North Warwickshire Borough Council has a lot to be proud of but without a strong corporate narrative to tie its messages together, its story risked being lost. This case study forms part of our corporate narrative resource.
Linda Bird, Assistant Director for Corporate Services, explains how the council worked together to develop a new narrative to honour their heritage and explain their ambitions for the future.
In 2013 we had an LGA Corporate Peer Challenge which identified that there was a mismatch between the reality of life in North Warwickshire and what we were telling our staff, stakeholders and communities. As an area with a strong mining history and beautiful countryside our messages were too focused on our heritage rather than embracing the fact that we are now home to some of the biggest businesses in the country (including TNT, BMW and Aldi) and have outstanding connectivity to the rest of the country. At a corporate level we’re a council committed to finding innovative ways of delivering our services and saving our residents money, but all of our narrative was tied up in looking back rather than looking ahead. We knew we needed to rewrite our story so that it matched our ambitions and the reality of what life is like for residents and the council today. We also knew that we wanted to create a story that would grow with us over time and reflect our ambitions long into the future – something we couldn’t achieve by adding a few car images onto our existing posters! We needed to start from the beginning.
We knew we needed consensus across the council, at both officer and member level so we invited all members and a range of key staff to attend some facilitated corporate narrative workshops. We extended the invite to staff from across the council including our forward planning team, communications team, customer services team and facilities team. It was important to have a mix of people at our workshops to ensure that any narrative we developed felt authentic and encourage employees to feel a sense of pride and ownership over the story. Employee buy-in would be vital for making sure that all departments used the new narrative in their own communications.
We invited an external facilitator to deliver the sessions to help everyone to focus on the task and get involved in contributing to the story rather than managing the logistics. Our facilitator also bought with her a wealth of knowledge and experience about what made a good corporate narrative and was able to encourage and challenge us on our ideas which really helped us to think critically about what we wanted North Warwickshire Borough Council to be famous for.
We held two sessions with a mixture of officers and members and broke out into smaller groups to discuss themes such as what words we associated with North Warwickshire and the Borough Council, what we wanted people to know about us as an organisation and what our strengths and areas for development were. Having the space to discuss these issues really helped us to focus our thinking. It also became clear that a number of common themes were emerging: pride in our heritage, a recognition of our extremely high employment levels, a need to encourage and support the aspirations of local people, and a desire to celebrate the innovations and business achievements of the area.
The result of these workshops was really positive. By the end of the sessions we had the bones of a story that we had all contributed to. We worked with our facilitator to develop our ideas into a fuller narrative that brought together the ideas in a coherent way. We then started to think about how we could adapt our story into a number of different versions that we could use for different communications purposes. This included thinking about a strapline that we could use for quickly summarising what our vision was so that residents and partners could recognise what we stood for, as well as a longer story that service areas could use as the basis for tailoring to their own local messages and thinking about where their work fitted in. We are now at the point where we’re looking to launch of final narrative across the organisation.
Why it worked / how we’re sustaining it
Using an external facilitator was key to getting the most out of this process. It offered us a fresh perspective on issues that we has wrestled with for some time and helped us to quickly identify themes. The facilitator was also able to balance the views of everyone who attended the workshops in a way that might have been more difficult for a direct colleague to achieve. This helped us to ensure that everyone’s voice was heard.
Senior officers and members are hugely supportive of introducing this new story to our different audiences and have been actively involved in the process from the beginning. Once we have launched the story with staff we will be promoting it with our other partners and stakeholders to help them better understand our vision for the council and the borough more widely. We will also use our story to inform our future corporate plan and communication strategies to make sure that we’re directing our funds and resources into activities that mirror the messages we are giving to residents, stakeholders and staff.
This year’s purdah period did mean that we lost some momentum with launching the story across the organisation. While some of the delay was out of our hands it would have been good to have capitalised on the energy that was generated by the workshops more effectively. We could have involved more staff in the process at an earlier stage too to start to build interest across the organisation. That’s something we’re now looking to develop.
Want to know more?
For more information please contact Linda Bird, Assistant Director, Corporate Services, North Warwickshire Borough Council.
This has proved to be a very worthwhile exercise for the Borough. We knew after the Peer Review that we had a fantastic story to tell. That story is of an area with a dynamic modern economy which also has a wonderful past, but not one that we are stuck in!
The inclusive approach that we took, facilitated through the LGA, enabled us to get a wide buy-in to a narrative which the whole Borough can be proud of.
Jerry Hutchinson Chief Executive Officer