Year in year out

When a temporary manager arrives to take charge of an
efficiently run project, the temptation is just to keep things
ticking over. After all it may be hard to sell change to staff who
are comfortable with the way they are working.

But when James Pearce, unit manager of The Grove, a service for
people with learning difficulties run by Hampshire Council, was
appointed to cover while the incumbent manager took a year’s career
break, he was told he was expected to move things on.

Against the backdrop of the Valuing People white paper with its
emphasis on person-centred planning, Pearce’s task is to continue
the work begun by his predecessor to transform the unit into a
resource for service users. He explains: “This is a highly regarded
service but I haven’t been given the luxury of coasting for a year.
My job is to evaluate what we’re doing now and look at where we
want to be in five years’ time. It’s about strengthening our links
with other services such as education and how we support people
with complex needs.”

The Grove is now open at weekends for use by a local group for
disabled children and by Mencap. There is also a shift towards
staff going out into the community to work with service users and
towards greater differentiation between the roles of the nine-day
service officers.

For example, one officer is developing her expertise in
supporting the transition of young people from school to adult
life. Her role in future might involve enabling young people to
visit The Grove while they are still at school so that they can get
an idea of what is on offer. She might also do one-to-one work to
help young people develop their personal skills.

Pearce is encouraging staff to build on their strengths and
develop specialist expertise. He observes: “The person-centred
approach of Valuing People works for staff as well as for service
users. It’s about looking at where staff themselves want to be in
five years and how they perceive that fitting in with the
development of the unit.”

Carrying everyone with him, not just the people most obviously
likely to contribute to the transition, has been something of a
challenge. “You can’t afford to give up on a member of your
workforce. Ultimately that would limit the service and leave a
difficult legacy at the end of your contract.”

Pearce believes it is critical to time the introduction of
changes carefully. “When you come into a post it’s important to see
how things are working and to avoid imposing a strategy. You have
to encourage people to come up with ideas and agree changes with
staff. If you’ve only got a year there’s a temptation to think you
have to make changes straightaway.” On the other hand there’s also
a risk of leaving it too long to voice criticisms which can make it
harder to challenge practices that need to change.

He pays tribute to the support of his manager and staff. “Things
have happened faster than I would have expected. This is a skilled
and experienced staff team and there is a lot of enthusiasm to keep
things moving.”

As a new person with a fresh perspective, Pearce can do things
that might be tricky for a person who has been managing a service
for a while. “In my previous job as manager of a day centre for
people with mental health needs there were changes that needed to
be made but I wasn’t the person to do it. That’s why I decided it
was time to move on. Here, I find I can ask the difficult questions
that someone who’s grown up with the service couldn’t ask.”

Curriculum Vitae

Name: James Pearce.
Current job: Manager of the Grove day services
unit (learning difficulties), Hampshire Social Services.
Qualifications: Diploma in Social Work.
Last job: Manager of day service unit (mental
First job: Community support worker
(Mencap/Manpower Services Commission).


  • Think about what you can contribute to the long-term
    development of the service.
  • Be honest about what you can achieve in a year.
  • Focus on developing staff, including those who have been
    overlooked in the past.


  • Change everything as soon as you arrive.
  • Tell your staff: “I can’t help you with that; I’m only here for
    a year.”
  • Change nothing – somebody else will only come along and change
    it all again anyway.


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