My resolution this year is to read more books. At least one a month. So far, so good.

I still love a real book. You can’t beat a good second-hand bargain from a charity shop – with real pages, well-thumbed (and well-loved?) by previous owners.

But it is 2017, and I like to read on my tablet too. It’s convenient.

So like a lot of people, when it comes to reading, I’m a little bit old school and a little bit new school. Part analogue, part digital.

Which brings me to the point of this article. A lot of public services are trying to let their customers do more online.

It’s not always about saving money. Sometimes, it’s about meeting expectations.

And there’s often a balance between holding onto the more traditional parts of a service that people still value, while developing the new things that people expect. Providing services that are part analogue, part digital.

Libraries are a good example of that.

a social responsibility?

Most of us have used our local library at some point. I used mine the most when my children were young.

We’d spend ages picking our books, and it was a lovely weekly ritual. All those stories. Endless possibilities and adventures. It was great.

These days, you can do a lot in a library. Watch archived TV footage (we’ve got a fabulous British Film Institute resource in Wrexham).

Use the internet. Listen to music. Take part in workshops

But if you’re over 40, you can probably remember when libraries were all about the books. No computers. No films. No wi-fi.

You went there for the books. That was it.

Or was it?

For a lot of people, the physical act of going and choosing a book was part of the enjoyment. A quiet activity. But a social one all the same.

I think that’s still true. A lot of people still value the experience of going to the library, and they remain important physical spaces.

They fulfil a social need – not just an informational one.

For a lot of customers, it’s not just about finding something to read. It’s about going to the library to find something to read.

Libraries also provide lots of group activities – workshops, courses and clubs (we have a really popular coding club at Wrexham Library for example).

Again, a lot of people really enjoy the experience of going to the library to learn. It’s an important social thing.

the digital customer

But that doesn’t mean customers don’t expect to access library services online as well. They do. And libraries have worked hard to oblige.

For example, you can do a lot of things through the libraries section of our website – wrexham.gov.uk

You can:

  • Find books and check their availability across Wrexham and the rest of North Wales.
  • Renew or reserve books.
  • Get recommendations using the ‘who else writes like this?’ tool (great if you’ve read all the books by your favourite author) or the ‘who next?’ tool (useful if your child needs to progress to the next level).
  • Download e-books via services like Borrowbox and Welsh Libraries.
  • Download e-magazines and comics (this can save you an awful lot of money over time – see what the Welsh Libraries website has to say).
  • View extracts from over 10 million research and academic articles.
  • Find information on family history and ancestry – without having to pay a subscription.

That’s pretty good. And the kind of service that a lot of customers – who do their shopping, banking and other daily tasks online – would expect.

In future, you’ll probably see more creative digital skills being taught and practiced at libraries. Coding clubs, gaming, 3D printing and so on.

So as well as accessing library services digitally, more people will go to libraries to collaborate and get creative with digital technologies.

giving people what they want

So the point I’m trying to make, is that libraries are doing a great job of retaining the traditional things that customers value (e.g. the experience of going to the library), while developing the new things that customers expect (e.g. online services).

There’s probably a lesson here for all public services.

An analogy might be the iPhone. The basic concept hasn’t changed that much since its launch in 2007. It’s retained the things that Apple customers love (design, build quality, beautiful interface).

But it’s also continually evolved to make innovative use of technology and keep pace (or even shape) consumer expectations – introducing features like Siri, pressure-sensitive touch technology and so on.

It might seem odd to compare a library to a mobile phone. But their success boils down to the same thing: understanding customers.

taking the bevan principles beyond health-care

edwards-boyce-429x300

Recently I spent the day with these legends of men at an event for the Bevan Commission.

Now you might think this post is just an excuse to share the photograph! But it really isn’t.

Rugby icon Gareth Edwards and the one-and-only Max Boyce were putting their ‘legendaryness’ (new word?) behind The Prudent Approach – specifically in terms of health care.

