For GROW to succeed, it was imperative that the concerns of staff were effectively addressed, and that attitudes that deliberately perpetuated an exaggerated power imbalance between service users and staff were transformed.
A communication plan was established using our organisational communication methods and dedicated events (e.g. staff conference, ‘away days’) to engage, inform, and persuade staff.
Issues and solutions were debated and training provided to clarify new approaches that staff were being asked to adopt.
These communication methods also provided opportunities for staff to offer feedback, so that emerging issues could be tackled and progress assessed.
Three key messages
Key messages were agreed at the corporate management level and disseminated through a range of communication methods, such as
- senior management team briefings
- departmental/ team meetings
- the intranet
- staff newsletter
- individual meetings between the GROW manager and other staff
The three key messages were:
Change the culture of the organisation from one of ‘us and them’ to one where homeless people become an integral part of the organisation
Improve our services by employing homeless people who have expertise and skills and who can act as positive role models for our service users
Train up homeless people to meet and, in time, raise the standards of a highly professional organisation, for example through traineeships and volunteering opportunities
Part of what is required to achieve a culture change such as this is a responsive and adaptable organisation at all levels. Thames Reach’s senior management provided quick responses to new challenges; some front-line staff were impressively innovative and created new solutions to unforeseen problems; and many staff were very willing to take risks.
Much effort was put into informing, training and challenging staff to embrace the project aims. However, pockets of resistance still existed and a number of individuals were adamant that the concept of service user employment was flawed and no amount of effort would bring about success. Thames Reach worked hard to address this resistance positively.
Goodwill and momentum
Throughout the duration of the GROW project, service user employment within Thames Reach was kept high on the organisational agenda.
Thames Reach employed a project manager who had pre-existing positive relationships with many staff and service users in the organisation. She is well respected and able to communicate with Board members and service users alike. She spent time at the start of the project fostering goodwill and used champions to help spread positive messages about GROW.
In addition, providing a large number of opportunities for staff to be directly involved in the development and delivery of the project has helped significantly to build interest, ownership and goodwill. The number of Thames Reach staff with direct involvement in the project increased from just under one third (6-month point) to 85% (18-month point).
Keeping staff abreast of the project’s progress and achievements through the publication of good news stories and regular briefings has also kept investment high.