Meeting documents

Tuesday, 19 September 2006


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Comments by the Cabinet Member for Change Management Introduction

  1. I have read the Scrutiny Review in some detail and have the following comments to make. I welcome the emphasis the Review places on customer service and customer focus. Staff working in front-line areas will be grateful for the recognition the Review gives for the way in which they deliver services. The underlying thrust of what some of the specific recommendations are designed to achieve is also welcome and there are many elements of that thrust which I am happy to support.
  2. It is a shame, however, that the recommendations are couched in terms of specific administrative actions which in many cases no longer fit with the way the changing culture of the Council is developing and restrict officers from taking alternative courses of action to achieve the underlying objectives. There is perhaps a broader lesson for Scrutiny Reviews here. Recommendations for reviews of this type are most useful when they concentrate on principle, policy and outcomes but do not restrict future flexible methods of delivery.
  3. In many areas, too, I have problems with the methodological approach taken although I recognise that this is standard fare with many scrutiny reviews. What is missing is a sufficiently rigorous framework to provide a robust audit trail between real evidence and recommendations. In this case, I believe the absence of such a framework has let down the review team who have approached the subject in good faith and with a desire to be constructive.
  4. For example, in common with the approach taken by many Scrutiny Reviews, this Review relies heavily on anecdotal comment to colour and inform the points the Review wishes to make. The anecdotal nature of these comments is neither supported by corroborative evidence nor by any indication that the comments have any wider currency than the individuals who made them.
  5. The material relating to leadership within the council has been taken from the staff survey without acknowledgement of its proper context or limitations and is misleading and selective. The wording is infelicitous and open to misinterpretation. In addition, given the comments made and the HR dimension behind much of this, it is surprising that neither the head of HR nor any member of the County Council Management Team (CCMT), apart from Stephen Capaldi, was interviewed. There is also no indication of any direct HR input which is surprising given the people element of providing customer service.
  6. The list of county council interviewees is heavily dominated by middle managers. Not only is this not representative but it is difficult to see the relevance of why some were included at all. The list of external interviewees is characterised by the absence of any direct individual customers and by the presence of intermediary customers such as parish councils. In addition, questionnaires appear to have been used only within Oxford City and there seems to have been no methodology used to ensure that the responses and the people who completed them are in any way representative of the wider community.
  7. The section on benchmarking, which could have been particularly useful, provides no robust methodology and allows for no meaningful inter-council comparisons of like with like. As a result it is difficult to see whether a score of 62% to the question in our own staff survey "In my opinion, the Council is committed to customer service" is good, average or bad. In relation to Warwickshire County Council, for example, we are told only that their target is one of 80% in meeting people’s needs – no indication of how much the target is realised.
  8. My overall feeling, therefore, is that there is much in this report which could be of quite significant use to the Council but it needs additional work both in the form of extra interviews and in relation to tightening the methodology. This Review is perhaps a good example of where the panel might have been better guided by an external customer relations consultant both to provide input to the approach and to help tease out the valuable nuggets of information and opinion the panel have produced. I and/or the Chief Executive would be very happy to work with the review team to suggest some additional areas to look at which might make the Review more complete if this is the direction in which they wish to go with their report. Some of the key isues are set out below and relate to customer experience, internal customers and the role of councillors.
  9. Service, Focus, Experience

  10. The Review seeks to make the distinction between customer service and customer focus. Those who attended Chris Daffy’s lecture at the Oxford Union event last year will have heard him add a third stage – customer experience.
  11. For Daffy and other Customer Relationship Management (CRM) specialists the move from service-focus-experience is both incremental and sequential. Reliance on service and focus alone are seen as both too narrow and too shallow.
  12. A key element of this is the degree to which there is commitment across an organisation to the customer’s total experience with the organisation. The Review hints at this but does not go far enough in seeing this as an ultimate goal. In particular, it underplays a key success factor in achieving a good customer experience for our customers – the role of internal customers.
  13. Internal Customers

