Archives for category: leadership

Helen Paterson - Wrexham Council

Some council services are more obvious than others.

Bin collections. Road repairs. Schools. We notice these things because they touch our lives on a daily basis.

But there are lots of other things that slip beneath the radar – and yet impact on our lives just as much.

I’ve written a few ‘back to the floor’ articles on this blog, and after spending a day with Trading Standards recently, I felt compelled to write another.

I was fascinated by the range of activities carried out by this team, and it was a real eye-opener.

For starters, I spent much of the morning on Operation Harbour – working with Ceri and Lynne, as well as officers from North Wales Police, and Milo the tobacco detection dog (he’s a very clever dog).

We were checking for illegal tobacco at self-storage locations around the county borough.

Dogs like Milo – provided by WagtailUK – are used to sniff-out tobacco on premises, and it really made me think about the consequences of the illegal trade. It makes it easier for children to get cigarettes, harder for smokers to quit, results in lost tax revenue and harms legitimate businesses.

I also learnt a lot about the other work the team does – like tackling counterfeit clothing and unsafe electrical items being offered for sale around town and over the internet (particularly social media).

The team also talked passionately about protecting vulnerable people from criminals who target them in their own homes – intimidating them into spending huge amounts of money on unnecessary and ineffective property repairs.

Some of the cases the team has dealt with are really harrowing, but it was great to hear about the success stories too – where criminals have been stopped in their tracks, preventing further heartache and distress for victims.

I only spent a brief time with the team, but it’s clear they’re very much among the ‘unsung heroes’ of the council.

Their work goes largely unnoticed by the general public, but they strive behind the scenes to make Wrexham a fairer, healthier and safer place – both for residents and businesses.

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.

I recently wrote an article called The Customer Contract.

It looked at the importance of meeting customer expectations.

And how putting that at the heart of everything we do, is an oft-cited but well-founded strategy in business and government.

I also talked about our recently revised customer-care standards at Wrexham Council.

It spells out what customers can expect from us, and the behaviours we expect from employees when dealing with enquiries.

But here’s a thought. What if our employees aren’t on-message?

What if we’ve got a shiny new policy that nobody knows about – or understands how it effects them in their day-to-day work?

If that’s the case, we’re in trouble.

Because making sure employees understand your customer-care standards – and the expectations it places on them – is a critical part of the game.

At Wrexham Council, I’m glad to say we’ve thought about that part of the equation long and hard.

And we’re taking several approaches to making sure employees understand how they can deliver the standards we’ve set out.


1. setting goals

Like many organisations, we run a staff appraisal scheme, where each employee reviews their performance with their manager, and sets goals for the coming year.

We’ve revamped the scheme so it’s more tightly focused on our council plan – which includes various customer-related objectives.

It’s a chance to get across the importance of customer service to each individual, and work it into their goals for the coming year.


2. providing role models

It’s also important that employees have role models.

That means managers and leaders living by our customer-care standards and applying them to everyday work situations.

If your manager doesn’t care, you won’t care. Lets be honest.

So we’re reaching out to managers and asking them to take the time to really understand the new policy.


3. sharing examples

If appraisals are the systematic, measured approach to helping staff deliver customer care standards, sharing best practice is the more emotional (inspirational?) one.

Capturing examples and putting them out there for staff to see can have a real impact. Especially when they involve colleagues on the front-line of service delivery.


4. celebrating the good

Praise from your manager is nice. Praise from peers and customers is even better.

They don’t have to recognise what we do. They don’t feel obliged in the same way managers – keen to motivate us – might feel obliged.

So when they go to the effort to highlight something positive we’ve done, that’s a good feeling.

We encourage staff to highlight great work by colleagues, and make sure we celebrate compliments from customers too.

We do this through our employee awards scheme – called ‘WOW.’

Recent nominations include a member of our street-scene team, who came to the aid of an elderly lady collapsed in the street.

And our contaminated land team who – despite appalling weather conditions – removed lead-contamination from 19 gardens in one of our villages.


5. facing up to the bad

On the flip side, you can’t let bad customer service go unchallenged.

Complaints are investigated thoroughly, and if a customer or employee feels we’re getting something wrong – be it around service design or an individual incident – we encourage them to voice that concern.

It’s no good brushing the bad stuff under the carpet.

Sometimes, it’s down to a miss-alignment between customer expectations and the service on offer. In other words, expectations are too high and need to be managed.

In other cases, it can be a simple, one -off mistake. Or a lack of customer-care awareness among certain employees.

