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This contains practical guidance for the teams and facilitators who are using this Framework. There are 3 parts to this approach:
- developing and agreeing an organisational vision
- self-assessment using the Framework
- planning and committing to improvement action
They each require challenging discussions within a self-assessment team. The team should include:
- leaders (as identified in your organisational model)
- staff representatives (including volunteers)
- partners (where appropriate)
- a skilled facilitator to lead the sessions (who could be a member of the team, someone from another department, a partner, or an external specialist)
- and possibly a critical friend to provide external challenge (this role could be played by the facilitator)
During these discussions, the team should be aiming to reach agreement. This means team members need to:
- accept everyone’s perception of the organisation is correct and valuable – your goal is not to persuade everyone that your view is right
- see everyone’s collective perceptions as creating insight which is ‘greater than the sum of the parts’
- ‘Seek first to understand then to be understood’ (‘Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’, by Stephen Covey)
Please contact your Local Government Association Principal Adviser for further guidance and support for effective facilitation.
2. Developing and agreeing an organisational vision
Developing and bringing to life your vision for your organisation’s future is a significant part of the improvement process. It helps you focus improvement activity on the most important areas. It also helps to energise and motivate people to keep making changes and approach the improvements you define in in a positive way.
All leaders (as identified in your organisational model) should be involved in the vision setting session(s) so there is complete commitment and support for your direction and improvement activity. You should also involve other staff (including volunteers) and partners in these sessions.
The facilitator’s aim is to generate discussion amongst the team members and to challenge their thinking. Large groups could be split into sub-groups to ensure that everyone is encouraged to share their views.
Responses should be captured, either on flipchart or coloured post-it notes. Post-it notes can also be used to move and group people’s thoughts and ideas during the discussion.
2.2 Questions for facilitators and critical friends
Use the following questions during your vision setting session(s).
What are we, and our partners ultimately aiming to achieve?
What do we want our community to say we have achieved for them? What difference will we make to people’s lives?
What makes this really exciting?
The sort of organisation we need to become?
To achieve our vision, what does our organisation need to look like?
Imagine it is 3 years from now. You have been completely successful in changing your organisation, it is now a role model, capable of achieving your legacy. (Don’t be constrained with your ideas).
- What does everything look like?
- What are people saying about us?
- What does the organisation feel like to work in?
- What tangible changes have been made?
How will achieving these changes benefit the community?
What could happen if we didn’t achieve these changes?
How will we know when we have achieved these things?
Collective commitment to our Vision
On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being passionately committed to this vision, 1 being not committed at all) where are you now? What changes need to happen to get you to 10?
Who should we share our vision with?
How should we share our vision?
3. Self-assessment using the Framework
3.1 Introduction to self-assessment
Self-assessment means your leadership team and relevant stakeholders agreeing on your organisation’s current strengths and areas for improvement against the Framework. This provides a way to develop improvement projects/actions, which you will then incorporate into your service plans. Achieving these improvements over time will increase your organisation’s capability to achieve enhanced outcomes. All organisations have strengths and areas for improvement; the most successful ones know what these are and are committed to change.
Carried out effectively, self-assessment can:
- identify your organisation’s strengths, recognising everyone’s progress
- identify areas for improvement
It can also increase:
- staff awareness of how the organisation or partnership works
- staff ownership of improvement actions
- insight on what is required to improve the services provided to the community
- improvements in partnership working and relationships
Structured regular self-assessment lies at the heart of sector-led improvement and is used in many organisations around the world. Many organisations and partnerships use these approaches.
However, there are some challenges to carrying out comprehensive and effective self-assessment. This toolkit will help you to overcome these.
Self-assessment is not a competition, a points-scoring exercise, a badge-chasing exercise, or a ‘blame game’. It is an exercise to help you to develop awareness and agree priorities for improvement.
Self-assessment is an exercise in critical thinking. It involves discussion and analysis of data (for example performance data and feedback from stakeholders).
Self-assessment is conducted by a self-assessment team, comprising managers and other leaders, supplemented by other members of staff, volunteers and partners. Different people or sub-groups could conduct the self-assessment for each characteristic; however, the core team should remain together for the whole process.
The self-assessment team conducts the self-assessment through one or more workshops. The team discusses the organisation’s progress against the criteria for each characteristic, sharing their perceptions. Honesty is critical. Performance data and feedback from stakeholders is made available to support the discussions. Critical friends are often used to provide an external challenge.
The objective is to arrive at agreement on where the organisation is against each criterion (individuals only know part of the overall picture); something everybody feels happy with and is willing to stand behind. By doing this the team can build an accurate and insightful picture of organisational strengths and areas for improvement, and generate commitment and energy to act on these.
The workshops need to be positive and energetic; therefore, they should last between 3 to 4 hours at most, and include breaks. A team should be able to cover these self-assessment discussions in 2 or 3 sessions like this.
