Wigan Council – engaging staff in a new vision

Faced with the challenge of engaging employees in a new vision, Wigan Council quite literally took their staff on a journey. Wigan’s organisational development business partner Cat Shutt explains how they used collaboration and creativity to bring their message to life. This case study forms part of our internal communications toolkit.

Communications support

The context

We had several big initiatives to launch at the same time: our new ‘Deal for the Future’, outlining the council’s vision and ambitions for 2020 and our need to save a further £60m on top of the £100m we had already saved; a new set of ‘BeWigan Behaviours’ (be positive, be accountable and be courageous), and ‘My Time’, our innovative approach to employee personal development. We wanted staff to understand their role in all of these initiatives and link them together so that people didn’t get confused by too many different messages.

The plan

In OD we have a tendency to think big and then scale back but in this situation thinking big, whilst keeping the messages simple, was the best possible approach. Together with colleagues from internal communications, PR, IT and programme management we decided to create the ‘Be Wigan Experience’; an innovative, interactive walk through experience that celebrated our work while looking ahead to the future.

Central to our plan was the need for all employees to receive the same experience. We didn’t want our remote workers to get an edited version so we decided to create something that everyone would enjoy and learn from.

The execution

We made use of one of our existing buildings and the talents and skills of our staff to create a number of interactive zones. Tours were led by our BeWigan experience hosts – more than 80 fantastic colleagues from all areas of the organisation. They were central to the success of the experience, bringing our story to life, while also developing their presentation and problem solving skills.

In the experience itself, zone one explored our journey so far and why change must happen. We took staff back to 2010 and brought our story to life with a ‘past room’, designed to look like an office from 2010, as well as audio recordings and a quiz. The tour moved on to look at our vision for 2020 and the reasons why we need to do things differently. This involved looking at the way we work with our partners, and our role in the Greater Manchester Combined Authority. The zone concluded in our cinema room, where staff watched a short film about the Wigan Deal for residents, and explored their role in making this happen.

In zone two we looked at ‘how we do things’ using display boards and games to identify which BeWigan behaviours staff currently displayed. The hosts asked a series of questions which prompted staff to think about their behaviours, giving us immediate insight into which behaviours are most prominent in the organisation and which we need to support staff to develop more.

At the end of zone 2, staff made a ‘BeWigan pledge’ on interactive tablets, detailing what they would do differently as a result of being on the experience. They then entered an achievement room, where they could leave us a message on our graffiti board, see images of some of our best moments, and leave the experience feeling empowered and proud to be part of the Wigan family.

The scale of this programme meant we had to execute the logistics as successfully as the content. We arranged mini buses to allow remote workers to attend the session and opened the experience early to allow our waste services employees to take part before their shifts started. All employees received a personal invitation to the experience from Donna Hall, our chief executive, but we actually kept our publicity activity relatively low key, choosing to focus on making the content so engaging that people would be intrigued, and actively want to come along.

The impact

The impact was fantastic. Over 90% staff visited the experience over 73 days, and 95% of staff rated it as ‘excellent’ or ‘good’. One hundred per cent of attendees also told us they felt they left knowing more about the BeWigan behaviours.

The anecdotal evidence was also amazing. People were keen to come on a tour, and we even had visits from other councils and private sector organisations, as word had spread about how engaging it was. We also received a ‘highly commended’ award from the CIPD People Management Awards in September 2016.

The financial impact was also huge. Training our staff in this way saved us more than £100,000 compared with traditional training course costs. 

Why it worked

I think the focus on keeping things fun and informative was key. We kept our messages really simple and clear, and emphasised that this was just the start of a wider engagement journey. The experience was unlike anything we had done before which meant that employees came into the session open minded about what they were going to experience. We also developed a strong visual brand for ‘BeWigan’ which helped staff to recognise the initiative.

Lessons learnt

We realised how important creativity and fun is when it comes to engaging staff, as well as keeping messages simple. Doing something completely different is can be risky but we were courageous and also lucky to have a very supportive senior leadership team who trusted us. I think we probably underestimated the scale of work involved in transforming the space but it was well worth the effort. When we started we also had a bit of over reliance on tablet technology which worked brilliantly for some staff, while others were less confident about how to use it. We were able to rectify that but we could have factored different levels of tech confidence in from the start.

Want to know more?

For more information on Be Wigan, or details on Wigan’s experience of engaging employees through change please contact the OD & Strategy team at Wigan Council.