Leveraging the Croke Park Agreement

A lack of a vision or lack of a planned approach are just as likely to be barriers to successful implementation of agreements like Croke Park as union resistance or employee reluctance to accept changes, writes Conor Hannaway.

Conor Hannaway
Conor Hannaway

One of the most interesting parts of the HMI Regional Forum in Ardee last month was to hear the discussion on how managers can best utilise the Croke Park Agreement.  Brian Kirwan, Assistant National Director HR, made the point that the Croke Park Agreement provided a very effective process, based on consultation, to achieve changes which would modernise services and achieve significant cost sayings.

It has always been the case that when agreements of this sort are put in place, failure to implement rests more at the door of managers. A lack of a vision or lack of a planned approach are just as likely to be barriers to successful implementation as union resistance or employee reluctance to accept changes.  It can simply be a matter of managers not knowing where to begin.

A recent research paper by the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development entitled ‘Building Productive Public Sector Workplaces’, June 2012 sheds valuable light on the opportunities for managers and how they should go about it.  The paper takes an holistic approach and identifies also the role of HR (as would be expected) and of Government in terms of specific initiatives which it will take to support the change agenda.

It is hard to see how the quality of service we all aspire to see – employees and citizens alike – can be achieved without putting the enthusiasm, commitment and knowledge of public service employees at the forefront of delivery strategies.

The researchers differentiated between what can be changed and how the changes can be effected. Examples of the former include: enhanced policy-making, more effective service delivery and more efficient models of service delivery and reducing costs of service delivery.

From a HR perspective, achieving these high-level objectives will require facing up to a series of challenges including enhanced working across boundaries, developing leadership and management capability, lean working, staff engagement, service transformation based on customer focus, managing employee relations issues, workforce planning/talent management and building HR effectiveness.

For managers, one thing is clear: It is not possible to remain doing the same things in the same way and hope that change will stem from trying to do things a little bit better.  Transformational change comes from the interaction of three critical factors – having a vision of change based on high-level objectives (as described above), achieving system changes and engaging staff. These are the three cardinal ways in which managers can leverage the Croke Park Agreement.

The opportunities for system change have been highlighted by many of the speakers at HMI Regional Fora over the past year.  Some of the key changes include making optimum use of ICT capabilities, implementation of shared services, enhanced financial management, outsourcing, reducing property footprints, performance management and elimination of waste.

The paper refers to the MacLeod report on employee engagement which provides a best practice model for organisations seeking to improve the level of buy-in to change and the new ways of working.  They identify four key components of the employee engagement agenda:

  • Senior managers set out a clear narrative that people can understand and support.
  • Managers, at all levels, have effective people management competencies.
  • Employees are informed, involved and respected.
  • There is a consistency between espoused values and what they actually do.

The importance of engagement is stressed in the introduction of the MacLeod report. “It is hard to see how the quality of service we all aspire to see – employees and citizens alike – can be achieved without putting the enthusiasm, commitment and knowledge of public service employees at the forefront of delivery strategies.”  Engagement, not negotiation, is at the heart of implementation of the Croke Park Agreement.