Vibrant Places

Holding up the mirror – stories from local government

Local government has a key role in creating a vision for place, and stories told by local leaders can play a part in significantly contributing to how successfully this is communicated. We recognise the importance in telling stories; in terms of how people learn, communicate, and as a signifier of the culture of an organisation and of a place.

Claire Tomlinson and her team delivered a behavioural and culture change programme for the top 15 leaders in the finance department of a local government authority. As a result, they are now equipped with the mind-set, confidence, tools and techniques to navigate challenging periods of change. They are also set up to achieve the new departmental vison.

Following that success, our team worked with the department to upskill an internal team of change champions. The local government authority went through a short period of co-facilitation with us and then went on to take full ownership of the change programme to roll out to over 200 team members.

Seeing things differently – Claire’s story

“One authority I was supporting had a strong and well-regarded finance function but wanted in their own words, to ‘work together as one market leading team who puts customers at the heart of everything we do’, and, at the same time, take a decent chunk out of their own budget.

To avoid being outsourced, the council had to move away from a back office function that produced reports, recorded, monitored and operated in silos. They needed all staff to see their role as being at the heart of change and improvement and become business advisers who were genuinely interested in what the organisation wanted to achieve. It meant seeing things differently and getting into culture and behaviours.

What made the difference was building plenty of space for reflection into the process. Engagement can be time consuming but it’s absolutely critical that people get time to think about the aspects of human nature that put the brakes on change. I believe you can’t really moan about something unless you are prepared to do something about it. My mum said even as a baby I was very determined.

I have a strong public service ethos. I take hope from a wider group of people, who like me, work outside the sector but recognise and support public service. There’s more awareness that we are all connected, even if you are a low service user.

When we went back to see how the finance team were getting on, one person said, “The small changes are starting to add up to something that feels quite different,” – like the marginal gains approach British Cycling used to make incremental changes that were converted into all those gold medals at the Olympics.

For me, market –leading isn’t about an all singing, all dancing approach. It’s about being able to change and adapt and continue to do the right thing at the right time.”

Positive change to working environments

Claire’s story links to our wider work, where we have been exploring how culture influences our ability to facilitate and support vibrant economies. In a very practical sense, councils and their partners have to align their outcomes and strategies to make the most of their locality – getting the right culture in both their organisation and their place in order to deliver. They must be open to change and innovation in the environments in which they operate.

We are delighted to have sponsored Holding up the mirror’ the second book curated by Dawn Reeves and launched at the SOLACE summit in November 2017. The first short book Under the skin was launched in November 2016. The stories in these form part of the ongoing conversation about how we understand culture of place. 

Read Holding up the mirror in full  [ 579 kb ]

You can hear more about Claire’s story in the short video below.