Changing Faces, Changing Audit, and what really motivates people.

20140118-212211.jpgIn 160 posts over almost three years of blogging I’ve never explicitly mentioned where I work or what I do. It is partly deliberate. Saying you work for an audit organisation prompts interesting reactions.

I was recently introduced at a conference using the 19th Century Sir Charles Lyell quote: “An auditor is a man who watches the battle from the safety of the hills and then comes down to bayonet the wounded”That did actually work in my favour. With an introduction like that people have pretty low expectations.

So, what’s prompted me to break cover and say I work for the Wales Audit Office? Well, this might not sound very cool, but I’ve just come away from our staff conference and I really enjoyed it. Let me explain why.

Over the years I’ve attended dozens of staff days. I’ve experienced loads of ‘team building’   activities where you participate in some abstract task. Diverse activities covering everything from Samba Drumming to building the Eiffel Tower out of cardboard and pipe cleaners. All good stuff, but how to you link it back to the day job?

Well how about this; get people involved in a practical activity that uses their skills, helps other organisations and has a very tangible result at the end of it. The idea of us trying something like this has been around for a while. A lot of the thinking behind the idea is based upon the Daniel Pink TED lecture, “The surprising truth about what motivates people” 

The idea is that motivation is linked to three things: being allowed to get on with your job (autonomy), the desire to be a good at something you like (mastery) and doing something for the greater good (making a contribution). The video is well worth watching.

This is how it worked at the staff conference:

  • Ask the Wales Council for Voluntary Action to nominate 15 organisations that would find it helpful to work with Wales Audit Office staff.
  • Invite representatives from these organisations to come along and share what they do with groups of up 14 people from the WAO.
  • Make sure the groups are completely mixed and everyone is involved, including the Board Members.
  • Set the WAO staff a task; “You have 3 hours to look at what the organisation does and come up with ideas on how they can increase participation, income and impact”.
  • Also get staff to develop a presentation (being as creative as they like) to convince the rest of the WAO that the organisation you are working with should the the staff charity of choice for the next 12 months.
  • Leave people to stew overnight…..this is where you get a bit of magic happening.
  • Next morning, gather in groups of 3 and present your ideas to your colleagues. The ‘best’ pitches are chosen for a grand final in the main hall.
  • The 5 finalists teams then present to the whole organisation and everyone votes for which organisation should be the staff charity of choice. Brilliant!

You need to know here that the organisation chosen was Changing Faces, a UK charity that gives support and information to people with disfigurements to the face, hands or body, and their families. It’s going to be an exciting year.

Does this motivate people? The honest answer; yes. The group I was involved in were incredibly motivated. All the things that Daniel Pink talks about were evident:

Autonomy. Nobody was telling people what to do, they just got on with it, and went the extra mile.

Mastery. People were doing things they were really good at. Asking questions, researching, analysing plans, looking at financial projections and a whole range of other things.

Making a Contribution. It’s difficult to convey just how obvious this was. The was a sense of passion and commitment to making a difference and doing some good. One of the people I was woking with said “I’m not letting go of this now, I’m getting involved”, and they meant it.

So where does this leave us?

At the start of the conference there was lots said about how as an organisation we have a role to helping public service organisations in Wales to improve. It’s not just about finding fault and providing assurance, the days of just ‘bayonetting the wounded’ are ancient history. My colleagues are not just auditors, they clearly have the skills to help with improvement, and they showed that with enthusiasm and passion.

I do wonder if there is something more symbolic in the link between Changing Faces and Changing Audit?

So, what’s the PONT?

  1. The desire to ‘make a contribution’ is a huge motivator for lots of people.
  2. Even auditors can be creative, passionate and highly committed when you give them the space and freedom.
  3. It’s taken me 160 blog posts to say this, but I do work with some great people, and they all made me proud this week. Thank you.

About WhatsthePONT

I'm from Old South Wales and I'm interested almost everything. Narrowing it down a bit: cooperatives, social enterprises, decent public services, complexity science, The Cynefin Framework, behavioural science and a sustainable future. In 2018/19 I completed a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship, looking at big cooperative enterprises and social businesses in NE Spain and the USA. You can find out more here:

8 Responses

  1. Chris, what did the team pledge to do differently in their day to day work immediately following the exercise that you can monitor the impact of to demonstrate improved outcomes for the service and its customers as you move forwards?

    This could include collecting stories of service improvements, better understanding of customers and relevant surveys, changes to staff motivation/morale, better prioritisation/scheduling of work, clearer vision of where the team can support others or take appropriate action to deal with an identified problem.

    It would be interesting to be able to evaluate why this type of exercise made a difference to the team and its approach to its mainstream work compared with samba drumming & Eiffel Tower building.

    Are the team allowed time to continue the work started in the exercise and what happened to the other organisations that were not successful in getting help?


  2. I enjoyed that post, Chris, and your exchange with Mike. I actually hadn’t heard that definition of an auditor before. I well remember the days when it was extremely appropriate! I was listening to some colleages in a grant-funded vol org a few days ago tell me about their latest discussion with their (County Council) grant funding “Commissioner”.

    Basically, the Commissioner had no idea what they did, no idea what might be good performance indicators to measure them by, etc, but said they (the vol org) had a year to prove their impact, design and test some “useful” PI, and show value for money, before decisions would be taken about competitive measures that will deternine the continuation of the grant on which they depend. Oh how different that discussion would have been, had that Commissioner, or any other staff, been invited to take part in the sort of participative programme you describe. Not just motivating, but educational!

    Maybe Commissioners are going to become the new bad guys, and earn a definition like the old audit one? It will no doubt include reference to “leaving the bodies of the dead to rot on the barbed wire”.

    Your post has made me realise that properly enlightened staff and organisational development can have great spin-off, and thst the lack of such development is invariably fatal for someone.

  3. Great stuff – really interesting research and film. Will send the link round the organisation – provides even more evidence for what we’re trying to do at Chwarae Teg and the support we want to offer other orgs in Wales on what is a modern successful workplace today where al staff flourish and contribute. Thank you!

  4. Steff

    Great post, it is an important reminder of how we still need to do things in the right way – regardless of climate and outside pressures. Thanks.

  5. Clover

    Hi Chris – talk about serendipity(!),

    Mark Hodder at Academi Wales delivered a really useful workshop to the Wales Coaching Collaborative, with an overview of the philosophy and principles of DRIVE. So a useful YouTube link on on what motivates people.

    And some useful examples about offering employees time to innovate: Google and – Atlassian’s programme to innovate to support business objectives.

    Knowing you, you probably know this already!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s