An invitation to think differently about our future

Members enquiries, committee queries, customer feedback, media requests, Freedom of Information submissions … we deal with a lot of questions as an organisation every minute of every day.

As staff we tend to be well versed in answering questions, but don’t often get the time to ask them.

As an organisation we really want to change that and encourage everyone in all corners of the Council to become more inquisitive, about what we do now and what we can achieve together in the future.

There’s a working group being set up as a first step towards embracing a technique called Appreciative Inquiry, with expressions of interest invited from anyone keen to get involved. I’d encourage you all to find out more and consider taking part.

Appreciative Inquiry works on the simple principle that we grow as individuals and teams by asking questions (and working towards finding the answers). The aim is to shift thinking towards identifying successes and strengths which provide a positive platform to build from, with a structured approach to seeking improvements and solutions.

It’s a way of turning the focus to what we want to create, grounding outcomes in past successes and the new guiding principles, as well as inspiring us all to embrace opportunities. By opening up positive discussion we hope to encourage creativity, increase buy-in and improve morale.

The first working group will be tasked with looking at how we can better value each other and recognise a job well done – an important guiding principle.

It’s particularly relevant following on from the Star Awards last week, and some of the debate we saw in the build-up to the event. Lots of questions were posed about what recognition should and could look like – and I hope there will be many more as part of the Appreciative Inquiry approach.

That approach can be just as vital in areas including recruitment, engagement and our daily work in looking for ways to improve what we deliver on behalf of customers.

We need to think differently and want to support individuals and teams to do that in a collaborative way. If we continue to do the same things and think the same way, we’ll get the same results.

I’m excited to see how we can use Appreciative Inquiry to shape the future and the first of the working groups is a great opportunity to test and learn.

If you haven’t expressed an interest already, please do give some thought to getting involved in what promises to be a really positive and rewarding project.

Achievements take centre stage at Star Awards

Congratulations to all of our finalists and winners at the Star Awards, which were a fantastic celebration of the achievements of colleagues from across the Council.

Last night’s event at the Beach Ballroom was an opportunity to recognise the achievements of individuals  and teams from across the council. It was also an opportunity to look back at some of the highlights of the past year and also to look forward to what we hope to achieve in the weeks and months ahead.

There were 236 nominations this year, just short of a record entry, and for so many people to go out of their way to highlight the work of colleagues is really lovely.

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On that note, it’s important to thank some of the many people who made the event such a success. From the sponsors who generously support the awards and ensure they can be staged at no cost to the Council to the entertainers on the night and the fantastic compere Martyn Orchard through to the Ballroom staff who, as always, were the perfect hosts. Our judging panel, including representatives from a number of external organisations, give up their time to support the awards and are always passionate and diligent in their work.

Special mention goes to the organising team who give up their time to run the awards, from nominations and judging through to the night itself: Carol Wright, Steven Shaw, Martin Wyllie, Karen Gatherum, Arlene Dunbar, David Leslie, Cathy Lewis, Craig Clark, Stella Evans and Gordon McDade

Gordon’s last on the list but certainly not least – as project manager he’s been the driving force behind the Star Awards and he has decided to hand over the baton to let someone else take on the challenge. His work has been very much appreciated.

The roll of honour for 2019 is below, with everyone deserving of their place on a list that paints a picture of the diversity of the services we provide and the dedication that sits behind that.

We can all take great pride in what we have delivered together as one team over the past year.

I had the pleasure of making the opening remarks last night and used it to reflect on the journey we’re on.

I recently listened to a “thought for the day” by Dr Sam Wells and he contrasted the difference between an organisation and an institution, following on from the expose surrounding Oxfam in Haiti.

Dr Wells describes an “organisation” as only being focused on its output whereas an “institution” he describes as a keeper of standards, the bearer of trust and concerned with how it functions as well as what it does. It’s a timely and helpful distinction in definition.

As you know, we’ve been forging our definition of ourselves through the recently approved behaviour and capability frameworks. As I listened to Dr Wells, it made me see our efforts to define our collective character, through agreeing a set of common behaviours, as an attempt to be an institution rather than an organisation.

