Careers Advice: Developing your planning team on a budget

Written by: Dean Hermitage
Published on: 18 Jun 2018


Making the transition from planner to planning manager can be a significant leap personally and professionally. After having spent years honing a specific set of skills and working on projects as part of a team, you now find yourself leading one.  One of the biggest challenges can be developing and building your team; this is particularly so if on a squeezed, local authority budget. There is a lot of guidance and management theory already out there to help, but here are a few pointers that have served me well. 

Being Mindful of Your Role

The Manager’s role is to create and maintain an environment conducive to your team achieving results.  It is no longer one of a case officer. To ensure that there is time to support, mentor and lead your team members, you will undoubtedly find yourself having to trust others to take a lead on specific projects and applications. Allow team members to develop by gaining their own experience.

Get to know the team

Find out what motivates each team member. Many will have ambitions of dealing with major projects, others may enjoy mentoring and coaching inexperienced staff. Some may be content with processing a voluminous caseload of householder applications and not want to venture further.  Development and progression does not take the same form for all.

Recruitment and Retention

It is very much a candidate’s market right now. Staff turnover is natural but you want to retain your key officers as much as possible. Try to ensure that there is a bespoke appraisal regime and professional development plans in place for staff. An experienced chief planner once told me to always aim to bring in new recruits at the bottom of your team structure, and develop existing staff through to the more senior posts as they become vacant.  The ‘grow your own’ principle has many advantages including reducing staff turnover, and developing officers loyal to you and the organisation and who feel valued and invested-in.

Training and Development

Supporting officers through post-graduate training and attendance at training events is obviously beneficial to all involved, but it can stretch a local planning authority training budget (assuming you have one in the first place). However, training and development does not have to be expensive. Many Chambers, and specialist solicitors offer free training events; annual planning law updates are particularly useful.

Ensuring that your organisation subscribes to an established professional group or association that offers attendance at inexpensive seminars and training events can also provide a cost-efficient route to developing staff. Planning Officers' Associations, POS and organisations like Urban Design London are worth exploring in this regard.

If your organisation tends to use a particular consultant, barrister or specialist on a regular basis, invite them to provide a training session for your officers on their specialism.  They are often happy to spare an hour or two to maintain a good working relationship with a local authority client.

Budget cuts do not have to equate to training and development vacuum.

Finally, don’t forget team morale

Being a planning officer in a local authority can sometimes appear to be a thankless task.  As a manager you are unlikely to be able to award staff a bonus, or be able to pay for a staff event.  But team-building sessions or an away-day do not need to be at cost. Consider what assets your organisation has that you can put to use at little or no cost. A council-owned venue or sports facility can facilitate an afternoon out of the office, reduce stress and boost morale.  This month I am taking my team for an afternoon of lawn bowls – at no cost.

Dean Hermitage is head of development management at Haringey Council