Monthly Archives: August 2015

“You’re working where?”

By our consultant, Richard Sved

They say there’s a first time for everything. And everyone I told about this piece of work I did with RedQuadrant reacted with the above words.

Upminster WindmillYou see, I’ve worked in and with a range of charities, museums, libraries and archives for over 20 years, but I had never done a piece of work for a windmill before. Yes, a windmill. Until now. And as it’s a first for RedQuadrant too, they asked me to write a bit about what we did.

Upminster Windmill is a beautiful iconic windmill built in 1803. It had fallen into disrepair in recent years, but thanks to the sterling efforts of local volunteers spearheaded by the Upminster Windmill Preservation Trust, things are now looking up. Detailed plans for its restoration are set to become a reality thanks to major pledged support from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

We were asked to carry out a review of their governance structures and processes to help ensure that the windmill remains successful in the longer term, in the years beyond its planned restoration. So, here are some of the key learnings from this interesting and exciting piece of work:

Maintaining strong leadership into the future

It soon became clear that the board had a particularly strong and capable leader in its chair. And this isn’t surprising, as considerable leadership skills must doubtless have been needed to get to this point.

A key part of our work was to look at how dependent the charity was on a single person’s efforts. Was there a succession plan? How were new board members to be recruited and inducted? Happily, a lot of the thinking had already been done in this important area, and the chair was strongly supported by a number of key board members, so we were able to build on that in our recommendations.

Understanding that the wheels keep turning

Apologies – I’ve used a windmill-related metaphor, but this is a key point about governance. The Upminster Windmill Preservation Trust has been tremendously successful in saving the windmill and getting it to the point of restoration.

But the wheels keep turning. Soon after the ribbon is cut on the newly restored windmill, it will need to be run effectively as a somewhat different entity. What skills are needed on the board to ensure that it operates smoothly thereafter? We looked for example at how to build the charity’s ability to promote and fundraise for the windmill’s upkeep, and at what professional support might be needed in the mid to long term, as well as how that knowledge might be transferred to the board.

Harnessing the passion

Working with the board and volunteers, we quickly learned that they were fiercely passionate about the windmill. It was important to them in such a variety of ways – as a piece of heritage, because of its attendant social history, as a means of educating people about engineering, and particularly as a surviving working mill. To extend the milling metaphor, it is these passions that will help to turn the sails of the organisation in future years. We hope that the governance review will help the charity to harness them well.

And finally, we learned about how important and motivating for its volunteers the windmill was as an iconic local landmark, almost literally a beacon for the community. As one survey participant responded, “it is Upminster.”

And with its imminent restoration and strong governance to the fore, it looks set to play that role for generations to come.

How is the Service Transformation Programme helping to improve travel in London?

Our consultant Matthew Barnaby is currently working as Head of Continuous Improvement for MTR Crossrail. He has this to say about the role of the Service Transformation Programme in supporting change there:

Earlier this year, I started working with MTR Crossrail. It’s an exciting and fascinating place to work being both the largest rail project since Victorian times whilst (even though part of the MTR Corporation) is a new start-up business.

Initially I was asked to assist in the implementation of the HRIS system with an aim of developing key end to end processes that considers not only the IT system but also the human interactions. As my role quickly developed I moved in to an area where I was focusing on continuous improvement across the business. I am responsible for the ‘bottom up’ approach to delivering change, seeing through suggestions ‘with’ on the ground staff to have a positive impact on the business and its customers.

Having learned a great deal from the Service Transformation Programme I’ve been able to successfully use tools and methods at MTR Crossrail. For example, in order to develop end to end processes I used ‘Whole Systems’ to understand in detail what was happening. I worked with staff to map the end to end processes including the recruitment process. Third party partners were invited to our workshops to provide us with information about their own processes so we could learn from their experience (for example DBS checks). I was keen to incorporate the customer perspective into this work so I made sure managers participated in this process from the start. After doing this work, we identified many opportunities to improve the way in which the organisation operated using this software and continue to iterate.

With regard to my continuous improvement work I lean towards an Agile approach because it means we can start working on the improvements quickly, learn from the improvements sooner rather than later and develop and refine as we went along. But, most importantly, with Agile, I can ensure staff are genuinely engaged in the whole change process. I can engage the staff member who has identified the improvements, empower that person to take action in making these improvements happen with a small support team and support the person to become a change champion through this process.

To embed these methods and approaches across the business I have developed training and initiatives to share tools, build understanding and increase buy-in. For example I assist in all inductions to initiate engagement and deliver ‘training for change’ to the Executive team and all senior managers.

Having attending the Service Transformation Programme and utilised the knowledge and skills in MTR Crossrail, I have already noticed some early impact on this improvement work. First, there has been the cultural impact. Bringing people together to have conversations about improvement has been fundamentally powerful in shaping the culture of this growing organisation. This kind of impact should not be underestimated if organisations want to drive improvement work continuously. Second, the improvements we have implemented have made a positive impact on the HR team as systems and people work together in a much more integrated way. Third, empowering staff themselves to co-design and co-deliver the improvements they suggested through the Agile approach has meant the organisation is taking large steps in realising its own vision and values.

Right now, the plan is to continue acting as the lead in my area, being a critical friend to peers and help the organisation improve its performance as the business grows and grows.