If We Want Different Relationships, The Doing Must Be New And Different Too

You can’t change a relationship without actually changing your behaviour. 

There’s a reason some of our public services feel remote, unaccountable and uninterested.

Many of our organisations are products of failure. They only exist because things don’t work.

Fixing other people’s problems keeps you very busy. It creates vast organisational empires and complex group structures.

On the other hand actually believing in what people can do for themselves means being brave enough to admit that you won’t always be needed. It means stepping back.

There’s a familiar theme across the social sector: demand for services is rising rapidly and citizens want more of a say in what those services look and feel like.

Whilst there’s a lot of noise about the former, there’s generally little focus on the opportunity of people wanting more influence and even control of the services they receive.

Adam Lent writing about the NHS 10 Year Plan points out the fatal flaw in organisational thinking :

There’s a belief that we can solve our own problems through structural, process and technological fixes rather than realizing the starting point for change is the creation of a completely different relationship with the communities we serve.

This obsession with tinkering with structure, process and ‘digital transformation’ is fundamentally limiting – when instead we should be looking at a much more radical redesign of services.

Adam points out that’s no sense of the need for a different and potentially difficult conversation between services and citizens about communities taking on more responsibility.  Importantly “there’s no self-analysis of how a hierarchical, status-obsessed culture militates against relationships based on empowerment and collaboration”.

This theme is picked up by Tony Stacey in Inside Housing. “Why isn’t the sector squirming right now?” he asks. Faced with serious charges about remoteness and a lack of trust the professional response seems to be: we’ll publish a new charter and make some tweaks to our code of governance.

As Tony says – this on its own is not going to rebuild trust in the way we need.

We explored this in a recent Bromford Lab workshop where people spoke of a more fundamental shift being required:

  • Democratising organisational strategy; enabling communities to have their say on how money should be spent.
  • Starting to talk in terms of ‘collaboration’ rather than ‘engagement’.
  • Being openly competent and building trust through relationship building and positive action, not marketing and spin.
  • Visibly doing something with the feedback we get
  • Doing what we say we will do and being open and honest when we get it wrong.
  • Challenging how sectors work ‘as one’, and protect their own image.

Serious stuff. Which speaks more of a need of actually ceding power than it does of tinkering with policy.

Leading by Stepping Back 

If we approach public service purely as a one to one consumer transaction we view the world through the lens of efficiency, reduced contact, metrics and performance indicators.

In an economy moving towards sharing rather than just transacting we need to build a new set of behaviours based on trust and collaboration.

At Bromford we are trying to reshape our organisation around the latter.  A move away from managing to coaching and connecting.

Every individual and community has assets, talents, skills and abilities. Better to focus on helping to develop and release these, rather than treating people as a series of ‘problems’ that need to be solved.

circles of support

We recently agreed a set of principles that underpin this kind of relationship and I think they are useful in outlining the shift organisations may need to make.

It requires a change in beliefs:

  • A belief in an adult-adult relationships. We invite feedback and challenge. We are comfortable being uncomfortable.
  • A belief in the strengths and abilities of others.
  • Doing more listening than talking – asking the right questions and letting people think through their options rather than advising them.
  • We don’t judge other people’s choices.
  • We start with the individual and take an asset based approach to coaching which is personal to them
  • We don’t see people as needing to be fixed and we don’t collect problems.

Importantly this means we will always look to how existing strengths in the community can be built upon rather than providing services. We should never provide or support services that replace, control or overwhelm the skills within community.

When people opine that the ‘system is broken’, it’s a red flag that organisations have stepped too far forward. That they are becoming omnipresent in peoples lives.

Perhaps the answer lies in rebuilding organisations around communities, with a modern sense of trust and compassion.

You can’t change a relationship without actual changing your behaviour.

In today’s world of rising demand and scarce resources the doing, not just the talking, needs to be new and different.

  1. At this point I can only say thank you …and look forward to seeing the results of this paradigm shift. It may be exciting times and as you say uncomfortable. When as a challenger I see the challenged become defensive I feel a whole load of empathy but that uncomfortable hurt is necessary to grow. To have this new relationship we need to be vulnerable and this is counter to the culture of the day. I remain full of hope thank you…

    Reply

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting

      Reply

  2. Timely and useful. Working in a high Tory county council adds another layer of challenge, but you’re right, and maybe in places like ours, it’s going to be incremental change over some period of time. We’ll need to think about people who deliver too, not just how we support them to be freer and more open and inclusive, but to look at what motivates people to work for public sector organisations, and employ more collaborative helpers than rescuers.

    Reply

    1. Agreed – and part of this is moving away from traditional notions of left and right and being genuinely people centred

      Reply

  3. […] My last couple of posts drew on the need to escape siloed bubbles and embark on different relationships. […]

    Reply

  4. Thought this was helpful, would really recommend Arbinger’s work around self-deception https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MbkhK5HK_j0 – especially significant for all of us in the ‘helping/caring’ sectors to enable us to build the types of relationships you’re talking about

    Reply

    1. Thank you Andrew and for the link

      Reply

  5. A really interesting and thought provoking article Paul, thank you. I am excited, uncomfortable, and a little wary as I think about how this “new” future may take its shape in our society. I agree with so much of what you wrote about and it saddens me that we are still so far away from this vision as a society. I will republish this article with your permission in our quarterly magazine “PHan Mail”, as I think its important to get people talking about these ideas. Many thanks, I look forward to reading your future work. Melissa 🙂

    Reply

    1. Thank you Melissa and feel free to republish

      Reply

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