fixing the business, freeing the spirit

process improvement and cultural transformation for a leading water utility

Our client, a major water utility, were languishing at the bottom of national league tables. With several serious incidents having resulted in regulatory investigations, frustration levels were high and morale at an all-time low. We were brought in by the new leadership team to deliver a transformation programme which lasted seven years and changed the working lives of 10,000 people across the business.

our approach

Following our initial scoping and piloting work, we were commissioned to design, develop, and review the CEO’s transformation programme, the vision of which was to ‘be the best’ within four years.

In designing the future state and developing the mechanisms to land, scale and sustain change, we used our change framework to understand where, how and in what sequence to intervene. In crafting the overall systems thinking map, we worked closely with the business to understand where and how to penetrate the organisation for maximum return.

We started with the operational units, addressing longstanding performance and behavioural issues by introducing continuous improvement skills/tools. Using a tailored change toolkit to meet the specific team member needs, we began transferring capability to both our joint team and the line managers from day 1.

To scale the new way of thinking and working throughout the business, we built an in-house transformation team, reviewing progress of the team member capability journey every quarter. Once the programme’s credibility was firmly established in the four main operational areas, we began working on the core end-to-end processes in the head offices and executive team. This enabled us to connect the ‘bottom-up’ and ‘top-down’ elements required to create a more consistently performing business.

The programme steering group met monthly to review and consider where and how to focus the transformation effort next. This led to us supporting a host of enabling projects and working across our client’s supply chain.

Our communications approach was to tap into the informal network, involving the teams in describing the problems and finding solutions, and sharing this at events across the business.

our insights

In the discovery phase, a combination of lean process analysis and behavioural assessments – including our DNA of Change methodology – showed us clearly that the transformation needed to be more real, practical and focused at the sharp end. By starting in operations, we were able to prove the programme concepts with some of the toughest characters in the business. This created a movement for change that magnetised the wider team.

Critical to the performance improvement mindset roll-out was on-the-ground coaching in depots and sites. This, along with the clear operational and financial benefits, created a real ‘pull’ from other parts of the business. This was key to being able to track progress, not only against operational measures but also capabilities enhanced throughout the organisation.

We used our underpinning change architecture throughout the process to keep things on track and make sure all the initiatives remained connected. This also meant sustainability was built in from the start, and that everyone involved felt recognised and respected.

the results

As a direct result of our work, our client moved up to mid-table in the rankings within four years. With financial benefits of £40 – £50m, our programme broke even within 18 months, and our client won the ‘Utility of the Year’ award 5 years on.

Customer complaints were reduced by 60%, to below the national average, and almost all key operational measures improved, including a significant reduction in leakage.

The culture changed so radically that a mixed executive and frontline team won ‘The Choir: Sing While You Work’ award in 2012, appearing on national TV. More than 3,600 employees are now trained in and actively using the new ways of working, and a self-supporting programme team is still in operation, 10 years after forming.