Archive for January, 2016

Managing performance

Monday, January 18th, 2016

I have just one theme for this week, which is the excellent work being done by the Insight team in terms of performance management, and how it will affect everybody across the organisation.  Kate Waterhouse and her team have been working away to stitch together the Business Plan, the Medium Term Financial Strategy and the performance management framework.  What we now have is a pretty comprehensive document which will be invaluable for making sure that we deliver on the objectives that we set ourselves for the rest of the year.  In simple terms, we’ve taken the priorities framework, worked out which activities lie behind each outcome, and stated what we are looking for in terms of results in the next year.  For each activity, there is a Cabinet lead, a responsible Senior Leadership Team member, and an accountable member of Wider Leadership Team or Operational Management Team for the delivery that we seek. 

So far, so good, but this will only work if we have a robust system of performance management.  The good news is that we have such a plan.  The decision this week by the Cabinet to move to a continuous Business Plan and MTFS process will help us enormously, especially now that we have a four year settlement from central government, albeit a very challenging one.   In essence, we will review progress, probably every quarter, and plan ahead out to the end of the four year period.  Of course, there are county council elections in 2017, and many things can change, but the intention is that we will have a robust and objective system in place to plan and monitor our progress against our plan.  I’m very happy with it, but it will only really work if all concerned give this the effort that it requires. 

Have a good week.

Good connections and great people

Monday, January 11th, 2016

The first week back at work in the New Year has been dominated by the financial settlement that was published just before Christmas. It is a more challenging settlement for all shire counties than was expected, and means that we will have to revisit our Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS).  All that said, all of us in local government have been asking central government for more local control for years, and that is what we have got – we can’t really complain that we’ve been given a tough task.

I was fortunate to be present during our Cabinet’s meeting with Stafford Borough Council’s Cabinet, where we explored how we can improve the life of our residents. They are facing similar challenges to us, but it was heartening to participate in a conversation in which a strong ambition for the county town and surrounds was evident.  Having lived for several years in Surrey, Hampshire and Wiltshire, I often think that we in Staffordshire don’t talk ourselves up enough.  We’re much better connected to London and more widely than Wiltshire where I lived before, and that is before one considers industry, landscape and people.

Talking of dealing with good people, my quarterly meeting with the Trade Unions’ representatives was very useful.  When I arrived, I made it clear that I wanted to have the same open, honest and positive engagement that I had enjoyed with the German unions in my last job. I’m delighted to report that we do indeed have such a relationship, which makes difficult decisions much more straight-forward.

Lastly this week, a place marker for Exercise AURORA in May.  This is a civil contingency exercise, our main one which takes place every 3 years.  I know that you will have many demands on your time, but if you are approached to be involved I would ask you to make time for this opportunity to think through how we would deal with an emergency.  It’s only 4 days, and, if we suffer a disaster of any kind, it’ll give you irreplaceable preparation.



New Year’s Resolutions

Monday, January 4th, 2016

I hope that you all had a relaxing and enjoyable Christmas and New Year. I wish you and your families a happy, healthy and successful 2016.

We spent 2 weeks moving into our house in the outskirts of Stafford. It’s been hard work, but we’re in, and hopefully move number 24 will be the last for some years to come.

I thought that it might be useful if I shared my New Year Resolutions with you; all but one are based on my first eight months in the job, and looking to the very difficult year that we have ahead. The financial settlement, published just before Christmas, was less kind to us than we had imagined, and the first two years of the four year period are particularly hard. If we’re going to come out at the end having achieved the right outcomes for the people of Staffordshire and with our finances in a sound state, we’re going to have to work effectively and efficiently with a range of partners.

So, to my first resolution.  We have a good strategy, but we need to implement sound, thought-through plans if we are deliver the outcomes that we seek. I personally will work on helping us to link strategy to activity. It’s about knowing when to get into the detail, and when to take a wider view. I look to you to help.

No surprises for regular readers, but I’m going to manage time-keeping more effectively across the organisation. Politely, but firmly, I will question the purpose, attendance and length of meetings, and make sure that events start and finish on time. This will only work if we collectively tackle this; we must be masters of our diaries, not servants.

I’m going to focus on how technology can facilitate better ways of working across Staffordshire County Council. We’ve already done a lot, but there’s more that we can do to make technology work for us.

More of a continuation than a resolution, but, I’m going to continue getting out and about, but probably more focussed on the issues at hand rather than getting to know the business. That means for you that, if I’m visiting, I’ll be getting into the detail.

Lastly, and one at which I’m probably doomed to fail, but I’m going to get better at doing holidays.

See you around the business.