And occasionally, it can be down to individuals being deliberately inappropriate with customers. It happens.

The important thing is to get to the bottom of the complaint, and resolve it.


So there you go.

Nothing earth-shattering, but if you want colleagues to buy into customer care values in your organisation, it’s a starter for 10.

If you’ve enjoyed this article, look out for The Customer Contract – Part 3, when I’ll be looking at the customer side of the bargain.

Here’s a fact. There are fewer women in top jobs than men.

The exact numbers and reasons vary – depending on what you read – but one thing is for sure. Inspiring more women to work their way towards top-level careers can only be good for society, and the economy.

One way to provide that inspiration is to celebrate the success of women already achieving great things.

So I was delighted to see Rachel Clacher win the ‘business’ category at the Inspiring Women Awards in Manchester recently.

And I’ll let you into a secret. I nominated Rachel.

Here’s why.

Rachel Clacher - Moneypenny

Rachel Clacher at the 2015 Inspiring Women Awards (picture by Tom Martin).


got the t-shirt

Rachel is co-founder of telephone answering specialist and outsourced switchboard provider, Moneypenny.

Moneypenny started life as a small enterprise right here in Wrexham.

But – with her brother Ed Reeves – Rachel has grown it into an international business with offices in New Zealand and Charleston, South Carolina in the US.

The company employs over 400 people at its Wrexham HQ, and consistently makes the Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to Work For list.

Moneypenny also made headlines recently when it revealed plans for a stunningly innovative new office building.

So she’s built a business from scratch, and not just any business.

But there’s more to her professional life than that.

As well as growing her own business, Rachel spends a lot of time inspiring other business leaders – both men and women.

She shares her experience and expertise through the Leadership and Management Wales programme (sponsored by Welsh Government).

And plays no small part in inspiring women within her own company. A fact borne out by Moneypenny winning the ‘nurturing female talent’ category.

In addition, Rachel last year set-up the Moneypenny Foundation to give unemployed young women new opportunities in life and work – combining employment experiences in a range of industry sectors with life-coaching, mentoring and gaining new skills.

So yes. Two awards in one night!

Rachel says: “The awards came as a complete surprise, but a lovely one.

“Setting up Moneypenny has been the biggest challenge, yet at the same time, one of the biggest joys of my life and the Foundation is very much a team effort, so I’m grateful to everyone who is making it possible.”


inspiring women awards 2016

The Inspiring Women Awards were founded in 1992 to raise money for charity.

They’re a fantastic platform for celebrating the achievements of women with inspirational stories to tell, and I was really moved by some of the people I met on the night.

Nominations for the 2016 awards open in September.

Details can be found on the website.

If you want to help encourage women in business, social enterprise and the public sector, well…maybe you know someone worth nominating?

If you do, go for it.

You might help inspire the next generation of female entrepreneurs and leaders.

“A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…”

OK. This is not Star Wars. It wasn’t that long ago, and it wasn’t very far away.

But when local authorities were first set up in the UK, you could argue they were set up to manage and deliver a set of individual services.

Planning. Social services. Fixing roads. Removing rubbish. Providing schools. And so on.

So the structure and mechanisms of local authorities grew around this service provision.

But the world has turned since then, and with it, the expectations of our customers.

So we’re moving away from this approach at Wrexham Council.

We’re changing the way we do things – our ‘operating model’ – and thus our thinking, structures and processes.

people and place

Instead of building our structures and processes around service provision, we’re building our new ways of working around the people and place we serve.

old vs new

In other words, we’re moving to a model that takes our customers and our county borough as its starting point. Not our services.

Of course, changing the operating model of a big organisation is easy on paper – difficult in practice. Particularly in the public sector.

So we’ve developed some ‘shape principles’ to guide us.

shape principles

  • Wherever possible, resolve customer enquiries at the first point of contact.
  • Allow services to focus on quality provision.
  • Minimise transactions (but not income).
  • Reduce performance and regulatory functions in proportion with the rest of the organisation.

Developing how we work around these principles is helping us shift the focus of our thinking to people and place, instead of services.

empowering customers

There’s a lot of talk about empowering customers these days – giving them tools and support so they can do more for themselves.

Some organisations have been doing it for years. And doing it really well.

Take the software provider Adobe.

The company has developed a powerful online community where customers with expertise are encouraged to share their knowledge with others – help them get the best from Adobe products, trouble-shoot problems and so on.

Essentially, they’ve created a platform that links customers together so they can do more for themselves.

If we’re changing the way we do things at Wrexham Council, we need to take our customers with us.

