Shropshire Council change programme
Shropshire has merged a county and five district councils. OPM supported this major, strategic, complex change programme, with the potential to achieve large efficiency savings, improved customer service and more effective arrangements for local citizen engagement. The two pre-existing tiers of government had different functions, ways of working and organisational cultures. At least three of the district councils were opposed to the proposal to create a unitary authority and had developed rival plans for change, but were nevertheless obliged to be involved. It was clear to the client that skilled external support, which would be perceived as “neutral”, was needed in this exceptionally difficult stakeholder environment. OPM contributed to the overall strategy and led several critical interventions to support the implementation of change, including: the generation of priorities and values for the new council, support for the interim managerial and political arrangements, the development of new locality-based political structures and the creation of a new managerial team. Support for the new political leadership team is planned.
The major challenges were:
- To create and deliver a multi-faceted programme that would support the creation of an organisation which was seen as genuinely new and not simply an extension of the old county council
- To win the support of councillors not all of whom supported the creation of a new authority
- To engage staff in the process, when most were not clear whether they would have a role in the new organisation or what it would be.
What we did
The approach we took and the benefits and value added as a result included:
- The design and delivery of a leadership programme that ran for the last six months of the old authorities and the first six months of the new one. This helped the most senior 35 managers to prepare for and manage the transition as a whole system and to use collaborative leadership styles that reflected the espoused values. The new political leadership will join this programme once elected.
- A series of large scale workshops with over 200 officers and 150 councillors from all the old authorities, to help establish the vision and values of the new council. These were later negotiated with the interim and then the incoming managerial and political leadership. This gave a shared sense of purpose during transition, and helped to guide the detailed work of organisation design.
- The design and delivery of a programme to enable elected members to structure and run local meetings in five pilot areas (now being rolled out across the county). The success of these meetings was heavily dependent on our providing members’ with the skills to engage members of the public and other stakeholders. Local communities benefited as a result and the councillors involved now serve as mentors for others.
- Overview and scrutiny development programmes to develop members’ skills and strengthen the scrutiny of partners and the role of neighbourhood working.
- Workforce development for officers at varying levels of seniority from all councils to encourage individual responsibility for learning, constructive use of diverse experiences and a clear and consistent focus on outcomes for local citizens at a time of change.
- Coaching for senior staff and team development events for several directorates to help them manage the people aspects of change and develop strategies for longer–term service transformation
Leading-edge consultant capabilities that enabled success were:
- Influencing and conflict-management skills in an exceptionally difficult stakeholder environment, that enabled us to begin to reconcile opposing interests
- A whole-systems approach, seeing the connections and the bigger picture across all strands of the work
- The ability to work at many organisational levels within both officer and political structures.
Building a close client-provider partnership, modelling effective behaviour and continuing to learn together throughout the project was central to our success. Skills and knowledge were transferred to the internal OD team and to programme participants. For example, councillors learned alternatives to committee-style approaches to local meetings; senior managers improved their ability to work as a “whole system” and to reflect on their leadership styles and access a range of styles as required.