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.

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.

helen paterson's blog

Anyone with a blog will tell you…some articles turn out better than others.

I’ve been running this blog for two years now.

I’ve posted over 30 articles on topics ranging from digital transformation to building sandcastles on Harlech beach.

If you’ve read any, I hope they were OK. Maybe even useful.

But maybe one of the hardest things is deciding what to write about.

So like everyone else these days, I use data to help me.

It’s primitive (!), but I try to keep an eye on the number of shares each article gets on LinkedIn.

And I look for any little spikes in traffic to help me get a feel for which content works best.

And then I write more of the same. Except I don’t. Not always.


If I was a professional blogger aiming to build huge volumes of traffic, I’d be using analytics to help shape my content strategy.

But I have a confession to make. While I do write these articles for other people to enjoy and hopefully gain the odd insight from, I also write them for myself.

It helps me map out my thoughts and ideas about work. And talking to colleagues about the articles helps stimulate a bit of creative thinking and generates new ideas.

So it’s a touch introspective at times, but it serves a useful purpose.

Now lets be clear. I’m a big fan of data in decision-making, and digitisation has given us data we didn’t dream of 10 – or even five – years ago.

But sometimes – when there isn’t much at risk – it’s probably OK to ignore it, and just follow your ideas where they take you (remind me I said that when people stop reading this blog).

So with that in mind, here are my top three articles.

Not necessarily my best articles. Or the most shared. Or the ones with the most page views.

Just the ones I like best.

– ‘Leadership in difficult times
– ‘Play
– ‘No purpose? No productivity

When you buy a product or service – doesn’t matter if it’s a bag of groceries or mortgage advice – you have certain expectations.

You probably expect an efficient service. And for the people you’re dealing with to be polite, helpful and knowledgeable.

You expect value for money and convenience.

There’s a caveat here. Our expectations vary depending on what we’re buying (we don’t expect the same convenience from an artisan baker as we do from a supermarket, but we probably expect more quality).

But typically, the businesses that succeed are the ones who understand what their customers expect from them – and then deliver.

Expectations of public services are no different. And if they are, they shouldn’t be.

Here at Wrexham Council, we’re undergoing a massive change. It’s full-on and fast-paced, and in the midst of everything it’s easy to forget why we’re doing it.

But we’re doing it because we’re trying to get that customer experience right.

Because if we get it right, we’ll become a more efficient and effective organisation.


setting standards

Way back in the autumn of 2013, we agreed our four ‘shape principles’ – the things that would guide us through change.

Wrexham Council's shape principles.


Our customers were right at the front of our thinking from the start. We wanted to put them first, and at the heart of everything we do.

This month we moved an important piece of the jigsaw into place.

We recently asked people what kind of customer service they wanted. On the back of that, we refreshed our customer care standards – spelling out two things in the process.

1. The kind of experience customers can expect from us.

2. The standards and behaviour we expect from our employees when dealing with customers.

Making sure colleagues understand this is really important. As employees, we all make a difference to how customers think about our organisation through the way we behave towards them.

When was the last time you looked at your organisation’s customer standards?

Do they still reflect your goals? Are they achievable? Do customers and employees know about them?

Questions worth asking.


keeping it real

So which is best…exceeding expectations, or falling short?

Neither. It’s best to meet expectations.

If you exceed expectations, your customers clearly weren’t expecting much…or didn’t know what to expect. That’s a problem.

If you fall short of expectations, well I don’t need to explain why that isn’t a good thing.

So when you spell out to customers and employees the standards your aiming for, it’s important to be realistic.

We know we can’t always give customers what they want, when they want it.

But we do know we can always be clear and polite with them, and not hide behind jargon and ‘council speak.’

So we spell that out.

And when we get it right – which we often do – our customers give us really positive feedback. Like this…

“I come in here often, and the service is always excellent.”

“Excellent response and very professional member of staff.”

“Attentive, polite and made me feel at ease. Very effective.”

“I have always had my problems sorted here.”

“Everyone very pleasant and helpful. Thanks.”


the contract

I’m really proud of the services we provide. And by relentlessly focusing on our customers, we’ll emerge as an even more effective and efficient local authority.

But it’s not all one-way traffic. We expect something from our customers too. Respect for our employees, who do a tremendous job dealing with enquiries.

So I think of it as a contract.

And as both chief executive of Wrexham Council, and a Wrexham resident who uses our services, I’ll be honouring both sides of the deal.

Like every organisation, we’re always looking at how technology can help us do our job.

How it can make us more productive.

Innovation is one of our key values (take a look at our Council Plan). So is flexibility.

And, if we use it wisely, technology can make us far more innovative and flexible in how we work. And that can make us more productive.

