Norfolk County Council: Our council, our voice 2019 staff survey

Norfolk CC implemented a staff engagement survey with an underpinning research base, to understand the unique selling point for working in the public sector. 

Overview of authority 

Norfolk has significant assets in emerging sectors such as biotechnology, clean energy and creative digital where innovative, productive companies host thousands of well paid, knowledge-economy jobs, yet the mainstay of the economy remains in industries such as agriculture and tourism. 

Though Norfolk may be a reasonably well-off part of the country, it also faces substantial challenges – not least amongst them is its demographic profile. Poor social mobility is also a challenge in Norfolk. Norfolk County Council (CC) have lower than average Level 4+ qualifications and are fully in line with national averages on KS5 results. At the same time, we have much higher than average levels of sustainable employment for young people leaving education. Norfolk has a large population of 895,900 (2017).

There is a two tier system of local government with the CC’s main responsibilities being:

  • children and families
  • children’s education and adult learning
  • adult social care
  • public health
  • planning, waste and recycling
  • roads and transport
  • trading standards
  • fire
  • museums
  • libraries and archives.  

Although our RSG has reduced, we have continued to raise income through different streams and our overall budget has remained stable at around £1.4bn. There is a reduction in real terms, due to inflationary increases and increased demand for high end services. Norfolk CC has 7,285 non-schools employees.

Since January 2019 (formalised in May 2019) Norfolk CC has moved to a cabinet form of governance with an executive leader. The post of managing director was deleted in December 2018 and a head of paid service appointed in May 2019. A new head of HR was appointed in September 2017, with an improved understanding of engagement in the public sector as one of her priorities. The previous council-wide engagement survey occurred in 2014, with smaller-scale specific surveys having occurred in the meantime.

Overview of project/initiative/activity
This is a first stage case study.
Project: to implement a staff engagement survey with an underpinning research base, to understand the unique selling point for working in the public sector. 

Aims and methodology 

  • Have the evidence from staff to prioritise areas for action in a meaningful way to make the biggest difference to staff and Norfolk residents. 
  • Model what engagement looks like from the outset with senior decision-makers and a wider group of stakeholders (HR business partners, managers across varying services, UNISON, intelligence and analytics and consultation expertise)
  • Facilitate survey results with management teams and staff with ease
  • A cost-effective and sustainable approach.

Timescale - February to June 2019

  • Survey decision (Feb)
  • Stakeholder workshop (March)
  • Communications, Branding and Launch (April)
  • Survey completion (May)
  • Results feedback to corporate board, directorate management teams, UNISON, all staff (June)

  • Planning of Actions and Delivery (July - Dec)

Positive learning points

  • Concise survey which was simple to complete
  • Survey had a strong evidence and academic base which lived out one of NCC’s principles to ‘be evidence based and target where our work can make the biggest difference’
  • The value of ‘up stream’ engagement by the head of HR with corporate board colleagues and accessing internal communications skills for the survey.
  • A stakeholder workshop was planned at the outset to contextualise survey language, generate ‘sandpit’ (non-predetermined) questions, branding ideas and understanding ‘hard to reach groups’.  Dr Martin Reddington, whose work has been supported by the LGA was invited to increase understanding, as it was a new approach of survey in NCC. 
  • In a large county council, the modelling approaches had strong resonance for fields allied to social care with the quantitative and qualitative analysis providing credibility for corporate and analytical functions 
  • Key driver analysis helped managers and staff to ‘make sense’ of the data and facilitate discussions into how we could make the biggest difference for staff. This avoided ‘survey data overwhelm’ which from experience can lead to paralysis.
  • Fast turnaround from close of survey to reporting to corporate board – 16 working days.

Delivery tips

  • Use a variety of methods to let staff know about the survey e.g. lock screen on computers, video introduction from the head of paid service, posters, briefings in the Norfolk Manager and Friday Take-Away. Feedback response rates at key points were published to directorates during the survey period. All these contributed to a response rate in the top quartile of organisations our size.  
  • Use your database HR system as your source of email addresses and add in where there were gaps. This involves more ‘up front’ work, however gives an accurate baseline at the outset. Sustainability for future surveys is also increased.
  • Invite stakeholder workshop participants, including UNISON senior stewards to complete the pilot survey to ‘finally test’ before launch.
  • Pay attention to understanding the context of staff not on email, especially in a large and geographically spread out organisation.  Understand the alternative survey completion options, especially if you want to move away from paper-based surveys. 
  • Focus feedback of results to corporate and directorate senior management teams, HR leadership team and UNISON Senior Stewards. As it was a first time in NCC, Dr Martin Reddington added depth and experience of other organisations to these groupings.
  • When changing a survey approach, people ‘make sense’ of a different model to different levels and timeframes, especially if people are used to a ‘short cut’ engagement score.
  • Design in an expectation of delivery in response to survey results e.g. an action planning tool-kit and/or a simple facilitation approach ready for when results are shared.

Key contact

Ruth Grant, OD Partner
Address: Norfolk County Council, 5th floor, County Hall, Martineau Lane, Norwich, NR1 2DH
Phone: 01603 223592
Website address:

Workforce Focus
The primary aim of this document is to help senior HR professionals and their teams to develop local action plans for workforce improvement by providing facts and ideas.