Reflections, learning and relationships
Strategic Director for Integrated Support Services and Change Angela Probert takes stock after a busy start to her life at Birmingham City Council.
After a busy few months I’m taking a break in Portugal in a small, unspoilt village near Lagos, taking every opportunity to sample the local fresh fish, fruit and vegetables. Why do tomatoes from supermarkets at home not taste like this? I’m also becoming a fan of locally-produced (and very inexpensive) wine, alongside improving my knowledge and experience of different brands of gin, courtesy of daughter and friends. It’s probably good I’m only here for a week!
Life is good, and having space gives me the opportunity to unwind and re-balance with family and friends. My early morning walk on a deserted beach this morning has prompted this blog – as always, walking helps me reflect and put things into perspective. It’s been a challenging few months at Birmingham, culminating in a long night last Thursday and the outcome of the EU referendum, which made me reflect on why some people feel so disaffected and feel no benefit in being part of the EU (leaving aside the propaganda over the last few weeks).
The launch of the West Midlands Combined Authority this week in Birmingham was a key milestone, and I get a sense through social media that the audience really felt Mark’s passion for the leadership role we need to take to realise the opportunity this brings. My ask of Martin, Mark and other colleagues is that we learn from the EU referendum. The WMCA, and the potential positive impact this will have are enormous, no one would disagree. But what we need to do is ensure we keep asking the questions: How will citizens of the region benefit? How will the CA work and connect with staff in partner organisations? So that designing the future is not passed down, but evolves through involvement and shared purpose. People will then feel connected and understand how they will contribute to future public service across the West Midlands, rather than deliver an outcome they had no involvement in forming.
When I started in January people were keen to give me their advice and guidance on working at BCC. Some I took, and some I left on one side. It’s good not to be insular, and to listen to an external perspective – being on a peer review for a London Borough in early June I did just this. But sometimes you have to trust your own intuition and judgement based on what you see and feel, using experience and learning from many years of working, and, indeed, living! In essence, I have just tried to be ‘me’. My dad gave me the drive and outlook to believe that anything is achievable, and it is only down to hard work, teamwork and belief that it will happen. I’ve learnt in my personal and working life that that not everyone feels this, and while I set high expectations of myself, I am mindful I balance this for others. Hopefully I am doing just that, and colleagues feel that the contribution I make is rooted in my desire for the best for the citizens of Birmingham and the staff who work at BCC.
Successful organisations are able to withstand churn and instability by having a common and uniting purpose. Team work is key, and the England v Iceland football result on Monday night demonstrated this: being the ‘best’ individually and assuming that the result you expect will be delivered will not guarantee a positive outcome. It’s how you operate as a team, having a shared belief and purpose, alongside understanding roles and individual strengths, that brings results. I believe we’re getting there as a senior team at BCC, and we need to work hard to withstand the constant challenges that are being thrown at us on a weekly basis. Being successful (not necessarily ‘winning’) is euphoric and infectious, as the celebrations in Portugal last night demonstrated! As leaders at BCC we have to build the confidence and positivity of our teams in the belief that together we WILL win through the challenges we are facing. We are not alone in this but somehow, at BCC, some of us have stopped believing.
I also believe I am holding to the resolutions I made and shared in the New Year. I’ve worked hard to build a strong and positive relationship with my colleagues, members, team and partner organisations. They’ll tell you whether I’m succeeding! But relationships aren’t a one-off event and require support, commitment and respect to make them work and thrive. The culture we need to embrace is set out in our values, and I’ve agreed with Corporate Leadership Team colleagues and my Directorate management team how I will personally live by BCC’s values in order to: put citizens first, be true to my word, act courageously, and achieve excellence.
Life in Birmingham is exciting, as we play on an international, national and regional stage, all with a key purpose to make a positive difference to people’s lives. Hopefully I’m starting to make an impact through how I do my job on a day-to-day basis; a relentless focus on the golden thread that links our vision, purpose and day-to-day activity; keeping an eye on the small but significant changes that need to be made; and building a talented team to give capacity and confidence as we move into the next phase of the Future Council programme.
What will I miss from my week in Portugal?
- Beach walks, long lazy lunches and wearing no shoes.
What I am looking forward to when I get back to Birmingham?
- Now that I live in Birmingham I want to get to know better a European City that celebrates diversity and difference.
- Taking on a mentoring role as a Corporate Parent.
- Getting to know and learn from my ‘reserve mentor’.
- Getting on with the job I feel privileged to hold.
Now back to my hedonistic lifestyle for a few days longer.
Whatever you do over the summer… Divirtam-se! (Enjoy yourselves).