In the modern world, the language of institutions and public servants can seem dated and not relevant. However, the language of standards, trust, character all have a place in today’s world – it could be argued, required more today than ever before.

Looking back over the last year brought memories of achievements not only in good times but also in adversity and reinforced the fact that we are building a great institution through our staff.

The Star Awards are entirely dedicated to demonstrating how much we value each other and to recognising a job well done. It’s important that we continue to develop our approaches to showing appreciation, recognising the different attitudes held across our five generations of workforce. Last night there were 11 long service presentations, with more than 440 years of combined service.

Work will be kicking off soon, by a staff led group, on a bigger piece of work to explore alternative options for staff recognition and the results will be shared with everyone. I’ll provide more detail on that through my blog very soon.

Whatever your role and wherever you work in the Council, you’ll all be able to look back over the last year and point to the difference you and your colleagues have made to the people of Aberdeen.

Thank you to each and every one of you for your efforts and for continuing to play your part in making Aberdeen City Council a great institution. It’s certainly an institution which I am very proud to be Chief Executive of.

Star Awards 2019

Rising Star

This award celebrates an individual who has shone in their new role in the Council.

Winner: Hataichanok (Jan) Saevanee

Everyone knows Hataichanok as Jan and pretty much everyone that she supports at work makes a point of seeking out her chief officer to tell him how wonderful she is. Jan has an energy and positivity that infects everyone she works with. Jan came into the new Business Intelligence Unit (BIU), in mid-2018. Since then Jan has been an absolute star. One of the “big jobs” for BIU in 2018/19 was to start using a new tool (PowerBi). We would not have been able to do this without Jan. Some of us assumed she was an expert, but the truth is that she self-educated herself in her own time. She is now the Council’s “go to” person on PowerBi and is in very high demand.

Finalists: Jade Leyden; Emma Shanks.

Team of the Year

This award is for a team who have either achieved outstanding performance levels and customer satisfaction or worked in a focussed and unified way to deliver a desired objective for the Council and City.

Winner: Aberdeen City Health and Social Care Partnership Learning Disability Team and the in-house services (Len Ironside Centre & ACCLDICS)

The social work team work tirelessly to ensure the outcomes for people with disabilities are of the highest standards. They monitor adult support and protection referrals to ensure the safety of vulnerable people within the community while prioritising reviews and transitions to services for people and their families. They do this with professionalism, dedication and care. The Health team provide support by ensuring the right equipment is in place or a social story has been completed in order for a supported person to understand what is happening to ease the transition to a new home. Working closely together colleagues can identify a problem or difficulty and work quickly and efficiently because they work together for the best outcomes possible for everyone.

Finalists: Environmental Services Clean Up Aberdeen Team; Lochside Academy Support Staff Team.

Improving Staff Experience

This award is for an individual or team whose behaviour creates a positive culture and enhances the experience of our staff.

Winner: Sean Ewing

Sean has proven outstanding leadership and resourcefulness within the Energy Team. Sean has arranged training, mentoring and development and always puts the wellbeing and morale of his team first. A joiner to trade, his knowledge in this area and many others across the Council is of tremendous value to the team.

Finalists: Kay Johnston ; Kittybrewster Catering team, Dorota Myszka and Marta Czajkowska.

Improving Customer Experience

This award is for an individual or team who has either demonstrated exceptional

customer service or has enhanced how customers experience our services.

Winner: Digital Schools Admission Team

Getting your child into school has been managed using paper forms for many years with the process which required many forms to be completed by parents/guardians. This year the team has transformed the staff and ‘customer’ experience with the launch of a digital admissions process. Parents/guardians can now apply for any school with a single online form for any term, and any year group throughout the year. All communications are generated instantly by email, with the process redesigned to gather evidence up front and highlight additional support needs earlier to enable better planning for the child’s education. The team included: Customer Development who led the initial business analysis, Education sponsored the project and ensured that outcomes were focused on Getting It Right For Every Child and the Legal Team ensured compliance with the Education Acts and governance.

Finalists: Care Management West Team; Jenny Rae.


The collaboration award is for individuals or teams who have demonstrated excellence in working together.