They were helping us focus on the four Bevan Principles of:

1. Achieving health and well-being with the public, patients and professionals as equal partners through co-production.

2. Caring for those with the greatest need first, making the most effective use of skills and resources.

3. Doing only what is needed and doing no harm – no more, no less.

4. Reducing inappropriate variation using evidence-based practices consistently and transparently.

Now. I think these principles – in essence – can apply across all our public services, and not just health.

together in wrexham

One of the key themes behind these principles is the idea of enabling people and communities to be more self-reliant. In our own small way, we’re already doing this in Wrexham.

Last year I wrote about something called Together in Wrexham – a drive to encourage more individuals, communities and groups to come together to make a difference.

We’re helping residents willing to volunteer some time, knowledge or resources link-up with like-minded people to make things happen.

We’re also offering financial help through grants and loans.

Recent examples include The Gwerin y Coed Forest Group.

The group used a grant of £5,000 to expand its team of volunteers, who run weekly outdoor sessions for families of children with ADHD or autism.

The drug and alcohol support agency CAIS was also given a grant of £5,000 to support clean-up days.

Volunteers work with community councils to identify areas that need a bit of ‘TLC’, carrying out litter-picks, weeding, painting and other work.

And the Vic Studios – a social enterprise which provides recording and rehearsal space for young performers – was also given £4,995 to help it grow.

Did it make a difference?

Mike Corcoran, a volunteer at the studio, says: “At the point of applying for Together in Wrexham funding, Vic Studios was just opening its doors as a newly formed, independent social enterprise.

“The funds were essential to support our organisational development, growth and the re-launch of the studios, having previously been operated as a local authority service until 2015.

“Since then, we’ve seen our young beneficiaries perform to huge crowds in Wrexham town centre as part of the Focus Wales music festival, provided specialist support to over 130 individuals with a variety of complex needs, and welcomed almost 1,000 people back into Vic Studios to record, rehearse and get creative.”

Yes. I think it did.

We have lots of other examples of Together in Wrexham helping people and communities become more self-reliant.

We’re not changing the world, but we’re putting some of the Bevan Principles into practice – across many walks of life.

It feels like we’re starting to help people and communities take ownership of the things they want to own.

That’s a good thing.

To find out more, visit the Together in Wrexham website.

Think about your home. Is it safe, warm and weatherproof?

Somewhere you can return to at the end of the day and feel happy and comfortable?

I hope the answer is ‘yes.’ It should be. Because everyone should be able to live in a good quality home. It’s a basic need, and a basic right.

So whose job is it to make that happen?

To some extent, it’s ours. The public sector.

For starters, we have a role to play in making sure the conditions are right for commercial developers.

We need builders to build houses (albeit in the right places and to the right spec) so we can meet the needs of people looking to get on the property ladder, move to the area and so on.

But we have an even bigger role to play in providing social housing. Homes for people who aren’t in a position to buy their own property, or prefer not to.

It’s that social housing role I want to focus on in this article.

homes fit for heroes

Council housing has played a massive part in improving the quality of life in the UK since the end of the First World War, when then Prime Minister Lloyd George famously talked about ‘homes fit for heroes.’

The country was facing an acute housing shortage, and a lot of responsibility fell on councils – acting with guidance from central government – to build new homes that provided better conditions for working people.

After the Second World War, the housing shortage – exacerbated by bombing – was at its worst point in our history.

Again, councils helped lead the way, providing new housing and improving existing homes to meet the needs and expectations of post-war Britain.

That responsibility still sits with local councils and housing authorities today. And I’m very proud of that.

By helping to provide good homes, we make a lot of difference to a lot of lives.

what we’re doing in wrexham

Council housing in Wrexham

In Wrexham, we’re spending £54m on improving our council housing this financial year alone (2016/17).

This includes a £7.5m Major Repairs Allowance grant, which the Welsh Government awards to local authorities to help them achieve the Welsh Housing Quality Standard.

If you haven’t heard about the standard, it’s designed to make sure social housing landlords (like us) provide homes that meet the current and future needs of Wales’s residents.

All of our properties will need to achieve the standard by 2020, and with 11,300 homes to look after, that’s a big job.

So we’re getting stuck in.

As well as new kitchens and bathrooms, other improvements to electrical wiring, central heating and external wall insulation are being carried out on properties that need them.

