How coaching can support better frontline decision making
Having blogged about the Frontline Futures programme and the learning that can be drawn from it for frequent users of public services, I was invited to the Chartered Institute of Housing’s TAI event to find out more about how the coaching approaches have resulted in improved public services. I met Owain Israel from Charter Housing to find out how he’s putting the learning from the course into practice.
Dealing with voids
Before talking to Owain, I had very little idea about the role of surveyors in housing associations, but it was fascinating to learn more about how they improve the quality of housing. Owain’s work has a particular focus on voids, where the surveyor carries out an end of tenancy inspection to check out the property before it becomes void. This gives tenants an opportunity to sort out any issues before they get charged by the housing association.
As part of the old process, the surveyor would ideally go back into a property for a post-inspection after work has been carried out. However, they’re not always told when people will leave. At the Good Practice Exchange, we hear a lot about the process that people work to, without thinking about what the outcome is for people. Owain and his team have questioned every aspect of the process, including whether an inspection can be carried out instead of a void survey. Some contractors have only done work that has been identified in the survey, which means that other work that may be required hasn’t been done. This process has created accountability issues, with tenants occasionally being unhappy with results.
So how are Charter Housing getting to grips with this? One of the things that I really liked from Charter Housing’s work is that they’re looking to make lots of small changes, and also that they’re looking to undertake those changes incrementally. They’ve changed the survey sheet that they use and they’re looking at whether it’s always necessary to undertake a survey where the tenancy is in a reasonable condition. This means that contractors have more freedom to undertake appropriate work.
Taking ownership of complaints
The next step in the streamlining of this process is for surveyors to take more ownership of the complaints they receive. Currently, the Support Services Manager picks up complaints and spends one day a week dealing with them, which isn’t an effective use of their time. Part of the answer is technological, and Charter are giving surveyors the right information systems to get better access to data. They’re now running training sessions on the use of the system in order to upskill everyone.
The second part of this process is the human aspect, which is where the Frontline Futures course has really added value. Owain has been coaching staff so that they feel like they can deal with problems themselves without passing the issues up the hierarchy. These confidence issues fit with Jonathan Haidt’s theory on the elephant, the rider and the path, which Melys shared in the previous post. In this theory, it’s the emotional system that provides the power for the service improvement, not the rational system.
Owain’s been undertaking this coaching through meeting with individuals, where he identifies what support they need and what the blockages are. Owain hasn’t described these sessions as coaching sessions, to staff they are one-to-one meetings. These meetings have helped him to identify why staff are reluctant to make decisions themselves. He’s also used these coaching techniques within team meetings, where staff come to a meeting with a problem. They then reflect on how they’ve dealt with it in the past and looked at how they can resolve it. Surveyors are now speaking more openly about the issues they’re facing, they’re more aware of the appropriateness of their responses and they’re now taking ownership of similar queries and dealing with them themselves.
The Good Practice Exchange has undertaken lots of work in the past on empowering staff, including looking at staff trust, an essential ingredient to empowering staff. We’ve also been looking at how organisations take well managed risks in order to innovate, where we’ve found that safe to fail approaches are often likely to enable staff to deliver better services. I’ve got a book on moving away from command and control on my reading list, and talking to Owain has certainly made me even more interested in how coaching can help staff to move away from a strict focus on process to looking at how outcome focused approaches can result in better public services.