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Inside Out - Split personality

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I’m not sure what the correct psychological term is for split personality, but if we are to be healthy councils we need one

Leaving aside the clinical depression caused by 40% cuts in funding by 2018, managing our different personality traits is a key part of my job.

This was brought home to me this weekend. I was having a scoop with a friend who is high up in an animal welfare charity. They have been dealing with live animal exports from the south coast of England. They had been working with animal health colleagues over difficult animal welfare issues.

Animal health referred to the live animal exporting companies as ‘customers’. This horrified my friend as the companies were being regulated not ‘sold’ something. To the charity the use of ‘customer’ in this context implied that animal health officers were being too lenient to the export companies.

We have to be careful how we refer to others. Sometimes we are working with ‘voters and citizens’. This is primarily the territory of councillors. When we are dealing with users of our services, such as in a library, we are dealing with ‘customers’. This implies a set of behaviours as we try to make going to the library fun and useful. At other times residents are more ‘patients’ where more control in the relationship is with us, for example in difficult child protection situations. Other times we are ‘enforcers’ - parking regulation, for example.

Control and power are different in each of these types of relationship. Being a customer-focused organisation is about passing as much power as possible to residents about the type of services we provide. At the other extreme, say enforcement, we are telling people what they have to do, often backed up by sanctions and fines if they do not comply.

The latter is not a customer relationship. If it is called so it risks alienating others who have an interest. Obviously underpinning what we do are common values of fairness, courtesy, proportionality etc, but we must be slicker managing our split personality.

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The one thing he won’t comment on is his identity…

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