Posted by Steve Scown at 18/12/2014 10:25:08
As 2014 draws to a close I’ve found myself reflecting on what has been a difficult year. Looking ahead it’s clear to me that, as a provider striving to listen better, improve how we support people and be a good employer, we have to accept there is no light at the end of the tunnel.
We employ a lot of people and it almost goes without saying, but just in case anyone has any doubts, it is incredibly challenging to recruit, train, motivate and retain good staff when commissioners are demanding lower and lower costs. This year we’ve decided to take a stand in Dimensions about what we will and won’t do - and if that means becoming a smaller organisation then so be it. We’ve submitted non-compliant tenders this year and lost longstanding contracts because we’re not prepared to join the race to the bottom.
Good quality social care requires proper funding, and that is not £10 per hour! But – and it is a big positive but – we know that effective and person-centred care does not have to be so expensive it is unaffordable. Commissioners really don’t have to pay up to £3000 per day to keep someone locked up. We know because we – as do many other not-for-profit providers – have examples of where we have been able to provide person-centred support for people who have been previously locked up in awful places. In one instance the commissioner required a 4:1 ratio because the so-called expert professionals wouldn’t discharge the person unless that was the level of support provided. Today we support the person with a much more affordable 1:1 level of support, oh and he has a job!
As someone who trained in a special hospital and then worked in and managed many NHS services long since closed (thank goodness) I’ve spent most of my career developing community based support services. So, my optimism is founded upon rock solid knowledge that it can be better. As a trustee of VODG I know Dimensions is not alone in our determination to work better with families, to listen to commissioners’ challenges and to offer creative solutions in putting the people we support at the centre of what we do.
Learning that there are more people in ATUs (Assessment and Treatment Units) than three years ago, when the Winterbourne scandal was reported, provoked an appropriate outcry and condemnation. The Bubb Report, whilst containing some good stuff, for me fell a long way short of what’s required. Much has been written and blogged elsewhere so there’s no point repeating here what others have eloquently said. So I’ve found myself increasingly frustrated over the past few weeks. I’m frustrated at the lack of progress in freeing people from ATUs, at the commissioning of placements where so many people are unnecessarily locked up, at the failure to stop people from being admitted and locked up miles from their families and friends, and at the race to bottom some local authorities are encouraging.
Yet looking ahead to 2015 I remain stubbornly optimistic, because there are many people in our sector who have a steely determination to work differently and to create local solutions that work. I believe with a passion that by working with commissioners we can find new and effective ways of engaging with people needing support and their families. We can develop local and affordable services where people and their families are in control. Looking ahead in 2015 and beyond our focus in Dimensions will be seeking out serious conversations about how we can contribute to real and lasting change. After all – we have to make it better than it is.
As someone who believes firmly in leading by example, I developed my one-page profile some time ago and asked my colleagues to help me. By engaging with them in this way I had to think more deeply than I had before about what I needed from the people around me and about what was really important for me, as opposed to a long nice-to-have list.
At Dimensions we have been working towards becoming a more person-centred organisation for a number of years. As one of the leading not-for-profit providers of care and support services, we have recognised the responsibility upon us not to only provide person centred services for the people with learning disabilities and autism we support, but also to share our learning across our sector and other industries. One-page profiles have proved to be an incredibly powerful tool in helping us fulfil both of these aspirations.
My own introduction to one page profiles came as a result of our work with Helen Sanderson Associates (Making it Personal - the book) and their potential use across many aspects of our business was soon evident.
After I had completed my profile, it was posted here on our website along with profiles for our executive team and members of our board. I have been struck by the number of companies who have remarked how useful these were in helping them understand how to engage more effectively with us as individuals and as a company. Recently a team of legal advisors bidding for our contract came along to the interview with their own one page profiles as a result of seeing ours on our website.
We have, since this initial phase, begun to use them right across the business as well as embedding them as a critical tool in how we support people. In short they have become recognisable as part of 'how things are done in Dimensions'.
In our services they have enabled us to link people with similar interests. After all when being helped to bake a cake, it's a much nicer to be supported by someone who loves cooking and baking as opposed to someone like me who regularly burns toast and whose passion is rugby.
In addition to their use in services we have more recently strived to get one-page profiles embedded in our business support departments. Visitors to our offices will find a file with the profiles of people who work in that office - this has helped people break the ice when meeting someone for the first time. Attaching links to profiles on our e-mail footers has also helped remotely based staff feel more conformable phoning people they haven't met who work in our centrally based teams rather sending the usual e-mail query. Many of our business support teams have developed team profiles to help others understand ‘what makes them tick’.
As with most things that require a change in behaviour (individual or corporate) and which brings about material benefits it hasn't all been smooth sailing. Some people have had concerns re sharing personal information. I think the key here has been to help people remember they are in control of the information they share and that the aim is to help people connect more easily with them. In such busy times it's also easy to see these as a task that once it's done is done. Our learning has been that they are more effective when they are alive and are updated as we grow and develop as individuals as opposed to something you create once and file away.
I think the introduction and embedding of one page profiles has made a really positive impact upon how we work and our organisational culture (see 101 Ways to use a One Page Profile!). But, I don't think we've finished yet - looking ahead we will continue to think and develop new ways of using them. Already we're thinking of how we could embed them as a key part of our recruitment process and I can see us asking families to complete a profile so our staff can better understand what is important for them and how we can better connect.
So if you've got any ideas on how we can use them or would like to know more about our journey please feel free to contact us on email@example.com
Steve Scown is Dimensions Chief Executive. You can follow him Twitter at @sscown