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Wigan Council: embracing digital transformation

Source: PSE Apr/May 17

Alison McKenzie-Folan, deputy chief executive, director customer transformation at Wigan Council, explains why local authorities, as digital leaders, must set a positive example and demonstrate what can be achieved when you embed trust in the workplace.

In early March, I was asked to talk at the national Share Digital conference. The event brings those who work to make public services digital together to share ideas and address some of the common issues affecting progress.


I was asked to talk specifically about the HR and organisational issues for digital transformation. Like other local authorities, Wigan Council has a huge savings target to meet and working digitally can address some of those financial issues that we’re facing, but that shouldn’t be the only driver for change.


There are a number of digital tools and products available on the market that can offer the public sector the opportunity to transform, but to realise those opportunities organisations need to be open to change and courageous.


Focusing on outcomes


Being courageous is just one of three behaviours that underpin our way of working at Wigan Council. Through ‘The Deal’, not only have we transformed the way we work with residents, but we’ve also transformed the way we work.


Over the last few years we’ve undergone a massive cultural shift, with less emphasis on fixed desks and buildings and more on the outcomes of our work. This is helping us save money by reducing the number of administration buildings, while improving the quality of our work and relationships with partners.


Agile working isn’t just a cost-saving exercise, it facilitates better partnership working and promotes a better work-life balance, which is important when retaining and attracting talent. As part of public service reform, we’re already working across organisational boundaries, particularly in the health and social care realm through devolution. We’re holding meetings via Skype and encouraging staff to work from home or wherever they get the most out of their working day.


Be courageous, accountable and positive


In order for this approach to work, managers need to be brave and embrace the digital opportunities. We need to stop worrying about bums on seats and start thinking about how we can work smarter and more efficiently, and how we can encourage and nurture creativity and innovation. This means we need to trust our staff and give them the tools to do their job and remove the barriers preventing them from doing it as well as they can.


We’ve developed the three ‘Be Wigan’ behaviours as part of our workforce reform programme that underpin everything we do and how we work at Wigan Council: be courageous, be accountable and be positive. This gives staff the permission to work flexibly and encourages them to think differently about how they approach their work.


At Wigan, we believe in our staff and we want to ensure we can attract the best skills and talent. We have recently led on the implementation of a new and innovative jobsite for Greater Manchester, This development, alongside our changes in recruitment practices, have been put in place to support better recruitment and to attract the right candidate. Changes include new and streamlined job descriptions, based on behaviours and attitude rather than a tick list of competencies, and using telephone and Skype interviews is on our to-do list, as well as different methods of interviewing such as gamification. The website won an award earlier this month – demonstrating its success.


The tools to embed a digital workplace are out there, the only barrier to transformation is culture. As digital leaders, it is our job to set a positive example and to demonstrate what can be achieved when you embed trust in the workplace.


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