Dr Claudia Wyss is the Director of Customer & Community Services at Auckland Council, starting in the role three weeks before the first lockdown in March 2020. In this profile she talks about some of the great mahi going on in various areas of her portfolios, her recent move into local government, as well as what she loves about Tāmaki Makaurau.

Claudia has more than 25 years’ management experience, as a Chief Executive, a manager for McKinsey & Company, and as an expert adviser to governments, hospitals, and health systems. She received her MBA with a Dean’s Award from Harvard Business School and received her medical degrees from the University of Auckland. She is also the Deputy Chairperson of Pharmac.

Tell us about your role at Auckland Council

The Customer & Community Services is the largest directorate within council. I have the privilege of working with a wonderful team of 3300+ people. As director, I am an executive team member who reports to our Chief Executive Jim Stabback.

Our Customer & Community Services teams provide a wide range of customer-facing services, including Arts & Culture, Cemeteries & Crematoria, Community Empowerment, Community & Social Innovation, Digital and Customer Services, Early Childhood Education, Events, Libraries & Community Venues, and Pools & Leisure Centres. We also support communities through a large portfolio of community facilities and parks, and the effective management of these spaces.

Can you tell us about some of your current projects which you are particularly excited about?

I am incredibly inspired by the enormous passion, dedication, and commitment our teams have to serving our communities. Our mahi is incredibly diverse, strongly people-focused and creates an important sense of manaakitanga.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, our communities have faced extraordinary challenges, and our teams have managed these with commitment, grace, and hard work.

Our teams were heavily involved in supporting vulnerable Aucklanders during the first COVID-19 lockdown response, including welfare calls and food parcel deliveries. They have redesigned our service delivery to fit community needs and circumstances – such as our libraries introducing click and collect services and Ready-to-Go reading packs, and outdoor exercise classes. This is on top of responding to Auckland’s drought and significant flooding events.

Alongside our COVID-19 responses, our teams have also reshaped our services to be more customer-centric and are helping us respond to large budgetary pressures. This is what excites me most, as we have redesigned many of our teams so that they are more integrated to provide a more seamless, efficient, responsive, and digital-first customer experience. We are at the beginning of this journey, but it has already helped us achieve significant savings, and we have continued to improve our staff, customer, and elected member satisfaction, while also protecting jobs.

What is the most challenging part of your role?

The COVID-19 pandemic and geopolitical environment is creating challenges for many of our communities and organisations throughout New Zealand, including ours. Like most organisations we need to respond to supply chain challenges, potential inflationary pressures, and workforce shortages.

As a person who cares deeply about my teams and the work we do, one of the biggest challenges can be our workload, and responding to the uncertainty that the COVID-19 pandemic has created for many. With a large range of services, it is common to have a varying operational challenges, competing priorities and system complexity. This is on top of needing to respond to important community challenges, including inequality.

It can be even more important during these times to provide clear direction and communication, simplify how we work and empower our teams so that they can respond well within the current environment.

Why did you decide to work in local government?

That is an easy answer!

When shoulder-tapped to apply for the role, I didn’t feel sufficiently equipped, due to most of my leadership experience having been in healthcare.

However, the opportunity to help provide services and respond to the community needs of our wonderful Tāmaki Makaurau was too hard to resist.

In what ways have you been involved with Taituarā so far?

The COVID-19 pandemic has made it a little more difficult for me to meet others in the industry.

I am very excited about meeting fellow Taituarā members online or in person when we can, and learning about their approaches to this important mahi. I also love receiving the newsletters and reading the website resource pages, including Whakaaro Pai (examples of good practice across the sector).

I find professional membership organisations incredibly helpful in my own professional development and am very grateful that we have this valuable resource and service available to us. As people leaders, sometimes we need to fill our own cups first, so that we can help others fill theirs. Taituarā helps me fill my cup.

When you are not working, what do you enjoy about living in Auckland?

Tāmaki Makaurau is an incredibly diverse and wonderful city. We have an inspiring arts, culture, business and sports community, alongside incredible parks and beaches.

As a person who has lived overseas for many years, I am always in awe by the ability to combine such a diverse range of experiences in one day. I can easily start the morning in a café with a top-notch breakfast, visit a shopping district or the famous Ōtara markets, and then find myself hiking with my husband in the afternoon in beautiful remote places with stunning vistas.

Every day I feel incredibly grateful to live here.