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Creating a Rebel Network to deliver transformation

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: 7 Lenses of Transformation

Two people - including the author, Rebecca Herbert - are standing in front of a wall. On the left of the wall is a poster titled 'plan, do, study, act' - in the middle are post its under a heading 'To Do' - and on the right are post its under the heading 'Doing'

“What if we removed the rules?”

That’s not a question you expect to hear in the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC). But when we were starting our business transformation, we took a look at the unwritten rules of our culture, and wondered what better ones would look like.

We knew from various reviews that people were frustrated by processes and wanted more trust. We needed a change. So I decided to discover where the rebels were in the IOPC and join us up together. We created our Rebel Network and learned a few big lessons along the way.

A rebel needs purpose and space

Everyone’s work should have a purpose: be it making the world a better place for citizens, the satisfaction of a job well done, or doing things more effectively. Our network and the rebels need purpose as well.

I started with them, not the organisation. I met with as many people as I could and got straight to it. It’s really rewarding to ask people big open questions: what motivates you to come to work? What attracts you to this work? What makes us unique?

A group of five people (4 sitting, 1 standing) around a circular table. Cards with writing on are spread across the table, and the team are discussing the content of one of them. There are posters with writing on the wall behind them.

This wasn’t going to happen organically: there needed to be a space for this. You will need a space for people to have a voice, talk about the barriers getting in the way, discuss what we can do differently, and consider the role each of us plays.

We ran workshops, created virtual spaces, and tried to bring our network together as much as possible.

We found our rebels come in different forms, but we are unified by a commitment to living common values. Together, we agreed they are:

  • seeking truth
  • being inclusive
  • empowering people
  • being tenacious
  • making a difference

It was great to use visual prompts to focus those conversations. Now, our rebels are facilitating their own conversations using our vision picture. Each storyteller tells their own version of the story, connecting their personal narrative to our organisation, and they invite others to reflect on their own motivations for working here as well.

A framework, not a rule book

In the IOPC, we often create a system of rules, constraints and tolerances that close down opportunities to do things differently. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard someone say “we tried that before”, or that you have to fill in this form, it needs to be signed, countersigned, run up the chain.

And this is where we started questioning all those unwritten rules. We started to talk openly about a framework for taking decisions, not a strictly monitored rule book. Our rebel network got to work.

A drawing of the IOPC framework. In the middle are three people in a circle saying 'self managed teams', there is a bigger circle enveloping it saying 'operations' and an even bigger one saying 'organisation'. There is an arrow leading from the teams to the organisation saying 'new operating models and learning flows back' and an arrow going the other way saying 'operating framework enables delivering, not constraining it'. There is a speech bubble joining the team and the operations people "ok- so within this framework we have flexibility to operate as we think sensible." Then there are two arrows going off the top right of the picture - the first says 'decision making as close to the service user as possible, the one after that saying 'consistent outcomes to the service user'. And in the top right it says "Consistent Outcomes".

We wanted to make it visual, and drew the picture above. In the full version, we tell people the legal and ethical boundaries within which we can operate. We explain any constraints such as fixed resource or time pressures. We talk about the values defining our behaviours, decisions, and actions.

Central to everything, we talk about putting the service user first. If our people are adapting process or developing new ways of working in order to meet service user’s needs, then we trust they are doing the right thing for the right reasons.

Empowerment is important: people can self-assess whether they are acting within the legal and ethical boundaries and align with our values

The last two years

During the initial stages of our network, we were encouraging our people to try new things, but they were worried about getting it wrong. People were worried about the consequences of being a rebel and not being supported by their managers.

(As a quick side note, here’s a good guide for what rebels need from their boss.)

Our teams needed to feel comfortable and empowered to try new things. But they also need to balance the high risk involved in our work. So we introduced the ‘Learn Fast, Learn Forwards’ structure to encourage calculated risk taking and innovation, pictured in the image below.

A drawn IOPC framework: in the middle there is a signpost with four arrows pointing to the right, saying "am I sure my idea won't cause financial or reputational harm to IOPC?" The second: "Am I sure mu idea won't cause problems for other people or teams?" Third: "Can I test it quickly at low cost?" Fourth: "Can it be stopped easily if necessary?" To the right of the signpost there is a person 'testing an idea' and then two directions - the idea working, or the idea not working. To the left there are the behaviours needed to support this - showing people seeking advice from their manager, and line managers empowering people to give it a go.

As we got going, more individuals started to step forward and try new things. My team support the brave few by teaching structured problem solving and helping them to structure their ideas in A3 format.

Two years on, our Rebel Network includes two trained cohorts of innovation champions and three of storytellers. We are starting to roll out self-managed teams. People are curious, asking to get involved. The network is alive and growing with purpose.

We’re still focused on growing the network, supporting rebels, and making the IOPC a better, more effective organisation for users.

There are rebels in your teams as well. What role do they have in your transformation? Do you know where they are? If so, building a Rebel Network of your own could be the answer.

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