  14. My own experience and the message of Daffy and others is unequivocal. Before organisations can make any significant and lasting progress with their external customers, they have to get internal customer service right. The analogy, of course, is with a chain being only as strong as its weakest link.
  15. "If people are not experiencing exceptional service from their colleagues inside an organisation, they are incapable of delivering it to customers outside the organisation. The creation of an internal culture of service must therefore always precede any major efforts to improve external customer service. This means that work must be done with people who may never come into direct contact with external customers so that they understand how they can and must support their colleagues who do.  It will also mean giving attention to all the systems and processes used by the organisation to ensure they enable and do not disable the front line delivery of excellent service." Chris Daffy
  16. It is my view that in many of its recommendations the Review is encouraging the organisation to run before it can walk. After all, the council’s customer service strategy is still itself very much in its infancy. Whilst the Review is right to warn of dangers and holes in the strategy, at this close distance from the beginning of the customer service strategy it is difficult to see how the Review can have apparently spotted wide ranging long-term trends.
  17. Without more development of the internal customer concept it is difficult to provide any context for or to see the immediate relevance of many of the remarks about internal staff attitudes.
  18. Indeed, as outlined in the introduction, I have a fundamental problem with the methodology adopted (which is common to many scrutiny reviews) of using selective quotations from those interviewed to illustrate points where there is no other empirical evidence to support the view. Given the number of people interviewed it is difficult to see how claims can be made that these views are widespread. The way they are used to colour conclusions in the Review is, therefore, particularly unsound and unhelpful.
  19. Customer Focus

  20. Government defines customer focus in terms of "refocusing services around the needs of the citizen as a customer of public services, rather than the problems of those who provide the services. It signifies an organisational culture that aims to address the needs, expectations and behaviours of the public, and then adjusts every aspect of the organisation to align with customer values. Achieving a Customer Focus across the public sector is one of the fundamental requirements of the Modernising Government agenda. ……Modernising Government means making sure that citizens and businesses come first. We want public services that respond to users' needs and are not arranged for the provider's convenience."
  21. In broad terms the Review clearly has a similar definition in mind and talks of services not being designed for the benefit of the professional. The general thrust of this has, of course, to be correct and applies as much to the private as to the public sector. But it is not difficult to see why Daffy and others see this sort of statement as nothing more than motherhood and apple pie – in his words, too narrow and too shallow.
  22. In the first place, as the Review acknowledges, customer focus is limited in terms of the way in which services are rationed and budgets are finite. Second, customer focus is limited because the views and wishes of customers are often unrealistic and contradictory. Thirdly, the County Council is not simply an administrative service delivery vehicle but a political organisation. The range, type and intensity of services delivered are the product of the political direction set by the controlling administration rather than an open competition between specialist pressure groups.
  23. A further limitation on unbridled customer focus is the conflict which arises between what people want us to do and what we are statutorily obliged to do. Given the increasingly highly directional thrust of central government’s relationship with local government it is very likely that the gap between local expectations and what we do will grow and that we will have increasingly limited opportunities to change this.
  24. The Review hints at many of these limitations but does not pursue them to provide guidance as to what customer focus means in the context of the circumstances of this particular organisation or what the success factors for a successful customer focus programme would be. Clearly, given the subjective and individual nature of some of the limiting factors, a 100% satisfaction rate is unobtainable. Yet the Review feels able to criticise current satisfaction rates – even although they benchmark well – without having established what an appropriate threshold would be for this County Council.
  25. Saying ‘No’

  26. One of the great services this Review does is to highlight the frequency with which the County Council will need to say ‘no’. This is clearly the area where many staff and politicians seem to feel most uncomfortable. Saying ‘no’, however, goes beyond customer focus into customer experience. It is a shame that the Review did not take the opportunity this provides to put more flesh on the overall qualitative aspects of the customer experience they would wish to see the Council provide. This is clearly not just about managing expectations but also about the need to re-set (and sometimes fundamentally) expectations in the first place.
  27. Change Programme

  28. The Review acknowledges the existence of the change programme and highlights three specific initiatives. It also alludes to the organisational development (OD) programme being developed.
  29. My view, however, is that the Review has failed to pick up just how extensive the total package of change is and has misunderstood the extent of the OD programme. Even within the existing projects mentioned the effects are likely to be radical in embedding a customer focus as part of the culture. In particular, the balanced scorecard is expected to cascade down to an individual appraisal level and the management competencies will be extended to cover staff competencies.
  30. In addition, the overall culture change programme (which is the overarching element of the OD programme) will seek further to align the culture and corporate success measures with the CHOICE acronym and the seven key words in which customer focus already plays a key part.
  31. This has huge implications for the current structures for delivering customer service/focus within directorates and these are currently to be reviewed to ensure that they still align with our objectives.
  32. It also has implications for the sorts of mechanisms which the council has traditionally used to pursue initiatives and which are still largely reflected in the detail of the recommendations.
  33. Councillors

