The first small step - How councils can prepare for a new wave of pressures

by Paul Taylor - Management Consultant | minutes read

As I speak to council teams and leaders in my role each week, there are many common challenges but each organisation also has its own unique pressures. There is never any ‘one size fits all’ solution but with every local authority bracing itself for increasing pressures and unprecedented financial strain, I believe there are always opportunities to plan, prepare and prevent overwhelm.

As the country braces itself for a demanding winter, expectations on councils are increasing and this is on top pre-Covid pressures which have not gone away. Whether it is delivering emergency business and hardship grants, co-ordinating local Covid-19 test and trace systems or scrambling to free up accommodation for people experiencing homelessness, councils have never needed to be more flexible, agile and resilient.

 

A ‘people-first’ approach

Our team has been embedded in Broxbourne Borough Council over the past 18 months as digital transformation partners and I was reassured to hear in early November that they were feeling ‘calm’ about lockdown 2.0 and their ability to support residents and staff.

Whilst the pandemic initially required some planned projects to be urgently brought forward, Broxbourne was able to continue all of its services and move to a completely remote operation with no disruption to residents back in March.

Now armed with a tried and tested digital infrastructure and learnings from early 2020, their teams have every confidence that they won’t lose connection with customers and that staff are well supported to work in an agile and flexible way. 

In a world in which customers’ expectations and demand for immediacy are growing, councils which offer a 24/7 ‘self-serve’ approach are reaping the rewards.  Even if it’s just for one or two of their busiest services.

Those organisations which are designing their services in a ‘people-first’ way, prioritising how to take pain away from individuals are weathering this storm well. I have seen time and again that if you are taking great care of your people, you are going to get the best from them. And in doing so, you’re taking great care of your residents.

Working from a strategy which truly understands people and their behaviours helps organisations achieve the most positive outcomes.

Speaking recently, Sandra Beck, Director of Finance at Broxbourne Borough Council said; “…the key lesson learned is that customers’ interactions with the council should be tailor-made to their needs, not the council’s ways of working

The focus was not on technology but rather how technology could deliver the desired outcomes. Throughout the process we had a constant obsession with the right thing for the customer.

 

Small steps

However what about those organisations which aren’t as much on the front foot with digital transformation? With ten years’ previous experience working at councils myself, I understand that this can feel extremely big picture and overwhelming, which is why our approach is always ‘small steps’, breaking challenges down into small, achievable chunks. Whilst every organisation’s first step will be different, the approach and mindset are always the same.

When we partner with a council, we embed ourselves within the organisation to identify those quick wins and look at priorities which can make an invaluable difference. Sometimes it can be difficult to see from the inside and it takes a critical friend to come in and discover them. For instance, it may be that spending ten weeks creating an initial solution for a digital self-serve option which can answer one particular painful journey, can open up opportunities elsewhere. Such as taking pressure off customer services phone lines or freeing up resource for more complex work.

Sandra Beck of Broxbourne Council added; “It’s so satisfying to see the complete change in the way that we work. The whole Council is different to the one it was this time last year”.

“The biggest impact has been on the housing service. Our way of working in this service has completely changed. We now have a new booking system, it’s much more controlled. People can be triaged online before they need to attend our offices. It’s a fantastic transformation.”

It’s never realistic to try and fix everything all in one go, especially during high stress times like this. So, whilst it probably feels like the least appropriate time to stop, reflect and have a ‘strategic pause’, I’d argue that this could be one of the best times to do this. What small step can your organisation take this quarter? In anticipation of the increased pressures and demands which we know are coming, this small, achievable step could make the world of difference.

 

About Sopra Steria

The world truly is how we shape it. That's something we believe passionately about in Sopra Steria across our Government business. From helping to keep our borders secure, to digitalising the Scottish Government and transforming local council services we have nearly 1500 people across the UK daring to be different in our approach to solving today's big challenges. Working across central government and public services, we understand the need to deliver always-on services to increasingly digital-savvy citizens. We help government to develop new capabilities and implement new innovative approaches in a practical manner to deliver sustainable solutions to citizens that make a real difference. Empowering Government to make a difference to everyone every day.

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