Here’s some figures. By the end of March 2017, we hope to have…

• Offered new kitchens and bathrooms to 2,500 properties.
• Offered new heating systems to 600 properties.
• Re-wired around 900 properties.
• Re-roofed over 750 properties.
• Fitted external insulation to 187 properties.

We’re also supporting more specific housing needs. For example, First Choice Housing Association has opened a new facility in Wrexham for armed services veterans.

Called Ty Dewr (which means ‘Brave House’), it aims to help people who’ve left the armed forces, who are at risk of homelessness, adapt to civilian life – sometimes against a backdrop of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), disability and other challenges.

The centre provides accommodation, training and therapy in a peaceful setting on the edge of town.

It’s an inspiring place.

First Choice is also about to start a self-build project for veterans on land gifted to the project by the council.

building new homes

Like most local authorities, we haven’t been in a position to build new social housing for a long time.

We’ve been focused on managing our existing stock. And supporting other providers – like housing associations.

But for the first time in decades, we hope we’ll soon be in a position to consider building new council housing here in Wrexham.

It’ll depend on various factors, including funding. But if we can do it, it’ll be really exciting.

One thing is certain though. Councils are still at the centre of housing provision – through supporting private sector development and other social housing providers, and managing our own stock.

We can’t do it all by ourselves, and we don’t get it right all of the time, but we’re still striving to provide homes fit for heroes.

Because in some small way, nearly everybody is a hero.

And everybody deserves a good home.

wrexham arts and cultural hub

Town and city centres all over the UK are facing huge challenges.

Shopping habits have changed. Disruptive technologies like e-commerce have emerged. And the role of our high-streets is less certain than ever.

Putting life and purpose back into these places – which are suffering from fewer shoppers and fewer shops – will be hard.

But it’s something we need to figure out.

A lot of towns and cities are trying to find an answer, and one idea in the mix is the arts.

In other words, there’s a belief that arts and culture can have a real impact on urban regeneration.

Now that might sound very light and fluffy (and public sector). But there are some huge success stories out there. Read on…

 

from liverpool to bristol…

Governments and councils have supported arts projects for a long time with a view to encouraging economic and social improvement.

Famous examples include the Festival of Britain in 1951. The Millennium Dome. And the cultural aspect of London 2012.

Did they make a difference? Well, it’s much-debated. But you don’t have to look too hard to find solid examples of return-on-investment.

Take the Albert Docks in Liverpool.

Built for sailing ships, the docks struggled to stay relevant in the 20th Century and fell into decline. Abandoned buildings, silted-up beds and job-losses to boot.

But in the 1980s Liverpool turned things around and created a cultural hub – with the Tate Liverpool arts centre at its heart.

It rejuvenated the docks (very few people will argue otherwise), helping to stimulate economic growth and create community and educational benefits for the city.

The Arnolfini arts centre is another example. It set up shop on Bristol’s waterfront in 1975, in an area that was a wasteland of disused warehouses (left over from when it was a thriving commercial port).

Again, it’s generally accepted that the Arnolfini played a key part in turning the harbour into a buzzing cultural hub. An economically important part of the city, full of cool cafes and trendy start-ups.

And Hull is in the news right now.

Chosen as 2017 UK City of Culture, Hull is hoping to reap big economic benefits – including inward investment (and they’re already doing brilliantly), jobs, tourism and skills opportunities for local people.

And if the experiences of Derry-Londonderry (City of Culture in 2013) are anything to go by, there’s no reason to think it won’t happen.

 

…to wrexham

Here in Wrexham, we’re also looking to the arts to help us manage the impact of economic challenges.

Welsh Government, Arts Council of Wales and Wrexham Council have committed £5m to help transform one of our indoor markets and multi-storey car-parks into a buzzing cultural centre.

Work on the People’s Market Arts and Cultural Space is set to begin in 2017. The building will offer space for touring exhibitions, work-shops, creative start-up businesses, events and performances.

And as the name suggests, it won’t just be an arts centre.

The market will continue to trade in the building, with stall-holders embracing the challenge of being part of something new. The market will feed-off and compliment the cultural offer – blending the life and vibrancy of stallholders with the creativity of artists. How good is that?