However, it’s easy to start thinking that productivity starts with technology. You adopt a snazzy new tool or platform, and then wait for the productivity explosion.

It doesn’t work out.

Because shiny new tools don’t make people more productive. Not by themselves.

putting a man on the moon

A colleague of mine listened to a talk by Dave Coplin of Microsoft recently. He signposted me to the footage on YouTube, and it’s really interesting.

One of the key points Mr Coplin makes is that a lot of employers miss the point in thinking productivity is driven by technology.

But it’s not. It’s driven by purpose.

He cites that famous story about former US president John F Kennedy asking a cleaner at NASA what he does. “I’m helping to put a man on the moon” he replies.

Basically, employees with purpose are productive. So the purpose needs to be there first, and then you use technology in a way that helps make that purpose more achievable.

That makes a lot of sense, and articulates something we’re trying to achieve here at Wrexham Council.

At every opportunity, we try and communicate our values and objectives to employees, and implement projects and changes that allow them to live those values.

So hopefully – over time – everyone starts to get a clear sense of where we’re trying to get to.

It’s not easy. Particularly during moments of organisational change. But there’s no doubt in my mind that productivity is driven by purpose.

the right tools?

So we’re trying to embed that sense of purpose here at Wrexham Council. But what about using technology to make that purpose more achievable?

Well. We’re making progress.

We’ve been using technology to encourage ‘agile’ working for a while now.

Employees can access emails, tools and systems remotely, or work from ‘hot-desks’ (not just in council buildings, but in some instances at partner agencies like our local hospital).

This reduces the need to travel to and from a single workplace, and helps them stay closer to the locations and customers they need to reach.

And we’ve just given all employees access to social media. A small step in the grand scale of things, but an important one for us – allowing colleagues to tap into relevant content on Twitter, YouTube and so on.

We’ve also developed a consultation tool with our partners called Your Voice Wrexham.

Not because the technology is there, but because one of our missions is to put our customers at the heart of our decision-making. That means understanding their views on key topics.

So we’ve developed Your Voice Wrexham to help us gather those views and feed them into our decision-making processes. Topics like our budget proposals for 2015-16.

Without the technology, it would be a lot more difficult to understand how customers feel.

So the key point is this.

When it comes to productivity, technology is just the oil on the gears. It’s purpose that really makes people productive.

The new prison development in North Wales.

At first glance, maybe having Britain’s newest and biggest prison is nothing to shout about.

“It’s just a prison,” you might say. “Whose going to be excited about that?”

I am.

Let me explain.

Work on building Britain’s newest prison is well underway on Wrexham Industrial Estate. In fact, I was lucky enough enough to see progress first-hand on a recent site-visit.

On the site at the North Wales prison development.

The fact is, the benefit to our local economy is going to be huge.

It boils down to two things.

Business opportunities. And jobs.

While the prison is being built, the developers Lendlease will be looking to sub-contract to smaller firms for all kinds of materials and services.

While it’s unlikely that all of those contracts will be won by local firms, many Wrexham businesses will be in a brilliant position to compete for them.

Some local firms are already feeling the benefit. An example?

A significant contract was recently awarded to a Wrexham company specialising in steel works and erection.

And £10.6m in work has already been awarded to businesses within a 50-mile radius.

creating business opportunities

To help businesses understand the opportunities being created, we’ve worked with partners to stage networking events. And our business support team is encouraging local firms to bid for contracts.

But that’s just the construction. Once the prison is up and running, it’ll need all kinds of goods and services to keep it running.

Again, local companies will be able to compete for many of these contracts – we’ll be doing our best to encourage them.

All in all, the prison is expected to be worth up to £23 million a year to our economy.

So in 10 years, it may have generated £220 million for Wrexham and the surrounding region.

That’s a huge amount of money.

North Wales prison development.

creating jobs

I also mentioned jobs.

As well as opportunities for skilled workers, the construction phase is expected to provide around 100 apprenticeships.

That’s a great chance for people to learn skills on the job.

People like 18-year-old Daniel Davies from Penycae in Wrexham.

Daniel is training to be a civil engineer with local construction firm Jones Brothers. He spends one day-a-week at Coleg Cambria, and the rest of the week on site at the prison development.

He says: “An apprenticeship is the best way to learn skills and gain experience. And being paid is an incentive to work harder and progress within the industry.”

The point is, people like Daniel are learning important skills that will be retained in our local economy. That’s good.

Once its operational, the prison will provide around 1,000 jobs. Not to mention the jobs supported through contracts with suppliers and service-providers.

We’ve been working with colleges and universities to help make people aware of these career opportunities.

The video below was made at a recent student information day that engaged around 120 students and academics.

So is having Britain’s biggest and newest prison something get excited about?

Yes, actually. It is.

%d bloggers like this: