Back in January we were delighted to hear that The Process Improvement Unit had been shortlisted for an award, ‘Step Change in Embedding Continuous Improvement’, by The Institute for Continuous Improvement in the Public Sector. As a result we were invited to attend their annual conference and awards ceremony last week at York Racecourse.
The conference marked the start of Continuous Improvement Week and what a way to start! PIU received the silver award in the Step Change category after our application shone out from a record number of applications from organisations including the NHS and central government. The award was in recognition of the work the PIU have been doing in order to embed continuous improvement across the University through our process improvement projects, workshops and the process improvement training that we deliver throughout the year.
The focus of the conference was to reflect on the benefits of collaboration with colleagues, customers, communities and suppliers through a combination of talks and workshops with guest speakers from a variety of institutions with many different experiences. Chris Daykin from the Royal National Lifeboat Institution outlined the factors which led the charity to implement continuous improvement: an expansion in the roles of the RNLI to include coastal safety and flood rescue, a growth in its costs and a reduction in its donations following the financial crisis. Chris also discussed the ups and downs they have experienced so far and the lessons they have learnt, most significantly the need to embed a culture of continuous improvement across the organisation, from senior managers to front line staff, in order to effectively deliver future improvements and sustain and improve those that have already been implemented. Professor Zoe Radnor from the University of Loughborough discussed the importance of good customer service in Public Services and the need to improve processes both for staff within the organisation and its customers. This message was echoed by Dr Owen Jones from the University of Buckingham who whilst working with the Ministry of Justice observed the importance of aligning the priorities of senior management and frontline staff in order to improve the experience and care their ‘customers’ receive.
A recurrent theme throughout the conference was the need for active senior management involvement both in the embedding of a culture of continuous improvement and in tackling strategic process problems.
There is definitely a lot for us to think about following today, particularly, how can we get our leaders to support and champion process improvement and use it to support their staff and improve the service experience of our customers. Throughout many of our projects we have seen how difficult it can be to decide who ultimately are customers are and many of the talks today highlighted the importance of answering this question clearly before rushing into any improvements, as any changes need to be considered with the customer and their experience in mind.