We now know what the Autumn Statement contained – so what did it change?

The reality, if we are not distracted by the handful of small initiatives that were sprinkled through it, is that it has done nothing to help the financial sustainability of local authorities.

 

Did we honestly believe that it would, though? “Believe” is perhaps too strong of a word in this context, but I do feel that many of us hoped there would be a glimmer of light in perhaps the most challenging financial time for councils since the austerity agenda first emerged. In the face of this, the inevitable question confronting every local authority leader this morning is “What do we do now?”

 

The answer to this question is conceptually straightforward, but consequentially extremely challenging. Conceptually, you will hear from many sources that “You must transform – and here is how our tool/technology can do it for you”. Consequentially, however, the impact of this advice on your organisation can, in many cases, be unthinkable for a variety of reasons.

Below, I share my thoughts and experiences on why the consequences of starting a transformation conversation badly can lead to so much trouble, as well as why Ignite are different in the way we work collaboratively with you and your teams to overcome the key risks.

Firstly, the cost of doing it can be daunting especially when you are already facing financial challenges. It can also be difficult, after many years of cutting resources and underinvesting in technology and other supporting infrastructure, to identify sufficient savings in service areas to justify the business case for large scale change.

Secondly, the internal capacity and capability that is most often required to support effective change has also been eroded over the last decade. This is not just in the traditional services such as ICT and project and programme management but also other key areas without which designing, delivering and making significant change “stick” is difficult – for instance strategy and policy, human resources and organisational development, change and transition support, and communications and engagement.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, is that the mindset of management within many councils has become constrained by the context, pressures and erosion of capacity and capability that has occurred over the last 10-12 years. This is not a criticism – what local government has achieved over this period (and especially the way the sector stepped in to support their communities through the pandemic) is truly extraordinary and does not deserve the lack of recognition contained in this year’s (and previous years if we are being candid) Autumn Statement.

But the reality is that there is just not sufficient bandwidth, beyond that which is required just to run the organisation, to properly engage with and materially challenge the organisational context. And before anyone out there refutes this as “That’s just a typical consultant speaking” I would say that this is me speaking as someone who, until 1 year ago, has spent 20 years being one of those senior officers, across every branch of local government in the UK.

So how do you even start to confront the issue of “transformation” in the face of these challenges? Well, the first thing I would advise is to talk to the right people about it. Ignite is different – we are an Employee Owned Trust (EOT) dedicated to supporting the public sector to face today’s challenges and tensions. Adding to this strategic focus anwholehearteded commitment to the sector, many of my colleagues also have deep experience in local authorities and other public sector organisations.

All of this means that we don’t really think or act like our competitors. At Ignite, we don’t believe in “cookie cutter” methodologies as we have learned that they just don’t allow you and your teams to be authentically “You”. We don’t dogmatically advocate a particular technology or tool as, in our experience, they do not in isolation deliver the outcomes that you need in this day and age. We also don’t advocate working on grand “Visions” for your “transformation” as, once again in our experience, this is putting the cart before the horse.

Instead, our approach is focused in the first instance on supporting you to develop self-awareness (at an organisational level) through the identification, collection and use of data and intelligence that is relevant and important to you and your leadership team. We then use this evidence, supported by insight derived from our extensive experience of working with many local authorities over more than two decades, to create alignment and commitment within your leadership team to the reality of your context and what it might mean in terms of change – and what the impact of that change is likely to have on your organisation and the people within it.

Only when this has been achieved is it possible to engage in a meaningful conversation about what the key drivers for your change actually are and how those drivers should inform activity that can unlock the types and value of benefits that will properly justify a large-scale programme of change. Without these fundamentals in place our experience has shown us (based on how often we have been asked to support “transformations” that have stalled) the programme will end up not delivering the outcomes you need, while certainly incurring significant costs.

Beyond this first stage, our focus is on unlocking capacity, developing your capability, and identifying and releasing benefits by working with and within your teams making sure they are ready, willing and able to support your ambitions beyond our involvement. We use our extensive experience of exciting teams through user-centric service redesign and harnessing the power of technologies such as RPA and AI to foster and leverage an open-minded approach. We use the outcomes of these processes to identify and co-design options to change your structures and job design where this might be desirable to support improved customer experience and unlock benefits.

Around this activity we wrap our proprietary approach to benefits management to ensure you get the outcomes that were identified at the very start of your programme. Our experience working with our clients is that in most cases you can unlock real financial savings without having to incur significant expense on new technology, instead focusing on optimizing and integrating the systems you already have in place.

Throughout the change, we deploy our unique change and transition support framework that has been tried and tested across many public sector organisations, including high-pressure blue light service environments. Our approach has been proven to ensure that the changes in culture and mindset, as well as your new operational processes and relationships, really land and take hold.

Ignite believe that the key to delivering a successful programme of change is not just about what you do, but more importantly about why you are doing it, how you do it and who you choose to work with as you do it. If you would like to explore the difference that Ignite represents in the consulting sector, and what that difference might feel like for you and your teams, please email me at julianosgathorpe@ignite.org.uk or just drop me a message on LinkedIn.