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Changing from within

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I’ve lost count of the number of public sector transformations that have sought to delay and expunge the levels of management between the leadership team and service delivery. 

The justification is usually a fairly easy sell; save money, reduce bureaucracy and bring about more effective communication and decision making. But do we give enough attention to the longer-term downsides?

More often than not, it’s these management roles that have such a critical part to play in change. To the detriment of organisations, this is usually overlooked.

Atkins has extensive experience with local authorities, building relationships that are essential to achieving the results of complex transformation. Our recent work with Bridgend, Cardiff and Vale of Glamorgan councils to develop a regionalised model for regulatory services showed how middle managers can help create successful change outcomes. They played a vital mediating role in creating a compelling vision that made sense to those affected, without which the initiative may have failed.

Our team worked with the middle managers and heads of service, bringing the capabilities and experience they needed, helping them to navigate a series of challenges and deliver successful change. They had seen that a cost cutting reorganisation wouldn’t be sufficient and that longer-term resilience required fundamental changes to the way in which services were delivered. There are some important lessons from the approach:

  • Service heads and middle managers from the three councils were given key roles in the project and empowered to lead on behalf of the partner authorities. Ownership was embedded within the management lines
  • Senior managers and members recognised that with one foot in the operational world and another in the strategic, heads of service and middle managers were able to bridge the gap between vision and practice, helping frontline managers and staff to interpret change. While council ‘change teams’ and others can have a role in this, it is a function that is best owned within management
  • The service heads were given the backing, space and resources to balance daily service delivery pressures with their critical roles on the project. Without this a situation could arise where current services and/or change initiatives fail
  • Service heads had developed close professional networks with their peers and counterparts. This makes a major contribution to the understanding of change.

Resistance from middle managers is often cited as the main barrier to change. However, this can be a misconception brought about when the conditions they need are not present.

Ben Evans, head of local government consulting, Aktins

Column sponsored and supplied by Atkins

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