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The CES Guide to: Change Management in social services

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In the ‘CES guide to’ series, we lift the lid on the approaches we use for our work with agencies, services, and government departments.

We have all had experience of being involved in a change initiative that has not gone according to plan. Factors outside of our control can cause delays to even the best laid plans, meaning that work is put on pause or deadlines are missed. Significant learning opportunities which arise from things going wrong are not fully realised. When things do go well, we often move on to the next project or task, rather than pausing to acknowledge achievements.

Change management is one of many disciplines that we at CES draw on in our work with partners. Programme and project management are now part of the landscape of public policy and services. They provide tools, methodologies and structure for teams in complex settings such as health and social care, helping them to break down long term ambitious objectives into smaller, achievable goals. Change management recognises that in addition to methodologies and structure, the work is happening in a dynamic, often challenging environment involving people, relationships and systems. It involves both an art and a science. Methodologies and structures can help organisations develop healthy routines, but ultimately it is the people involved in delivering the service who will bring about sustainable change and improvement.

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Some of the basic principles of change management can be useful to organisations of all shapes, sizes and sectors. It can add value to the use of project management in managing change and the uncertainty and challenges which accompany it.

The following approaches and tools can help in using and applying change management.

  1. Use documentation to help the team work efficiently

Documenting the process is a feature of project management and other disciplines, but the terminology and range of documentation can be overwhelming at first glance. Your approach should be driven by efficiency rather than creating an additional administrative burden for team members. Focus on what’s essential for the team and the work. Does the team have a clear document outlining its purpose? Is there a communications plan in place? How will end users or beneficiaries be consulted? Who is responsible for key decisions and how will any changes be authorised? Organising projects into portfolios can help a team to see how a project fits with other work across the organisation or service. Project management disciplines such as Prince2, Lean and Agile offer a range of standardised templates to help you work through and document the various stages of a project.

  1. Use visual tools to plan and measure progress

Using visual tools can help everyone on the team to clearly and quickly see what’s involved from the outset and how things are progressing. Logic models or process maps can capture the journey to an agreed set of outcomes on one page. Design thinking can help to bring focus to a particular problem, and the end users perspective. Status reports are a useful tool which use simple colour coding to help the team clearly see where something is stuck and where work is on track.

The Kanban approach is now widely used in a range of settings, including public services, to plan workflow in projects, manage tasks and identify improvements. Physical Kanban Boards can use whiteboards and post its, while the rapid growth in online working has seen the development of a range of online tools, including Mural, Miro and Meistertask. Using Kanban methods can support good regular communication and provide clarity on tasks and roles within teams.

  1. Capture learning at regular intervals

A key principle of change management is learning from experience. ‘Lessons Learned’ exercises focus on what is useful to other teams and projects. Agile methodology is a change management process which emphasises continuous improvement, collaboration, and flexibility. Agile teams and projects work in an iterative way, making incremental changes as the work progresses. Clear phases for each part of the work allow team members to step back regularly, ask ‘How did we do?’ and use learning to inform the next phase of work. Approaches such as ‘Intense Period Debrief’ can help teams to reflect on particularly challenging pieces of work in a structured way, support them as individuals and also as part of a collective team effort.

Building in time for reflection at various intervals can also help teams to focus on their achievements. Taking time to acknowledge achievements within the team and communicating success more widely can help build confidence and trust amongst individuals, teams and stakeholders.

Ultimately, the discipline of change management provides a repository of tools, practices and methodologies which can help in implementing complex policy initiatives and programmes. These methodologies do not operate in a vacuum, but are applied in a context of real change, challenge and relationships. Sustaining and embedding change requires applying both the science and the art.

Want to know more about CES’s work in change management? Contact Grainne Clarke, Senior Manager at CES gclarke@effectiveservices.org