Suffolk County Council’s Trading Standards Department was widely believed to be performing well but staff felt overloaded.
The department had ISO 9000 quality accreditation and Investors in People but something felt wrong.
Steve Greenfield, the department’s head, said. “We felt like an old house - musty and resistant to change.”
Over the previous 10 years the department had put a great deal of effort into training new staff, but without the expected benefits.
“Staff came to me saying they felt overloaded with emails and meetings, and tied to the office,” says Mr Greenfield. “Workload was increasing, budgets were decreasing, and we weren’t getting the benefits from the training that I had envisaged.”
So over a three-month period Mr Greenfield and his team introduced systems thinking throughout the department. “It was hugely challenging personally and professionally, and unlike anything I had ever done before,” he says. “Even if you paid me to do so, I wouldn’t go back to our old way of working.”
Mr Greenfield says his staff are young and have a flexible attitude, so there was little resistance to introducing the changes that were needed. He describes 50% of them as “systems thinkers” anyway, and another 35% as being happy to go along with the idea.
The rest, he concedes, would be happier under a system that told them what to do and when to do it. “But everyone is on board, and they all stayed through the process,” he says.
There have been plenty of benefits for the department, says Mr Greenfield. Staff are more content and motivated - they say they now work in real teams, and get personal satisfaction from dealing with people’s problems.
“It has made my job of managing easier,” he adds. “I now see the demand as it comes in. And it’s easier to do workforce planning, and to plan structures and staff training and development needs.”
Overall, Mr Greenfield estimates that systems thinking has increased his department’s capacity by 15-20%. But it was not a one-off exercise; the department is constantly finding new savings, and has been able to meet each year’s savings requirements.
“We used to mark ourselves out of 100; now we mark ourselves out of 150. Instead of dealing with customers in a general way we respond to them as individuals - we go that extra mile,” he concludes.
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