Group of 22 challenging and changing how we lead

By Kerry Pletch

Here’s the short version:

  1. 2012 employee engagement identified a problem area
  2. A diagonal slice of employees (across the organization and from all positions) came together
  3. They were joined by the participants of a CAO round table looking at similar issues
  4. Together they further defined the problem
  5. Proposed a solution
  6. Helped to implement

Here’s the story: City employees were surveyed in 2012 for the first time to find out our level of employee engagement. The survey data confirmed what we expected to hear – that we had low employee engagement – an all too common story in the public sector. Departmental action plans were developed first. We knew we needed to dig deeper into the corporate data. So we held a blitz of focus groups, and 88 employees from across all City service areas and across all levels of leadership participated. They talked about what they liked about working at the City of Guelph and where we could make improvements.

This data was themed and prioritized by the Executive Team and the Direct Report Leadership Team (DRLT). DRLT was asked to provide representatives to help do a root cause analysis on our focus group data and engagement survey data. We wanted employees from a cross-section of the City and a diagonal slice of the City (from GMs to front line). We wanted employees who didn’t typically participate on corporate committees and who wanted to contribute to a better workplace.

Twenty-two employees gathered at the Turf Grass Institute to do a deep dive into the data. Four teams were formed and each team completed a root cause analysis on a theme area. Our CAO, Ann Pappert kicked off the day. And the 22 participants got to work. It wasn’t easy work. And, after lunch, when our external facilitators tried to “pretty up the root cause analysis” the group pushed back and said “nope, that’s not what we said!”

Ann returned at the end of the day and heard from the group that cultural change was needed at the City of Guelph and that this change needed to be led and role modelled by our leaders. Oh, and by the way, the group said our current definition of “leader” (employees with direct reports) was too narrow and needed to be expanded to include union presidents, project leaders, lead hands and so on. The group told Ann we needed clear leader expectations so we knew what good leadership looks like here. And then we need to develop our leaders to meet those expectations.

This group continued to work to refine their recommendations and were invited to “bring a friend” to join in helping develop the plans. They presented their analysis and recommendations to the Executive Team and then to DRLT. They were supported 100% by both of these leadership teams.

Concurrently, Ann formed a CAO round table. This group met several times and discussed leadership and other issues. At this time Ann was reading The Leadership Contract by Vince Molinaro.

Both groups worked in parallel and, as the work evolved, there were clear points of intersection. Ann brought the groups together into one large round table. All participants were given a copy of The Leadership Contract and engaged in discussions about leadership concepts. It was determined that the City needed its own Leadership Contract – our own Leadership Charter – developed by our leaders for our leaders.

Working with Knightsbridge including Vince Molinaro, a collaborative process was developed. And in June 2014 all of our City leaders, including our union presidents, came together for a two-day leadership conference. Vince kicked off the conference. Our leaders worked together to form the outline of our Leadership Charter. Follow-up work included focus groups to refine the contents of the Charter.

The Leadership Charter was launched and celebrated on October 2014! Our leaders met to symbolically sign off the Charter, receive their key to leadership and to celebrate as a community of leaders.

We still have lots of ongoing work to do before the City’s leaders have all the tools and training they need to keep our organization moving together and in the same direction. But we are on our way largely thanks to 22 employees from around the organization who rolled up their sleeves to make us better.