Winner: Bridge of Don Remembers

‘Bridge of Don’ Remembers was a collaboration between nine head or depute head teachers at schools in Bridge of Don, three local churches and the local branch of Legion Scotland. The project marked the centenary of the 1918 armistice. By working together, they increased the depth and richness of the project giving the children a greater learning experience and encouraged a whole community to get involved.

Finalists: Leigh Houston (Airyhall Primary School); Rosemount Community Centre.

Improving Use of Resources

This award is for an individual or team that strive for best value, effectively managing their resources whilst still delivering outcomes.

Winner: Countryside Ranger Service

The Countryside Rangers have a long history of having to deliver a lot of projects to improve the wildlife habitats of the Council’s fantastic 25 countryside sites totalling over 1200ha in area. To deliver the work needed for managing these sites volunteers have been key. The countryside rangers are constantly promoting the service and the benefits that volunteers can gain from it. In the last year volunteers have committed over 2140 hours of time (equivalent to more than 300 days) to help manage these sites.

Finalists: PEEP Project; Moira MacIver (Bucksburn Partnership).

People’s Champion

This award is for an individual or team who are an unsung hero and deserve recognition for the work they do and is chosen by the readers of the Evening Express.

Winner: Bill Esslemont – School Crossing Patroller, Woodside School

Bill was nominated by the pupils and staff at Woodside Primary School for his work as their school crossing patroller. Over the years Bill has earned the respect of the children, as you can see from these quotes: “Bill can say hello or good morning in several languages and greets everyone by name and with a smile” and “Bill always makes sure we are safe and he even reminds me to bring my ukulele to school!”. Pupils always listen to him to ensure they are safe while walking to and from school. Bill also arrives early for work in the winter, to ensure the paths and crossing area are gritted properly before the children arrive.

Finalist: Steven Shaw.


This award recognises an individual or a team who have demonstrated an innovative approach and improved the way we do business. The award for Innovation was voted for during the award ceremony.

Winner: Daniel Shand and Norman Adams – Council Gardener’s Blog

Daniel (council gardener) and Norman (videographer) have created a monthly gardening blog to inspire others to get into gardening and encourage people to visit Aberdeen’s beautiful parks and green spaces. The blog is also used to shine a light on all the different council services, Friends of groups, schools, community groups and charities, who all work tirelessly to make the city a great place to live and work. The blog is a great way of passing on expert advice from Daniel while Norman is also showcasing the knowledge and skill the Council has in creating video that engages with all ages.

Finalists: Elaine Buchan, Gemma Simpson, Hataichanok (Jan) Saevanee – Data Register; Angela Jane Hesketh – Employee mental health and wellbeing.

Shining Star

This award is given for an individual who has reacted to a situation out with their role within the Council. A situation that required their involvement to ensure that a customer or a colleague was given the assistance they required in a very rare situation, to enable them to overcome difficulty or to recover from an event that has had a significant impact on their health.

Winner: Emily Snowdon

Long Service awards – 40 Years of Service to Aberdeen City Council

Wilma Wallace, Malcolm Brown, Alison Simpson, Andrew Gaffron, Sandy Scott, Michael Johnston, William Milne, William Muir, Philip Roger, Lewis Shewan, Graham Shand.

Committee endorsement gives a platform to build our workforce of the future

Earlier in the month I highlighted the agenda of this week’s Staff Governance Committee and in particular the report on the Workforce Plan – the vision for our workforce of the future.

You can find out more here about what that means for all of us as part of the Council team.

I’m delighted to say the committee gave its approval to the plan, which includes the new Capability Framework.

With that endorsement from elected members and trade unions, we have real impetus as the approach is embedded throughout the Council.

Thank you again to all involved in creating the plan and framework, which will benefit every employee and help realise our vision for the Council and the city.

An opportunity to hit pause before pressing fast forward

I’ve made mention in the past of the pace of life in a city council, particularly one serving somewhere as dynamic as Aberdeen during a period of really significant transformation. I think we’ll only really appreciate the scale of that change when we look back in years to come at what has been achieved in a short period of time.

There are lots of cogs in our machine and we should all take pride in the way we work together to keep those spinning hour to hour and day to day.

What that machine doesn’t have is a pause button, so taking the time to take a step back and reflect can be difficult.

