I’ve been reading a book called “lessons” by Ian McEwan. It has some of the finest descriptions of everyday life I have ever read. Many of the sentences are so descriptive they are poetic. I recommend it as a serious description of the life of a family.
One paragraph which struck me, was when the key character was reflecting on the way we view our deaths as an end to everything. It read:
The temptation of the old, born into the middle of things, was to see in their deaths the end of everything, the end of times. That way their deaths made more sense. He accepted that pessimism was the good companion of thought and study, that optimism was the business of politicians, and no one believed them.
The phrase “pessimism is the good companion of thought and study” caused me to reflect…
Like many before me, and many after me, I devoted a portion of my life to public service in Local Government. I started because of things which were happening, or not happening, around my home and this motivated me to stand for elected office. The longer I was involved the more fascinated I found our locally owned, and controlled, institution called Christchurch City Council. It’s a complex beast but we all own it. I regularly meet former elected reps and staff and we have lots to talk about as we love our city and how it is functioning.
The recent conversations I have been having with staff and fellow ratepayers has filled me with the pessimism referred to above. They’ve made me think carefully about just what’s happening, or not happening, at CCC right now.
As Mayor I used to walk the streets most days. I still do. So do old planners and council staff. As you walk you read people’s faces and responses. I used to realise when we had made a decision-making mistake at the Council as I walked up the street. People would be polite, but they would drop their eyes as they passed. I’d go back to the office and think hard about how we could remedy our mistake.
People’s eyes are dropping right now about CCC…
There are many measures of just how an institution is performing. As I tune into Council meetings on Zoom and hear the Mayor and Councillors being assured by the CE that everything is fine, I am often troubled. No that’s wrong. I’m filled with pessimism. I expect our reps to be more challenging than they are. Some are excellent at it, but too often their challenging is dismissed by the CE and those who comply with her thoughts. Which is most of them according to my observation and that of many others.
Whenever I devour the loaded agendas confronting our elected reps each week, I wonder how the hell they can take in even small portions of it. The best way for any executive to distract people is to load them with trivia and camouflage what are the real issues.
Think of the Council as a family. In our families we all struggle with relationships. With power plays by individuals. We generally know who will play which role in a family drama. Families split sadly from time to time. But they are still family.
One of the tests of how things are at the workface of the Council family is reflected in how the staff are feeling.
Each year CCC undertakes a staff survey. After a low scoring study of staff last year, it was reported in Newsroom:
In June, when staff were sent the high-level survey results, Baxendale assured them: “ELT is taking the results of the survey seriously and together we have done some soul-searching around our own behaviours and the way in which these are perceived. We have re-committed to being the best team we can be and to continuing to build our relationships.”
In an email to elected members, Dawn Baxendale highlighted areas to be celebrated, including:
“our confidence in our cultural competence and our commitment to working for our citizens”, while areas for improvement include “culture and leadership”.
“Our Heads of Service are now engaging their teams with their unit-specific results and will be working with their staff to address any concerns or issues raised in these results.”
As an elected member at the time, I would have been relieved that this indicator was being seriously addressed. As I would have been mainly focused on the election which was to occur in October and would not have given it as much attention as I should. Which I am sure was precisely what happened. Survival at the ballot box is a great mind clearer. I would have left the addressing of the results to the CE.
It’s disturbing that CCC has lost over 900 staff in the past two years. One fifth of the workforce. People are still leaving. I know there is more movement of staff these days. However, the number leaving cannot be papered over. There is no doubt in my mind that this is a serious indicator of unease and unhappiness amongst staff at the Council.
When an ELT member answered the media queries about the survey last year with the statement below, I stared at my computer screen in disbelief:
We are confident that we are now well-aligned across the council to anticipate and respond intelligently to changing requirements in the future so we are better able to contribute to a better long-term future for our communities.”
Firstly, what the hell do these words mean? Secondly is this a case of “do not adjust your mind, reality may be at fault”.
In the past couple of weeks, this year’s staff survey results have been released. The Press reported in this article https://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/news/131878404/low-morale–continues-to-plague-christchurch-city-council-staff:
The Christchurch City Council’s leadership team has been pilloried for the third year in a row in a heavily critical staff survey. Morale is “very low” due to inadequate pay and high staff turnover, the research shows, and there is a lack of confidence in the executive leadership team, led by chief executive Dawn Baxendale.
Almost 1850 staff (72%) took part in the survey – a 25% increase
The Press also reported:
Overall staff satisfaction remains unchanged from 2022 at 56%, while those happy with the council’s leadership has dropped from 55% to 51%, despite assurances last year from Baxendale that moves were being made to improve leadership.
Despite a 25% increase in the number of responses from staff the satisfaction of staff has remained around the same. That should ring alarm bells. The external firm which conducted the survey wrote:
Leadership is an area people do not identify as a strength currently. Further work to ensure wider leadership are confident and consistently role modelling empowering and positive leadership is going to be pivotal for the organisation.
These survey results caused me to investigate where people were unhappy. These results are consistent with the observations of many from outside the institution. The numbers below show how many agree with the statement. All of them are below 50% which should alarm our elected reps. This isn’t a one off. It’s two years in a row.
Here are a few which I consider are key:
- Christchurch City Council has a positive reputation with our citizens staff and the ELT team had the same score of 45% agree. That means 55% feel the opposite. This result compared with other councils completing the same survey is 9% worse.
- ELT treat people the way they ask us to treat our citizens and each other 48% agree
- Poor performance is managed effectively in our organisation 38% agree
- Effective consultation occurs before changes are made that affect others 46% agree
- I am motivated by the way ELT communicates 40% agree
- Do you think our organisation is transparent and open with information inside the organisation (i.e. for staff)? No 44%, (up from last year) Yes 33% (Down from last year) Don’t know 23%(up from last year)
- Do you think our organisation is transparent and open with information outside the organisation (i.e. forcommunities/customers/partners) yes 38%, No 29% and don’t know 33%
- ELT treat people the way they ask us to treat our citizens and each other 48% this is 22% worse than other council’s staff which complete the same survey.
These results are all about relationships within the Council; the executive led by the CE; and perceptions of how well the staff feels the institution is serving and relating to us their ratepayers.
If I were an elected member of CCC I would be asking hard questions of Dawn Baxendale right now. She undertook to address them a year ago. It’s time for serious responses. CCC as an organisation has significant staffing problems which were not there several years ago.
The next test of how well CCC is being led will be when we get the Citizens Survey. This survey has been undertaken for over 20 years. Let us see if that has moved at all. When that is released, I will analyse that.
I will leave addressing CCHL this week as I have LOGIMA’s in on this topic. All I will say is that CCHL is in serious trouble and if I were on the Board (I served for 12 years) I’d be extremely worried. More in future weeks in Tuesday Club notes.