Building staff engagement for uncharted waters – Professor Peter Murray

Peter Murray (PM) – My name is Peter Murray I’m the Professor of Management at the School of Management and Enterprise at the University of Southern Queensland
Well my research typically follows organisational learning, team learning and probably also diversity management.

Jim Lindsay (JM) – My name is Jim Lindsay, I’m the CEO of Ipswich city council. Ipswich city council is a large local government, right next to Brisbane in the South East corner of Queensland. It has a population of about two hundred thousand people currently, growing quite quickly to four hundred and fifty thousand people in the next 15-20 years. it has a staff of about 1200 employees and provides over 1000 products and services to our community.

PM – At the state government level I have been looking at organisational learning, networks, creating organisational learning cultures. At the specific local government level, I’ve been looking at how do you create a

team learning environment but also in terms of the context of an engaged workforce.

It’s absolutely vital for trust to be there, when we don’t have it, we don’t have respect. Trust, respect, there’s too much risk, and so on, then what happens to the organisation over time, it doesn’t happen overnight, but over time, the organisation, the departments within that organisation, people that have key responsibilities will not be able to meet their goals.

JM – The trust measure if you like, is a bit like a trust bank so over time you have to develop that relationship through communication, through openness, through transparency, through being prepared to discuss. It is what I call the authentic conversation. You have to have authentic conversations with all relevant parties. And to measure it, it really comes down to there will be a day when you actually have to ask for something that not everybody is quite sure of but the relationship has developed over such a period of time, the trust has developed of such a period of time that the organisation will allow you to do it.

PM – So the question becomes, how to we establish, how to we create a highly encaged workforce? We need to create the respect so the people have the opportunity to across departments, across teams, with eachother, whether it’s in the hallway, whether it’s a formal meeting or whether it’s some other kind of context.

So we create the narrative, we build a narrative, we create the respect, we avoid blame, that in turn creates the confidence for people to share. And once we start doing that, people start to buy into the vision because they start to trust the leader.

JM – In our organisation we have a number of different professional capacities, we provide a number of different services. So what happens in organisation a little bit is they get caught in their own little world a little, so they are a professional accounting but they don’t really have much to do with the professional engineering part of the business for example, they might be a lawyer for example or something like that.

So what we do in our organisation is attempt to put those teams together to solve organisational problems.

PM – Well sticky knowledge it’s a very important point, it really means that knowledge that resides within a department, within a function stays there and it’s seldom shared. It’s often expert knowledge, it could be process knowledge, knowledge about systems, knowledge about solutions and so on but it tends to be sticky so in other words, it tends to reside and stay, and stick if you like, in that department and it’s often not shared in a way that it should be.

JM – So the difficulty will be, it is always the same problem so if it gets too engineering focused or too accounting focused or too planning focused, it will probably fail. We need to be able to collaborate across all of those elements to acheieve the outcome that we want to get for our community.

In the digital sense I think this is really important because digital service provision that we will provide for better citizen outcomes will require cross team collaboration and the like to actually develop that and for that to work really well they need to understand the different mind sets, different perspectives that the people come from because often they will be just as valid as their own and that becomes critical to a better team outcome.

PM – That sounds like a big statement but the effect of having a less engaged workforce, you’ve got low engaged workers because you don’t have respect, you don’t have trust, you have too much risk, shortage of sharing ideas then over time that will lead to a department not being able to meet its goals.


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