleagues from the Institute for Employment Studies to conduct a bespoke strengths-focused coaching scheme for the HR leadership team. The aim was to support the senior leaders through this difficult time, rebuild their confidence and help develop them as managers and inspirational leaders.
A six month coaching programme was instigated with some sessions off-site, away from the frontline:

David Veale working Ealing HR consultancy at the time said in his evaluation of the programme:
The programme gave me a clear understanding of my strengths and the activities I enjoy doing at work, as well as those I find more challenging. It helped me step back from difficult situations and view them more objectively. I feel much more confident, and as a team we are less stressed, less reactive and more focused on outcomes.
 The case study concluded:

Lessons learned:

  • Ignoring weaknesses turns them into problems. Focus on your strengths, and make sure you know the strengths of those around you.
  • Overworked, exhausted staff need thinking space, but a re-energised team can have the determination to tackle bigger challenges ahead with enthusiasm.
  • Change is a constant, but preparing people for it, rather than inflicting it upon them, is well worth the investment. 
It is to be hoped that these lessons and others learned in the interim will contribute to a change of culture at Brent HR.

Meanwhile the 'Guinness' model of Brent Council management (white on top and black below) has been changed to some extent by the appointment of BAME candidates. Althea Loderick succeeds Stephen Hughes as Strategic Director of Resources and Amar Dave takes over from Lorraine Langham as Director for Regeneration and Environment.

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