Public Sector Focus

28.04.17

Improving engagement and trust

Source: PSE Apr/May 17

Tracie Evans, chief operating officer at Haringey Council, reflects on the importance of innovative change and improving the relationship between staff and senior management in these times of austerity.

Since joining Haringey Council four years ago, Tracie Evans, the local authority’s chief operating officer, says there has been a massive culture change amongst the workforce. In particular, there has been a major drive to improve engagement and trust between staff and senior management. 

Like many authorities, Haringey has had to find significant savings in recent years and, in a short space of time, has seen its workforce dwindle from around 4,000 to 2,300. But rather than staff engagement decreasing, Evans told us, there has been improvement. 

“When I started, Haringey had gone through some change, but a lot of it was cost-cutting and cutting posts. They really hadn’t done the innovative change that they needed to do,” she reflected. 

“Also, the behaviours were quite traditional and, in some cases, a bit odd. For instance, they were very old-style unionised local government, which had some quite poor behaviours behind it. They were very distrustful of everybody.” 

But in these tough times, argued Evans, you can’t work in that environment anymore, “because everybody has to work together and no one can be precious about too much, as there aren’t too many of us anymore”. 

Not managing decline 

She added that despite money and staff numbers reducing, Haringey Council’s leader, Cllr Claire Kober, had a vision of “not managing decline, but encouraging growth”, which has been a key driver behind the local authority’s work. 

“Firstly, there was a whole piece around new values and a new brand, which was very important,” said Evans. “We needed to modernise and have something as a platform in how we change things. We now have a very ‘funky’ brand. That style is from our own IT team. It looks a bit Batman. 

“But we want staff to be curious. Off the back of the values and brand launch, there was a whole new piece around culture and the organisation. 

“Some of the stuff we knew was that our management layers weren’t very good. And if you don’t have confident managers, you are not going to have a confident workforce. We did a massive piece of work with our senior leaders here about how to manage change, how to be confident and how to pick the right people.” 

Encouraging diversity 

Another area that the council has focused on is the diversity of its workforce, which serves a population of 250,000 residents. 

“We have done a lot of work with Stonewall and our staff survey to ensure that diversity is understood and that we are an organisation that allows diversity to thrive,” said Evans. “We are on the Stonewall Index and are climbing that quite well. Our LGBT environment is pretty good.” 

In addition, the local authority has moved to a matrix management system in a bid to break down old silos. “We don’t have departments anymore, we have priorities,” PSE was told. “That requires lots of cross-cutting groups working together to resolve issues.” 

However, the culture change has not been plain sailing at Haringey. “Two things have happened to help it,” said Evans. “We’ve lost a lot of people, and you have to go through a process. We didn’t want to lose the good people. That was quite well and target managed. 

“We have also changed the way we performance manage. We can see from our outcomes that we are now quite performance-driven. We can see where we are delivering. We know where our difficulties are. But that is about having a clear line of sight.” 

My Conversation 

Haringey has also put in place a new staff appraisal system, My Conversation, which is a move away from the traditional tick-box approach. 

“Through our staff survey work, we knew that only 50% of people were getting proper appraisals and one-to-ones. That has turned around now,” reflected Evans. “The appraisal is now a conversation about how to get the most out of people. It is also done as often or as little as people need it.” 

The approach is based on a nine-box grid linked to behaviour and achievements, and now 85% of staff are receiving appraisals. 

As well monitoring progress on My Conversation, Haringey has also just completed another staff survey, with some interesting results. 

“Our staff survey was 70% completed, whereas previously we were only getting 40-45%, so there is much more engagement from our workforce,” she explained. “The reasons they weren’t filling in the staff survey before was because they didn’t trust us. It was as simple as that. There is still some of that. But the more that people are happy to do these surveys, because they can see us engaging with them, the better.”

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