Skip to content

Eversheds Sutherland event

29th January 2020

Wigan Council

Helen Baggaley and Becky Tyrer

This was a fascinating case study which highlighted what can be achieved when the culture of an organisation can drive engagement, support employees’ wellbeing and build resilience.

Culminating in the winning of the 2019 Council of the Year award, Wigan Council has undergone radical transformation and has been acclaimed for its improvements in service delivery through forging a different relationship with residents through the Wigan Deal.   The Wigan borough has a population of 320,000 residents and delivers more than 100 different services. Wigan is the “happiest” council in Greater Manchester and one of the most productive councils in UK, despite having made cumulative savings of £141 million since 2010.

Helen Baggaley. Business Manager, OD and Strategy and her colleague Becky Tyrer demonstrated that at the forefront of their transformational change journey has been a focus on supporting staff and supporting leaders to support their teams. Some of the key challenges at the outset of this journey were:

*           there were pockets of staff who felt that their views had not been listened to, and appropriate and reasonable changes in practices not made

*           the staff appraisal process was not fit for purpose, with only very basic discussions around whether certain tasks had been completed and a focus on scores.

*           there had been focus on satisfaction and little attempt at driving employee engagement

*           there was no real focus on health and wellbeing and leadership development

The process was initiated by addressing changes in management processes, styles and leadership.  Linking into this were the following ambitious list of changes:

*           Creating and sustaining the right culture

*           Empowering and engaging staff

*           Identifying employee potential and capability

*           Using more of a person centred approach

*           A fundamental focus on health and wellbeing

Such ambitious and far reaching changes required focus on encouraging staff to feel that they were part of The Deal and had a clear role to play in the council’s transformational journey. A crucial part of the initial steps of the council’s culture change journey was co-designing a Staff Deal, explaining what staff can expect from all leaders and managers across the organisation, and in return what we expect from staff. This was designed alongside a series of behaviours with staff and managers to clearly outline expectations about how we do things as well as what we do. The behaviours for everyone are:

  • Be Positive
  • Be Accountable
  • Be Courageous

The manager behaviours are:

  • Inspire
  • Care
  • Engage

Wigan shared how taking a complete different approach to supporting the workforce through their culture change journey at the heart of this was the development of an interactive walk through experience – the BeWigan experience – to help staff understand the organisational strategy as well as bringing the staff deal and behaviours to life, clearly showcasing what support is available to staff helping them to flourish and thrive in their role.

The presentation also shared the council’s wellbeing approach through their BeWell strategy, being underpinned by a range of different things including:

  • Core behaviours (listed above)
  • Strong internal communication campaigns with key health and wellbeing messages
  • Informal opportunities to connect and listen through staff listening events and the internal staff Facebook page.
  • Support for employees for example through their Employee Assistance Programme, Occupational Health and also workplace champions.
  • Smart and agile working approach across the organisation and with wider partners
  • Reward and recognition platform
  • Employee volunteering scheme
  • Wellness hub

At the heart of this has been a fundamental focus on leadership development and strengthening employee and line manager relationships.

In short, change was introduced through a series of microsteps, which in totality has provided a transformative experience for most employees.  Make it flexible, make it real, and make it simple is the “motto”.

One of the key drivers of the success has been leadership buy-in, by the CEO and senior managers.  They have used their co-created the vision with staff and partners to explain and then drive the rationale for change, using ideas to help deliver the strategy and accountability as a tool for innovation.  The BeWell strategy is linked to strengths based conversations, both generic and focused support for teams as well as employee happiness and gratitude. Health and wellbeing support is a focus right through the employee life-cycle at Wigan from before a member of staff joins the team to when they leave.

The impact of their approach is remarkable: 80% of staff surveyed consider that they are engaged and felt that they could be “authentic” at work, and 76% felt that their wellbeing was being considered in the context of their work.

The council recognise there is more work to do, and one of their upcoming trailblazing projects is forging a fundamental change into how attendance at work is supported, focusing on removing triggers from their sickness absence policy to concentrating on early intervention and prevention, support for self-help and different conversations based on trust, once again putting employee and line manager relationships at the heart of this new approach.  This will be rolled out as a pilot for 6 months in the first instance with a robust evaluation process being undertaken throughout the pilot.

Ultimately from Wigan’s case study we’ve seen how resilience has been built utilising a multi levelled approach, starting with a conversation, focusing on early intervention and creating and sustaining a culture which supports employees to be healthy, well and thrive and flourish at work.


Back To Top