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Fiona Kivett

Engaging council colleagues beyond ‘the usual suspects’

At a recent session with a client, a senior manager spoke about how they wanted to engage a broader group of council stakeholders, rather than just ‘the usual suspects’, in delivering their transformation programme. They recognised that delivering the ambition of the department would require the involvement of many people, rather than just a few.

This got me thinking about how best to deliver change and transformation in the public sector – and the lessons we have learnt at IMPOWER from our work with councils. Kotter’s 8 step process for leading change, developed through observing numerous leaders and organisations, is a well-known change management tool. Reflecting on Kotter’s 8 steps, which have recently been updated, the first thing I noticed was that Kotter also talks about engagement beyond the usual suspects.

Over the last six months, I have been working with a local authority to demonstrate the impact of using a strengths-based approach at the frontline. The project started with a small-scale prototype, focused on maximising independence for people with learning disabilities. We deliberately formed a new group of practitioners who were not ‘the usual suspects’, with each member bringing a unique set of skills and experience. We learnt a lot over the three-week trial, and were able to show impact and build momentum for change.

We have recently doubled the number of practitioners involved and numbers will continue to grow as the strengths-based approach is rolled out to new teams. Reflecting on this recent experience and Kotter’s enhanced 8 steps (specifically the 8 accelerators and 4 change principles), I spotted some common themes including:

  • Recognising the power of people – change happens through people. In Kotter’s words: ‘build a guiding coalition’ and ‘enlist a volunteer army’. Create a strong narrative around change to secure buy-in and build momentum to motivate others.
  • Identifying quick wins – agree priority areas and uncover opportunities which are easy to mobilise. Give permission to test and learn. Start small, deliver results – and then grow.
  • Removing barriers – identify barriers, capture issues or gaps and engage others in developing solutions.
  • Working across boundaries – move away from traditional structures which can limit potential. Instead, facilitate opportunities to work across and beyond the organisation at the interface with partners, residents and communities. (This is also a key part of IMPOWER’s EDGEWORK approach).

Kotter recognised that successful change starts with a sense of urgency around a big opportunity. If you are ambitious about the opportunities for change within your council, please get in touch.

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