Archives for category: other

This is the last article I will ever publish on this blog.

It’s a goodbye article…not because I’m fed up of blogging. Far from it.

It’s because – after six enjoyable and exciting years at Wrexham – I’m leaving to take up the role of chief executive at Walsall Council.

When I first started this blog four years ago, I was a bit nervous.

I wanted to write about some of the good things happening in Wrexham. And the challenges and opportunities faced by public sector leaders across the UK.

But putting my thoughts and ideas ‘out there’ was something I hadn’t done before, so it felt a bit strange.

But it’s been a really rewarding experience.

And when I look back at the various articles I’ve posted, it reminds me of the deep bond I’ve formed with this place.

A deep impression

When I came to Wrexham I was a stranger. I didn’t know anybody, and nobody knew me.

As I leave the council, and eventually we move as a family, I feel like I belong – like I’m part of the place – and it’s because of the people I’ve worked with.

Their commitment to Wrexham, and the way we’ve worked together despite the intense financial challenges, has made a deep impression on me.

I’m really excited about my new role in Walsall, but I’m also sad to leave Wrexham Council and ultimately Wrexham County Borough.

It’s been my privilege to work with colleagues, partners and councillors, and to serve local people. I really think Wrexham is a wonderful place.

And if you’ve enjoyed reading this blog, and learning about some of the good things going on here, you should keep tabs on Wrexham Council News.

I won’t forget about Wrexham. I hope you won’t either.

My top six articles…

If you’ve got five minutes to spare and fancy another read, here are my six favourite articles on this blog…

A year ago I posted an article about art and urban regeneration.

We looked at how art can play a role in helping town centres and high-streets stay relevant in the face of changing consumer habits, and disruptive technologies like e-commerce.

And I mentioned an idea we were looking at in Wrexham – a project that would transform one of our indoor markets and multi-storey car-parks into a buzzing cultural centre.

So how’s it going? Well, the idea is close to becoming reality.

For everyone

Work on the site is taking shape nicely, and the building is being transformed from the inside-out by contractors and council staff.

What’s more, we have a name.

It’s no longer just a ‘project.’ It’s called Tŷ Pawb. Which is Welsh for ‘everyone’s house.’

Now there are a couple of things I really like about that name.

Firstly, it was voted for by the public. Three names were put on the table, and this one came back as the winner.

So it was the people’s choice.

Secondly, it sums-up the ethos of the place.

The building will offer space for touring exhibitions, work-shops, creative start-up businesses, events and performances.

And the market will continue to trade in the building, with stall-holders embracing the challenge of being part of something new.

But the key point is that Tŷ Pawb will be there for everyone.

Not just for artists. Not just for shoppers. Not just for the young or the elderly. It’ll be there for everyone, and I hope people from across our community feel its benefit.

I think it’s a really exciting project and can’t wait for the doors to open next spring.

To read more, take a look at our news blog…Wrexham Council News.

In all large organisations, myths grow.

For example, did you know that because I’m a chief executive of a local authority, I don’t pay council tax?

No. Neither did I.

Of course I do pay council tax, but the myth that council workers don’t have to pay is more prevalent than you might think.

I’ve even heard of people getting a job at a council and being genuinely surprised they wouldn’t get a discount!

It sounds bizarre, but it’s just one example of how a common misunderstanding can become embedded in how people perceive large organisations.

Of course, there’s a reason myths take hold.

Sometimes we want to believe them – because they’re exciting or inspiring, or because we want to believe in something or someone…or blame someone.

Sometimes, we just don’t know any different.

For example, when it comes to public services it isn’t always easy to know whose responsible for what – what councils do, and where their involvement and responsibilities start and end. It’s confusing.

A lot of people think councils control business rates – deciding how much local businesses should pay.

But the rates are set by the Valuation Office, and in Wales the councils just collect the money and pay it into a central pool, which is then shared back out by central government to pay for public services.

But if you didn’t know that, you’d be totally justified in thinking your local council controlled business rates – especially when they collect the money.

Some of these common myths about local government recently spawned an interesting little article on Wrexham Council News (our news blog).

