Keeping calm in the face of change

By Desiree Weston, Future Leaders Graduate & Strategic Communications Manager, Innovation and Change 

Westminster City Council 

Let me take you back to the early hours of Thursday 5 May 2022, the votes were in and for the first time in Westminster City Council’s history, the Labour Party had secured a victory.

As part of the corporate communications team, we all looked at each other and silently questioned what this momentous moment meant. Not only for ourselves, but the entire council.

After twenty-four hours of working around the clock to help deliver the local election’s comms, it would only take a short time to find out.

The first lesson I learnt during a change of administration was…patience. Any new Leader of a Council needs time to get their bearings. Some may already have a full-time job, outside of their political interest, so time is required to adjust. I mean who has ever heard of a part-time Leader? No one.

A new Leader needs time to build their cabinet. For those who have either retained or acquired a new seat, you can easily imagine that several candidates will want a seat at a table that has limited placements. If you have spent years campaigning to improve the lives of your local community, it is understandable that you will want to have a say on how decisions will be made.

In this interim period, it is advisable to familiarise yourself with the elected party’s manifesto. Read it like your favourite thriller or romance novel. You won’t be expected to deliver the manifesto, but it’ll give insight on the new administration’s aspirations. And, if you’re really smart, you can start to guess which campaigns are likely to be launched in the first year.

It’s also advisable to not spend too much time speculating about who stays and goes during this grey period. The imagination can be a wonderful thing, but also harrowing if you allow it to wander into the wilderness of negative thoughts. No one immediately knows what or if any, staff changes will happen. So, my suggestion is to hold onto your paddle and float in the sea of uncertainty until a big wave comes along. And that’s IF it comes at all.

Don’t be unsettled if there’s a hierarchy of meetings with the new Leader and their cabinet. Of course, it is expected that the Communications Director will be one of the first senior leaders to meet them all. This allows them to make a positive impression, not only for them but for the wider communications team. Also, the newly-elected cabinet members may not fully understand the role of communications. Of course they know about social media etc, but at the start of this blooming relationship there’s a real opportunity to educate that good comms is more than a tweet (or X), and reassure that no one is expected to partake in the next Tik Tok challenge.

Learnings can also include media training. Helping cabinet members to be at ease with questions from all corners of the media, as well as filming promotional videos. Grab the opportunities to guide and nurture individuals who prior to the local election, may have preferred to stand behind the camera, instead of in front of it. Now their new role will require frequent public appearances, whether on camera or not. Speaking to the public isn’t easy, so individuals will need your patience to polish their appearances, be at ease with answering difficult questions and at times, be blamed for things that were never in their remit.

When do you get the opportunity to meet the new cabinet member, make sure to arrange a 1-2-1. If possible, don’t wait until their first cabinet meeting. A 1-2-1 is great to find out more about the person behind the politics. For communications, the relationship with a cabinet member will be one of the most important you will retain, so there’s no harm to ask questions about their background, aspirations, achievements and why not, their favourite football or rugby team.

Finally, embrace the change. Yes, you may have had a great relationship with the former cabinet members, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do so again. Regardless of which political party is in power. Think of it as an opportunity to enhance your stakeholder management. You’re not going to always agree, whether politically or not, with everyone you work with. And, if you remain in local government, you need to be prepared for your council’s cabinet to swing to the left or right side of politics.


Conference week – changing times

WhatsApp Channels – learnings from an early adopter


Leave a Comment