Introducing new ways of working in a division of a public sector organisation

The context was a division of a large public sector organisation where staff were finding it hard to match the workload to the resources available, satisfaction was low and sick-leave was increasing.

The client initially asked us to research best-practice and write a report telling them what to do. From experience, we believed this approach was unlikely to bring about any change. Instead, we proposed (and the client accepted) framing it as a change project. We took a systems-oriented approach and involved the division in identifying the issues and coming up with potential solutions. 

The overall goal of the project was to achieve a better match between resources and workload. 

We started by: clarifying with the division the context of the wider organisation, the role and goals of the division and how these lined up with those of the organisation; working with the division and the wider organisation to identify what was helping and getting in the way of achieving these goals; making sense of this and exploring the implications with the senior management and wider division; coaching the senior management and the wider team to listen to their differences so they could use the information to problem-solve; identifying options for change; choosing what to do; and getting commitment to implement changes. 

Twelve months later we did an evaluation of the impact with the team. Overall the initiative improved the division’s productivity, effectiveness and satisfaction by at least 8%.

This is the client feedback: ‘As you know, the formal and informal evaluation of the project has been most pleasing. Eighteen months on, it is easy to forget the anxieties and complexities we had to work through at the start of the project. At every stage of trying to move the project forward, we were plagued by the very issues we were seeking to address: crushing workloads, competing priorities, the need to fire-fight, and some uncertainty about the desired culture, roles and behaviours. So it is a testament to your abilities that you have been able to help us navigate through these issues, keeping the project on track to a point where we can collectively identify, analyse and tackle them. With measurable improvements in nearly all the key areas we identified together at the outset, we can say with confidence that the project was cost-effective, and represented good value for money. Equally important is the legacy you have left, which is a group with a greater sense of confidence and cohesion who, by using some of the tools you showed us how to use, have now turned a project into a positive set of self-sustaining behaviours, which will continue to benefit us when facing the challenges ahead…. In many ways, I believe the success of this project has been the difference between continuing to deliver high quality outputs with an engaged and motivated team, and being overwhelmed: and for that we are most grateful to the critical contribution you made.’

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