Celebrating and promoting the best in UK prisons, probation and youth justice

DIANE MCADAM (Avon & Somerset Probation Trust)

DIANE MCADAM (Avon & Somerset Probation Trust)

COMMENDEE 2012-13: Assistant Chief Officer: for good practice in the management and oversight of probation services.


[Diane McAdam gives her account of the work for which she won her Commendation]

I was commended for supporting staff by providing detailed information and analysis about their work with offenders and the outcomes this achieved. This direct feedback helped staff reflect on their practice, understand what worked well and seek to further develop their skills. In return, the evidence of their improving practice helped me write successful bids for additional funds to expand our services and help more of our clients ‘go straight’. The improved work of the Trust has resulted in a significant reduction in crime (e.g. down 30% in Bristol) and fewer victims.

Many Butler Trust nominees are commended for the development of a specific project which demonstrates excellent results. The work I was nominated for is an ongoing development which started in late 2007 when I took the role of Assistant Chief Officer (ACO) Business Development. This role is responsible for Information, IT, Performance and, due to existing commercial contracts and my experience, Offender Education Training and Employment (ETE).

I came into Probation to run commercial ETE contracts in 2004. These were complex and cash linked but ultimately successful.  When I applied for the ACO role, Avon and Somerset Probation Trust (ASPT) was the worst performer nationally against our core National Offender Management Service (NOMS) performance requirements (now the Probation Trust Rating System PTRS): we were approaching being in ‘special measures’. My Chief, who was new to the organisation, was clear in her initial instructions to me. In short – sort it out.

My Butler Trust story is how we moved to be the most improved Probation Trust in 2008 to being in the top 3 in 2011 and how the ETE team subsequently won the National Probation ‘Team of the Year ‘ in 2009. I firmly believe that quality and performance should always go hand in hand. This led us to good HMIP results in 2011 with a linked OfSTED rating of ‘Good’, to secure the Matrix Excellence Award for Information Advice and Guidance services for Offenders and achieve the British Quality Foundation (BQF) Recognised for Excellence (R4E) Award at 4 star level in 2011. The Trust has continued to perform well and win National Probation Awards in 2012 and 2013 from a renewed and sustained culture of achievement and excellence.

Of course, all of this relies on a united ‘whole Trust’ team approach which I fully recognise as a factor for success. I could not have achieved any of this on my own but I will try to describe my part in this story.

My story is one of leadership and facilitation, as the hard work was done by staff across the organisation and in partnership with other agencies. My role, as I saw it, was to help staff and colleagues understand the need for change; to describe clearly where we were going and why; identify what staff needed for this journey; and persuade everyone that it was going to be worth putting in a lot of dedication and effort to get there. Nicely worded

Of course, we never really ‘get there’ as improving practice is an ongoing process. So another part of my role was to ensure that we recognised achievement along the way, celebrated our successes and sought recognition for them.

On reflection, the establishment of the processes and data required for this transformation was much easier than the more subtle work of developing a culture of being proud to be recognised for excellent work. Probation staff are reluctant to be recognised – an irony not lost on me – from my own experience of being commended by the Butler Trust. However, my view on leadership is that you should not ask staff to do anything you would not do yourself!

I have described my role under the four sections below with a more detailed analysis of the factors for success and potential barriers in the following section. How the work has been sustained is dealt with in the final section.

Why do I need to change what I am doing?

In my experience, most people recognise innovation as a good thing but dislike change. Sadly you don’t get one without the other and you need to be ready to consistently  persuade people over a period of time.

My first task was to check that the Senior Management Team of the Trust was united in the goal of improving our performance and quality. The CEO was clear: my colleagues were not. Some did not believe there was a problem as they believed that the National Performance Tool was flawed. I was also a new member of the Senior Management team with a number of very experienced operational colleagues. I had no Probation background but I did understand delivering contracts with cash linked targets.

I had to take all of these factors into account.  I was fortunate to have done a 2 day leadership induction course on appointment to the ACO role where I undertook a Myers Briggs assessment. The key learning for me was that, while I was heavily thinking and data orientated, many people were not and required persuasion on a feeling or emotional level. So, while a carefully reasoned, factual business case was persuasive for me I need to work on options that would engage colleagues whose decision making was more influenced by feeling processes.  This was absolutely vital and without this personal development learning I would have likely failed or taken very much longer in my task.

I began a process of analysing all the reasons we needed to change from both an analytical and more motivational perspective. I tested out my approaches on trusted colleagues at all levels of the organisation till I honed in on what seemed to matter to everyone and how to describe it.

