Look beyond your sector to foster future success

In today’s challenging political and economic circumstances – austerity, reducing public spending, and pressure for social change – the public sector, not-for-profits and businesses  are all facing tougher conditions than ever. Each are being forced to look outside themselves in order to meet the challenges ahead.

Before we jump into examining how to address these challenges let’s start by examining the challenges being faced by each sector more closely.

1. Public sector

In government and the public sector the pressure is on to source new skills and resources so that it can continue to deliver services and meet its goals in the face of a shrinking public purse.

“As a result of our aging population by 2020 the Local Government Association predicts a £14.4 billion gap between the demand for public services and supply.”

2. Charities and other not-for-profits

The third sector is faced with continuing to support people in a climate of increasing economic hardship and political pressure.

Political austerity is likely to shape the next decade, with many predicting an extended period of low growth and public sector austerity. At the same time, social demand is rising and, in some crucial areas, becoming more complex.

How can they continue to thrive?

3. The commercial world

The challenges here are multi-faceted and affected by cultural shifts as much as politics or economics. Increasingly the entire workforce, not just those with caring responsibilities, are seeking more than a secure, 9 to 5 job. They want flexible working patterns that fit with their lifestyle.

Not only this but the younger generations in particular also want their employers to make a positive contribution to the world.

How do businesses make what they offer more appealing at a time when the pressure is on to ensure doing good in the world goes hand in hand with making a profit?

“In less than a generation we have witnessed a tectonic shift in the way people think about and work toward social change. The reasons are myriad and stem from both disaffection – impatience with existing programmes and policies – and idealism – a profound desire for meaningful work that makes a positive impact on the world.”
former McKinsey executive Georgia Levenson Keohane

The answer – increase career path fluidity between sectors

Leading Across the Sectors, a paper published at the end of last year by Collaborate and the Clore Social Leadership Programme, suggests the best way to meet these challenges is to increase sector collaboration.

They suggest that encouraging career paths that move fluidly between sectors at all levels but particularly at the leadership level is the answer.

Whatever your sector,bringing in new people with new ways of thinking can be the key that opens the door to achieving your organisation’s goals and delivering better services in today’s challenging political and economic environment.

“Encouraging career movement across the sectors helps to achieve more creative, adaptive and collaborative practice; fosters empathy and openness; and encourages people to think outside of traditional solution-sets and lead across boundaries.”
Leading Across the Sectors

We’ve seen it work for our clients. We’ve placed senior executives from both the commercial and not-for-profit sectors into public sector organisations. These individuals are creating change from within, improving processes and driving innovation.

Overcoming the barriers to cross sector recruitment

However, taking action to bring this about is easier said than done. There are both internal and external barriers to opening up your organisation, and your recruitment process, to people from outside your sector.

The Leading Across the Sectors report suggests the following principles be used as a framework to build a culture where cross sector careers paths are successful.

Provide incentives

Give individuals a good reason to think about working in a different sector. Changing sectors might not be a motivation in itself, but being able to work part-time, flexibly or closer to home may be.

Could you offer internships, returnships or secondments to foster closer cross sector relationships?

Break down stereotypes

There are real differences between the sectors that both put candidates off applying and prejudice recruiters. If you don’t address these then it will be difficult to create a diverse workforce.

Not all commercial employees are purely driven by money, the public sector aren’t all process driven bureaucrats, and the not-for-profits aren’t full of do-gooders.

Start with a recognition there is good and bad in all sectors and that each can learn from each other.

Embrace cultural differences

Working patterns, decision making, performance measurement, reward and career progression can be very different across the sectors. These can come as shock to sector-hoppers. But these differences can be turned into an advantage with the right attitude.

What can you learn from how others do things? Create opportunities, perhaps via networking, to learn from leaders in other sectors.

Focus on the similarities that exist. For instance, whatever the sector large organisations with a large bureaucracy and hierarchy will face similar issues.

Think beyond experience

If you only look at the amount of relevant experience a candidate brings to a role, the danger is you’ll end up with more of the same. Recruit for talent and potential, considering the values and transferable skills that make someone effective in the role. Could someone with a different background bring those qualities to the role?

Rethink the recruitment process

How can you make sure your recruitment process is appealing to different types of people.  For instance people used to the more informal recruitment processes of the private sector can find the application forms and formal interview process required in other sectors daunting. And vice versa.

Think about your job descriptions. Are you inadvertently putting off those outside your sector with impenetrable jargon? Try to use language that makes outsiders feel welcome and makes it clear you welcome difference.

Lastly, do your recruiters understand how to look beyond your sector and recruit for aptitude and attitude?

Balance risk and reward

There’s no escaping the fact that salaries are not equal across the sectors and many argue that the public sector and not-for-profits can’t hope to compete until there is equality. However that isn’t likely to happen in this climate, so what can be done?

Why should someone come to a lower paying sector? Could you offer a senior position on a part-time basis? Perhaps you have other benefits you offer that are appealing. Flexibility? More holiday? Social purpose?

Go beyond recruitment

Valuing difference needs to extend beyond the recruitment process and become part of your organisation’s culture.

How does your induction welcome outsiders? Do you actively support people to form the right relationships and support networks?

You could do this by buddying, mentoring or coaching, for both existing staff and new staff. Use your internal communications channels to promote the benefits of difference within your organisation and break down the resistance to new ways of thinking.

What do sector-hoppers bring to the table?

Much depends on the individual and on the conditions outlined above, however there is a great deal to be gained by smoothing the path to bringing ‘outsiders’ at all levels into the fold.

The challenges facing all sectors today are very real. Standing still will not address them. Embracing and encouraging difference can.

Individuals who hop sectors can bring valuable techniques, knowledge and processes from one sector into another. Ideas can be cross-fertilised. Exposure to different ways of thinking can help your organisation remove any blinkers – there are always blinkers – and challenge accepted truths that could be holding you back.

If you think your organisation could benefit from cross sector collaboration we can help you address the issues covered in this article so that you can benefit from all that thinking outside the sector box can bring.

To find out more about how we could help your organisation bring in diverse talent register with us, or drop us an email today: nici@talentgateway.net


Leading Across the Sectors, Clore Social Leadership Programme &and Collaborate 2014 http://www.cloresocialleadership.org.uk/userfiles/documents/Research%20reports/2012/Research,%20Caroline%20Hukins,%20FINAL.pdf

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