York council bosses ‘out of touch’ and ‘lack leadership’ say staff
York’s top council officers are considered by their own staff to be out of touch, lacking leadership and responsible for a blame culture, according to an internal document seen by YorkMix.
The document, prepared after consultation with City Of York Council staff, presents a litany of criticism of the chief executive of the council, Kersten England, and her team of directors and assistant directors.
The member of staff who sent it to YorkMix said the report was the “tip of the iceberg” and that morale among frontline council staff is “getting lower by the day”.
The council said they recognised that “a number of difficult decisions had been made that adversely impacted on staff”. Leaders take the views of staff very seriously and are “committed to addressing the issues raised through direct action”. Read the full comment below.
The document, Organisational Development Action Plan, was compiled after council staff were asked for feedback on the leadership team, including via focus groups.
We understand it was presented earlier in September 2014.
It identifies a series of criticisms levelled at authority bosses and suggests a strategy to turn things around.
The council whistleblower who sent us the report told us: “This report touches the tip of an ugly dysfunctional iceberg.
“The top management is completely out of touch and now suddenly they think they can change.
“We don’t have any confidence that things will improve, morale is low and getting lower by the day.
“Until there is a change at the top, things will only get worse for us frontline staff doing the best we can.”
Throughout the report two abbreviations are used:
CMT is the Council Management Team, also known as the Corporate Management Team. This consists of chief executive Kersten England and senior directors.
CLG stands for Corporate Leadership Group. This consists of the CMT plus assistant council directors.
The report also refers to the Rewiring Public Services programme, now underway at the council.
The report consists of a series of slides under the headings Leadership, Culture, Employee Engagement and Workforce Development.
Under Leadership, the report summarises the current position at City of York Council:
- Lack of visible leadership from CMT & CLG
- Role of CLG in the Rewiring Programme is not understood
- CMT is said to be ‘out of touch’ with front-line service delivery
- Managers are said to be risk averse
- Concern about the behaviour of some Members
The authors suggest that the council focuses on: “building people’s trust” in their bosses; demonstrating “strong authentic leadership”; and “role modelling good behaviour and acting as staff would expect”.
They recommend a leadership development programme, and also suggest “‘Back to the Floor’ sessions for Directors to work with teams in a different Directorate”.
Culture: ‘no sense of direction’
The report summarises the council’s current position as:
- No overall sense of direction
- Priorities unclear
- Uncertainty about what difference the Rewiring Programme will make
- Paternalistic culture where staff are not empowered and a blame culture
- Silo working at all levels
The council must focus on “building a clear and credible picture of where the council is heading and why”.
It should start “sharing the culture we want to encourage with all staff”.
Employee Engagement: ‘unclear messages’
The report lists four criticisms:
- Poor communications and unclear messages
- Messages not being led from the top or cascaded to staff and partners
- Middle managers feel excluded and not able to influence transformation
- Existing communication methods are not well received
The council must demonstrate “that we value, respect and involve managers and staff”, and build “a sense of community – Team York”.
To achieve this, the report suggests that a new website be developed with staff and that “quarterly staff road-shows led by Directors” be introduced.
Workforce Development: ‘limited understanding’
The current position, according to the report:
- Staff and managers unable to find the time to develop their capabilities
- Limited understanding that managers need different skills to lead their teams through change
- Staff desire to be trusted, innovative and empowered to get on with the job
- PDRs [Performance and Development Reviews] are seen as a tick box exercise
- Concern around retaining talent in CYC
Leaders should focus on “Knowing who fits the council and how to attract them”, the report says.
It should also ensure “that behavioural and workforce changes are successful by taking a people approach”.
The report says “developing a ‘Rising stars’ programme” will help achieve this.
Council response: ‘We’re addressing the issues’
Ian Floyd, director of customer & business support services at City of York Council, said: “The survey this presentation relates to was conducted at the request of the council’s management team to build on their commitments made in the Workforce Strategy for engagement and involvement.
“They recognised that in the financial circumstances that the council has been operating in, a number of difficult decisions had been made that adversely impacted on staff. Increasing demand for services, uncertainty about job security and the scale of change the council faces has created concern and frustration for many staff.
“This presentation is an amalgamation of varying views gained from the survey of around 100 members of staff at the council and should be considered in the context of wider discussions which have taken place with staff.”
Mr Floyd said the council “takes the views of our staff very seriously, which is why we conduct surveys and hold wider discussions to gain their feedback, as part of a significant programme of ongoing staff engagement.
“As a management team we’re committed to addressing the issues raised through direct action.
“Many of the actions outlined in this presentation are already underway and we will be continuing to ask for feedback from staff throughout their implementation.
“Organisational change and improvement has to be just that – everyone in the organisation working together and supporting one another to deliver necessary changes, whilst striving for improvement.”
I remember when I worked for York council, the director at the time convened everyone to talk about the future and someone asked him what the councils five year plan was….he stuttered and stumbled and didn’t have a clue.
When I wanted to do an MA in urban design and conservation (as three others had done a year previously) I was told that they a) couldn’t fund me (fair enough) but b) they wouldn’t give me paid leave for one day to undertake the course and c) they wouldn’t give me one day unpaid leave to do the course. So I had no choice but to go part time. I left as soon as I could and as I understand it York have only 1 conservation officer and urban designer now which is an awful situation for somewhere needing to develop sustainably.