When you’re one of only four consultants delivering an implementation programme in an adult social services department with over 100 staff, there can be a strong urge to constantly check that frontline staff are staying on track. But that’s clearly impossible, and probably not very healthy either.
Some months back, my colleagues and I toyed with various possible solutions to this situation, and after rejecting the idea of cloning ourselves, we put our minds to making use of the resources we did have available. These were: reasonable data, a detailed understanding of the service, and a network of managers committed to the programme. We then drew on these resources to develop an approach which can provide a service-wide view of performance, right down to a front-line team level – and therefore alleviate the urge to walk around the department checking that everyone is doing the right thing at the right time.
We call this Primed Performance Management. We use the word ‘primed’ because it strikes a balance between the managerial need to record, monitor and measure activity and the values that drive the commitment and behaviour of front-line staff. It is an approach which:
- Clearly identified our ambition and objective
- Captured what this meant at every level – from our Executive Board (chaired by the Chief Executive) down to frontline teams
- Developed a set of reports and tools to support staff in achieving our ambition
- Critically, developed the behaviours and skills of staff to analyse, communicate and act on the information available.
This enabled us to look at each team and understand how they were able to contribute to the service’s goals, how they were performing against a set of targets and objectives and what support they needed. It also gave team managers a set of tools to manage their business – by monitoring their outstanding and upcoming work, effectiveness at completing work, and how much they were spending and on what.
This approach was successful in providing a service wide view of performance, but inevitably there were challenges. One of these was establishing how to present data in a way that was easy to interpret, whilst maintaining a level of detail that captured the richness of the information available. It also took time to develop the skills of team managers to interpret data and understand what it means for their team, and building their confidence to communicate key points to their staff. Another challenge was embedding the right behaviours, particularly around meetings (to ensure that discussions are held in a structured way, lead to actions and that those actions are monitored and delivered).
We learned several key lessons along the way:
- In developing Primed Performance Management, generating the data needed only represents a small proportion of the work. I estimate 80% of the total hours involved were spent on people and behaviours
- This takes time – some managers and teams will get it straight away, but others will need much more support. This can mean 2-3 months of team meetings and coaching to get it right
- It helps to start early – the sooner you can embed these behaviours, the sooner you can get a grip on delivering objectives
- It is critical that finance and performance colleagues are on board to help you get access to the data and understand any local peculiarities
- Getting this right provides a wealth of information to make informed decisions about running the department – which teams need more or less support, which activities are having an impact on the front line, and where the money is going.
- Properly embedded, this enables a management team to take direct action to achieve its goals – whether they are financial, outcome-focused or related to improving quality.
The result of this work is that management now have a structured approach to understanding what is happening across the service. This has enabled them to make more informed decisions about running the department, based on a detailed understanding of what is happening on the front line. In the words of one of the Heads of Service, that allows “staff to understand the little decisions that affect the big numbers”.