Renfrewshire Council

Lee Neary

Our Head of Transformation & Organisational Development, Lee Neary discusses the importance of Our Values in our response to the Covid-19 pandemic. #WorldValuesDay

Lee's blog


What surprised you?

The speed of change, or to be more precise, the speed at which we as an organisation have been able to change.  This year, we've arguably faced the biggest challenge of our working lives, set against a backdrop of rapidly changing Government and Public Health advice.

We've had to adapt, in many cases, in real-time and have exhibited real agility, rising to each and every challenge we have faced.  Yes, of course we've not always got it right, but we have learned rapidly from experiences, making the solutions and new processes we have put in place better than before.

What hasn't surprised me though, is the way in which our people right across the organisation have come to together to face challenges and solve problems.  Historic organisational silos very quickly dissolved, and our people showed energy and purpose in making sure our services continued to be delivered in a safe and effective manner.

The care and compassion which has been shown across our teams has been truly humbling.  We are in the people business, and we absolutely have the best people - I've no doubt we'll continue to work together, collaboratively, facing up to each and every new challenge presented to us.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced throughout this crisis?

I'll cheat a bit here because there are two areas.

Firstly, at a personal level, maintaining that balance between the working and non-working parts of my life became extremely blurred, especially during March and April this year.  It became necessary to stop for a moment and think about what adjustments I needed to make to readdress this balance.  I dedicated slots during the day to breaks (which I make sure I always take) and utilising technology to help me - for example, using MS Teams via a smartphone rather than a PC which allowed me to get up, move around, and get my steps up.  I still cannot get back to training Jujitsu, it seems like forever now (will probably need to go back to white  belt) - so have substituted with running, which whilst I enjoy, definitely reminds me that I am not as young as I once was.

Secondly, a further challenge was the fluid nature of the pandemic and rapidly changing guidance and advice which we were required to act upon, often within minutes and hours.  Every team across the Council had to continue to deliver on business-as-usual activity but at the same time, introduce new ways-of-working and ensure that guidance was rapidly acted upon and communicated across the organisation.  This often meant having to make decisions with incomplete information - fortunately as a Council Team, no one was ever left on their own and a 'wisdom of crowds' approach helped us make sure our decision-making processes were robust.

How have our values shown up through this period?

As I mentioned in the video, our Council values of being Fair, Helpful, of Collaboration and Learning have been strongly on display, more than ever during the last few months.

I come back to collaboration.  Some of the major tests which the organisation has faced - such as the creation of the Local Assistance Teams, re-opening of our schools and keeping our workforce and communities safe - have only been possible through a collective way of working which saw organisational silos come crashing down, sleeves were rolled up, and everyone quite simply got stuck into solving problems and challenges, together.

How have they helped you?

Our Council values have become a mental checklist for me. Part of my day-to-day approach to my job.

Throughout the course of a piece of work, I'll ask myself:

Is this decision fair?  Have I taken different perspectives into account?  Who might this impact? Would others say I am acting fairly and with integrity? Is this course of action the right one for our people and our customers? What would my family, friends colleagues and community think?

Have I done everything I can to help those who need my help and support? Have I asked the right questions to make sure I can offer the right help?  Do I follow up after acting and offer support and suggestions for improvement to those I am helping? What are the other follow-up possibilities?

Have I involved the right people?  Who can I collaborate with to get the job done?  How can I effectively work with those to make sure we get the right mix of skills and experience to get the job done?  Have I tested my views with different people?

What can I learn from this experience?  If I were to do it again, what would I change?  How can I 'bottle' that learning so that I can share it with others?

So, in essence, the values start to act like a check and balance for every action and decision I take during my working day.  They've helped our team act with integrity and confidence through this, the  most uncertain of times.

What have you learned because of this experience?

I think I could write a book on this one! Very difficult to pin down one thing. That said,  I think a key takeaway will be that, there is nothing we cannot achieve if we continue to embrace the Council values as our guiding tenets - treating each other with dignity and respect whilst allowing people the freedom to try new ways-of-working and not be afraid if they do not get it quite right first time round, the key is to learn and move ahead better.

If you knew someone else would walk in your shoes, what one bit of advice would you give them?

Be mindful of your colleagues and teams.  Whilst a small minority of our people are familiar with flexible ways of working, others are not and may not have the proper equipment or space to do their job as well as they would like.  I would say, understand this early, take action and follow up.

Above all, look out for one another and provide help and support wherever you can.

Looking ahead, what have you learned that you would like to use to adapt or change how you work?

The most obvious learning is through our use of technologies.  Almost overnight, a significant portion of our Council workforce moved to a virtual working model - something which, had we attempted pre-COVID, would have taken more than a day or two!

Through experimentation, we discovered fantastic new ways of working (for example, co-authoring content with multiple users simultaneously using the power of Office365)