The reason we’re doing this is simple. Like everywhere else, we have fewer shops and fewer shoppers. And unless the internet breaks, there’s not much chance of winding the clock back to the noughties and 90s, when high streets were all about shopping.

So we need to find new ways to keep our town centres relevant. And we think arts and culture is part of the solution.

As well as providing a home for creative entrepreneurs and start-ups, our new arts centre will help us attract tourists and other leisure users.

In other words, it’ll help us attract more people for different reasons, helping to prolong their stay and increase what they spend in the town centre – supporting the businesses that remain.

wrexham arts hub

An artist’s impression of the People’s Market Arts and Cultural Space.

 

not all about money

And there’s another benefit we’re hoping to reap.

Projects like this usually bring big social and educational opportunities – helping people experience new things and grow their confidence.

Engaging local people in the arts – particularly the young – can really open doors. And that doesn’t have to mean creating art.

There’s all the other stuff that goes on around it – the curation, venue-management, event-management, marketing and so on. Lots of opportunities to develop skills and get experience.

The facilities will also be available to local groups for activities like dance, providing an inspiring rehearsal space.

Of course, our project is nowhere near the scale of the Albert Docks – or the Bristol docks.

But the People’s Market Arts and Cultural Space is a massive project for Wrexham. It’s huge.

We’re not expecting art to solve all of our town centre problems. But it’s going to be a really important – and really exciting – part of the solution.

I don’t often write a blog about individual people. I mainly write about events, leadership and organisational topics.

But today, I’m inspired to write about an inspiring man.

I had the privilege to attend his funeral recently in the village where I live in Wrexham.

I write ‘privilege’ because that’s what it was to have known him over the past five years – and to share in the celebration of his life with other friends and his family.

Three words summed this man up – ’family’, ‘giving’ and ‘community.’

And listening to his family’s eulogies, it’s clear these words summed him up throughout his life – from his early years through to his business escapades and his building projects, and latterly his commitment to our church and the fundraising for its much-needed roof repairs.

These three words shone out in everything that people said about him. Both throughout the service, and through conversations later in the day – as we took time to reflect on his life and how we had known him.

I recall the very first time I met him when I went to the church, having recently moved to the area. He said: “Hello…you are most welcome.” And he meant it.

And that was how he was. Friendly, supportive and always ready to use his skills and talents to help others.

It made me think, as I sat reflecting during the service, what three words would people say about me?

How would my contributions to my family, work and community be remembered? Would they be so clear ?

So my challenge to myself – and to you – is how will we be remembered?

And through this blog, I can recognise and thank this inspiring man who gave – and continues to give through his legacies – so much. And who will always be remembered so fondly.

A friend of mine recently asked how I’d spend a long weekend in Wrexham if I was a visitor. Three things sprang to mind.

Sugar and ox blood. A hand on top of a gate. And an ancient king. I should explain.

I’ve lived in Wrexham County Borough for five years and I genuinely love it.

It’s partly because I’m spoilt for things to see and do. And because I live here, I don’t have to pick and choose – I can do them all.

But if I were a visitor, with just a few days to spare, these are the things that would top my to-do list…

1. Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Canal World Heritage Site

The aqueduct is the centre-piece of our World Heritage Site and was completed in 1805.

The steel trough that sits on top of the stone pillars, and carries 1.5 million litres of water across the Dee Valley, was sealed with a substance that included ox blood and sugar. I kid you not (it was built over 200 years ago).

You can cross the aqueduct on foot, or by boat. Or even kayak if you feel adventurous. Either way, it’s a must see.

2. Erddig and Chirk Castle

We’ve got two National Trust properties in Wrexham County Borough – Erddig and Chirk Castle.

You expect a great experience at any National Trust property, but these two really are brilliant. Erddig is a proper upstairs-downstairs historic house where the lives of the servants were as interesting as the owners’ (a bit like Downton Abbey).

Chirk Castle is a Marcher fortress dating from 1310. There’s an interesting tale about the red hand that sits near the top of the iron gates at the exit to the estate – involving a race between two youths that ends with one of them cutting a limb off. Oh dear.

I think (!) it’s just a story.

3. Offa’s Dyke

There are so many great places to walk in Wrexham – including a section of the famous Offa’s Dyke.

