Social workers play a vital role in achieving better outcomes for individuals and on World Social Work Day we have an extra reason to celebrate social work. I have been working with social workers in one local authority and have taken away some key lessons about relationships in social work.
IMPOWER’s focus on the delivery of measurable and sustainable change means we spend a lot of our time helping our clients to improve the performance of their own staff. Consultants cannot impose a new mindset but we can show the way, and build confidence so that the benefits of the change persist after we’ve left the building.
The most important factor is whether the staff and managers are up for the change. This is not a question of training or skills; rather it’s about deep-seated motivation. Can the front-line staff clearly connect what they are being asked to do differently with their reason for coming to work in the first place?
As part of our EDGEWORK approach, we developed a 4-box model to help our clients unpack this issue. Often when we start a project, the staff are in one of three boxes.
If staff are in the ‘Committed’ box, they are driven only by their own sense of moral purpose. This is good because it is motivating, but it also means they can exhibit signs of being out of control – refusing to engage with corporate priorities, not measuring their performance or impact, and not being aligned to the council’s overall priorities. Turnover may be low and strong personalities run the show.
If staff are in the ‘Controlled’ box, there is a command and control culture and they are measured every which way to Sunday. There is lots of financial data, but they have lost their way. What is their purpose? As a result, poor decisions may be made about changes to processes and business practice which are internally logical but don’t drive better outcomes – indeed they may make them worse. Turnover may be high, with a few longer-serving managers.
If staff are ‘Disoriented’, they are not being managed with traditional methods – indeed they may not be managed at all – and have forgotten their purpose. This rapidly leads to depression, profound underperformance and people leaving in droves.
Our job as consultants is to get the staff into the top right-hand box – where we connect the moral purpose of the team with the right performance management approach. In this box, motivation provides the fuel and performance provides the steering wheel. We call this state ‘Primed’ – the definition of which is:
- To make something ready for use or action, or
- To prepare someone for a situation, typically by supplying them with relevant information.
This means coming up with new performance metrics – which we called Primed Performance Metrics – and introducing Primed Performance Management, where we coach managers to use the data to make better decisions and help their teams reflect on their performance, and improve.
By the end of the project, we want everyone to feel fully engaged both with their job’s purpose and with how their valuable work can be measured. Now that’s worth getting out of bed for.