Last week I attended a conference put on by the APM’s Enabling Change SIG. Entitled ‘Inspiring Positive Change in Complex and Uncertain Times’, the event was a useful reminder of the volume of fast moving change that we are all expected to absorb.
Six critical factors in creating effective change programmes
New APM Enabling Change SIG publication reveals six critical factors in creating effective, systemic and sustainable public sector change programmes
Ten years ago, Staffordshire Fire Service faced a question challenging all public service or publicly funded organisations: how would it continue to offer high quality services to its local community in the face of budget cuts and funding austerity? Senior managers knew that the way that the Fire Service delivered its offer would have to radically change in order to prevent a rapid deterioration in its offer to the public, its stakeholders and other emergency service partners. Yet during the time of budgetary reductions since 2012, Staffordshire saw 35 per cent fewer emergency calls received that needed a response and a 50 per cent reduction in the number of deaths and injuries from accidental dwelling fires.
This performance level is the most successful in Staffordshire Fire Service’s recorded history. How did it achieve such a demonstrable level of success? Clue: it wasn’t just the changes that the Service introduced to the organisation, it was the way it led and delivered those changes.
The APM research report, The successful delivery of change within the public sector: getting it right, commissioned by the Enabling Change SIG’s Public Services Change Practitioner Group and published in May, identified four dimensions of organisational capability and two dimensions of accountability within the public sector change programmes investigated. These are clear in the Staffordshire Fire Service experience, which is highlighted as a case study in the report:
Four dimensions of organisational capability:
- Maintaining strong and consistent leadership
By adopting an inclusive approach to change leadership within the organisation and ensuring that all members of staff and workforce representatives had been given the opportunity to be involved, change has been owned by the whole organisation and not just a few. The changes were owned by the top of the organisation, yet all staff were given the opportunity to be involved in the open and honest discussions from the very start about the financial pressures facing the Service.
- Communicating a coherent vision and clear goals
Although the transition to a different delivery model was significant, strong engagement helped the teams to understand the purpose and benefits of the change. Staff were encouraged to think through possible solutions to the pressures, and then lead (rather than adopt) the changes with the full backing of the senior leadership team. Intensive training of staff was carried out face to face. The Service brought in external consultants to upskill the internal business transformation team to develop the capability needed to analyse and provide solutions to the ongoing financial challenges the Service faced, which, in turn, over a 5 year period, supported the different departments throughout the Service.
- Embracing a culture of disciplined planning and realistic timelines
The Service had already started to move from a reactive to a preventative approach, training staff members on how to carry out what are now termed ‘safe and well’ visits to members of the population who had been identified as more likely to have house fires. Through partnering with Age UK and Public Health England, and by visiting households earlier, they could identify and remediate potential household risks beyond fire alone. The Service focused on ensuring that these visits were as effective and efficient as possible, to further the reduction in call-outs.
- Establishing sufficient investment for end-to-end change
As the move to preventative visits started to reduce emergency calls, there was a drop in the usage of fire engines and an opportunity to utilise fire stations differently. The Service identified an opportunity to make better use of fire stations by re-investing in the space. A project that included the development of 21 community fire stations from the existing estate and the renovation of several other fire stations has facilitated co-location with other public-sector organisations, and specific community facilities, allowing them to be used by the community for a range of uses, as well as partner organisations. The project fulfilled both the need to use assets more efficiently and the need to manage demand - by raising public awareness of fire safety.
Two dimensions of accountability:
- Engaging stakeholders early and throughout the change
The Service has also successfully completed a project involving a shared fire control, joining up with the West Midlands Fire Service to deliver operational efficiencies. There are further notable examples of working with other organisations to improve effectiveness, while reducing duplicated costs, including work with the police on joint transport and engineering facility, supplies and logistics, occupational health and the postal delivery service.
- Ensuring sustainability beyond the life of the change project
While the change programmes were not revolutionary, they managed to transform and ultimately position Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service financially in a sustainable and efficient manner. During the time of moving to a targeted prevention approach and by ensuring an effective and efficient use of resources, the Service has been able to ensure financial sustainability without impacting detrimentally on the outcomes experienced by the community.
The public sector experience in delivering change is intrinsically important, for it not only involves work for the general public good, with taxpayers’ money and under the scrutiny of Parliament and the media, where questions of value and return are critical. Questions of capability and best practice are also fundamental, as change continues in a fast-paced and fluid environment, where change practices and methods are crucial for successful delivery, but where the need to flex to meet demand yet continue to manage stakeholder expectations remains paramount.
In order to find out what other public service organisations learned about how to deliver successful change, download a copy of the research report now. It could make all the difference in you and your team getting it right in the future.
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