How Western Downs Regional Council are taking a ‘people first’ approach

Recognising that people are the cornerstone of council, WDRC are looking at ways to create a workplace that is innovative, modern and forward-thinking.

How Western Downs Regional Council are taking a ‘people first’ approach


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Feature Writer Lyne Mear, Chief Human Resources Officer - Western Downs Regional Council

At Western Downs Regional Council, we believe "it's the People who make It" and this belief guides our decisions and efforts with Council and Community.

On tough days the answer to the thoughts ‘why are you here and why do you stay’ is always - the people!

Using this as a barometer the next step is what can we do to make the experience of working with WDRC enjoyable, rewarding, challenging, interesting, fun, productive and, ultimately worth staying. Our attraction and retention philosophy is formed from this.

We believe that people want connection, fairness, flexibility, purpose, to contribute, and to be treated fairly. We understand that the internal focus of our employees effects the external community.  Our employees are part of our community - they are our customers.  We are One Organisation and our Executive is strongly in support of a transparent, accountable, collegiate organisation.

To engender connection WDRC has actively worked to bring in a culture of engagement, effort, pride in our contribution and an open and transparent organisation.  This is and will be a work in progress. Change takes time; however we have a very fertile ground in which our seeds have sprouted.

We first assessed the culture - we engaged an external party to conduct a culture survey. We openly shared the results of that survey.  We then opened the process up for each department, team and division to come up with ways they wanted to improve culture.  These initiates continue with some very interesting and different ideas emerging.  The ideas are supported by the Executive, Senior Management Team, Co-Ordinators and so on. 

We moved from a disciplinary model to a model of accountability, development and where necessary, correction.  Using strength based positive psychology as a platform, employees are encouraged and guided to use their strengths to put in place a plan to correct areas of concern and to outline supports and structures they require to perform well in their role.  This method promotes growth and provides the opportunity for employees to understand if they are simply not in a role that they are suited to.  There is more to this process that can be put in this article; however, the premise is based on self-accountability an employee is supported to grow and develop and is therefore more engaged in their work life. We changed the language from Performance Improvement Plans to Performance Development Plans.

Another feature of what we have implemented is, again, a self-accountability review process.  We call this PAPER - Performance Agreement Periodic Employee Review.  This system engages the employee in their performance and their review.  At the first meeting the supervisor and employee set the key performance criteria together, based on and linked to the Operational Plan.  Having the employee involved in the setting of the key performance criteria supports ownership of the criteria and engagement in meeting them.  Subsequent meetings, run on a monthly or bi-monthly basis - are a guided open conversation that provides the opportunity for connection.  The system has a suite of open questions that assist the supervisor in guiding the conversation.  This system also provides a record keeping process and has some coverage for the organisation in regard to psychosocial safety requirements.   

To be able to run these programs requires emotional intelligence and maturity from supervisors and employees.  To assist with developing this in our people we have engaged a clinical psychologist to run some 'Lunch and Learn' sessions and to provide one on one coaching for those who request it.  We bought a series of sixty coaching sessions, which to date have all been used. That's a great up-take from our people.  We also offer some change management/understanding training, leadership training and coaching, one on one psychological assistance from a workplace psychologist as well as upgrading our employee assistance program to a provider that includes emotional health, financial health, psychological counselling and more.

Our programs are supported by a dedicated Wellbeing Officer who organises events such as the 30 day positivity challenge; the 30 day gratitude challenge; 10,000 steps etc. and creates focus activities and promotions that supports our Care for Council Campaign.  The Care for Council Campaign has three components; People, Property and Places and uses positive based methods to raise awareness and care of our people, Council property and Council venues.  We are measuring this campaign for data to show practical improvements.  Such as a decrease in unplanned leave and a decrease in our motor vehicle insurance. The results show a fair decrease in both.

Flexibility of working arrangements is another aspect of our initiatives.  Accountability and outcome focus enables a flexible approach to work hours.  We are looking at a compressed four-day work week and family friendly rosters and work structures.

We recognise that it's our People who make it and we are excited to provide a workplace that offers opportunity, development and accountability.  A workplace that is innovative, modern and forward thinking.

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