Council Transition Support Expert Interview: Chris Stratten, human resources/organisational development expert

LKS Quaero is offering a complete package of Council Transition Support for amalgamating NSW Councils. This is the last in a series of interviews in which our transition expert team members pass on some key nuggets of advice.

Chris Stratten is an experienced HR and Organisational Development Manager of many years’ standing, with specialist knowledge of industrial relations matters. He is an experienced manager of change in both public and private sector organisations in areas including HR/OD diagnosis and strategy development, industrial/workplace relations, leadership development and coaching, and service delivery analysis. Here is his advice for HR/OD managers of amalgamating Councils.

What are the key human resources/organisational development challenges for amalgamating Councils in NSW?

One of the things that many organisations stumble upon is the engagement process. Most of the time, managers get around the room and decide on a plan of action, but fail to establish a robust engagement process. This should involve both engagement within management and engagement between management and staff. I call it engagement, not communication, because it has to go both ways. The organisation has to get feedback from unions, staff, management, and the community. There has to be good planning for how the organisation engages with these stakeholders and how to get their concerns noted and readily addressed. From an HR viewpoint, HR traditionally has to pick up a lot of mess because this is not done well up front. All messages need to reach employees and other stakeholders in a readily understandable way, not just reach the leaders.

The amalgamation process needs to be managed by a team, and the HR manager needs to be part of that team throughout that process, on both the engagement and leadership sides. They need to have carriage of establishing and monitoring the engagement processes. HR managers should also be there in order to ensure that industrial instruments are adhered to – in an advisory capacity to the leadership team, not as the leader. This is vital for ensuring that decisions are made with understanding and ownership of the line management.

What HR/OD opportunities should Councils look to seize?

Council leaders should not endorse a simple bolting together of amalgamating Councils. A once in a lifetime opportunity exists to establish an organisation that thinks, works and leads in a totally different way within a new innovative structure. Time must be spent on making sure that the new structure is populated with the right people. There are many opportunities to learn from those within the sector that have established new ways of working and we have been very successful in assisting in the implementation of many differing structures that serve the community better at a sustainable, lower cost of service.

Another element that historically is not given the attention that is required is the workforce development plans. We have seen many examples where the plan provides enough information to tick the box, but it falls well short of developing the staff to support the new entity. A robust workforce development plan creates the right environment for sustainable improvements to service delivery and cultural change.

What would be in your “HR action plan” to start things off?

There are a number of things that need to be in place for the new Council, including:

  • Collection of the amalgamating Councils’ HR data, such as the differing terms and conditions of employment
  • Support in the development of the new organisational structure
  • Development of the staff transitional procedures
  • Consolidating legacy workforce development plans
  • Reviewing salary and job evaluation systems and ensuring that the right ones are in place for the future
  • Conducting a training/skills audit
  • Ensuring that all existing job descriptions are up to date for the current organisational structures
  • Ensuring that a suitable position evaluation and salary grading structure is ready for when the new structure is developed
  • Assisting in the development of new position descriptions that align with the elements of the position evaluation system

That’s about six months’ work. The first step is to develop a preliminary HR plan that includes all these elements.

What else can HR/OD managers do to ensure the right decisions are made for the long term?

Conduct research on those organisations that have undergone major transformation. There is no need to re-invent the wheel, so learn from the experiences of others. Then make the time to ensure you have a well thought through and well documented transition plan.

What should HR/OD managers of amalgamating Councils be doing right now to prepare?

HR/OD managers need to have a robust engagement process – it doesn’t have to be the final transition engagement plan. It’s okay to not have a particular answer, but the fact that something is as yet unknown needs to be conveyed to staff. HR should be at the forefront of making sure management at all levels are engaged and are engaging with staff, feeding information up and down.

How can you help with the structural and HR/OD aspects of amalgamations?

I can assist in establishing a workable, viable transition plan and working through the implications for the staff. I can advise on the development of optimal organisational structures that are not just a result of bolting Councils together, but are a result of understanding the new organisation and the opportunities it has to develop far more efficient structures that can either improve service delivery or, at a minimum, maintain current service delivery levels at a reduced cost.

At LKS Quaero, we offer support to new Councils across culture and leadership, strategy development, financial analysis and advice, industrial relations, structure and recruitment. Transitioning to a new entity represents a massive opportunity. It’s a chance to re-set the vision, strategy, and culture for a new organisation. At the same time, there are pitfalls to be avoided across all areas of operations. See our Council Transition Support page for more information. If you’d like to know more, visit us at or follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.