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David Colbear

Is it working?

Last December I wrote about some of the biggest lessons I had learned from delivering change in 2017. We are only two months into 2018, and I already know that on this year’s list I’ll be trying to answer an apparently simple question about my current change programme: is it working?

The question isn’t actually so simple, as it requires further definition: what do we mean by ‘working’? And how do you make change work, anyway?

In a complex delivery environment, ‘work’ – or ‘success’ – means different things to different people. To the finance department, working might mean hitting budget targets, but social workers are very likely to define success as improving outcomes for the people in their care (or even better, safely helping people stay out of their care altogether).

Resolving this apparent tension is a big part of what we do on delivery programmes, by bringing the managerial, measurement-driven approach of finance and the values-driven behaviours of social care closer together. This is most practically done by developing a set of primed metrics* that reflect both sets of priorities – for example, by identifying the business activities that drive costs so that social workers can focus on activity that is meaningful for them, and at the same time the finance team are confident that activity will control spend.

The simple answer to the second question – ‘How do you make change work?’ – is patience and persistence. The more complex answer is through a trajectory management** approach. Once a set of primed metrics have been agreed, it is possible to develop a trajectory with your stakeholders that provides a clear route to better outcomes without overspending. That is the (relatively) easy bit.

The next step is to develop an open culture, with frequent and regular conversations with teams delivering the services. These are the people making day-to-day decisions that will dictate success or failure of the change. Talking them through the metrics that they can influence – whether that is activity, volume or cost – and working with them to understand what is working, what isn’t, and the actions needed to stay on track is a key activity in managing the overall trajectory of delivery programmes.

Structuring these conversations around three types of action – operational, strategic and support from the delivery programme team – enables them to focus on the type of changes required. Regularly checking in on the impact these actions have, daily if necessary, enables a quick response if circumstances change because of a shift in demand, changes in resource or the dozens of other factors that impact on a service every day.

Using primed metrics to agree what we mean by ‘working’ and trajectory management to make sure everyone is pointing toward success means that you can confidently answer the question ‘Is it working?’.

*Primed Metrics:

A set of metrics which capture the moral purpose of the system or organisation, while also enabling and promoting managerial oversight and performance improvement.  They differ from a balanced scorecard in that all the metrics are interlinked in the system. 

**Trajectory Management:

Our approach to benefits realisation in a complex system – enabling primed metrics to be tracked over time and providing an overview of system improvement.  Trajectory Management is the concept of applying benefits realisation to a journey of change in a system.

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