In this fourth article, Alan, a Human Resources – Recruitment & Retention Manager, talks LMJ through his experience of graduating from his council’s Leadership Academy and working on a final year project within Passenger Transport Services for Adults and Older People.

After completing a three-day service transformation leadership programme as an additional module to the Academy set up by my local authority, my fellow graduates and I were told we needed to pitch to the Director of Transformation, a Leadership Development Manager and a Transformation Officer as to what sort of project we thought we should be assigned in order to use our newly developed transformation knowledge.

We were told that a number of projects were available in a variety of areas that included finance, planning teams, Special Educational Needs team and children’s social care.

As part of my day job, I’ve been working with social care on their recruitment and retention strategies, so pitched for that, citing my experience and skills, and assumed I’d get it given my background.

I was surprised to be given a project with the SEN team which forms part of Resident Services, with whom I’d never done any previous work. The brief was simple (or so it appeared at that point!) – I was to undertake a “quick and dirty” discovery report for the Director of Transformation to highlight what was happening with transport in the SEN teams. This report was expected in three weeks, so three days in effect, as I was only able to give a day a week to this on top of my substantive post.

Consultants came in from Red Quadrant to support me with the project and identify realistic targets for the project’s timespan. I found the 7 Ways to Save and Improve and also TIM WOODS (especially ‘W’ = Waiting & Delay as a result of lack of information sharing) particularly useful to kick-start the thinking, as SEN transport was an area that had never really been looked at before, so there was lots of inbuilt waste that we needed to pick apart.

These tools formed the basis of the kick-off meeting, which included the transport service manager, who managed transport services for older people and SEN, the head of SEN and a representative from adults’ services.

What was quickly apparent was that the three of them hadn’t properly communicated before this workshop so they were coming at the issues from very different perspectives. They all held different pieces of the puzzle, but hadn’t shared either the way they worked or the rationale for doing so.

I was particularly conscious of the need to set this work off in the right way – although there was no ulterior motive behind the need for a discovery report, the feeling that the Transformation Team has got its eye on you can be quite unnerving for a manager, so I set the context for the work as being about building relationships between these different strands. The manager particularly was such a front-line operational manager that he’d never had the time to step back from the process and reflect on its strategic purpose.

The service knew that the numbers of adult customers were reducing, but also knew they were spending more money; they hadn’t been able to get to the root of the problem to work out what was going wrong.

Due to the short time frame, which I managed to extend through negotiation, but not by much, and in accordance with the 7 Ways to Save and Improve, I focused on the demand that was entering the service. My role was very much to challenge – which wasn’t hard to do, given that I knew nothing about the service area!

There were two systems in place for referrals between adults’ services and SEN, both with differing criteria, and both with different perceptions of what we should be offering. The misconception is that we offer transport provision; in actual fact, our policy is to offer travel assistance.

This semantic difference could and did lead to differing levels of support – between signposting to appropriate provision and paying for a taxi for example. Examples of cases began to surface such as students over 18 who no longer met the criteria, but who were still receiving the service, or clients who were receiving a level of service that was inappropriate relative to their level of need.

When I wrote the discovery report, it was with the expectation that somebody else would be taking forward the recommendations; these comprised of redesigning/rewriting the policy, sharing data between services and looking at providing independent travel trainers.

This last option was in place in another London local authority with whom we have good links and I had been in conversation with them as to the best way to implement this. In short, they were contracting to a voluntary agency that provided them with trainers to work with up to ten young people a year and support them to learn how to travel alone. The business case I wrote evidenced it as a robust invest-to-save option as well as in line with the council’s policy to empower young people in developing life skills and gain independence.

I was engrossed in the project and glad when I was given a further extension to complete the work needed. Since these initial conversations, we’ve made further connections with other authorities and learnt about route-mapping software that we’re now planning to implement and take the place of our current paper maps and string on the walls of the transport office.

We’ve also engaged with the special schools via questionnaires to make sure they’re aware of what we’re thinking and why we’re thinking it as well as doing some early intervention work with those students in Year Six to try and support them in being able to navigate transport independently. Big changes have included no longer offering transport to eight college students who didn’t meet the criteria and remove some of the fleet vehicles we no longer have a need for.

I now know more than I could have imagined about SEN transport and have really appreciated the lean tools I’ve been using, as they provided a great frame of reference when the detail gets a bit mind-boggling. My main area for development initially was in implementing strong project management which was something I hadn’t had to do before attending the academy.

The RQ consultants demonstrated how to effectively schedule and use weekly meetings, project plans, and business reviews, but equally I was working on a project with no clear beginning or end, and I didn’t think I’d be involved in the implementation of the recommendations I made.

Being given the go-ahead to support with the implementation has been great and I’m glad I’m getting to put my newly-found knowledge to good use and see this work through to its endpoint, when the service will be working with optimum efficiency and, hopefully, minimum waste.