With that in mind, building review into the day to day business of the council is important and there’s been an important step forward in recent weeks that will have passed under the radar for many colleagues – but it’s important to highlight.

Last month the first in a series of reports on the effectiveness of all of the Council’s committees was published and considered by the Education Operational Delivery Committee.

This is exemplar practice in local government.  It’s an illustration of taking pride in what we do and working together to make things even better – our guiding principles in action!

Given the rhythm of the committee cycle, it would be easy to flow from one meeting to the next and from one year to another. By setting annual reviews on the effectiveness of each committee, we’re embracing our organisational capability of openness, transparency and accountability.

The Education Operational Delivery Committee review highlighted the training and development undertaken by members in the past year, expanding knowledge in areas including early learning as well as on specific projects such as Big Noise Torry, as well as noting the fact the vast majority of committee business was conducted in public session. That bodes well for the future of the committee, but the annual assessment of effectiveness will guard against complacency.

The review of the Operational Delivery Committee pointed to the success over the past year of holding the organisation to account in terms of performance as well as the clear links between the business considered by members and the Local Outcome Improvement Plan’s themes – with a particular emphasis on outcomes relating to place and people. Again, it’s very encouraging to be able to take that objective view on the impact committee reports and decisions are having in our communities.

Those are just a handful of highlights from the effectiveness reports, but give a flavour of the way we’re reviewing the way we work and in turn aiming to make continual improvement.

It’s part of the wider programme to improve our governance, which has delivered on a number of levels in the past 18-months. Notably the Council’s first ever Scheme of Governance has been introduced – with all of our key constitutional documents revised, consolidated and aligned to ensure an outcome focused approach to how we do business. Risk management has been enhanced, a new performance management framework created and the Council Delivery Plan created … the list goes on.

Good governance isn’t an easy topic to bring to life in a few hundred words, given the complexity that goes hand in hand with it, but it does run through everything we do as a Council and give us the platform to make a difference to the people, place and economy.

My thanks go to all involved in the initiatives I’ve touched upon as we strive to embed the governance that is helping to drive positive change in Aberdeen.

City pupils provide the purrfect build-up to the Star Awards

If you have passed through the reception at Marischal College over the past week, you’ll have noticed some very special guests have arrived.

The collection of Kelly’s Cats are on display before they move to the Beach Ballroom on June 20 as part of the Star Awards, where they will be star prizes in a charity fundraising raffle on the night.

The cats, decorated replicas of the traditional cast iron leopards by William Kelly, have become a fixture of the awards – but there’s a twist this year, with 11 Aberdeen schools taking the opportunity to play their part in the creative process.

The end result is fantastic and well worth taking the time to view – the pupils have done us proud!

Final preparations for the Star Awards are in full flow and once again can I thank the dedicated organising team for the time and energy they devote to the event. The organisers deserve to share the spotlight with those who have made the shortlist.

The evening is all about recognising colleagues and teams from across the council for the positive impact they make, making a real difference to the lives of people in Aberdeen. It is always humbling and inspiring to reflect on the achievements of the past year and to look at the big picture of what we deliver – which is certainly worth celebrating.

Now in their eighth year, the Star Awards have attracted entries from every cluster – 236 in total, and just nine short of the record number. It is fantastic to see colleagues keen to acknowledge the efforts of those they work alongside.

There will be far more next week as the envelopes are opened and this year’s winners are revealed.  I’m looking forward to seeing all of our worthy nominees taking centre stage.

New framework to shape the future as one team, one council, one city

The introduction of the Staff Governance Committee has been an important step in putting our workforce at the heart of our plans for the Council.

If you don’t already follow the business of this committee, I’d recommend keeping up to date with reports. There is some very innovative work being done that will shape the way we all work.

Next week’s Staff Governance Committee agenda is a very good example of that. A Workforce Plan will be considered by Councillors and trade union colleagues when the committee meets on Tuesday, June 18. Papers have been published and are available online.  

The Workforce Plan describes the vision for our workforce of the future.  A key part of this is the Capability Framework which sets out how we will develop each individual so that, collectively, we are able to deliver the seven organisational capabilities needed for transformation.  This is a significant piece of work that will benefit every employee and my thanks go to Isla Newcombe and her team for the diligent work in bringing this to fruition.