We need to give them the tools and linkages they need to contribute to services and facilities in their communities. So they can deliver, support, create, share and lead for themselves.

We’ve given this customer-empowerment initiative a name – Together in Wrexham – and I’ll be writing about this in more depth in the next few weeks.

evolution, not revolution

Reframing the relationship between a local authority and its citizens is not a sprint. It’s a marathon…with hills and bumps along the way.

The direction is clear. We’re moving away from focusing on a set of services to focusing on the people and place we serve.

But it won’t happen by itself, and embedding our shape principles in everything we do will be crucial if we’re going to succeed.

Providing leadership is tough at the best of times.

So leading people in difficult times is a real challenge.

Here are five things that – in my experience – can really help…

1. Stay focused on the ‘vision.’

When things are tough, stay focused on the place your organisation is trying to get to.

At Wrexham Council, we want to provide ‘strong community leadership.’ So in challenging times, communicating that goal to the people around me is important.

2. Tell the right stories.

Keep telling the stories that support the purpose of your organisation. As a council, our purpose is to help Wrexham and its people “fulfil their potential and prosper.”

So I keep stories alive that support this. Things like Together in Wrexham – a new approach to help communities help themselves by providing support for volunteering.

3. Be visible and listen.

Invest even more time in your employees and customers. Get out and about. Be visible and listen to what people are saying.

Don’t just listen to their words. Listen more deeply. Reflect on the messages they’re giving out and adapt where needed.

4. Think before reacting to threats and opportunities.

Don’t jump-in. Be guided by your values, and the values and behaviours of your organisation.

At Wrexham Council, respect, trust and integrity are important to us. Even when the pressure is on, we maintain those values. From handling a PR issue in the local media to making big decisions around budgets.

5. Do the right thing.

Maintain your personal internal compass, and be an ‘authentic’ leader. If you haven’t read True North by Bill George, I recommend it.

And look after yourself. You can’t provide leadership if you burn out.


When people face uncertain times, leadership is crucial.

Get it right, and keep yourself and your organisation strong and resilient.

It can be ‘the difference.’


My little vegetable plot at home – guarded by my Welsh Dragon!

Like every gardener, I know how good it feels to nurture something and watch it grow.

You plant it. You feed it with the right stuff. And then watch it bloom.

It’s amazing.

Now you know where I’m heading with this, don’t you?

People aren’t plants. But if you’re leading a big organisation, and you want to get the best out of committed and talented employees, you have to grow their confidence, skills and influence.

And to do that, you have to provide them with the right environment, support and intellectual food.

People are definitely not plants! All I’m saying is that nothing grows if you don’t provide it with the things it needs.

At Wrexham Council, I like to think we do our best to help employees grow.

You can’t give everyone everything they want. In the current climate, you can’t fund every course or piece of training. Or give everyone the opportunities they need. But you can do your best.

Here’ a little story.

Some time ago, I asked a colleague who worked on one of our reception desks how she’d like to develop her career.

“Well…I want your job.”

She said it with total conviction.

I was thrown for a moment, and then I thought “how great is that?” Because it showed that she felt positive about the environment here, and saw it as a place where she could develop.

She was a modern apprentice at the time, which made it seem even more powerful. And she went on to gain employment here, which was great.

In fact, 85% of our apprentices go on to gain employment at Wrexham Council, which is a nice example of how we try to grow our people.

The other 15% nearly always go on to study or work somewhere else.

We’ve been running the scheme for 10 years now, and take in around 10 to 15 new apprentices every September.

One of the people who made up that very first intake in 2004 is part of our Architectural Services team. Did the scheme help?

“Yes” he says. “It was a good initial stepping stone that helped open up opportunities further down the line.

“The scheme gives you the chance to build some experience and demonstrate your potential at an early stage in your career. It’s a good thing.”

Here’s another example of helping staff grow their skills.

Six years ago, a young guy called Aled Pugh-Jones joined us from the private sector.

His job? Helping to look after important physical assets like our school buildings, public buildings, commercial properties and so on.

It was clear to Aled’s managers from the very start that he was a committed employee with bags of potential.

So, over the past five years, we’ve supported him through his studies at Glyndwr University.

He’s just achieved a 2:1 degree in Construction Management.

Has it helped?

“Definitely”, he says.

“I came from a hands-on job previously, so getting back into the academic side of things was great.

“It gave me more confidence, increased my knowledge and gave me ideas and techniques that have really helped me in my role at Wrexham Council.