3.3 Tips for the self-assessment team
Remember that regular self-assessment is a valuable approach for identifying improvements - it’s not something you do because of external pressures, as a one-off exercise or a bolt-on to normal work
Acknowledge that self-assessment is not a review of the people working in the organisation; it is about the way the organisation or partnership works
Don’t regard self-assessment as a threat or negative criticism
Self-assessment is not a competition, a points-scoring exercise or a way to improve your image - these perceptions are all barriers to identifying accurate and in-depth areas for improvement
Identifying ratings is not an exact science and should not be the ultimate goal – establishing important areas where you can focus improvement work is your primary purpose
Honesty and confidentiality are essential before during and after self-assessment workshops
In this exercise there is no failure – just feedback; no problems – just areas for improvement (they cannot be problems if they have been clearly defined); and no ‘blame’ – just cause
Self-assessment mustn’t become a paper-chase or box ticking exercise. You are doing this for your own purposes, not for any external validator.
Focus on the important issues. Self-assessment is about developing collective insight on how the organisation works and what needs to be improved to make a significant difference to results
Keep a positive outlook, and continually remind yourself about the vision you all agreed and are working towards.
3.4 Tips for self-assessment workshop facilitators
Before you go into a session, remind yourself what you are there for: to remove any interference and make it easy for the team to reach agreement on strengths and areas for improvement against the criterion set out in the Framework. You are there to help achieve this by structuring the discussions, triggering energetic and incisive inputs, explaining the criteria if needed, and posing challenging questions.
Capture the outputs of the session either on flipcharts or by updating an electronic version of the framework which is projected. Both these approaches create a single shared focus of attention for the team. It is important that everyone in the team is happy to stand behind the outputs before they leave. The advantage of an electronic version projected in the room is that it minimises the need for any (or much) report writing after the workshop.
Stick to planned start and finish times and manage discussions so they cover all the important issues. It’s not always a problem if conversations run into different criteria; this can often save time later in the workshop. It is better to have an in-depth discussion about a small number of criteria than bland conversation about many criteria.
You don’t have to start at characteristic 1 and work through to 10; you could group criteria or follow themes through (for example, ‘outcomes-focused strategy and planning’ followed by ‘service design, innovation and delivery’).
You need to encourage everyone in the team to participate and share their views and perceptions.
You should ask challenging questions so people have to think hard about their perceptions and assumptions. Help the group reach agreement about their response and share a collective insight.
Phrase your questions using ‘how’, ‘what’ and ‘when’. Be careful when using ‘why’ questions as they can provoke a defensive response. Avoid closed questions (those which allow one word answers).
Probe about how the organisation works and ask questions from this perspective. Remind everyone that you are not asking the questions for your benefit; you are asking them because the answers should help them and there is no right answer. Your vocal tones and body language should support this approach.
Silences are ok, People need time to think.
Use different techniques during the workshop to maintain energy, focus and involvement. These could include using scorecards, silent feedback through post-it notes, sub-groups, asking people to move to different parts of the room to reflect their perception.
4. Planning and committing to improvement action
4.1 Introduction to improvement planning
The benefits of self-assessment include:
- ensuring that your service plans contain relevant and valuable medium-term (ie up to one year) improvement projects
- focussing resources and attentions on achieving tangible changes in the way the organisation works, which will in turn lead to improvements in the outcomes achieved
Turning the identified areas for improvement into significant (breakthrough) improvement projects can be challenging. This guidance will help you in your improvement planning.
4.2 Principles of improvement planning
Identify a small number of breakthrough improvement projects which will make the greatest difference to the organisation’s capability to achieve enhanced outcomes, supported by some quick wins. Not lots of minor or incremental improvement actions, however counter-intuitive it may feel to de-prioritise some of the improvement areas you identified during the self-assessment.
Set clear accountabilities
Assign the improvement projects to specific teams, who are then responsible for planning and implementing the action. These teams should include staff at all levels who are involved with the particular process or area of work. This may only be viable if resources allow.
Focus on the causes of the behaviours you’re tackling
The improvement projects should achieve sustainable change to collective working behaviours. This can be done by having projects which focus on tackling the underlying cause of the behaviours (for example leadership thinking).
Understand organisational linkages
Leaders and improvement teams need to understand how projects they are working on link to other parts of the organisation, so they can recognise, work on and influence things which might have an impact on, or be affected by the improvement work they’re doing. This will reduce the risk of unintended negative consequences.
Make self-assessment part of your business planning process
This plan should not be seen as an add-on to the organisation. Instead it must be an integral part of the service or business plans by co-ordinating it with the normal planning cycle.
Make the plan a living document
The improvement plan must be a working document, helping the organisation to focus its resources on changing the way it works and improving
4.3 Leading and challenging improvement planning
After the self-assessment sessions, your team should meet again to work through the following 10 steps (those involved in identifying the areas for improvement should also own responsibility for planning the improvement activity). Members of the management team who were not directly involved in the self-assessment should be invited, to ensure leadership support for the changes.
