A radical rethink

Curriculum Vitae

Name: Chris Whittaker

Job: Regional manager, Rethink, South West.

Qualifications: Certificate of Qualification in
Social Work (CQSW); Certificate of Qualification in Advanced Social
Work (CQASW); Certificate in Training and Development (CTD).

Last job: Interim manager, Avon and Wiltshire
Partnership NHS Trust.

First job: Residential child care officer,
Derbyshire County Council.

Over recent years it often seemed that social services
departments embarked on reorganisations even before previous
restructures had been completed. It seemed to outsiders that rather
than pushing staff through training courses on “managing change”,
perhaps seminars in “managing stability” might have been more
beneficial. Nonetheless, the force to modernise, revamp, remodel or
rebadge remains irresistible.

For Chris Whittaker joining a newly restructured national
organisation presented an interesting management challenge as he
had not been instrumental in bringing about change but was expected
to manage it through to fruition. And it reminded him of his
experience of reorganisation at a social services department two
decades ago.

“One difference 20 years ago was that individuals had a lot of
preparation. The director somehow found the funds to prepare staff,
with the outcome that they were ready for the transformation.
Whereas here, while there was some preparation, we had to hit the
ground running.”

Whittaker is a regional manager for Rethink, formerly the
National Schizophrenia Fellowship, the largest severe mental
illness charity in the UK. His south-west brief covers Cornwall,
Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Somerset and Wiltshire.

Rethink reorganised the management regions nationally in line
with the boundaries of the National Institute for Mental Health in
England (NIMHE).

“This will mean that we can work closely with them and others on
a strategic level and also bring some economies of scale across the
regional management responsibilities,” he says.

Whittaker oversees a range of 65 services including registered
care homes, supporting people schemes and advocacy services. “Now,
rather than someone having a patch where they take care of
everything in that patch, the reorganisation has realigned managers
to services. So, I have, for example, three area service managers
who look after housing, and three who look after community
services, one-to-one services and carer support.”

The initial process of bringing people together hasn’t changed
over the years, according to Whittaker. “It’s all about people
coming to terms with what their job is all about, what their
individual and team roles are and how that all fits in with the new
organisation. Sharing information has been easier with Rethink
because staff are more aware of what’s going on around the patch
organisationally; whereas when we brought people together in social
services there was a more of a silo mentality: if you worked in
residential care for the elderly that was all you knew; no matter
that there was a learning difficulties service up the road – you
didn’t know anything about it.”

However, information systems were better geared up in social
services. “There was so much more information available to give to
managers straight off. With Rethink, because service
responsibilities had shifted quite a lot, it has taken some time to
bundle the information together for managers who need to know about
their groups of services.” He adds that “the classic example” is
recording untoward incidents: “These were being recorded and
collected but weren’t being collated in a way that new managers
with their new responsibilities could find out what was going on.
So we are revising the database to capture that.”

Another difference is the business plan. “Social services didn’t
have a business or strategic plan – or not what I can remember
anyway! Rethink does and through that we’ve now set clear and
achievable regional objectives – again something which we didn’t do
in social services. Area service managers also agreed objectives
with their service managers. It is quite a mechanistic process but
has paid dividends because people are looking at things with a
fresh eye,” he says.
Whittaker’s own fresh eyes have been spared the organisational
past. “This new set-up is the only structure I have known and it’s
my job to make it work – so I’m not overly concerned with what went
before. But history is an issue. Twenty years ago there were staff
who would periodically look fondly over their shoulder and say, ‘It
was never like this in my day’. But that’s inevitable, really – but
you’ve got to move on from where you are,” he says.


  • Be in touch with the grass roots and never forget where you
    came from.
  • Check the small print and the numbers.
  • Never be afraid to positively say what you think – to


  • Don’t worry, it will be alright on the night.
  • Let’s consult people now we have a written and printed strategy
  • I don’t think there is any point in holding a meeting with

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