Archives for posts with tag: leadership

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.

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.’

It’s that time of the year.

The internet is jammed with articles about what happened over the past 12 months. And predictions about what’s going to happen over the next 12 months.

And I’m about to contribute to the congestion, so apologies in advance.

Here’s a quick run-down of five things that were big for local government in 2014…and which I expect to be even bigger in 2015.

1. digital transformation

They say that companies ‘born’ on the internet have an easier time embracing digital opportunities than companies born offline.

Obviously, local government wasn’t born online, so embracing the exponentially growing trends and possibilities offered by digital can be painful for the public sector.

Although we’ve been evolving our digital capability at Wrexham Council for a few years, it was only in 2014 that we really started our journey towards true digital transformation.

Harnessing the true potential of digital will remain one of the biggest challenges facing the public sector in 2015.

2. the impact of the internet on the high street

E-commerce is an amazing development that’s brought many benefits to consumers and businesses. I shop online. Chances are you do too.

But the impact on the high street is tangible. Empty shops and closing-down sales are a common story.

That leaves councils with a difficult problem: how can they re-energise their town centres in an age when people don’t have to visit the high street to buy goods?

In Wrexham, we laid the foundations for an exciting project in 2014 that will help regenerate our town centre (you can read about it in my previous article ‘Disruptive Technologies.’)

And working out how to breathe new life into high streets will remain a priority for local authorities in 2015.

3. going back to the floor

The idea of senior managers going back to the shop floor to spend time working with front line staff isn’t new.

But the practice has started to be perceived as a little clichéd recently.

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

I’ve spent time with several of our front-line teams at Wrexham Council in recent months and it was useful on many levels.

And as budgets shrink and services need to be ever-more focused, the need for senior managers to work with and understand the challenges and ideas of front-line staff will be even more pressing.

You read it here first. Going back to the floor will (or at least should) be important to many public sector leaders in 2015.

4. all work and no play is no good

Get life outside of work right, and you can get a lot more out of your working life too.

It isn’t easy. Life is busy, and balancing time is tough. But giving yourself and employees the freedom to enjoy life outside of work can increase enthusiasm and productivity levels.

I spent a bit of time thinking about this in 2014 and – in an age when employees find it far more difficult to escape the office because of digital and mobile technology – encouraging play will be as important as ever in 2015.

5. volunteering

Towards the end of 2014, we launched our Together in Wrexham initiative.

A scheme to encourage more individuals, communities and groups to come together to help make a difference.

As councils shrink, helping communities grow and encouraging individuals to volunteer some time, knowledge or skill to help others will be important in Wrexham and many other parts of the UK.

So there it is.

My contribution to the ‘looking back / looking forward’ bottle-neck of stories as we start the new year!

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 ‘authentic ‘ are you?

Do work colleagues, friends and family see the real you? Or just the person you think they should see?

I’ve always loved reading. The chance to soak up knowledge and ideas, and energise my own thinking.

I’ve also had the privilege of being in leadership roles all my working life and always want to improve my understanding of the science / art of leadership.

So when I was introduced to a book called Mindful Leadership recently, I devoured it. And I found myself asking, “how authentic am I?”

Is my leadership authentic – full of integrity and calm? I think so. I hope so.

But it’s a question every leader should ask.

The author of this book? Maria Gonzalez.

I was told about her by a tremendous guy called Mark Hodder, who – through Academi Wales – has been helping us develop various thinking skills and techniques to influence how we work at Wrexham County Borough Council.

On reading the book, I was struck by Gonzalez’ definition of mindfulness as “simply noticing the way things are.”

She describes nine behaviours that really resonated and took me back to another work I read many years ago called True North, by Bill George.

What Gonzalez and George have in common is that they both focus on our internal compass and sense of direction.

They reflect on how leaders need to be balanced, attentive, clear, focused…and true to themselves.

Here’s a clip of George explaining why authenticity is so important in leaders…

In a nutshell, being an authentic leader will rub off on your organisation, and provide it with its compass and sense of direction.

And by providing that compass, you inspire colleagues to achieve their very best – and that’s the greatest part about being a leader.

Sumantra Ghoshal and Peter Moran summed it up in Towards a Good Theory of Management:

“From being the builders of systems, leaders transform into the developers of people, adding values to all employees and helping each individual become the best that he or she can be.”

So how I behave supports and encourages employees to grow and develop.

My behaviours are underpinned by my personal value-set, and the behaviours of our organisation are underpinned by its agreed value-set.

At Wrexham County Borough Council we have six values that guide our behaviours and act as our compass:

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

Do they guide the organisation? Do they guide me? I believe so.

So back to that original question…

How authentic are you?

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