The following questions will help you to lead your improvement planning workshops and/or challenge people’s thinking. Your goals are to stimulate discussion among all team members and refine people’s thinking. Do not judge any of the answers. Summarise the responses so that everyone can see.
Step 1: identify your main areas for improvement
What themes run throughout the areas for improvement identified in your self-assessment?
Bearing in mind your vision, wider strategy and plans, which areas for improvement are most important to you?
Step 2: establish your significant improvement projects
What are the underlying causes of the areas for improvement you’ve identified?
What major improvement projects (ones leading to changes in the way people work) would make the greatest difference to your community and other stakeholders?
What improvement activity are you already working on?
Given your resources, which improvement projects will you be able to complete?
NOTE: If the team identifies detailed improvement ideas at this stage, capture these and pass them on to the improvement project leader. Some organisations keep a list of all new ideas identified by staff, partners and customers, which is used by people responsible for planning and implementing improvement activity.
Step 3: define the outputs of each improvement project
What will change once these projects have been completed?
How will you know that the change has been achieved? (don’t just set numerical targets)
Step 4 : establish ‘who’
Who will lead each improvement project? Which senior manager will champion it?
Who will be involved in the improvement activity? Can you set up an improvement team? If so who should be included in or invited to these teams?
Who else needs to be consulted or influenced?
Step 5: think systemically about the improvement activity
What will this improvement project achieve and who will benefit? What outcomes will it support?
What has, or will have, an impact on these improvement projects (inside or outside the organisation)?
How does this affect who you will involve in the improvement activity?
What will these improvement projects affect (inside or outside of the organisation)? How does this affect who you will involve in the improvement activity?
Step 6: identify timelines
When will you start each improvement project? (it doesn’t have to be straight away)
What are the project deadlines?
Step 7: establish a plan of quick wins
Which actions can be quick wins?
Who will be responsible for implementing each action, and by when?
Step 8: develop a monitoring and review cycle
How will you monitor progress with the improvement activity?
How will you review whether the project outputs have been achieved?
How will you review the effectiveness and efficiency of the improvement activity in the long-term?
Step 9: put the improvement plans at the heart of the organisation
Who else needs to agree the improvement plan? How will you achieve this?
Who do you need to influence in relation to this plan? How will you achieve this?
Where will these improvement projects and quick wins be documented? (for example within the organisation’s strategy or business plan; or a separate but linked document)
Who should you communicate the plan to? How will you do this?
Step 10: Assess and develop the team’s commitment to the improvement plan
What will happen once these improvements have been achieved?
What would happen if these improvements are not made?
On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being not committed at all, 10 being totally committed), how committed are you to each improvement project and action? What would it take to move you to a 10 on each?
After this planning session(s), the team should take the actions identified in Step 9.
4.4 Planning the specific actions
If you have the resources, this phase could be given to an improvement project team. If not, you might want to invite additional / different people to these sessions (such as partners, peers, volunteers and specialist advisors) to make use of their knowledge and to build ownership of the changes.
Step 1. Take each of the improvement projects and remind yourself of the outputs. Be sure that you all understand clearly what will have changed when the project has been completed.
Step 2. For each of the improvement projects, ask the following:
- What specifically is not working in this area?
- What is the underlying cause of this?
Step 3. Considering the desired output and your answers to the above 2 questions, identify what actions could be taken to tackle the improvement priorities. (not ‘what will we do?). This involves creative thinking. Try a silent ‘mindstorming’ exercise using coloured post-it notes where every member of the team identifies as many possible actions as they can.
Step 4. Establish which of the ideas are the best and which you‘ll be able to take forward.
Step 5. Agree which actions you will take forward.
Step 6. Identify who will be responsible for each action (including the quick wins). Who will help?
Step 7. Identify the deadlines for the actions.
Step 8. Consider learning from elsewhere and who would be able to help.
4.5 Monitoring and review of progress
The team should discuss and reach agreement on how:
they’ll ensure the improvement projects and quick wins are completed - NOTE: build monitoring and review of improvement projects into your regular management team meetings
they’ll ensure that the changes are effective
they’ll monitor, review and adjust the improvement projects until the outputs have been achieved and the projects are effective
they’ll document progress, including what has worked, what hasn’t worked and any unintended consequences, this should help people learn from this experience in the future
5. Improvement plan
The team has identified the following improvement activity through annual self-assessment and other review activity. These improvement actions are designed to build the organisation’s capability to achieve enhanced outcomes. For management purposes the main improvement activity is divided into projects; however, these are clearly interlinked and interdependent (they are part of one journey). The management team monitors achievement of the improvement projects through regular review meetings.
An improvement plan template is available as a downloadable template.