2 December 2020 | Collaboration

Adopting culture change

LCRIG content director Alec Peachey carries out regular interviews with sector representatives to highlight the work they’re doing and the types of technologies that are driving innovation forward. This week, Lianne Butler-White and Ruth Kinsella, Directors and co-founders of CoCreation Partnership, talk about the benefits that can be brought to an organisation which adopts culture change.  


Q. What is the best way to try innovations on a huge customer base? 

A. “We desperately need innovation in the highways sector if we are going to tackle some of our most pressing social challenges. The technological revolution is changing the world at a pace we’ve never seen before and it can be quite hard to keep up. There is no doubt that citizens are at the same time wanting change, and wary of too much change, too quickly – we are asking people to adapt the way they live after all. There can also be a fear to introduce change, as the vocal minority can often drown out the successes of an innovation and the appreciation of the silent majority. Organisations can fear making changes if they don’t have citizen support from the outset.   

“We believe the best way to trial innovation is to use change management principles with a group of citizens that is a representative sample of society – the local authority environment is perfect for that. It’s really important to get citizens to participate in trials right from the outset – and by that we mean the concept stage – helping people to understand and make it obvious that change has to happen, and get them involved in shaping the solution. The innovation project has to look attractive, so when planning to engage spend time to understand what’s in it for individuals, and for society at large. And people love to contribute, so find ways to make it easy for people to engage with the trial – it must be a two-way process for people to feel satisfied and accept the change you’re seeking to make.” 


Q. What are some of the main challenges facing SMEs when it comes to engaging with the wider sector?

A. “There is no doubt that SMEs are the innovators, but it can feel that there is no clear and direct pathway into the wider sector to demonstrate innovation. Tier one suppliers are traditionally very conservative when it comes to trialling new products and ideas because the risks are too high. Likewise, local authorities need to have evidence that innovations have practical applications, will stand the test of time, and are cost effective, so getting good ideas to market is a huge challenge. Outsourced delivery contracts need to have enough flexibility built into them from all parties, to allow freedom of ideas and application of those ideas.   

“A group of authorities could act as test beds for innovation, and an organisation like LCRIG would be an excellent route for SMEs to get their innovations noticed by local authority clients and provide a route to market through controlled localised trials.” 


Q. In what ways does the sector need to evolve?

A. “Quite simply, we need to be more flexible and open to change and understand why there is a reluctance to innovate. The local authority world is intensely political, and that can be a huge barrier to making good long-term decisions. We need to find a way to identify and remove the blockers that are stopping us from being as agile as the world is demanding us to be. For us, that means taking a systems thinking view of the services we deliver – starting with end-user customer needs and designing our services back from point-of-use. That might mean taking a new approach to the way we procure services and the measurements we use to monitor service delivery performance – do our KPIs truly support customer outcomes or are they driving the wrong behaviours? We are in the business of public service, so the customer should be at the core of every decision we make, and if we can truly do that then service efficiency will increase and failure demand can be designed out of our systems.” 


Q. Can regulation be a barrier to innovation?

A. “Regulation can be a barrier, of course. But it can also be the catalyst for innovation, after all necessity is the mother of invention! Unregulated innovation in our industry could cost lives, so we should think of regulation as a safety net, not a barrier. And we’re all aware of the mistrust that has developed around the delivery of public services over the last decade or so – that bad feeling has been more of a barrier to innovation than any regulation, and remember, citizens (and local politics) do not differentiate between public services: if something goes wrong in prison services, for example, then all public services can be tarred with the same brush. We have a collective responsibility to deliver customer-focused outcomes which is why the Government published its Supplier Code of Conduct, and this Code is our lever to push back if commercial mechanisms are not supporting our delivery of public services.” 


Q. In what ways can the industry work better with local authorities and should there be a greater sharing of knowledge? 

A. “Our experience is telling us that there is a real desire for collaboration and knowledge sharing across the industry, and indeed across non-related industries. At the moment collaboration is happening in pockets either through funding projects like the ADEPT LiveLabs, or in one-to-one relationships between authorities and suppliers. The exception to this is Highways England’s approach to collaboration through their customer imperative – they’ve done great work to bring the supply chain together to support their evolution towards becoming a high performing enterprise by 2035, and that culture change is underpinned by making customers an important part of their procurement strategy and contract performance. Through the next five-year Road Investment Strategy Period (RIS 2), Highways England have been tasked to work with local authorities on the strategic and local road connections and provide more reliable journey times for the road user as well as better diversion routes, so there is a good opportunity here to share knowledge and innovation. 

“However, when authorities are looking to their supply chain partners for greater collaboration and innovation, there has to be a recognition of risk and reward on both sides. Much of the work suppliers are doing to add value in this way is done on the basis of building better relationships and demonstrating capability to win more work in the future, so there needs to be clearly defined outcomes. Suppliers are commercial beasts, and collaboration is not yet a natural characteristic, so the supply chain needs incentivising through a clear directive. But there is one topic on which every organisation is able to collaborate and must collaborate if we are to meet our challenges and that’s the customer.” 


Q. How do you stop innovation from just being another buzzword and instead something that is acted upon?  

A. “The sector must be clear where innovation will really make an impact and create a defined route to market. Authorities need to make innovation part of their future business planning, know what they are looking for, actively go to the market to get it and be open with their supply chain partners, citizens and stakeholders why they are doing it and what the benefits need to beInnovation has to be done for the citizen, to benefit the citizen and society. And we also need to embrace the value of continual improvement through designing services from the point of customer need.” 


Q. How important is customer service and how does your business encourage it?

A. “Organisational success depends on delivering good customer service, no matter what market you operate in. Until very recently, the big highways supply chain players have viewed their clients to be the customer, rarely considering the end-user experience at all, but this is changing primarily due to the Government’s directive to Highways England to make the customer one if its three main imperatives 

“We discussed earlier how procurement and the way contracts are written and monitored can determine whether a service delivery contract is commercially focused or delivering services for customer outcomes. The traditional commercial focus and performance metrics have undoubtedly led to some behaviours that have driven poor customer experience and a lot of waste in terms of failure demand, but there is a strong societal shift taking place which is pushing us all to deliver customer-centric services.  

“So, customer service and experience is becoming essential to the delivery of highways services and cannot be ignored. We launched CoCreation Partnership at the start of this change in focus specifically to work with local authorities, Highways England, and the supply chain to ensure they are putting customers front and centre of all they do through developing customer experience strategies and culture change.’ 


Q. What’s the best way to achieve culture change and how do you know when it is needed?

A. “If you don’t think your organisation needs culture change, then it needs culture change! Society is changing too fast to allow culture to stagnate, so managing constant change will make sure we all stay with the flow and contribute positively to society. 

“There are lots of avenues for what we call quantum leaps – the big, sexy projects that get national attention. What we focus on is culture change through marginal gains – the micro changes that can be achieved through systems thinking and making small changes to existing systems and processes. There are huge gains to be made this way, and unlike the quantum leap projects, it doesn’t cost a fortune to implement!   

“Our approach centres on organisational maturity. We developed a customer maturity matrix which can be used across all public services to drive continual improvement through five constituent business areas: Goals & Values, Leadership & Governance, Systems & Processes, Innovation & Continual Improvement, and Risk Management. We are very proud to have shared our matrix with Highways England who have adapted it for their own use and are now working with over 90 supply chain partners to drive up customer maturity. We’re also seeing a lot of success with our direct clients where our maturity workshops are initiating some creative discussions that are laying the foundations for new products and innovations – you never quite know where these discussions will take you, but the outcomes are always positive!”