Grey District Council

Focusing on people and processes to build employee capability and resilience, and collaboration with other councils to share information and services to do more with less.

Making do with less

Grey District Council logoWith a small staff and limited budget, Grey District Council lives and breathes “making do with less”. Chief Executive Officer, Paul Pretorius, is the first to admit that staffing numbers are not ideal but “the problem is affordability”.

Like many other public sector organisations, the Council has to deliver the same services, or more, on less income. This is partly because of 250 families leaving the region after the Pike River mine explosion. The Canterbury earthquakes and worldwide recession have also affected the region, with a downturn in tourism. “While we’re not going backwards, there is no immediate growth prospect,” says Mr Pretorius.

They have chosen to deal with this by focusing on people and processes. And it’s working. Customer satisfaction surveys give no indication of any lowering of service levels, and staff surveys and turnover rates show that morale is good.

If a fly lands on your mother-in-law’s nose and you use a cannon to get rid of it, that’s effective. It’s not necessarily efficient.

Processes have been modified, thanks to strong staff input, so that, ideally, almost anyone can pick up where someone else left off. Working on the principle that “staff know their job best”, everyone in the Council is encouraged to come up with ideas on how to reduce wastage and improve services. “We have been forced to be efficient and we are now very critical of ourselves,” says Mr Pretorius. “We take note of best practice.”

The Council is also keen to work with other councils in the region, and it is currently in the process of replacing its aged IT system with a shared model that will encourage further collaboration and efficiency – of information as well as services.

This has only been achievable by having a strong team spirit. “We have a culture of recognition,” says Mr Pretorius. The Council pays a “good, solid, realistic salary” and encourages a family type of work environment. All managers, from the Chief Executive Officer down, have an open-door policy and focus on “listening”. There is also a quarterly staff meeting between staff and management to discuss a range of issues, and a special meeting can be called at any time. “It’s about working together.”

The Council is well aware of the pressure staff are under and has a range of measures to support its people’s physical and mental health. Staff are encouraged to be physically active, with walks scheduled into the work week, access to a small gym on site, or a subsidy to the local gym or aqua centre.

Managers must keep a close eye on their teams’ stress levels so that it can be dealt with immediately – something the organisation has formalised with a “stress policy” that includes a set of internationally recognised indicators. The organisation also provides a twice-monthly workplace chaplaincy service that all staff can access to discuss any issue in confidence and, if need be, the Council pays for the first three sessions of psychological counselling.

“We are a busy but happy team that wear many hats,” says Mr Pretorius. However, he does caution other organisations about reducing staff numbers too far. “If you can’t afford to appoint more staff, adjust service levels downward. Still aim to provide a pretty high standard but let certain things go. Once you have reduced FTEs, it is hard to claw them back. We have adapted to our situation but it is not ideal. We have to be very focused.”

“We have a constructive relationship with our Council. We can have the hard reality discussion with them. It’s about affordability.”

Based on an interview with Paul Pretorious, Chief Executive Officer, on 15 June 2012.

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