Have a read…

Life is complicated and uncertain, and sometimes we face challenges that have a profound affect on us.

Things like stress, ill-health, bereavement, low self-esteem. The world closes-in and we feel frightened, and – worst of all – alone.

Having someone to talk to can make all the difference. So each year at Wrexham Council, we take part in a national initiative called Time to Talk.

It encourages people to think about mental health and recognise that the simple act of talking can help.

To bring the issue into focus this year, we shared some personal stories with employees. The stories were written by colleagues and based on their own experiences.

It takes real courage to write about something like that, and I can’t thank those people enough.

Because those stories have inspired a lot of us to think about mental health and the importance of making time for ourselves and others – whether that means having a cup of tea together, going for a walk or just listening to someone explain how they feel.

Talking helps. It’s as simple as that.

looking out for each other

According to a report by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the total number of working days lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2015-16 was 11.7 million days.

And that’s just ‘work-related.’ Many people can find themselves unable to work because of things outside of work that affect their mental wellbeing (bereavement for example).

So it’s a huge issue affecting a lot of people.

There’s a very practical reason why large organisations should support the mental health of employees. It helps people remain – or get – well enough to do their job and make a valuable contribution.

But there’s a better reason. It’s the right thing to do.

We provide lots of support for staff affected by things like stress, anxiety and loss – from occupational health to phased return-to-work practices.

But more importantly, we’re encouraging colleagues to look out for each other and look out for themselves. That’s what Time to Talk is all about.

And let’s face it. Whether it’s in work, in our communities or at home, we should all look after each other as best we can.

A problem shared might not always be a problem halved, but it helps to have someone in your corner.

The following story was written by a Wrexham Council employee and shared with colleagues as part of Time to Talk.

bereavement


One day my sister was here, the next she was gone – her death was sudden.

To me, at the time, I felt like my world had ended, that my heart would literally break in two and that I would never be able to smile or live the life that she had lost.

I remember hearing the world still going on around me and couldn’t believe that not everyone felt like me and could still function.

I would sit for hours staring into space and within the first year there was not a day that went past without tears streaming – in the car, over dinner with my partner, at night or most of the time in the toilet (trying to hide it from family, friends or work colleagues).

The nights were the hardest because I couldn’t sleep, if I closed my eyes I would see her face coming out of the darkness to haunt me showing the pain that she was in.

But, as the years went by I also learnt how to cope with the pain.

I learnt how to put it in a box so that I could get up in the morning, I could get dressed, drive and do my job. Whilst I grew stronger and stronger and stronger, I kept wanting to try and get back to the person I was before she died.

It wasn’t until I saw a counsellor that she told me I wouldn’t ever be that person. I was shocked and horrified at how horrible and blunt the counsellor was being – didn’t she know the pain I was in?

But this was the best thing that she could have ever told me because it was true, I wouldn’t be that person as I was a different person now. This pain would be there forever, there was no magic cure.

Life did get better, I remember the day that I genuinely laughed, I remember the day I didn’t cry, I remember the time I wanted to go out for dinner or for drinks, I remember the day that I did more than just ‘function’ at work, I remember the time that I remembered my beautiful sister and could smile that I was lucky to have had her for the time I did.

What helped? My partner, my friends and my counsellor. One support that really surprised me was coming back to work which gave me my routine back, it forced me to get up in the morning.

I had a phased return for two weeks and my manager agreed that the last week of the phased return could be used over the next few months for as and when I needed it.

This slight adjustment made a difference because some days I could cope and others I just knew I was sitting there staring at the screen.

Going back to work it also reminded me what fantastic work colleagues were there waiting for me. I know that they found it hard to see me, to say the right things, to try and not mention their own siblings in case it hurt me.

It made a difference just knowing they were there, that they would encourage me to go home, they would take me for a walk / coffee / drink and they were just THERE.

Some days I still find it hard, I have flashbacks to the first few weeks after she died, I have panic attacks in the car on the way to work, I have time in the toilet crying but these are rarer than they used to be and I use my work life balance to help manage this as my life goes on.

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.

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.

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…

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.

%d bloggers like this: