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FROM THE TOP - LIFE IN THE OPEN

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A new office HQ has energised Suffolk CC, says Mike More ...
A new office HQ has energised Suffolk CC, says Mike More

There are so many issues to deal with it is sometimes hard to know where to start. It is hard to know how to draw the territory in such a way that it makes some overall coherent sense.

It is now almost boring to say that public service management and leadership is about change. Boring because it is constantly repeated, but that doesn't render it any the less true. I suspect some organisations are more up for change than others. Asked about Suffolk CC, I suppose I'd say that change can be seen as a worry and a threat.

Over the last year we've been working on two major projects, both of which came to fruition at the same time. They've challenged us and at times the pressure and the tension has been pretty intense. One of the projects has been the creation of a new corporate headquarters and the other the establishment of a joint venture with Mid Suffolk DC and BT so that we can join up our front and back offices and make a tangible impact on customer service.

Our previous HQ had been spread over a large area, with separate buildings for different departments. A quick confidential chat with the director of social care might involve a 10-minute walk in the rain. People had different offices - fit for monks and hermits but not joined up public servants looking to make those connections which the public increasingly and rightly expect. We'd been exercised by this for years but couldn't see a way to cut through it.

Then we were lucky. A major company went into administration with six months remaining before it completed its new HQ. It matched our needs - with the exception of a council chamber. Councillors were very brave and decided to buy within six weeks. The media were positive and have continued to be so.

We've now, 12 months later, finished the building to time and budget and fully occupied. We've moved everyone - myself included - to open plan. That has caused a few raised eyebrows: how can a chief executive not have an offic e? My response has been that a chief executive is hardly ever behind a desk but does need access to meeting space.

The corporate management team all now occupy the same space, so those quick, informal confidential exchanges can happen without tramps in the rain and without cutting through layers of diary management and formality.

We've brought together teams on a theme basis, not a departmental one. So education and children's social care are together - an important step on the way to the Children Bill agenda.

Lessons learnt from all this? Put in some dedicated and specialist project support; be tough on decision making; communicate, communicate and communicate again; deal with rumours well and effectively; and keep faith.

What has been remarkable is how quickly and widely people have adapted to the change. There is a buzz and energy. Lots of people who were very understandably nervous now see they have survived the change and wouldn't dream of returning to the old.

Mike More

Chief executive, Suffolk CC

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