Council boss: ‘Still far to go to tackle ugly underbelly of organisational culture’

Nathan Elvery joined the county council in 2016 on a �190,000 a year salary
Nathan Elvery joined the county council in 2016 on a �190,000 a year salary

A council chief executive challenged about spending decisions by a staff member has thanked her for reminding him ‘how far we still have to go in tackling the ugly underbelly of our organisational culture’.

A total of 5,700 lanyards costing £3,288 to design and print have been distributed to staff promoting West Sussex County Council’s (WSCC) core values.

A library assistant took to the council’s internal message board to question the use of resources and the design as she found she was ‘no longer instantly recognisable as a member of staff’.

She said: “Are customers supposed to guess that I work for WSCC as my lanyard doesn’t say I do? There are of course advantages to having the promises written down. It seems a great opportunity to have people stare at my chest, always a pleasure for me and also it does make me feel genuinely valued.”

She described being ‘thrilled to know that the finances at WSCC are now so improved that we can stretch to buying these for all staff, a great use of resources’.

Responding directly to the post Nathan Elvery, chief executive at WSCC, said the lanyards were a ‘great use of resources’ to invest in the organisation to develop a value-led culture.

He described how staff members are identified by their photographic IDs and suggested if any customer had behaved inappropriately her director could write to them stating how they would expect the public to behave.

Mr Elvery added: “The journey to changing our organisation has started and whilst I recognise for some this might present some individual challenges, this is a journey we will complete as an organisation. Many of our staff have embraced this change, I recognise some of our staff still require convincing and I recognise for some that this may not be a journey they want to be part of and therefore will not be with us at the end, but it is nonetheless this journey we will complete.

“Thank you for reminding me how far we still have to go in tackling the ugly underbelly of our organisational culture. This ‘passive aggressive’ nature of our current culture has the potential to blind our organisation from the reality we face, the changes which must come about if our organisation is to be successful and indeed survive the challenges which local government faces today and embrace the opportunities which are evident for us to improve as one organisation.”

The library assistant then thanked Mr Elvery for a speedy reply, but described how she felt ‘there was an opportunity missed when re-designing our lanyards in not including the words staff or WSCC’.

She added: “I agree that WSCC still has a way to go and we must embrace all future challenges. I am sure that with you at the helm Nathan, for many years to come, we can achieve them together as one organisation.”

Approached for comment, Mr Elvery said: “I am passionate about the need to create the right culture within West Sussex County Council to deliver the high standard of services our residents should rightly expect. We have fantastic staff who work tirelessly every day to help and support our residents but to make sure we are doing that in the most effective way and to create a consistent culture across the organisation, some of the ways we work we need to change.

“This includes how we behave and relate to each other and the values which act as a glue to hold organisation together. Our lanyards referred to in the post are a symbol of that cultural change, reminding all of us the importance of our values in making our organisation the best it can be for people living and working in West Sussex.

“Similarly the forum these messages were on is something I introduced to make sure every member of staff has a way to share their views and get an honest and frank response to the questions posed.”

James Walsh, leader of the Lib Dem group at WSCC, said: “The chief executive’s response seems somewhat of an overreaction to a fair question. It has a patronising and somewhat dismissive tone, which is inappropriate to anybody, let alone an employee. Liberal Democrat councillors have questioned the cost, but also the tokenism of wearing slogans around one’s neck at work, and the implication that without constant in your face reminders, staff will fail to act and behave appropriately.”

Defending the spend on the new lanyards in a written response back in February, the cabinet member for finance and resources said: “The benefits relate to the visual reinforcement of those values as a single organisation and a constant reminder of how we expect our employees and members to behave towards one another, our partners and our customers.

“In wearing a lanyard stating those values, we are making a statement that the values and associated behaviours sit at the core of our day to day work and that we are happy to receive feedback or be challenged by colleagues, partners or customers if we are not behaving in line with these values.”

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