“Studying and understanding some of the deeper aspects of your profession can also really enhance your appetite for what you do, and help open doors in the future.”

Of course, sometimes it’s about helping people learn completely new skills – rather than developing existing skills.

We launched a scheme called GROW not long ago. It stands for Growth and Redeployment Opportunities for the Workforce.

Employees who find themselves at risk of being made redundant can apply for help developing new skills and qualifications.

It doesn’t mean someone can apply for funding to train as an astronaut.

The idea is to help people acquire the skills needed to take on a different but much-needed function at Wrexham Council.

return on investment?

Now it’s great to see employees grow like this, but what’s in it for the employer? What’s the return?

Well, the first thing we need to recognise is this:

  1. Our best employees probably have a disproportionately positive impact on our organisations. If not, then at the very least they have the potential to make a disproportionate impact.
  1. Our best employees will also have the easiest time finding employment elsewhere. They’re more likely to move on.

Giving employees the chance to grow their skills and influence helps you a) tap into their ability to have an abnormally positive impact and b) gives you a better chance of retaining them.

The second point is important.

Providing them with opportunities for professional development – even if it doesn’t add up to promotion or a pay-rise – can help you keep them for longer.

Money is important. But money isn’t the only motivator (read my earlier article ‘M for Motivation’ for more thoughts on this).


Growing and nurturing the confidence, skills and influence of staff – particularly your most talented people – can help you get more out of them, and retain them for longer.

It’s a rationale business strategy.

Here’s a true story.

A colleague of mine stops off part-way through a long car journey to eat his sandwiches.

He notices two men working in the field next to the road.

One of them digs a hole and then moves on about four feet, and digs another hole.

The other man follows him and fills in the hole, then moves on to the next hole to fill…and so on.

After a while, my colleague gets out of the car and goes over to ask what they’re doing. He can’t work it out.

The first man says: “We’re working as a team. Normally there are three of us, but the guy who plants the trees – his van broke down so he’s not here today.”

Of course, it isn’t really a true story. I made it up. Or heard it from someone else. I’m not sure which.

But you see the point? It’s important to focus on the outcome, not the process.

In a big organisation, there’s always a tendency to become obsessed with how we’re doing something… instead of how much difference we’re making.

Colleagues who know me well, know that I’m almost obsessed with asking “so what?”

I call it the ‘so what?’ function.

As a chief executive, I think part of my role is to encourage a culture of relentless ‘so whating?’ within the organisation.

So that means looking at projects, services and products, and challenging colleagues with the question ‘so what? What difference has that made to our customers or the organisation?’

I’m not looking to crush people’s spirits.

I try to pitch it right and ask the question in a way that helps and encourages employees.

It’s not a folded-arms, furrowed-brow ‘so what?’

It’s a supportive, we’re in this together ‘so what?’

And it can help me and my colleagues develop a clearer, more objective view of projects, products and services…and their value to our customers.

Let me put it another way.

Think about football (the soccer kind). You have a team that plays with beautiful style, but can’t win a game.

It doesn’t pass the ‘so what?’ test. The team is pre-occupied with the process of getting the ball into the opponents’ net…instead of getting the ball into the net.

Not many football managers keep their jobs if they ignore the ‘so what?’ test.

However, I want to add a great big caveat here. I’m not saying the ‘how’ isn’t important.

Developing effective processes and the right behavioural values is hugely important (read my earlier post The Real Deal for more about this). But don’t mistake these things for outcomes.

Don’t mistake the means for the end.

five ideas for building a ‘so what?’ mind-set

so what graphic cropped

If you want to build a ‘so what?’ culture in an organisation, here are five ideas that might help:

  • Put the customer at the heart of your thinking.
  • Focus on outcomes (i.e. the difference you are making), not actions.
  • Use research, data and analytics to shape your ideas and predict what might pass the ‘so what?’ test (and what might fail).
  • Be brave. Stop strategies, plans, meetings and other process-tools being celebrated as progress.
  • Test what you’re doing from the customer perspective. Has it made a difference to them?

(If you liked this article, you might like some of my previous blog-posts about leadership and cultural change. Five Reasons to go Back to the Floor, for example.)

Reality TV exploded in the late 1990s.

One of the gems it ushered into our lives was a BBC programme called Back to the Floor (the clip above is from series three).

You might remember it? The premise was simple.

The boss (managing director etc) would spend time working at the grass roots of their organisation.

There, they would gain a revelatory insight into the day-to-day workings of the company.

