A series of ‘wacky’ motivational emails from Birmingham City Council chief executive Stephen Hughes urged up to 30,000 staff to make little paper butterflies.
The three high-concept origami emails were designed to drum up interest in the council’s business transformation initiative by encouraging staff to transform a humble piece of paper into a butterfly – but instead left the £200,000-a-year boss wide open to ridicule, forcing a late U-turn.
They were based on the chaos theory concept which suggests that a butterfly flapping its wings in a rainforest can set a chain of events in motion causing a hurricane on the other side of the world.
But instead it caused chaos in offices throughout the city as confused managers, civil servants, librarians, social workers, accountants and secretaries either dutifully folded their tiny works of art or wondered whether Mr Hughes had lost the plot.
Later he described the emails as ‘wacky’ and admitted the stunt perhaps went too far.
But his enthusiasm was apparent in the first message which asked: “Ever thought that things should be different? You’re not the only one. The good news is that you have the power to make changes and create something special. Starting right now.”
One official, who did not want to be named, said: “We could not believe it. It was just instructions to fold some paper and some waffle about butterflies causing climate change. Not what you would normally expect from the chief executive.
A second email, two hours later, finished the step-by-step instructions asking staff if they enjoyed the ‘process of change’.
Then a third, after lunch, explained the council wants to recruit a new breed of bureaucrat called ‘change agents’ and ‘change specialists’ to run the city’s controversial Business Transformation programme which aims to save the council £1 billion over ten years through modernisation of services.
The would be recruits are invited to bring their butterflies to an information day on July 29. A Birmingham City Council spokesman explained: “In order to generate interest in this programme and specifically to attract employees to apply, a conscious decision was taken to launch a very different recruitment campaign.”
But things took a twist when Mr Hughes, after reflection, sent a fourth email distancing himself from the stunt.
He said: “Occasionally enthusiasm for an idea goes beyond what I would myself do. The promoters of the project came up with an idea that worked in the sense it got people talking, but might have been a bit too wacky.
“However, I admire their initiative, and I’d still encourage all of you to think out of the box for better ways of improving the lives of people in Birmingham.”