'We have already achieved better outcomes for some of our young people, and we think this could save us around £4.2m a year.' Martin Gray, Director of Children's Services at Stockton Council.
Joanne Hewson is Deputy Chief Executive of North East Lincolnshire council
My vision was to bring together the different elements of children’s services which had previously worked in siloes to improve the lives of children and families within the Borough. We needed to move at pace, so commissioned IMPOWER to support us.
As a first step, we carried out some diagnostics on processes and sought staff feedback about the service and how it could be improved. We spent a lot of time evaluating the culture, unpicking processes and addressing issues highlighted by Ofsted.
A key action resulting from this was to drive forward a performance culture – not just to measure performance and budget spend, but to assist in ensuring our staff knew the difference they were making. In turn, that helps with their own development and motivation. Reviewing performance information also helps us identify areas that need to be looked at in more detail; one example is whether caseloads numbers and configuration were hindering staff effectiveness. We now have really good performance information and staff understand why we all use it. We can now also articulate that information for council members, DfE, the public and Ofsted.
IMPOWER brought a fresh pair of eyes and a different approach to the council. They spent a lot of time mirroring good supervision, providing training and making training information more accessible to staff. They gave us time and breathing space to think about how to deal with families with complex situations, which is particularly important for our wide pool of newly qualified social workers. They ensured we recorded everything effectively, but also allowed our social workers time to record what they understand about the families and children they are working with.
The impacts of the transformation programme so far include much stronger teams and a better understanding of how service areas are interdependent. Our staff are better motivated and have more confidence in the service; they think it’s a better place to work than previously. We are a team of professionals with very high standards and expectations, which is the only way that our outcomes for children and families will improve.
IMPOWER are perceived as true partners rather than external consultants – they work alongside you the whole way, as a critical friend you can trust. They really care about North East Lincolnshire and want to make a difference. It is a unique relationship to have with a consultancy – I sometimes forget they are not internal staff!
Four tips for bringing about lasting change
- Go back to basics. To deliver lasting change, you must review your infrastructure, processes, staff values and culture. Trust your staff to come up with solutions, and make them part of the journey. I often ask staff ‘if you were me what would you do?’ and people are really forthcoming. Just make sure you explain what is not possible and why that is the case.
- Clear communication is imperative. Be sure to cascade information effectively in order to get buy-in, particularly around timescales and impact. In North East Lincolnshire, there wasn’t much visible impact for the first six months. People expect a quick turnaround, but you need to hold your nerve and have confidence in what you are doing.
- Get others on board. Don’t underestimate the importance of getting your lead member, chief executive and finance portfolio holder on board – they’re all key to delivering successful transformation.
- Bring in the skillsets you need but don’t have. In difficult situations, you need access to different skillsets – so you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help.