Successfully restructuring an organisation means ensuring staff buy in to a new way of working. And when, in 2017, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) was facing a very different future following a significant budget cut and strategic realignment, it knew it needed to win hearts and minds.
A 20 per cent reduction in funding for the body – which resolves complaints relating to the NHS and other parts of the public sector – coincided with the arrival of a new chief executive/ombudsman to tackle what regulators described as its “critical state”.
“Staff morale wasn’t great, but the new appointment increased leadership visibility and credibility,” says Alex Robertson, director for strategy and operations. “The workforce weren’t disengaged but they were unhappy with how things were and motivated to change. We didn’t do this to people – we did it with people. We involved them in developing the solution as much as possible.”
That meant disentangling unnecessary management structures and retraining all employees to ensure the right people were carrying out the right tasks – all of which took place against the backdrop of two-thirds of the workforce relocating from London to Manchester, with all the attendant change management that entailed.
Despite the upheaval, employee engagement shot up 28 percentage points over two years, putting PHSO among the highest-performing parts of the civil service. And the fact the entire process took place across just 18 months particularly impressed the PMAs judges, who said the organisation’s HR team “demonstrated courage and a willingness to engage in difficult conversations”.