Case studies

How West Sussex County Council reinvigorated its leadership

25 Jan 2018 By Marianne Calnan

Helping 500 managers to help each other was the first step in getting the council back on track

The problem 

In 2014, feedback from staff listening events at West Sussex County Council painted an inconsistent picture of being managed as a member of the council’s workforce. With more than 18,000 employees, in hundreds of functions spread across a large county – from libraries and fire stations, to community social care and the council’s own offices – engagement was varied and staff didn’t feel they had a voice.

While some gave their experience of management full marks, employee development was severely lacking in many areas. “Some people even revealed that they hadn’t had an appraisal in five years,” says Jo Bentley, senior organisational development consultant. “And others thought they weren’t being given enough motivational feedback by their manager. My job was to support our management, give leaders the right tools and make sure it was consistent across the organisation.”

The solution 

Using conversations from the employee listening events, the council had been able to shape new values for its entire workforce – from apprentices to directors – to live by: customer-centred; listen and act upon; honest and realistic; genuinely valued; and trust and support.

In January 2016, it launched a leadership programme in partnership with consultancy LHH Penna, with these values at the heart of the scheme. “Our main issue was the inconsistent management experienced by our staff,” says Bentley. “We wanted to make sure everyone experienced more consistently good management, whatever their role or department, and that we could create a culture where our values drive our behaviours. The aim was for our staff to feel they have a voice, and could collaborate and share ideas to deliver better outcomes for our customers.”

As part of the programme, leaders are assessed against the council’s values, but with a twist – each manager is ‘buddied’ with another from a different department. Each person discusses their buddy’s performance against the values with around five of their colleagues, before sharing the feedback with their buddy. Although this process is time-consuming, “the benefits outweigh the effort they put in”, says Bentley, “and we have created many longstanding relationships across different areas of the organisation”.

For example, a fire station manager gave his buddy, who works in social care, access to his meeting space to save them paying for one. “It’s small things like this that make a big difference,” says Bentley.

The council has also begun promoting the importance of giving feedback to motivate and develop others, and has created a new recognition platform, which went live in January 2018. “We want to make sure that when staff are demonstrating our values in the work they do, this is recognised,” says Bentley. “The platform is a great tool for highlighting this, and also for encouraging others to lead by example.”

The outcome

More than 500 of the council’s 650 managers have so far undertaken the leadership programme, and Bentley is looking forward to what the future holds. “It’s going to be exciting to see the impact good leadership has on cultural change and where further embedding our values and developing our leaders will take us,” she says. “And I’m looking forward to moving closer to having an engaged, collaborative workforce that lives and breathes our values. The future is bright.”

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