In simple terms, the Capability Framework lists the skills, knowledge and behaviours that we need from every single employee. The framework is structured into four levels, which reflect increasing levels of responsibility. But while the knowledge and skills required by employees increase with the level of responsibility they hold, the behaviours remain the same at all levels. I’m as responsible for these as you are.


The Capability Framework will give us clarity and direction for our own personal and career development. The results will provide an oversight of the talent held across the organisation, which means we can develop an increasingly agile and flexible approach to managing and moving talent.

Subject to the committee’s endorsement, the framework will also be used to significantly enhance our approach to performance review. We recognise the PR&D system needs to evolve and the creation of the framework will enhance the way we manage performance and foster a culture where behaviour has equal weight to skills and knowledge.   At the same time, revisions have been made to PR&D which remove the link between absence and increment, in line with our new Supporting Attendance policy and our commitment to the health and wellbeing of our workforce.

The wider Workforce Plan will enable us to respond to the existing challenges we face and those coming down the line as the size and shape of the Council continues to evolve. It will be of great benefit as we adapt to better meet the needs of all those we serve whilst ensuring staff have the capability, confidence and capacity to deliver the crucial services we provide to the city.

The report to the Staff Governance Committee is about far more than words on a screen – it’s about building the Council of the Future and the role we all have to play in that. It’s an exciting time for the organisation and the support we’re seeing from all corners of the Council is playing a huge part in the momentum that’s building.

BP, P&J, AFC and ACC … writing the A-Z of partnership goals

We’re incredibly fortunate in Aberdeen to have organisations with big ambitions for the city, aspirations that every resident and every business can share.

From public bodies to the corporate world and through to sports clubs and the third sector, there’s a real determination to make a difference and realise the vision of a place where all people can prosper.

As a Council we’ve got a duty to drive that progress – both socially and economically – but we make no secret of the fact we can’t act alone. Partnership working is crucial and ties back to the guiding principle of one team, one council, one city.

The teamwork within the council every hour of every day is what we’re building our future on, but in recent weeks the bigger picture has been really well demonstrated.

May was a busy but important month, particularly for Richard Sweetnam and his City Growth team. We had the colour and noise of the OVO Energy Tour Series, bringing around 10,000 people into the city centre and showcasing the heart of Aberdeen to a global television audience. It was the third anniversary of our relationship with organisers Sweetspot and we hope that link will continue to evolve and thrive.

Just a week later the attention shifted to two of the most significant capital projects in the cultural story of the city – the Aberdeen Art Gallery refurbishment and the new events complex.

On a single day we saw BP announce a £1million investment in the Gallery and the Press and Journal confirm the naming rights to P&J Live after agreeing a significant sponsorship package. As an events and conference facility, it will be the envy of cities throughout Britain and the World.

To have BP and the P&J, two brands which have been cornerstones of north-east life and the region’s economy for generations, buying in to these landmark projects is a fantastic endorsement for the shift we’re overseeing in the cultural landscape of Aberdeen. Most importantly, it’s a great credit to these two companies that they’ve underlined their commitment to the city in this way.

Aberdeen Football Club is another important institution and we’re proud to work closely with the club and particularly the AFC Community Trust in a number of ways.

The success of the Food and Fun initiative has been well documented and the contribution the Dons have made to that has been a major part of the drive to tackling inequalities by providing free meals and activities in our regeneration areas during holiday periods.

The AFC Community Trust’s projects were in the spotlight last month at the SPFL Trust’s annual awards. I was pleased to attend and to present alongside the trust on the benefits of working hand in hand to deliver better outcomes in our communities. To cap a great day, it was fantastic to see the Alternative Academies project win the community programme the year prize for AFC. As ever the football rivalries were in full flow … with the trust  pipping Rangers and Celtic to the trophy!

It’s heartening to see different partnerships flourishing on so many different levels – but all brought together by the common theme of helping the people and place prosper.

I’m really keen to acknowledge the contributions of our many partners, old and new, and to thank them for playing their part in the massive change we’re seeing all across the city. Here’s to many more collaborations and to a bright future for Aberdeen.