Based on earthworks built by King Offa of Mercia in the eighth century, this trail follows the English/Welsh border for 177 miles. The section that passes through Wrexham includes Pontcysyllte.

Get your boots on and give it a go.

Other things on my list – time permitting – would include some 4×4 off-roading with Motor Safari. A visit to Wrexham County Borough Museum. A look around the lovely St Giles Church.

And a walk across Chirk Aqueduct (also part of our World Heritage Site, and just as breath-taking as Pontcysyllte).

And if I was spending more than a long weekend here, Wrexham is a great base to explore further afield.

I’d visit the historic city of Chester – just 10 miles down the road.

And the riverside town of Llangollen – with its steam railway, horse-drawn boat trips and heritage sites.

You can even reach a beach in less than 30 minutes by car (at Talacre). So some sandcastles would be in order too.

These are just the things I would do.

But we’re all different, and exploring Wrexham offers something for everyone. Adventure for all, in other words.

return on investment

Of course, a great tourism offer needs nurturing.

Since 2013, our tourism team – part of the Destination Wrexham partnership – has spearheaded lots of new initiatives.

Local produce features on menus across the county, thanks to a series of fun (and headline-grabbing) food challenges – giving rise to dishes like the ‘leek cupcake’ and the ‘ultimate Wrexham lamb burger.’

Maybe you’ve heard about the Wrexham sheep? Twenty three colourful sculptures – designed by local schools – installed across the county as part of a new art trail.

Or cornerstone events like Underneath the Arches at Pontcysyllte – a massively popular music and fireworks concert.

The fact is, we get a good return on investment.

Tourism is playing a big part in our economy, contributing over £100m a year and supporting 1,600 full-time jobs.

A lot of this is down to local tourism businesses, and our annual tourism awards celebrate the commitment and quality offered by everyone taking part in our tourism ambassador scheme.

Glyndwr University has also worked with us to launch its first ever Hospitality, Tourism and Event Management Degree.

It offers students a unique opportunity to build careers with local businesses and work alongside our tourism team to develop their skills.

There’s a lot of hard work going on behind the scenes to make Wrexham a brilliant visitor experience.

Have I convinced you to take the tour? I hope so. But if you need a little more persuasion, take a look at this video…

If you post a presentation on the internet, and get over 14 million views, it’s a safe bet that people are interested in what you have to say.

A few years back, chief talent-officer Patty McCord put together a presentation to help sum-up the company culture to new employees at Netflix.

It’s gradually achieved almost legendary status, and has been described as the most important document ever to come out of Silicon Valley. And yes – it’s got over 14 million views.

So what’s the story? Why are so many people interested?

Well, the document has come to be seen as – not a barometer exactly (because it talks about a fairly radical culture at a very unique and successful company) – but as serious food-for-thought in challenging certain norms within organisations.

It’s 124 slides long, but you can actually zip through it in five minutes – it’s a very easy read. And pretty mind-blowing.

But the bit that stands out most for me comes in the first few slides. It basically says that an organisation’s values aren’t the nice-sounding words displayed in the reception areas or meeting rooms.

Values are the things that are actually valued in the day-to-day running and behaviour of a company. Values are the behaviours we reward – not the things we say we reward.

rewarding the right things

At Wrexham Council, we say we have six values.

• Trust
• Respect
• Innovation
• Flexibility
• Integrity
• Commitment

Do we really value these things? Do we reward employees who demonstrate these behaviours?

My honest answer? I think so. I hope so. I know that we try.

Here’s an example.

We’ve been developing our annual appraisal system, so that every employee will now get the chance to review not only their work outputs, but also their behavioural performance against our values.

So as part of that appraisal, employees will get feedback and be rated on whether they are a great role model for our values. Are they flexible, respectful, committed, and so on? And we link this to pay.

Another example.

We run an employee award scheme – called the ‘WOW Awards.’

Staff can nominate colleagues who they think deserve special recognition. We get people being nominated for providing outstanding services to customers, or bringing innovative ideas to the table, or going above and beyond to support their team-mates in getting the job done. And so on.

Nominations are scored against our values – trust, respect, innovation, flexibility, integrity, commitment. Those who receive an award don’t get a gold-plated watch, but they do get acknowledgement and respect from their peers – and that goes a long way.

