Fraser Coast Regional Council CEO Ken Diehm.
Fraser Coast Regional Council CEO Ken Diehm. Valerie Horton

How CEO is tackling toxic council culture

THE council's new CEO is so confident toxicity in staff ranks is turning around, he's prepared to wage his six-figure salary on it.

Speaking to the Chronicle on Tuesday Ken Diehm outlined the drastic steps he's taking to transform the council's culture and reputation.

Mr Diehm said when he first arrived he did not believe a proposed staff restructure was enough to deal with the issues raised in a council's culture and reputation.

A "polished" version, which Mr Diehm said better addressed bullying and high risk of burnout, among other things, is now under way.

More than 40 new positions have been created.

Staff are also now hired and fired based on their adherence to the new council values model known as TRAITS - Trust, Respect, Accountability, Initiative, Teamwork, Service.

Mr Diehm said he had presented the TRAITS program, touted as a "change strategy to improve engagement, productivity and efficiency" to all staff at sessions in Maryborough and Hervey Bay.

Those who were willing and able were welcomed, staff who were willing but not yet able were offered training, staff who were "neither willing or able" were told to "look for employment elsewhere".

Since then, some staff have been moved "sideways". Some, who "demonstrably failed" to uphold the TRAITS values have either "agreed to part ways" with the council or have been terminated.

One senior employee is among those to have resigned in response to the overhaul.

Another senior employee did not have their contract renewed.

"If you're going to be a values based organisation you need to make sure that you are demonstrating to your staff that values are important," he said

"We've brought in value-based recruitment to make sure we get the right cultural fit, we're training people how to have these difficult conversations."

The Chronicle can reveal staff were also recently asked to complete a Performance and Engagement survey where the council was measured against seven categories and benchmarked against 56 other Local Government areas.

Results show leadership and innovation was in the top 25 per cent.

In other categories, the council was sitting "in the middle of the pack".

When it came to staff engagement however, the council rated in the lowest 10 per cent.

Mr Diehm said staff have all been given their results and were now in the process of developing their own strategies.

From next month, he will be visiting every working team to go through their plan.

"They are developing the strategies - it's not just about me saying 'this is what we need to do to improve this organisation. It's the other way, it's staff telling me what they think needs to be done to fix this up. "

A 360 degree camera, which allows staff and the public to log on to the council website and be across all business discussed in council meetings has been installed and the CEO sends out a regular in-house newsletter to ensure better communication.

Mr Diehm said the person who filled the new Marketing and Communications Manager role would play a crucial part in improving the council's image and engaging staff.

Ultimately however, he knows it will come back to him.

In April, a test survey will be conducted to see if there is any traction.

Another full survey against the 56 councils will be carried out in October.

"What I've said to my councillors and my staff is... I was hired to bring about cultural change in this organisation," he said

"If I can't do this and we don't see results then I'm probably not the best person for the job".

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