We recently invited Jennifer Wynter, Head of Benefits and Housing Needs, and Matthew Cain, Head of Digital and Data, at Hackney Council to join our own Lily Dart, Experience Director for a fireside chat about service redesign and creating a supportive and successful culture.
Lily Dart (LD): My name is Lily Dart, I’m the Experience Director for FutureGov and I’ve been a designer for about 17 years, mostly in the public sector and mostly in transformational environments. Can you both tell us a bit about yourselves?
Jennifer Wynter (JW): My name is Jennifer Wynter, I’m the head of the Benefits and Housing Needs service in Hackney Council. I’ve been in local government, local authorities for about 30 years now, maybe a little bit more. I’m currently responsible for about 200 staff, we process £275 million worth of housing benefit, associated benefits every year to 38,000 residents. We also have everything to do with housing need within my portfolio, whether it’s sleeping response, homelessness, housing advice, social housing lettings and temporary accommodation or the procurement management maintenance of thousands of units and temporary accommodations. So it’s a big portfolio.
Matt Cain (MC): I’m Matthew Cain, I’m the head of customer services digital and data at Hackney. Having previously worked in consulting and advisory services for senior leaders in high profile and sensitive environments. My work spans private, public and third sectors with particular expertise of advising central government departments on digital transformation.
LD: Thank you very much. All right, well lovely to have you both here. So we had a quick chat before this session just to understand a little bit about what your experience has been on the service redesign that we worked on with you. When I asked about your most important takeaways from that service redesign, you mentioned that making sure the team and the organisation was ready was a really key factor, Jen can you tell me a little bit more about that?
JW: Yeah sure, so having such a busy frontline service that’s really under pressure, as you can imagine, homelessness in London in the middle of a housing crisis, we’re very, very busy. I’ve just been in the process of bringing together two very different large services, joining them together, and having to do a complete restructure from top to bottom, which involved deleting every single post and starting again. And recruiting people for aptitude and attitude rather than technical knowledge or experience.
What that meant was that I was able to create one officer role, and that gave us complete fluidity and flexibility so the staff can move around the whole service, and work on every single team and everybody understands where they fit. And that one part of the service creates the whole, we can’t achieve anything unless everybody’s onboard. So we got through that point which put us in a really nice stable position to take advantage of any new opportunities that came along and made sure that we could really cope with some real service redesign.
LD: That’s amazing, thank you. And for both of you, that was one kind of key piece of action that you took to make sure that the team and organisation were ready, but what other things did you do?
MC: Another really important element of this was trust. Jen and I trust each other immensely and we’ve worked really well together in the past, and generally trust our staff to an incredible amount. We’ve heard a lot this morning also about thinking big and that’s really got its place. I think the interesting thing about our journey is that we agreed on the problem, and we didn’t worry too much about where we needed to get to. We knew that the problem was big enough, we weren’t going to solve it all, and we weren’t going to tackle the housing crisis, we were reasonably modest. We stuck with the problem and trusted that the process would take us to a better outcome.
JW: I think it was also very much prioritising the service design, and really leading on that and making sure that we talked about it at every opportunity. That we kept constantly surfacing it and there was real leadership built around it. We talked about it at every opportunity, every forum, every meeting and just making sure that there was no hierarchy around staff within the service design so that everybody could contribute freely. Everybody was given the autonomy to contribute, but also to fail. And I think in local government that doesn’t normally happen, we’re quite hierarchical and we never want to fail. We want to have something planned within an inch of its life before we even start. So getting people to work in this way, it’s been a challenge but really freeing, it’s been great to watch staff get involved in it and shake off those shackles and just get involved.