This article originally appeared in The MJ. Using a strengths-based approach helps people to live more independent lives and enables councils to achieve better outcomes for less.
Kim Carey was Interim Director of Adult Services at Ealing Borough Council until February 2019
If I’m totally honest, when I started at Ealing and was told that the council had a consultancy firm helping with the transformation of the service, my first reaction was a sinking feeling.
I have nothing against consultants as individuals, but, like many colleagues, I have had my fingers burnt when working with some of the big players. However, my interest was raised when I was told the consultancy was IMPOWER. I had never had the opportunity to work with the company but had worked with a couple of councils they had previously been involved with, and had been impressed with the legacy they left.
Luckily, I wasn’t disappointed. From day one the IMPOWER team worked with me and the service. Supporting, challenging, steering and at times providing a sounding board, we worked together to build the transformation programme. The task was not an easy one, starting from first contact and looking at every bit of the customer journey, and taking a forensic look at what needed developing. The further we got into the programme, the more we identified that needed doing, a bit like peeling the proverbial onion – and this one certainly made our eyes water.
IMPOWER provided bespoke staff with the appropriate skills and experience to develop the programme as we uncovered the challenges. However one of my concerns was what would happen as the original team changed – this was a long term programme and inevitably there would be some rotation. I was pleased that all changes in the team were managed in a seamless and professional way with well-planned handovers.
What made this programme different was that the IMPOWER team worked with us. They didn’t tell us what to do and then leave us to it, and they put as much effort into the change as the service did. Together we built robust performance and finance data, worked with managers to help them use this and helped to build confidence within the service to deliver a new way of working. The team worked with me to build trust with elected members and senior managers, creating renewed credibility in the service when previously it had been at an all-time low. They also assisted me with building confidence in the service team, creating a high performing senior team who are equipped to respond to future challenges.
I remember my very first conversation with the IMPOWER team. They told me about what they were doing and I asked them “So what? What makes this programme so relevant to the council?”.
Their reply showed me that while the programme did include some of the same elements as the many others I’ve worked with, it also covered so much more because it got under the surface of Ealing council as an organisation. It worked not just to address practice but culture, and worked with the existing culture to create change rather than fighting against it. We didn’t manage to get fully to our end target – because we didn’t fully understand some of the underlying issues when the targets were set – but we did get a very long way towards them.
I have now moved on, but I am proud of what we have left the council with as a legacy. IMPOWER’s impact lives on and my view of consultants has definitely taken on a more positive trajectory.