Problems on the ground. Challenges faced by employees. Unsung heroes who go that extra mile. Staff morale. And so on.

More recently, Channel 4’s Undercover Boss refreshed the format.

It makes compelling viewing. Particularly the light-bulb moments when a junior member of staff casually explains the solution to a problem that has hitherto baffled management.

Of course, the concept of leaders going back to the floor was around long before reality TV.

Sadly, the practice has started to be perceived as a little clichéd – viewed as an internal PR exercise to promote a sense of management being in tune with the workforce.

It’s a shame. Because going back to the floor can offer genuine benefits.

Working with one of our refuse-collection and recycling teams in Wrexham.

Working with one of our refuse collection teams in Wrexham.

I’ve been quietly spending time with front-line staff here at Wrexham County Borough Council for a while.

I’ve worked with our refuse collection teams, sorting out household rubbish and recycling.

I’ve worked with colleagues at Wrexham Waterworld, testing the swimming pool chlorine levels and getting stuck into other tasks at the leisure centre.

I’ve also helped look after the animals at one of our country parks –Ty Mawr – and spent time with staff at our schools

Helping to feed the animals at one of our country parks (Ty Mawr).

Helping to feed the animals at one of our country parks (Ty Mawr).

It’s proved useful for many reasons. Here are five.

  1. service delivery

It’s a chance to see how things are working on the ground.

Where are the problems? What can you do to help fix them? Are there things that might work well in other parts of the organisation?

  1. customer experience

Spending time with a front-line team can give you valuable insight into how customers respond to the service you provide…and what they really think.

  1. corporate values

When you’ve been heavily involved in shaping or communicating the key messages and values within your organisation, it’s easy to assume everyone else has the same level of awareness.

Going back to the floor can help you gauge whether those values have really filtered through and translated themselves into the everyday work of colleagues.

Learning how to test the water at Waterworld leisure centre.

Learning how to test the water at Waterworld leisure centre.

  1. comfort zone

Sometimes, it’s good to step out of your comfort zone into a situation where – for a moment at least – you’re not in control, and have to rely on the knowledge and expertise of colleagues.

It’s particularly true for senior leaders and managers. It helps you appreciate other people’s skills and reminds you that it’s everyone’s contribution that makes the organisation work.

  1. recognition

I think this is the most important reason.

The most important thing leaders and managers can reap from going back to the floor is the chance to find and thank those people who go the extra mile. Employees who bring commitment and dedication to their job, but somehow fall beneath the radar.

Seeing and celebrating skill, knowledge and hard work can make a real difference to an organisation. Because people who feel valued, feel motivated.

Every leader and senior manager should try and spend time working at the grass-roots of their organisation.

It might not be easy to find the time…but it is so worth it.

(If you liked this, you might want to read an earlier blog post called ‘M’ for Motivation).

How do you motivate people at work?


Well, maybe. But there’s a growing school of thought that money isn’t the be-all and end-all.

And many analysts argue that organisations shouldn’t make financial incentives the primary motivator for employees. And with good reason.

An article in McKinsey – called Motivating People: Getting Beyond Money makes a compelling case for finding other ways to reward people.

Authors Martin Dewhurst, Matthew Guthridge and Elizabeth Mohr say: “Money’s traditional role as the dominant motivator is under pressure from declining corporate revenues, sagging stock markets, and increasing scrutiny by regulators, activist shareholders, and the general public.”

They go on to identify three potentially powerful non-cash motivators, drawing on previous studies and some research of their own.

These are:

  • praise from immediate managers
  • leadership attention (for example, one-on-one conversations with CEOs and directors)
  • the chance to lead projects or task-forces

They conclude that these three motivators might be more effective than cash in many instances.  Particularly ‘leadership attention.’

What do I think?

Well. Money will always be important (it pays the bills and has huge infleunce on our quality of life outside of work). But I agree with Dewhurst, Guthridge and Mohr.

And – in an age of unparallelled change and budget challenges – public sector organisations must find more creative ways to reward and motivate staff.

I recently took the opportunity to harvest the thoughts of a small pool of colleagues here at Wrexham Council, and the feedback was interesting.

Achievement, recognition and challenging tasks were among the top motivators – reflecting the arguments of Dewhurst et al.

But other things came through strongly as well, including camaraderie, good rapor with colleagues, and a positive atmosphere.

It makes sense. If you’re working in an oppressive, unfriendly environment where everyone seems unhappy, it’s hard to feel motivated.

Come to think of it, maybe the most effective motivator of all is a positive workplace?

Positivity motivates.

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