Employee Voice – The Choir: Sing While You Work

Hello PPMA members and friends

Last week Birmingham City Council took part in BBC2’s ‘The Choir: Sing While You Work’ and Raffaela Goodby Head of OD, Engagement and Well Being, at Birmingham City Council and also Board Member of the PPMA, gives us the background to the story.

‘At Birmingham City Council, we have spent part of 2013 generating a new approach to Employee Voice – by literally singing our way to higher morale and motivation with Gareth Malone.

Effective people management strategies aren’t always the most straightforward, and with the financial challenge of reducing our services by  £825m, we in HR have been open to radical ideas and suggestions and new ways of working. What better way to have some fun, uplift the workforce, have some joy than by a choir ‘singing whilst they work?’

As an active member of the Public Sector People Managers’ Association, I know the value to be had from taking a creative approach to workforce development, and that’s what taking part in BBC Two’s The Choir: Sing While You Work has involved. From a workforce perspective, the impact has been transformational. Gareth coming to Birmingham created a buzz, with employees singing at their desks, supporting each other and talking about how proud they were of their colleagues and friends who auditioned for the choir series.

Our HR team has been heavily involved in managing the process as hundreds of people got interested (practising in corridors, meeting rooms and the lift!), with 120 actually auditioning for Gareth. Even Stephen Hughes, our Chief Executive, sang his rendition of ‘Downtown’ sitting next to a cleaner and a trampoline coach. Never mind ‘back to the floor’ – he was literally ‘taking the floor’.

Some key learning points for HR from our Choir experience:

  • Have your key messages sorted; trust in your staff to do and say the right thing. There was no censoring of messages throughout the project – no scripts or preparation
  • Taking risks is necessary in Public Service HR in 2013. This project was a big leap into the unknown, based on trust.
  • Get senior buy-in. Our Elected Members and Chief Executive were supportive from day one. Being  personally involved with the choir through the whole process made a huge difference to the choir members as they felt connected to the organisation and wanted to ‘do us proud’
  • Recognition is key – thanking the  managers that supported their colleagues in the choir helped generate wider pride and motivation.
  • Work  closely with internal communications and press teams. They know the wider messages, ‘what’s coming’ and you can plan early.

As a workforce engagement tool it has been a gift as it has drawn employees together from across our huge organisation (46,000 staff) and given them a shared sense of purpose. Our choir of 22 people is incredibly diverse and truly reflect our citizens and communities. The choir members have said ‘I feel like we can show the public the great work we do in the Council and I feel I really have a voice now’. (Mandy Lunn)

The response to our episode being shown has been overwhelmingly positive with 2.6 million viewers tuning in on the night, and more on BBC iPlayer to follow. The accompanying social media frenzy was supportive of the choir and most importantly, of the work that we in local government do.

I am writing these words on the ‘morning after’ and can say that in the office today everyone was buzzing. If I could have bottled the pride, enthusiasm, energy and emotion of everyone who watched their colleagues performing in the choir, I would be set for engagement tools for the rest of my career. Colleagues who never talk to each other were discussing the programme, the choir members had emails from colleagues across the council, members of the public, elected members, friends, old colleagues – all with a shared sense of pride in our City, and in local government as a whole. One colleague even said her daughter now wants to be a social worker after hearing Siobhan talk so honesty about her work.
Not one person I spoke to suggested we shouldn’t have taken part, or made the programme about politics or policies. It was a day to feel joy, to smile and to feel pride in the services we in local government deliver to our citizens, in Birmingham and across the UK.

You can follow the progress of our choir on twitter @bccchoir or by liking our Facebook page, and by following #TheChoir  Please get in touch with your comments or feedback and add your voice to ours!’


Raffaela Goodby

Head of OD, Engagement and Well Being, Birmingham City Council and a Board Member of the Public Sector People Managers’ Association.

By | 2017-07-30T12:23:17+00:00 November 20th, 2013|Categories: Guest Blogger, Raffaela Goodby|3 Comments


  1. Richard crouch 27th November 2013 at 9:30 pm - Reply

    A great blog Raffaela and it was a great episode. I’m sure that others who watched it will agree with me in saying how proud it made you feel to be part of local government. Great for employees in BIrmingham City Council as well for sure.


  2. Lisa Sibley 28th November 2013 at 7:10 pm - Reply

    Love your blog Raffaela, thank you – I so love The Choir but I especially loved watching this episode. Your Council isn’t just singing for Birmingham, I felt like they were singing for the whole of local government, flying the flag and putting pride right back into the public sector. I will be rooting for BCC every note of the way.

  3. Raffaela Goodby 22nd December 2013 at 11:36 pm - Reply

    Hi Everyone

    After watching tonight’s final I am sad it’s over but feel uplifted at the continued positive impact our involvement in the programme has had. I was rooting for our public sector colleagues in the Fire Service, and felt for them thinking about how to keep up morale and engagement when they were faced with strikes and uncertainty. I thought Michelle’s solo was beautiful.

    Well done to P&O Ferries for their win. The lasting impact of our choir will be positive for the years to come. Thanks to all those that have sent us messages, tweets, emails, phone calls, who supported our choir, and of course to Gareth Malone and the whole production team for choosing Birmingham.

    A fantastic experience!

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