And there are other, less formal things that happen too.

Someone who shows great innovation might be given more freedom to develop their ideas, for example.

we’re not netflix, but…

It’s hard to see how a culture like the one pioneered at Netflix would work in the public sector.

We can’t live our values as freely as that. Innovation can be difficult (though we reward it when it happens). And we probably struggle with too much process and control – like most large organisations.

But it would be too easy to write off the Patty McCord presentation as too radical and far-out for local government.

It contains some lessons that public sector orgs could reflect on (particularly those trying to become leaner, adaptable and more commercially savvy).

Don’t just adopt values that look nice on a page, or sound like good PR. Adopt values that you can – and will – live-by and reward on a day-to-day basis.

It’s not what we say that reveals what we value.

It’s what we do.

 

 

You can view the famous Netflix culture presentation on Slideshare.

You might also like this article on the Harvard Business Review website. It provides some interesting background and context.

What happened to the paperless office?

There isn’t much paper on my desk. But there is some.

Which is strange, because like many people, I once thought that paper would’ve pretty much disappeared from the workplace by now.

It was back in the 1970s that futurists first predicted the paperless office. A vision of clean minimalist workspaces, where things were neat, tidy and lean.

Computers would replace typewriters, ushering in a new age of digital communication.

It hasn’t quite turned out that way. Almost, but not quite.

We’ve got the computers, but step into any office and you’ll probably find paper still hanging in there.

Which is hard to explain.

displaced, not replaced?

The basis for predictions about the paperless office was technology.

People could see how networked computers would provide new ways to communicate and record information. And maybe save money in the process.

It was a case of old replaced by new.

And environmental benefits (paper costs trees) boosted the argument.

But despite email, social media and all the other technology integral to how we now work, there’s still paper on my desk.

Nowhere near the amount you would see if it was 20 or 30 years ago, but it is still there.

And while paper usage will continue to fall, I don’t think it’s going to completely disappear. Not for a long time.

Organisations don’t use paper for many of the things they used to – especially tasks that require it in quantity – and that makes perfect sense.

At Wrexham Council for example, we don’t provide paper copies of committee reports and agendas anymore.

Our residents’ newsletter is published online, instead of being printed.

We have fewer printers and photo-copiers in our offices.

And we’re making more of our services available online, reducing the use of paper forms and administration in the process.

But the fact is, people still prefer paper for certain things.

getting your thoughts down

When you go to a meeting, you’ll see two types of people – those tapping on tablets or phones, and those scribbling on notepads.

Many (most?) of the people with the notepads probably have a phone or tablet too, but they choose paper.

For many, scribbling down thoughts, ideas and info is part of their thinking process. Their creative process.

And the effortless freedom that a pen and paper gives you – you can write and sketch anything you want, however you want – is hard to match.

Technology is evolving all the time, but when it comes to getting those first thoughts and ideas down, paper is still the preferred tool for the job for many people.

will we ever work in a paperless office?

We’ve reduced our paper usage massively at Wrexham Council over the past decade, and we’re still reducing it.

The shift from print to digital continues, enabled by technology and driven by the need to increase productivity and save money.

But why is it taking so long to reach the paperless utopia that people envisaged in the 1970s?

Why is paper still hanging on in the workplace?

I don’t know.

Sometimes, new technology doesn’t replace old technology. Rather it displaces it, pushing it into a lesser role.

And there’s something else about pen and paper that might explain its endurance in the workplace.

Unlike other technologies, it rarely breaks.

Last year I wrote an article about productivity.

The gist was that employees with a purpose are more productive.

So if purpose makes people more productive, what makes them less productive?

A lot of things I would say, but somewhere near the top of the list is ‘stress.’

There are some who argue stress drives us forward, injects urgency into our work and makes us more productive.

That might be true to a certain extent, but there’s a line. In my experience – when pressure becomes stress – people are less effective.

And we know that stress can lead to sickness and various health conditions…in the short and long term.

So it’s important to manage stress in the workplace as part of our duty of care, for compassionate reasons and for business reasons – because stress lowers productivity levels.

