The Resources department at Brent Council was formed two years prior to the delivery of this project and although structures and leadership have been brought together, there was no specific focus on the target operating model which had knock-on impacts to joint working between teams. Resources was seen as the ‘custodian’ of the council’s assets and therefore had the aim to improve the way it interreacted with itself (between teams), internal customers (other departments) and external customers (schools, residents, businesses) so that it is co-ordinated and efficient.
There was a series of problems identified and most linked to poor employee engagement. There were pockets of poor employee engagement and, as a department, Resources had the lowest overall engagement scores in the council. In addition to this, there was a sense that staff did not feel a sense of belonging to the department. This has manifested into poor execution of end-to-end processes where these span across teams, causing delays, lack of ownership and, ultimately, impair the customer journey and customer outcomes.
The department had a number of target areas for improvement across process improvement, communication, customer services and demand management. To deliver these projects and initiate an increase in employee engagement, senior leaders placed officers at the heart of the projects. Teams were asked – ‘what are your problems and how would you like to solve them?’
The Human Engine team delivered a series of five improvement projects using our signature Improvement Drive methodology, designed to deliver fast and sustainable employee-led improvement. These projects bring together teams of officers who are not normally involved with project work and focus on giving them the opportunity to identify and solve a problem that impacts on their day-to-day work.
The Improvement Drive is a four-step methodology delivered over 12-weeks to facilitate employee-led change and coaching to leave teams with the skills and tools to deliver continuous improvement. We work with teams, not doing to them, to increase employee ownership and engagement. It is an approach to improvement that avoids ‘change fatigue’ and supports teams to design their own solutions to specific business problems The four stages are:
Discover: Build a knowledge base about the business problems we want to solve. This is gathered through use of data about the service, basic process mapping and using anecdotal evidence / ‘lived experience’ of officers in the frontline teams
Design: Once business problems have been identified, work to design solutions that will help overcome these. Understand the complexity of potential solutions – can these be delivered within 12 weeks?
Deliver: Test solutions with major stakeholders through pilot schemes, focus groups or workshops. Begin rollout testing basis to increase uptake of new way of working
Determine: Review the impact of each solutions. Rollout solutions to all users of the service during this period.
The team delivered five Improvement Drive projects:
1. Customer Complaints
The customer complaints team had recorded a steady increase in customer complaints due to unresolved requests. Data was showing that customers were repeatedly contacting the council with the same issue due to miscommunication, wrong information or the officer not having the skills and capability to deal with the request. The team created a series of solutions to overcome these issues, including a resource hub for officers that acted as a one-stop-shop for information, re-writing standard letter correspondence so that key information and actions were easily identifiable for the customer and jargon was removed. The team also introduced the complaints process and complaint handling into induction training for new starters.
2. Council Tax Process Redesign
With the Council Tax service moving back in-house after being delivered by an outsourcing company, this improvement drive supported the wider Council Tax insourcing programme by redesigning the recovery process to reduce missed payments or written off debts. The team undertook in-depth ‘as it’ and ‘to be’ process mapping and implemented the new process. This included changing thresholds and the method of profiling cases to increase efficiency and case load. The team also created new sub-processes for vulnerable groups.
3. Benefit Assessments Failure Demand
Claimants accessing the benefits services often had to go through multiple contacts to reach a conclusion to their case. The objective of this Improvement Drive was to increase first time resolution rates. To deliver this, the team refreshed online application forms to ensure the claimant shares all necessary information. The team also created a cross-team working group to ensure policy changes to the benefits process was quickly disseminated throughout assessment teams to minimise the risk of wrong or outdated information shared with claimants.
4. Community Hubs Service Levels
Brent Council utilise community hubs across the borough as a method for residents accessing services without needing to visit the Civic Centre. The Hubs have the objective of enabling residents to self-serve and access the right support and assistance at the right time. This relied on strong partnership working and collaboration with the civic centre customer service centre, autonomy to deliver services and, where necessary, have an efficient handoff process between access points. To do this, the team created new direct line for Hubs teams to contact back-office support, for example the Housing or Revenue Team, rather than Hub teams using the public line. This increased speed of service. In addition, the team created an online referral form to share information on customers between hub and civic centre teams and therefore reducing repetition of customers explaining their situation.
5. Registration and Nationality
As an income generating service within the Resources department, the Registration and Nationality team needed to promote the commercial arm of the service. The project focussed on this, as well as supporting internal process efficiencies. As part of this Improvement Drive, the team delivered a new online payments process and ‘contact us’ form to reduce the time spent by officer responding to emails, answering calls and manually taking payments. To support the commercial development of the service, the project created a 12-month social media strategy to aimed at their target audience.
Outcomes achieved from delivering the Improvement Drive projects are two-fold. Firstly, there were significant improvements to performance of the service areas:
Significant drops in disputes or complaints - follow up contact rate by the customer to the council of just under 20% despite 81% of cases being disadvantageous for the customer
A 60% drop in complaints due to ‘unclear procedures’ or ‘decision not explained’ during the pilot of new letters and correspondence
Successful implementation of new Council Tax recovery process
A reduction in calls from residents requesting clarification on council tax arrears. This is linked the new presentation of information in correspondence
Fewer handoffs in the benefit assessment process and quicker decision rates
Delivery of a 12-month social media strategy to support income growth of the Registration and Nationality service
Secondly, the projects had a noticeable impact on employee engagement, ownership and accountability of their service. The opportunity to make a sustainable improvement to their service was central to this. Engagement outcomes included:
Working with over 50 frontline officers who are not usually involved in change projects
Improved levels of employee participation and engagement
Empowering employees through a coaching methodology to take greater ownership of problems they encounter in their day-to-day work and identifying and implementing solutions
New skills learned by client employees. Teams were left with the tools, techniques and skills to deliver an improvement project without Human Engine facilitation and guidance
‘This has been one of the most productive and enjoyable projects I have participated in’
Project Team Member
Human Engine is a Financial Times top-ranked management consultancy with specialisms in strategy, people and performance.
It was founded by a group of former local government officers who think the public sector deserves better than it gets from traditional consulting firms – more human, more personal and more knowledgeable of the reality of delivering modern public services.
We have worked with dozens of public sector organisations to help transform their strategies, operations and cultures to be more agile, commercial and entrepreneurial in order to achieve financial sustainability and improved outcomes for local people and communities.
We are currently writing our latest report, The Commercial Edge, in partnership with leading think tank Localis, making the case for entrepreneurialism in public services and local investment as a catalyst for economic recovery and growth.