Working towards a culture of an open and involved city

Mieke Hullebroeck Stad Gent

Very recently, the supporting services of the City of Ghent and its Public Centre of Social Welfare (OCMW) merged, to become one open and result-oriented organisation. Of course, the merger caused a lot of content related work but above all it is about the collaboration of 10,000 people, for the benefit of Ghent citizens.

“Merging our services has to bring us close to the citizens. That is what we want”, says City Secretary Mieke Hullebroek.  “Right from the start we have asked ourselves which culture we wanted, how we could bring this collaboration to live. Our values are ‘open’, ‘involved’, ‘creative’ and ‘targeted’. The organisational culture is a very important aspect. Since it defines our policy, services and our front desk function, we want it to become reinforcing.”

Why choose StreetwiZe as a coach? “We really wanted to work with our employees and thus needed a credible partner who focuses on people”, says Mieke Hullebroeck. “If you work on organisational culture, your credibility is crucial. What you do, what you say, how you go about things and the story behind it are very important. With StreetwiZe, there is a match. The business model matches, too. StreetwiZe’ starting point is the Mobile School client, the child on the streets. We focus on our employees to embed our culture. The StreetwiZe crew reflect with us, and their methodology is different. Bram Doolaege did a very good job leading this. If you need an ‘off the shelf’-solution, different partners exist. But if you want to inspire your employees, StreetwiZe is the right choice.”

City Secretary Mieke Hullebroeck: "If you want to inspire your employees, StreetwiZe is the right choice."

‘Start to’-lunches

To kick off the process of cultural change, StreetwiZe proposed a very participative method. “In the first place we reflected on the direction we wanted this to take”, says Mieke Hullebroeck. “And the proposal was to organise ‘start to’-lunches. Each member of the management team got assigned five employees to go out for lunch with. A structured lunch with a goal: we wanted to know what was going on, what the strengths of the organisation are, what we could do better and where we could make the difference. During these ‘spaghetti’-lunch, people were allowed to chat about other things, but everybody knew this was an important step in the project. Those lunches were a big success. People really connected. 15 times 5 lunches, that creates a buzz in the organisation.”

“20 Important subjects arose from those lunches”, says Kristof Cazaerck. “The management team regrouped the 20 subjects into 3 core focus points, key subjects to work on: ‘more human’, ‘more solutions’ and ‘less rules’. They have also been prioritised. In 2017 we will focus on becoming ‘more human’.”

Workshops per department

A subject like ‘more human’ defines a focus point. But you can and should shape the content in many ways. For the department Public Space, ‘more human’ has a totally different meaning than for the department Elderly care. “We know our destination, but we did not want to tell our people how to get there”, says Mieke Hullebroeck. “That is up to the departments to figure out.”

Each department organises workshops to collect ideas to bring to live the key aspect ‘more human’. “We have now done about 15 workshops,” adds Kristof Cazaerck, “out of the 18 planned this year. Each workshop has around 15 to 20 participants. The big questions are formulated in a positive way: What can you focus on for a more human organisation?, and What else can you do to improve?.”

Kristof Cazaerck: "So far, 1150 ideas have been collected to shape a more human organisation, all proposals coming from the employees themselves."

Concrete actions

So far, 1150 ideas have been collected to shape a more human organisation, all proposals coming from the employees themselves. It is an entire library of ideas we can start working with. Mieke Hullebroeck: “Each department makes its choice: things they can realise right away and things requiring some preparation as long term projects. Here we also use a StreetwiZe method: keep it simple, easy to take away, use small ideas,… Taking small steps at a time creates a habit. We also define which actions we want to implement on an organisational level. And if somebody on the workfloor has a good idea, we will use it to inspire others. These coming months, we want to gather testimonials from our employees and spread the stories.”

“The succes of our project is in actually changing the culture, people have to start feeling it. The attitude of being more human, solution oriented and having less rules should really be a part of the organisation. If, in a couple of years, somebody asks “Why do you do that?” you should get the answer ‘Oh, that is who we are.’”

Inspire positive solutions

Can you describe StreetwiZe in a couple of words? “I would answer authentic, positive, creative and still very professional”, says Mieke Hullebroeck. “You know, I received a couple of e-mails from people who were surprised we do this kind of thing as an organisation. Even new employees, who said ‘Wow, what was that!’ It is the authentic story of StreetwiZe making the difference. And of course the positive focus... I remember a discussion on reducing bullying at school and having cameras in the playground. Bram asked us “What if we transformed play time in an inspiring moment, instead of prison?” That positive focus has made the difference in the workshops. At the start of every workshop, you have sceptical people, people who have seen and done everything. We had active and critical groups. But whichever way you look at it, everybody always left with the feeling ‘I can actually do something with this’. In the end, everybody was incredibly enthusiastic. The methodology is key. You are guided towards positive solutions, which is extremely stimulating.”