Tag Archives: complaints

How coaching can support better frontline decision making

Darllenwch y flogbost yn Gymraeg

How can coaching help frontline staff to make better decisions? Dyfrig Williams met with Owain Israel from Charter Housing to learn about how they’re helping staff to take ownership of complaints.

Charter Housing's logo: Their name written inside the outline of a house, with "housing people" written underneathHaving 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.

Not upheld and partially upheld complaints: Getting to grips with complicated situations

Not upheld and partially upheld complaints usually occur when dealing with complicated situations. How can boards and staff ensure that the process is fit for purpose and built around the complainant? Dyfrig Williams and Ena Lloyd reflect on learning from the Good Practice Exchange’s Complaints Seminar.

Back in June we held a seminar on Embracing Complaints. The reason why we wanted to hold the seminar in the first instance was following a discussion with Nick Bennett, the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales. We got talking about the increasing number of complaints that they have been receiving, which led to Nick making a great presentation at the event on the cause of this and why the number of complaints are set to rise even further. It’s well worth having a look at the Storify for an overview of Nick’s points.

An image of Chris Bolton's Tweet, which shows the increasing trend of complaints to the Public Service Ombudsman for Waqles over the last five yearsJane Dale, Head of Organisational Learning at Aneurin Bevan University Health Board raised an interesting question at the event about not upheld and partially upheld complaints. Where a Health body believes that the correct care has been delivered but the patient feels that they had a bad experience, feeding the information back to a disappointed complainant can be challenging. It can also be difficult to present the information effectively to Board members to encourage strategic improvement. Do boards find it difficult to deliver improvement when the learning may be around soft skills instead of hard processes? It can be difficult to apply that learning and put it into practice across an organisation when it’s not in a binary context of right and wrong.

For example following an investigation it may be found that the correct clinical course was followed however the patient may feel that the communication / explanations were poor. Staff on interview may state that they made every effort to explain the situation however the patient remains unhappy. The challenge is whether to classify this as a complaint that is not not upheld and to explain why or to classify it as partially upheld. If it is classified as not upheld the patient continues to feel aggrieved and not listened to. To uphold it implies something was wrong and staff find that difficult if they have made every effort to communicate with the patient.

Nick Bennett added, ‘if in doubt go for the learning point rather than the tick in the box’

Complex and complicated situations

Public services are delivered in complex environments. Simple processes may work for relatively straightforward issues, however when feelings and viewpoints are brought into the equation, no process can give simply black or white answers when there are shades of grey.

An image of the Cynefin Framework, which shows good practice should be shared in complicated situationsThe Good Practice Exchange’s work fits with the rationale of the Cynefin Framework. You may notice that we never use the term ‘Best Practice’. That’s because it implies that there’s one right way of doing things that will work for every situation. This may work in a manufacturing environment, but when the relationship between cause and effect is muddy like it is in complicated environments like public service provision, a simple one size fits all response is unlikely to work.

So how does an organisation develop and manage a complaints process when feelings and viewpoints need to be taken into account? The danger with any policy or process is that once it’s formed, it sits on the shelf without being put into practice. So success lies in making the document a living, breathing thing that is continuously updated and improved based on practice and experience. There may be lessons that can be learnt from Digital Design principles in terms of working iteratively. Principle five of the Government Digital Service Design Principles says:

“The best way to build good services is to start small and iterate wildly. Release Minimum Viable Products early, test them with actual users, move from Alpha to Beta to Live adding features, deleting things that don’t work and making refinements based on feedback. Iteration reduces risk. It makes big failures unlikely and turns small failures into lessons. If a prototype isn’t working, don’t be afraid to scrap it and start again.”

Has the process been designed with the complainant in mind?

As Alan Morris said at the event, the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act gives organisations the opportunity to look again at their culture. It gives them the chance to look again at old processes and to question whether they’re still fit for purpose. Does the process focus on the needs of the organisation instead of the needs of the complainant?

Participation Cymru’s National Principles for Public Engagement in Wales may help organisations to think about how they might make the process focused on the complainant. They can provide prompts for useful questions. For instance, is the process effectively designed to make a difference? How do you feedback to people and how will you learn and share the lessons to improve the process of engagement?

By blogging on this, we’d really like to get some responses on social media so that we can share ideas and approaches with Jane and all interested parties to help public services improve. And by recognising that a person’s emotional response is at the centre of such complicated situations, organisations can help to ensure that they’re on the right path of public service improvement.