Cornwall County Council

Improving frontline engagement and communication — catalyst for change

DNA Definitive works with Cornwall Council Community and Support Service (CaSS)


Client: Cornwall County Council
Department: Community and Support Service (CaSS)
Timescale: June 2013 - September 2013 (Update and revisit March 2014)


The Background

CaSS employs 300 staff across a number of divisions and locations, from support workers to drivers and business support staff.  Providing safe and high quality opportunities to adults with learning disabilities is at the heart of CaSS engagement with people who use the service, and a continually changing market place presents consistent challenges.

A series of HR based surgeries with members of staff, to gauge feedback, concerns and challenges, highlighted some issues surrounding morale, lack of meaningful communication and future plans for the teams and service. The decision was made to get support for the next stage of engagement with staff, to enable an independent and impartial review, and to challenge current internal practices.

DNA Definitive was selected from knowledge of previous work carried out with Local Authorities, previous work in the local area and for their passionate commitment to working with frontline staff.


The Challenges

Communication between senior leaders and frontline staff and overall engagement was identified as requiring significant improvement. Staff morale was low with concerns about the future felt by many. There was a reliance on processes and administration, which many felt was placing heavier emphasis on paperwork and procedures than on the individuals who use the services, and indeed staff members themselves.

Staff felt decisions were being made without a democratic approach and there was a lack of consultation, discussion or debate with the people delivering services on the frontline.


The Solution

DNA Definitive interviewed a large cross-section of the 300 strong team, as well as external stakeholders, other division members and some family members of people who use the service. The focus was on unearthing the concerns and challenges across the board, but particularly the staff taking ownership of finding solutions to the problems and issues they identified.

The Senior Team was faced with feedback, often negative, about processes, procedures and attitudes, with a lack of trust at the forefront, and for a month some processes, such as appraisal systems and other administrative management led activities were suspended.

The DNA Definitive approach is based on chaos first followed by autonomous solutions. A degree of turbulence was experienced across the entire division, as the issues and real challenges were unearthed, expressed and shared. There was some suspicion, worry and concern at the outset of the process as staff were introduced to the methods and opportunities for engagement.

Creating an environment where feedback, input and communication from all levels was encouraged and expected, frontline staff and first line managers were then challenged with devising new solutions and procedures moving forward, to alleviate objections and concerns about efficiencies and service delivery focus.

Connectivity and interdependence between divisions and individuals was recognised as vital for the service, to re-energise the team and improve service delivery, quality and safety.


The Impact

DNA Definitive is viewed as the catalyst for a period of change at CaSS, with sustainable benefits for the Service. Communication has improved, particularly between the Senior Leadership Team and Team Leaders. Team Leaders are invited on rotation to meetings and a monthly-extended leadership team meeting is also now happening with minutes circulated to the Team Leader Group. Regular bulletins are now also circulated to the Service as a whole to keep teams up to date.

Increased face-to-face communication is happening and has helped people to re-connect and build higher levels of trust. There is less of a void felt between the senior team and the Service and staff feel they now have more opportunities to challenge and contribute to decisions. The team members have increased face to face contact and developed an understanding of the importance of conversations rather than e-mail or electronic exchanges of views.

Corporate Resources are used more efficiently and some systems and processes have been developed and amended to provide more responsive support to staff. A simplified internal performance management system has been introduced. Staff training and recruitment has been reviewed which has contributed to the development of shared values across the Service, which was a key element of the project objectives.

The input from DNA has brought new focus to the team and helped team members develop an environment that encourages and supports improved communication, discussion and staff engagement, whilst also placing expectations on all staff, at all levels to identify opportunities for ongoing change and improvement.

In an update meeting in March 2014, some 6 months on, the Senior Leadership Team were still realizing and experiencing the key benefits of a more engaged workforce with a clearer purpose and understanding of the values of the Service. Whilst there was still some turbulence in the system, the staff felt much more confident and positive about the longer term future of the Service and its position when it comes to supporting the people who use it.


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