Unparalleled engagement levels through leadership development programme - Southend-On-Sea Council

Context & challenges

Before the programme started, Southend on Sea Council, in common with all local government authorities, was preparing for significant budget reductions. Having been one of the top performing Councils for a number of years, they took the positive attitude that there were two options – either to see the situation as purely bad news, or to view it as a great opportunity to emerge stronger than they were before. This positive improvement would be created by the necessity to change and become more efficient that the budget cuts presented.

There was a belief that key to future success with significantly reduced resources would be maximising the potential and engagement of the whole workforce. This would mean that employees at all levels could be more imaginative and even more committed to the future of the Council, and find the very best ways to utilise resources.


The Chief Executive, Rob Tinlin, and the Organisation Development (OD) team of the Council recognised that key to enhancing engagement, innovation and efficiency was leadership capacity across the organisation. At the same time, it was acknowledged that leadership culture could not change unless it was led from the very top of the organisation. Rob Tinlin and his Executive Team were very willing to accept this reality, and agreed that the programme of culture change should start with them personally.

A compelling “bridge” model was designed by the OD team to illustrate the programme. It described how Resilience and Growth could build capacity and capability to consider how Focused Performance would lead to change. Engaging Leadership being the underpinning theory and the keystone that joins the two, this model’s approach to balancing change and stability.


In order to bring people together on the same page, a launch event was run which the whole senior leadership of the Council attended. Here, they listened to expert input from Professor Beverly Alimo-Metcalfe on what genuinely engaging leadership looks like, and the difference it makes to outcomes for the Council, its employees, and, critically, the wider community. Participants were encouraged to build a shared vision of the future of the Council and its role in the community, and explore the role that leadership would play in making this a reality.

At the same event, participants were introduced to the 360-degree feedback element of the programme. It was explained that they would be invited to participate in this process against a highly validated instrument which had been shown through research to increase engagement and wellbeing, as well as positive attitudes to work among employees – such that they are able to significantly enhance performance, collaboration, innovation, and so on. 360-degree feedback was essential for enabling leaders to reflect on and better understand both how they lead, and what the impact of their leadership is.

Following 360-degree feedback data collection, every leader was provided with 1-2-1 feedback sessions that enabled them to understand how best to interpret the feedback provided to them. This enabled them to learn more about their strengths, and begin to address their development needs.

Workshops in which the 360-degree feedback reports were combined into one report, and leaders worked through the feedback were also run. This helped to create a cohesive or team approach to leadership development.

Multiplying the impact of the programme

In order to provide developmental opportunities for leaders below the senior levels, they were also offered 360-degree feedback as an option. In order to ensure that this was as cost-effective as possible, and built long-term capacity within the Council, coaches within Southend were trained to run briefings and 1-2-1 feedback sessions using the same instrument as the senior leaders had used.

In addition to this, a wide variety of supporting activities were undertaken. These included:

  • Supporting leadership masterclasses in Recognition and Systems Leadership
  • A new action learning network for leaders to have a safe space to share and explore their learning
  • Continued promotion of coaching as a key behavioural element to manage change and develop people.

Outstanding impact & results

Thanks to a combination of internal and external expertise driving the programme, it was a great success, which was demonstrated in various ways:

  • Gold IIP accreditation – thanks to the levels of engagement and other measures of employee involvement and satisfaction, Southend on Sea achieved the Investors in People Gold award in 2015
  • Employee engagement levels – following a week long peer review (by an independent Local Government Chief Executive and Local Government Association), reviewers commented that “…the employee engagement in Southend is second to none in the UK”.
  • In 2016, the Municipal Journal (leading local government journal) awarded Southend On Sea the “Senior Leadership Team of the Year”
  • Also that year, Southend’s Organisation Development team were finalists in the Training Journal Awards 2016 for their “Coaching Programme & won the top culture change award for their Southend Way Culture Change Programme beating international competition from the private sector that included huge multi-nationals”.

The Council recognises that this is by no means the end of their journey of improvement. Rather, they believe that this must be regarded as continuous and with this in mind, the OD team continues to work with the wider workforce to support their ability to provide the best and most appropriate services to the community.

Former Southend Chief Executive (2005 – 2017), Rob Tinlin M.B.E., said of the programme:

“In common with all local authorities, we were facing major budgetary challenges in being able to continue to serve the community of Southend as well as we wished to, and recognised that having the right leadership culture was key to our future success.

We commissioned Real World Group to work with us to develop our senior leaders and to embed enhanced leadership throughout the organisation together with our great OD team. I was particularly keen on adopting the Engaging Leadership model as I felt that being more connected to, developing, and involving colleagues at every level, as well as engaging more fully with partners, would be key to enabling us to do more with less, and emerge a stronger and more efficient organisation than before.

My team and I recognised that role modelling the right approach must start with us, and so we were among the first leaders to take part in workshops to align the Council with a compelling and shared vision of the future. We were also in the first group of leaders who undertook 360-degree feedback in order to reflect on and further develop the leadership we enact – through the eyes of other people.

The programme has exceeded our expectations in terms of the culture improvement felt by colleagues throughout the Council. Our OD team has gathered evidence of a wide range of benefits that have been felt at all levels, and both awards and peer reviews have reinforced our belief that we are now among the most engaged Councils in England. With this, we are much better able to serve the needs of our community in spite of the challenging environment. We are very grateful to Real World Group for their support and guidance, and would not hesitate in recommending them to other organisations.”