The 27th May 2012 marked the 25th anniversary of the day I joined Leeds City Council. I thought the occasion merited a few anecdotes. Back in ‘87 there was no big signing on fee, no press photo call holding up my shirt with my name on it with. I just turned up with my packed lunch and certificates at the Department of Industry and Estates (to become Leeds Development Agency, then Development Department, then Planning & Development Department, now City Development Directorate, etc etc).
I was greeted by a quiet young man from personnel, (… Support Services, Human Resources, Organisational Development……) who did the admin (now induction). That young man is now assistant CEO. And not as quiet now either.
In these 25 years, I’ve had eight jobs;
Senior Graphic Designer
Senior Communications Officer
Senior Communications Manager
I’ve liked them all, some more than others, and my current role is a tough gig. I’ve been retrained twice and had some good managers and colleagues who have encouraged me to do the right thing, even if that meant upsetting apple carts along the way. And fruit has been spilled, but for the right reasons.
I recall having to appeal to a personnel and training panel to retrain/study to be a graphic designer. I worked in the Planning Department and the only professional development opportunities were to progress to be planning assistants and then town planners and I didn’t want that. So I took the stance that planners needed help to explain to people what it is they ‘see’. I argued most people don’t ‘do’ maps and plans but visuals and displays help in explaining the ‘vision’. Personnel were having none of it, “computer says no, it’s not on the list of training courses”. I suggested it should be, they disagreed, I challenged, it went to the top table for a decision – result! But the process had taken that long I’d missed the start of the course and had to wait another year to enrol. I’m sure it was noted on my file; ‘awkward bugger that one’ – perhaps it should have read ‘shows potential’.
If I’ve developed a bugbear about #localgov, it’s most definitely not been the people; it’s processes that don’t give flexibility to make things happen – the empowerment to change the little stuff that would make a big difference without needing to go to five boards and get sign off in triplicate, four months after it was needed. I have to say though, Organisational Development, as a function has changed for the better in my time, as have many other things.
So there have been disagreements and raised words with colleagues; we are talking 25 years remember?
But there have been ace times too.
My best moment(s); getting our plain English campaign on BBC’s One Show; being invited to speak at a national conference on Brand Management in 2008; working with local colleges and universities to give students live briefs and in encouraging them to consider local government as a career. And influencing people to not always take the safe option.
My proudest moment(s); helping to redesign the council logo and fighting (and it was a battle that we lost the first time but we regrouped and came back stronger) to get the powers that be to accept a design where we’d tinkered with the double ‘e’s in the word Leeds. When I see the logo on vans and buildings, I still think of our man from Del Monte moment when we got a ‘yes’. But mostly, last year when I was nominated by colleagues and won an award for being ‘open, honest and trusted’, one of our council values. That really meant something.
I’m now in a position to support colleagues in changing and improving how things are done and in their personal and professional development. I’m now mostly an enabler, when I started I was a doer. Obviously I still need to ‘do’ now and again.
I’ve worked in some great buildings too, the Civic Hall with all its history and ceremony; Headrow Buildings, before it became The Light shopping complex, with its tiled walls and big wooden doors; the higher floors of Merriin House twice, and at least 3 other locations.
My worst moment(s), there’s been the odd few; roundabout sponsorship springs to mind. What fun I didn’t have raising that one when I got back to the office. Definitely an apple cart moment. And the time when I’d been asked to do a shop use survey and note how many people used shops on a particular parade. We’d had a planning application for a change of use similar to one of the existing shops. One of the shops was a post office. I’d been sat outside in my car all morning watching people coming and going and making notes. Then, sirens, blue lights, screeches of brakes, I get dragged out of my car, thrown across the bonnet and accused of ‘casing up’ the post office. Didn’t enjoy that day much. I thanked my colleagues when I returned to the office; those who said they’d made the necessary arrangements.
In these days of social media, potential 24/7 open for business and changing working patterns, to split personal and professional lives is becoming more difficult; each influences the other, it has to and it’s becoming harder to switch one off and one on. That’s not a moan; but a statement of fact that needs careful management to give due care to family and employer and employee.
25 years on, the Letraset and drawing board has been swapped for a smart phone and laptop. I hot desk in various locations and work at home one day a week. Massive overall change, incrementally introduced.
What hasn’t changed is the golden thread of information. What do we have? is it accurate? what do people want? what do they need? how can we make it understandable to those who need it?….and, actually, can we make it available for others to make use of…..the open data thing.
I’ve always been proud to work where I do for the people of my home town. It’s been a good innings so far.