  34. The Review makes reference to the way in which councillors have a direct face to face relationship with the Council’s customers. This is an important point.
  35. Councillors are as much front-line troops for the authority as any social worker or receptionist. It is a shame, therefore, that the Review does not go on to develop how the role of the councillor can be more integrated into the delivery of customer service, focus and experience. True, this would require a culture change amongst Members as much as officers. But achieving radical culture change is what we are about and the benefits could be significant. Input from Members at this stage on this issue would be of great value.
  36. In large measure the Review falls into the trap of seeing customer service/focus as an officer activity with only an ill-defined and peripheral role for members.
  37. Senior Management Team

  38. CCMT and other senior managers will have just cause to be resentful of the comments as they stand which are made about lack of leadership. I wonder whether the Review team really wanted to cast their net so wide in this area or whether this is simply poor editing. This is especially so as, with the exception of Stephen Capaldi, no interviews took place with members of CCMT.
  39. In addition, an implication could be drawn from paragraph 96 of the report that the Chief Executive was uncommitted to customer service/focus which would be completely untrue. Both she and CCMT (and the members of the Change Management Board) are fully committed. That commitment also of course fully extends to the Cabinet.
  40. Equally concerning is the way in which statistics have been extracted from the staff survey without appreciation of context. More detailed input from the head of HR should have taken place and would have revealed just how limited leadership information is in terms of the conclusions which can be drawn from it. These sorts of leadership questions are increasingly seen as of little intrinsic value as they are over-influenced by proximity to the centre. As you move up the tiers results improve.
  41. It could be argued that this says something about the way in which we communicate internally. I would agree with this. This is why a cross-silo officer communications group is being put together to look at the extent and means by which we communicate. I would like this to be innovative and imaginative in its thinking and not to be restricted to newsletters and current ‘established’ means of communication.
  42. Charter Mark

  43. I welcome the comments on Charter Mark.
  44. However, I am not sure that the Review sufficiently appreciates the implications which our approach to Charter Mark will have on customer service/focus.
  45. Like the Review I agree that Charter Mark has the potential to make the single greatest advance in the way we approach customer service/focus. However, we should be under no illusion about the cost of this. Whilst there will be continuing activity in terms of customer service training, Charter Mark will be the focus of our customer service programme for the life of this administration. Other customer initiatives will only be pursued to the extent that they do not detract focus and resources from Charter Mark.
  46. OWIS

  47. I thought I had clarified the position with regard to OWIS but am happy to do so again. OWIS is not a project which will be taken forward in the short term but remains a medium-long term objective. When it is ready to be taken forward the business case for it will need to be re-reviewed and it will be subject to the more stringent project management criteria we now employ and which this administration has been keen to see introduced. I would, therefore, expect to see a revised Project Implementation Document (PID) in due course.
  48. In the budget papers for 2006/7, I set out a list of ICT projects in priority order. The list was not arbitrary but was based on an assessment of which projects were required as sine qua nons before we could even contemplate a successful OWIS design and implementation.
  49. Until these projects – which include universal payments and a range of forms and documentation projects – have been implemented I would have grave doubts that OWIS could be implemented within an acceptable level of risk.
  50. The funding of these projects is in part dependent on the release of the provision currently retained against the resolution by government of local pensions.
  51. Thames Valley Police (TVP)

  52. Including a case study of TVP was instructive. However, it also illustrated the way in which customer focus and customer service are confused within organisations. Whilst the TVP Strategic Paper purports to concentrate on customer focus, the principle success measure illustrated is in the speed of answering phones – which is customer service. Indeed, my experience of the police in South Oxfordshire is that little has changed in terms of customer focus or with real consultation and listening to the public.
  53. Recommendations

  54. To quote Chris Daffy again: "It’s … essential to ensure that any changes and/or improvements that are made will stick and not simply revert back to how they were once the programme or phase is completed….. The best way we've found of achieving this is to focus the whole organisation on the Total Customer Experience and then make sure that everyone knows the part they play in creating it."
  55. I suspect that the Review team would agree fully with at least the first part of this quote and perhaps with the second. However, given that I believe more work could be done to deepen this review it is premature to comment on the individual recommendations in the light of this.

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