Re-design the plane while flying it.
‘Your approach has been not just refreshing but, for me, hugely educational. I have valued spending time with you and have developed a deep respect for your wonderful approach, your sensitivity to those you work with – and particularly the manner with which you share your work.’
Charity chief executive
The years of austerity have meant that leaders in the public and not-for-profit sectors no longer look for ‘business as usual’. Demand for services has rocketed up; running costs have been reduced to the bone; and sources of funding are becoming ever more constrained. The old ways of doing things have lost their relevance; but moving into the future feels like entering a maze. Now Covid-19 has accelerated change too. Where do you turn for help and support?
The team behind PublicServiceWorks has worked for years locally, nationally and internationally to support transformative effort in the public and voluntary sectors. We have moved with innovative leaders from organisation to organisation. Frequently, we have worked with several generations of leader within an organisation or partnership. Sometimes, to our surprise, we have found ourselves to be the main repository of the corporate memory.
What have we learnt?
Like most of our clients, we put a premium on learning, developing – and making changes as a result. Key areas of shared learning in the consultancy process include:
Beginnings shape what comes later
How you set up the project is crucial to how it develops. All those involved have to put in time and energy at the beginning. Identifying and sharing assumptions at an early stage can help avoid unwelcome surprises later on.
Shutting down conversations stifles innovation
It can be tempting for leaders to specify outcomes very precisely – especially when resources are stretched to the point of breaking. But where there is no open mutual exchange about what is to be achieved, why, there is also likely to be no creativity or added value.
Context is (just about) all
Be wary about making negative judgements about decisions and choices. What may seem irrational to you is likely to make a great deal of sense to the person doing the deciding or choosing. It’s best to concentrate your effort on trying to understand what’s going on.
Creating a strategy should never be an end in itself
If there is no commitment to implement a strategy, then creating the strategy is likely to do more harm than good. Raising hopes only to dash them is a recipe for alienating both service users and staff.
It’s always most effective to work with people’s strengths
It can be tempting to focus on the needs or deficits of a community or individuals within that community. But an asset-based approach, where the emphasis is on working with people to hone and build on existing strengths, has been shown over many years to be a much more effective approach.
Data is not a substitute for experience
Experience, wisdom and judgement used to be valued highly. Now more emphasis is placed on data, information, analysis. But the last three are no substitute for the former three. A member of the PSW team comments: ‘If the head of midwifery tells the board of a trust, “We’re not safe”, believe her. Don’t rely on the results of an evaluation tool.’