Communication is vital to social care department’s culture

Debbie Fox, a community support worker in my locality, believes “change is always something that is going to happen in the future”. Well, the future has arrived here in Devon. Again.

We are undergoing a significant and, for some, painful restructuring process because of the need to balance the books and modernise our services. Delivering change can be particularly challenging as one is generally managing a “flexible” agenda and sometimes one without immediately obvious and clear objectives. Consequently, averting the potential for mutiny or sabotage from front-line staff takes a skilled hand and steady eye. In fact, it takes communication, honesty and transparency.

My experience would suggest that talking to staff, answering the difficult, direct “is this what is going to happen?” questions as frankly as you can is genuinely appreciated even when the information provided is less than concrete. There is rarely a “masterplan” that front-line staff imagine exists which maps out every minute detail of the proposed change and has every possible impediment covered.

It is unsurprising that staff, such as occupational therapist Bernie Crean, say: “Hasn’t each and every ‘new way of working’ pledged to take us to the promised land? They never do, of course; otherwise we would have no further need for change.”

The culture of my department is to keep staff informed. However, in my opinion, disseminating information is undoubtedly difficult. Do you convey everything, warts and all, and risk mass hysteria? Or do you share information at times when it is set and risk an accusation of concealing a hidden agenda?

The pace of releasing information and, indeed, of change itself is crucial. As one of our community care workers, Dawne Harbord, says: “Change can be good – however, there can be too much in a short time – just ask the dodo!”

Right now in Devon, I believe there is a demonstrable effort being made to communicate the radical changes being made and those proposed. The intranet is used, as well as bulletins and mailshots; even our chief executive has a blog.

And this is, of course, good. However, it is especially challenging to ensure that all staff receive the right information at the right time and in the right way. This can lead, despite all best efforts, to staff feeling frustrated. I think this has as much to do with the inherent difficulties of communicating sensitive information to large groups of staff as it does with the emotions stirred up by the prospect of change.

Giles Gardner is operations manager, Devon Council

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