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OPINION group manager, people and organisational development, Southend-on-Sea Borough Council

viewp int Practitioner’s

Award-winning practitioner Neil Keeler passes on his tips for making OD work in your organisation


espite downsizing by a third, reducing budgets, years of frozen pay and increased

workloads, Southend-on-Sea Borough Council has not only continued to deliver for our borough, but has an employee engagement culture described as “second to none” by external assessors. Labelled as “failing” in 2005,

we became Council of the Year in 2012, collecting many corporate and service awards along the way. Being recognised by Training

Journal in 2016 for our culture change work made me feel incredibly proud. Here are a few things I have

learned; I hope one or two help you.

Caring about people is the highest form of leadership integrity, we’re all people �irst.

Asking questions is the most eff ective way of challenging and improving performance. Ask your people what could be improved in your organisation – if they trust you, they will tell you. If they don’t, then I’d start there.

Managers should master coaching in order to become engaging, manage change and achieve better results.

Coaching shouldn’t be an elitist 6 | JUNE 2017 |

experience only for senior executives. Make it a behaviour. If your CEO doesn’t own your OD programme with integrity, and if it’s viewed as “an HR thing” then it won’t endure the usual state of organisational indiff erence. Your relationship, proximity and infl uence with your most senior leaders is critical. You’ll likely need them to hear some uncomfortable truths, yet still want to keep you nearby.

Make your OD �it your organisation.

A handy phrase I’ve coined for Southend-on-Sea Borough Council is to “estuarise” our work.

where you want it. And make sure you’re clear on where you wish to place it before you start lifting! T e fulcrum is your

employee engagement. If that is high and strong, the arc through which you can lever your perfor- mance increases exponentially. T e force applied via that lever

is your OD programme. You must ensure the fulcrum doesn’t crumble under pressure/force applied. If the lever isn’t strong enough, it too could snap. With the right leadership, right

engagement, right strategy and correctly resourced OD programme, you will move performance to new heights.

Culture is the residue of previous success (or failure!), and always risks pulling you back.

With the right leadership, right engagement, right strategy and correctly resourced OD programme, you will move performance to new heights

Our projects need a fl avour of the seaside – of salty air and candy fl oss – to be truly authentic.

Think about physics.

Your organisation’s performance is like a load that needs to be lifted to where you want it to go (your strategy), using the right amount of force (resources). T e lever is your leadership; the

strength and length of that lever will enable you to elevate your load to

Considering culture on its own is meaningless. Only consider it in the context of your business, your strategy – within your current and anticipated future environments. People with arms crossed looking angry are probably the best help you can get. Resistance takes energy; angry people (usually) care. Culture will not only eat strategy for breakfast, it quickly turns it into the next state by digestion. And while we’re talking about food ...

There is an ‘OD’ in ‘FOOD’, so food in OD really works!

Tribes commune and interact around food,

we are nourished, energised and sensually excited by it. Gifting food to people provokes reciprocation. Every workshop I’ve reviewed has included comments that “biscuits, cakes, Danish pastries, lunch …” would have made it better. We really should listen more to our people, shouldn’t we?

Neil Keeler is group manager, People and Organisational Development, at Southend-on-Sea Borough Council;


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