 

“nothing is unchangeable”

John F Kennedy once said: “The one unchangeable certainty is that nothing is unchangeable or certain.”

The UK public sector is changing rapidly – driven by budget challenges, technology, societal shifts and other factors.

And in times of change, I think you see three types of people within an organisation.

• Those who thrive on it.
• Those who appear to be working as normal.
• Those who try to resist it.

It’s natural to feel uncertain about change. For a lot of people, change can represent risk.

And the fact is, all three types of people can be affected by pressure, which – in times of change – can lead to stress if not managed correctly, and with the right support in place.

So what can employers do?

 

4 things we’re trying to do at wrexham council

We can’t stop change. It’s part of life. And part of an organisation’s life-cycle.

But we can do things to make change less stressful and support those who appear to be suffering the symptoms of stress.

We’re part-way through a major reshaping initiative at Wrexham Council that will bring change for a lot of employees – and the services they deliver.

I’m not saying that we’re experts, but we are trying to get some basic things right in how we support people through our reshaping process.

 

1. communication

Keeping colleagues informed is really important. If employees aren’t informed why change is happening – or what it means for them – in a timely fashion, then uncertainty and a lack of understanding can occur.

We try to communicate with employees in an open, timely and clear way. And if there’s something we can’t tell people yet, we try to explain why – and give them a time-scale for when we will be able to tell them.

I don’t know if we’ve been successful all of the time. But if we’ve made mistakes, we try to learn from them. That’s how we grow and develop as an organisation.

Another approach we’ve looked at involves adapting the Kubler-Ross model as part of our consultation process with staff. Although devised for dealing with death and focused around the stages of grief, its principles can be applied to any change process.

It’s also important to make time for staff to meet and discuss any change proposals, and to provide an open door for colleagues who want to share concerns with managers.

 

2. early intervention and bespoke support

People experience and handle change differently. So it makes sense to offer bespoke support.

Last summer we achieved the Gold Corporate Health Standard – a quality-mark for workplace health in Wales.

The assessors said “…this is a council that cares for the people they serve, and for the people providing the services.”

They also said mental health promotion was one of our biggest strengths – partly because of the range of support options available.

From simple flexible-working policies that give people greater choice about where and when they work, to more interactive things like group-therapy and mindfulness training.

Prevention is better than cure.

We help managers carry out risk assessments, reduce ‘stressors’ (things that might contribute to stress in the workplace) and put together bespoke support plans for colleagues more likely to experience stress (and these are all based on the HSE’s Management Standards for work-related stress).

Our human resources team also introduced ‘case conferences’ with occupational health – where colleagues can sit down and talk through a variety of topics with their manager.

This means all the relevant people are around the table, talking face to face, as opposed to ‘talking to each other’ through reports and emails.

The key is getting in there early, and trying to support people.

If we understand pressures are building up to a level an individual can’t cope with, we’re able to look at reasonable adjustments and discuss issues before they build into a negative situation.

We won’t be able to find solutions for everyone, but having clear processes that can help managers identify and manage issues arising in their teams is important.

 

3. encouraging people to look after themselves

It’s not just down to managers to look after us. We all have a duty to look after ourselves too.

That’s why we stage regular events designed to encourage employees to look after their own health.

Our annual Health and Wellbeing Day is the big one – with lots of exhibitors, activities and information. And for colleagues based in outlying offices, we take the show on the road and organise satellite events.

This isn’t just about exercise and diet. It’s about all the things that impact upon our health – including financial health, mental health and caring responsibilities.

We also run activities to support national campaigns – like Time to Talk, Stoptober, Dry January, Prostate Cancer Awareness, No Smoking Day, Sun Screening Awareness month. The list goes on.

It’s pretty well documented that staying healthy can have a big impact on our resilience and ability to cope with change.

So encouraging employees to look after themselves is a good investment.

 

4. rewarding positive behaviour

Promoting a caring culture – where issues aren’t ignored – is another goal.

We try to recognise people who care about colleagues through our ‘WOW’ employee awards.

Staff can nominate anyone they like, and we often get examples of people who’ve gone that extra mile to support team-mates in difficult situations.

 

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but an insight into some of the things we’re trying to do to prevent and manage mental well-being in a period of change and uncertainty.

