This month we speak with Darren Birbeck, General Manager Corporate Services at the City of Charles Sturt.
Darren speaks about the power of clear and positive language in motivating and leading staff, as well as outlining a number of his key projects and objectives.What’s your current role, and what does it involve?
In my role as General Manager Corporate Services at the City of Charles Sturt, I work closely with the executive and leadership teams to help achieve our Community Plan goals and objectives. It’s an exciting time at Charles Sturt, as we deliver our largest ever capital works program which includes the redevelopment of the St Clair Recreation Centre, the Port Road drainage project, the redevelopment of our Waste Management Centre and the revitalisation of Point Malcolm Reserve.
I am really fortunate to have a fantastic team which covers the areas of Finance, Information Services, People & Culture, Governance & Operational Support and Media, Marketing & Communications.
Some of the new initiatives that we are currently working on include rolling out our Digital Workplace Strategy, review and redesign of our Leadership Development program, the launch of a new Corporate Wellbeing Program, an in-depth review of our recurrent budgets and the completion of our draft Smart City Strategy.
We continue to seek better ways to communicate with our residents and have recently launched Charlotte, our intelligent chatbot on Facebook, delivered three live streamed events to Facebook, introduced a live Panomax camera at St Clair to monitor progress and our internal communications team have shot drone footage of Point Malcolm Reserve and the Port Road drainage projects.
What attracted you to local government, and your current role?
It is incredibly gratifying to work for an organisation that is dedicated to providing services to the local community. Having worked in the Aged Care sector for over a decade, it was important for me to continue my career in a role that delivers positive outcomes for people.
The role at Charles Sturt was very appealing; in addition to the broad range of services we provide, I was also attracted by the positive culture of the organisation. Charles Sturt has a strong commitment to a constructive workplace culture which I believe is critical to the success of any organisation.
You mentioned that you came from the Aged Care Sector. Local government is known for often using too much jargon and many acronyms – how have you found this? Is there anything you are doing to combat this practice?
To be honest, jargon and acronyms litter most sectors, industries and professions. While local government has its fair share, I haven’t found it any more daunting than in finance, aged care or the automotive industry, where I have also worked.
For a large part of my career, it has been my role to explain organisational performance to an audience from outside the sector or the profession in which I have worked. As a result, I try to avoid using jargon and acronyms wherever I can.
I believe it is important to put yourself in the shoes of your audience. The best way to get your point across is to deliver it in a way that resonates with the people that you are communicating with. By using jargon and industry specific acronyms, you are effectively alienating your audience.
How do you use the power of language to motivate your staff?
My natural style is a collaborative and consultative one. What drives me is seeing people reach their full potential whilst achieving extraordinary outcomes. I pride myself in being able to communicate with people from across the organisation and it is these interactions that inspire me to come to work each day. I tend to use every day examples from my own experience to demonstrate ideas and motivate staff to achieve great results.
I am passionate about the work that we do for the community and do my best to communicate this to my colleagues. My tendency is to use optimistic and achievement focussed language to motivate the people I work with.
How important is using clear language in providing a strategic direction to your team? Why?
It is absolutely critical to provide clarity when setting a strategic direction for your team. By using clear language, you minimise the risk of any ambiguity which could lead to misunderstanding and confusion.
Positive language is especially important in conducting performance reviews. What advice do you have for our readers about conducting reviews? What works well, and what doesn’t?
Given my preferred coaching/collaborative style I always take a positive mindset into performance reviews. From my perspective it is critical to achieve a shared and honest assessment of an individual’s performance, while delivering it in a respectful and consistent manner.
I believe that the most critical aspect to performance reviews is that they occur continuously throughout the year. This helps ensure that performance reviews become an ongoing conversation, rather than a once in a year event.
Like many parts of business, Corporate Services is a function likely to undergo significant change, through technology and other influences, in coming years. How will you manage the challenge of constant change?
I cannot recall a time in my career when the Corporate Services function hasn’t been subject to significant change! I believe that it is a matter of developing flexible and dynamic plans that can adjust to changes in the internal and external environment. For me, adaptability and resilience are important attributes in dealing with constant change. A sense of humour also helps.
What keeps you busy outside of work?
My wife Kylie and I have two adult children who are finishing their university degrees and we are extremely proud of their achievements. Every Saturday we cheer on our son who plays for the Happy Valley Vikings, the club he has played with since he was six years old. Meanwhile his big sister continues her passion for dancing, performing in a troupe with ’That’s Dancing’ at Warradale.
Aside from the kids, travel is our passion and we are fortunate enough to have visited South East Asia extensively, as well as trips to the US, Great Britain and South America.
Highlights have included celebrating Hogmanay in Edinburgh, kayaking in Borneo and visiting Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina.