Continued progress on transforming public services in Ireland and reducing public spending will depend on a further step-change in people and HR management capability, to deliver higher-quality and lower-cost front line services.

This is one of the central messages from a new report by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development in Ireland, which is designed to help policy makers and public sector employers continue to build on the progress in transforming public services outlined in the Implementation Body’s recent second progress report.

The report, Boosting HR performance in the Irish public sector, highlights the importance of organisations building the people management skills required in order to lead, support and embed changes in behaviour and new ways of working on the front line.

The paper argues that success will hinge on whether managers are equipped with the leadership skills to engage and empower staff. It demonstrates, through a range of case studies, the critical role HR plays in supporting lasting public service improvement, which, if replicated more widely, would successfully help the sector meet the challenges it faces.

Ben Willmott, CIPD Head of Public Policy: said: “Public service transformation is critically dependent on developing new skills, changing engrained behaviours and managing the uncertainty and conflict that can arise as a result. Unless HR is involved at the heart of this process to ensure the key people management issues are addressed, this research suggests public service reform plans in Ireland will not reach their potential.

“Public sector leaders need to build the necessary people management capability in their organisations to encourage and enable those on the frontline of service delivery to go the extra mile and respond to the needs to service users.”

Boosting HR performance in the Irish public sector showcases the importance of effective change management and organisational development in supporting employee engagement, positive employee relations and effective workforce planning. It also argues that HR in the public sector needs to adopt greater use of shared HR services or outsourcing to allow it to increase efficiency and free up resources to provide more strategic support for front line service delivery improvement.

Niamh O’Donoghue, the General Secretary of Ireland’s Department of Social Protection, who contributed to the report, believes that HR is at a crossroads. She said: “The public service reform agenda provides both an opportunity and a challenge. HR can build and establish its reputation as a key strategic function if it is at the heart of managing change, helping to facilitate service delivery redesign and building the necessary leadership and management skills for sustained public service transformation.

“However, if HR is preoccupied by its traditional activities, such as hand-holding line managers, then it will be left behind and its reputation as a transactional function will be reinforced. The case studies in this report show how HR is already underpinning successful public sector transformation – I hope this report provides useful guidance to support the adoption of best practice across the sector in Ireland.”