Llewelyn Morgan, Head of Innovation at Oxfordshire County Council talks about the third session of the 2021 Excellence in Place Leadership (EiPL) programme, which focused on ‘Organisational Renewal’.
The pandemic shifted how we work, forcing many of us to work from home for the first time, juggling space, family dynamics and technology to connect and find new ways of working. Now, as we emerge from the crisis and many of us begin to go back to our workplaces, we need to re-examine what this looks like – defining what our organisations should look and feel like to be a future employer of choice, providing excellent customer centric services. As restrictions lift, this is the perfect opportunity to innovate, by understanding employee needs, helping us to define and create organisations for the future.
The third EiPL session focused on the issue of organisational renewal, and challenged us to re-imagine the way our organisations, people and services work.
We began the session with a case study on my local authority, Oxfordshire County Council (OCC), looking at our approach towards driving innovation. The challenge for us at OCC was to create a safe area in the council to test new, potentially risky ideas, which often goes against the usual public sector approach which focuses on core, tried and tested activities. To do this, we developed a revenue stream with external funding, protected from public sector cuts – we have now delivered over 60 projects, worth over £135 million. We have developed a culture of ‘learn quick and fail fast’ – we believe the right leadership culture is crucial to enable success.
We then listened to three different thought leaders: Peter Brown from PwC, Liz Campbell from Lane4 Management Group Ltd and Carol Elderfield, HR Director for Amey. All three experts spoke about their experience of organisational change and explained how innovation is being embraced in their organisations. They outlined key learnings and insights, gave some top tips for leaders and looked at some of the opportunities that exist. All three speakers agreed that attracting and retaining talent is the key to an agile workforce.
Following this, we split into smaller workshop groups, to investigate and identify how each of our organisations can innovate and re-imagine how we work. The first workshop considered what is holding organisations back in their renewal, looking at the brakes and blockages and what needs to change. The second looked at creating a roadmap, setting out how the changes could be delivered.
Overwhelmingly, we agreed that organisations have so many opportunities now, and we need to embrace this. While many of us were comfortable with working from home, it is far from a level playing field.
For example, some of our staff live in shared accommodation with very little private space. Consequently, they were forced to work in cramped conditions, often from their bedrooms and unable to escape from the office. We need to consider the social benefits and wellbeing of staff versus productivity, looking at the advantages of each. In many cases, adopting a hybrid approach and working from home a few days a week, combined with being in the office as well.
Re-imagining how we work has got to be led from the top. This is a massive challenge for much of the public sector, as we need to consider how our senior leadership teams embrace change – and this will vary enormously between different areas. There is an acute need for better, visionary leaders – not managers – in this instance, and we hope this will disrupt our industry in a positive way.
In the same way, during the workshops we agreed that a high level of trust is a necessity for change to work well. An outcome-based approach is needed, ensuring a clear vision and end goals are established.
Technology may also provide further opportunities for staff to focus on creativity, talking to communities, and with less emphasis on the process. Really supporting staff to constantly upskill, learn and train, by establishing a culture of development opportunities and writing this into contracts is also key.
At the end of the session, we all agreed to take our roadmaps back into our own organisations for corporate planning and strategy setting. We considered questions and set out ‘what good looks like’. In OCC, we are setting new corporate values and we will use the roadmap to assist with this.
The EiPL programme has been a really positive experience. It has helped all of us to deliver agendas, giving us space to think and focus on just one topic at a time. Our group is able to share best practice and have peer support which has been really helpful.
I don’t think our industry is changing quickly enough, but the EiPL programme gives me hope that - maybe if we accelerate even more – we have a chance to innovate and improve, helping to deliver better outcomes for our communities, while providing better opportunities for our staff.
Find out more about the Organisational Renewal session here.