And if there’s ever a time to invest in the health of your workforce, it’s during periods of major organisational change.

You need your people to be at their most productive and resilient, at a time when potentially they’re at their most vulnerable.

As a parting thought, I’d like to offer this.

I recently read an article in the Harvard Business Review about helping employees avoid burnout.

It made a lot of sense, but the key thought that really stood out for me was this.

Try to be kind.

As a manager or leader, showing compassion can make a big difference to colleagues.

Because for a work-mate who is feeling pressured, a little kindness can be the difference between a bad day and an awful day.

Note: this is the final instalment in a series of three articles.

Customer service in the public sector.

Whether you’re providing public services, or selling t-shirts online, customer service is crucial.

Without it, you’re on borrowed time.

A couple of months ago, I wrote about the importance of managing and meeting customer expectations.

Last month, I wrote about making sure employees understand those expectations, and how they can help meet them.

This month, I want to talk about the customer side of the bargain. The things that organisations need from their customers to deliver the experience they’ve committed to.

 

more than money

Think about the last time you bought something. It wasn’t just money that changed hands.

You were polite (hopefully). You were clear about what you wanted. Maybe you provided information – like a delivery address or sales feedback.

The fact is, there were lots of things that formed part of the transaction.

Now some of this stuff is instinctive. Consumers know they have to play their part if they want a good experience.

But sometimes they need a prompt, and you have to help customers be good customers. You have to help them to help you.

So what do customers need to do to keep their end of the bargain?

Some thoughts.

 

1. use services responsibly

Here’s an example. As a council, we provide a recycling service.

We ask residents to put the right materials in their recycling bins or boxes, and not to mix them up with things we can’t recycle.

When it comes to ‘bin day’, if we find things we can’t accept in recycling bins, we may have to leave them there – for the householder to deal with.

It’s a simplistic example, but the principle rings true for many supply-and-demand relationships.

People that only use a product or service for its intended purpose, tend to have a better customer experience.

 

2. be civil

People get frustrated. I get that. But occasionally it boils over, and every now and then, a customer can become aggressive. Even threatening.

We don’t tolerate abuse towards staff. No employer should.

But we don’t tolerate abuse of customers by employees either.

Being civil is an important part of the customer contract – from both sides of the table.

 

3. provide constructive feedback (so we can make it better)

The key to making a product or service better, is to understand how customers feel about it.

Now I’m the first to admit that – as a consumer – requests for feedback from product and service-providers can be annoying. If I’m not happy, I’ll let them know.

Or will I?

How many times have you bought something and – while not disappointed enough to complain – still walked away feeling less than impressed? And as a result, unlikely to buy again?

We always welcome constructive feedback on our services at Wrexham Council. And to some extent, it’s our customers’ duty to let us know when something isn’t right.

If we don’t know, how are we going to fix it?

And on the flip-side, we need to know when things are good too. Compliments are just as useful as complaints.

 

4. give new things a chance

Things change. The trouble is, nobody likes change – until they try it. Then they like it. And don’t want it to change.

Organisations change the way they deliver services for all kinds of reasons. New technology, market forces, the need to reduce costs, increase customers, and so on.

It doesn’t always improve the customer experience, but – quite often – it does.

And in the long-term, if customers point-blank refuse any evolution in product or service, they usually end up receiving a weaker product or service.

To some extent, customers have to be open-minded and give change a chance before making an informed judgement.

 

5. provide information

Like I said earlier, a transaction usually involves more than an exchange of money. It involves an exchange of information.

A lot of services we provide at Wrexham Council depend on customers giving us the information we need, when we need it and in the right format.

Providing the right information is an important part of the customer side of the deal. If you provide poor information, you’ll probably have a poor customer experience.

 

Of course, it’s down to product and service providers – from local councils to online t-shirt sellers – to help customers keep their side of the bargain.

If you need information, make it easy for customers to provide it.

If you don’t want them to abuse your product or service, explain what it’s intended for. Don’t just assume that people will know.

Well. I hope you’ve enjoyed my ‘customer contract’ articles, and found one or two useful ideas.

I’ll be writing about other customer-service topics later this year.

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