An English county council with around 17,000 staff and a budget approaching £1 billion was experiencing a financial squeeze that necessitated a restructuring of its services and staff. There was widespread consternation among the workforce as they saw old certainties fading and job security slipping away. A large group of senior managers faced the prospect of leading the organisation through a long period of complex change in an often gloomy and occasionally febrile atmosphere.
The council was keen to bolster its managers’ capacity to handle this challenge. Managers had to be able to motivate their staff despite the circumstances and thereby safeguard service delivery. They also had to be able to deal effectively with performance issues and to prepare staff for a different style of local government.
VOX Coaching was engaged to contribute to the council’s leadership and management development programme. The task was to run a day-long masterclass for 80 managers at the sharp end of the change process. Using specially-designed scenarios that were resonant for the participants, VOX explored a range of the challenges they would encounter in the coming months. These included:
- Encouraging a team that has become demotivated
- Dealing robustly but fairly with lapses in performance
- Managing active and passive resistance to change
- Having difficult conversations that end productively
- Gaining buy-in to new ways of working
- Enabling staff to embrace the future rather than dwell on the past
The masterclass was a chance for managers to discover communication techniques that would strengthen their arm in a variety of situations. These techniques were grounded in established theory; they were also immensely practical and capable of immediate application.
Importantly, the masterclass was energetic and fun – a world away from the dull plod through PowerPoint that constitutes some training.
There’s no way of knowing for sure what difference the masterclass made in the long term. However, the feedback showed that the participants were glad to have taken this time out for an honest and engaging exploration of topics that were of pressing concern to them, and to acquire or sharpen skills that would stand them in good stead during a difficult period. They said they felt more confident and upbeat about the future.
It was also apparent that a useful by-product of the masterclass was a stronger bond between those who attended. There was greater unity of purpose and increased collective resolve.