Essentially, Probation is a Vocation: everyone was in the business to ‘make a difference’ and ‘change lives’. As far as I was concerned that made Performance and Quality everyone’s business. I needed to establish a sense of ownership for the goal to improve Performance and Quality. Initial research seemed to suggest that operational practice was pretty good – so I believed that the reason we were failing was because we were not recording data properly. We didn’t understand what we were bring measured on and our data processes were poor.

I was able to persuade senior colleagues, who were very loyal to their workforce, that this was unfair to staff – regardless of concerns about the National performance System. Essentially we were doing a disserve to our excellent staff by not enabling their good work to be recognised.

If making a difference and changing lives was important – which everyone agreed it was – then my next questions were ‘’are you doing a good job? how do you know?  can you prove you are making a difference? The only reliable and robust answer (not anecdote) was the system and data that recorded and analysed activity, results, client feedback, quality assurance and ultimately staff satisfaction. I like the how do you know question?

Making a Difference: Performance is Everyone’s Business’ became our strap-line as it applied from the Board Chair to a temporary member of agency staff.  I believe it was a cunning strategy as, to not be interested in performance data was sort of saying that you were not interested in ‘making a difference’.

We had a goal that the whole organisation could buy in to, that we could describe in emotional and motivational as well as pragmatic and corporate terms. Senior Management colleagues were engaged and so I could be confident that line management would mirror the wider messages I was sharing with operational managers. Staff could understand that any extra work, changes and refocusing of effort was to help them have their good work recorded and recognised. In short – we had a fighting chance.

So where we are going and why?

We now all accepted that we needed to change what we were doing but to what? Here, I was able to draw on my experience from being an ETE Project Manager where I had been recruited by Probation to run a difficult cash-linked £1.2M Employment Project. All funds for the project were generated by submitting outcome evidence e.g. individuals securing jobs. If the evidence was not available there was no money and staff jobs were at risk as was Probation’s Budgets and reputation. So doing the work was not enough – you had to also generate the evidence to get the money.

Having been self employed I was comfortable with these concepts but this was new territory for Public Sector staff.  Also the project was co-funded by European money and one of the rules was that engagement with the project must be entirely voluntary and not part of a statutory requirement. So, in other words, if the quality of the service was poor individuals had no reason to engage. This was where my understanding of the absolute link between Performance and Quality was born.

We were able to use the results from this project to bid for further work resulting in a further  £1.2M additional service capacity being available to local service users. I could demonstrate that this was a virtuous circle that we could also use the evidence of the good work to successfully bid for further funds.

The core message was clear: we will not sacrifice quality to achieve performance. In fact I believed that by focussing on performance we would be able to improve quality as we would better understand what we are doing, what works and how to improve it. Strong message

I believed that staff did not understand which of their actions and data inputting drove the performance measures. We tested this and it proved correct. For example, one of our worst measures what the successful and  timely completion of a Community Order. Staff were doing all the work required but recording it after the deadline that would identify this work as a Successful Completion: from a performance perspective this was wasted effort and staff were not getting the recognition they deserved. Equally I could not easily tell if practice was good or poor as we had no baseline.

I was clear that the goal was to ensure that every ounce of our effort with offenders and every success should be recorded so that we could be proud of our work; so that we could demonstrate the difference we had made; so we all knew that we were successfully helping people change their lives and so that we could potentially use this evidence to bid for further funds on a commercial market to help more people. This activity would, incidentally, also automatically deliver the good performance required by NOMS. What engaged staff was not the NOMS performance measure but the evidence that their Vocation was being fulfilled.

We realised that our data processes needed to be completely redesigned to meet the performance requirements and then aligned to operational practice. In discussion with the CEO we agreed that initial performance failures would be treated as ‘clues’ to help us do our detective work. However, the message was that we were heading for a culture where data, practice and systems would be integrated to enable staff to succeed and be able to demonstrate their good work. This would lead to improved practice, better public protection and fewer victims. Once this system was in place and developed we would then hold staff appropriately accountable.

I was able to lead a couple of ‘quick win’ multi disciplinary, all grade projects that demonstrated a dramatic improvement in performance for considerably less effort and changes in practice. This created Performance Champions at all roles and grades in the organisation who were now convinced that this approach could work. Suddenly, there were managers and staff standing up at our area meetings and team meetings saying that this could work and that other people should get involved.  Shortly after we were the most improved Trust in the country. Quick wins are really motivational, good point!

We were then able to negotiate agreement that all performance data should be available to all. No-one should have anything to hide. If performance wasn’t working it was probably that the systems were poor rather than individual failure. If we discovered that individual or general practice needed development we were committed to assisting staff reach the required standard. No one should feel threatened by that as we were all committed to making a difference and this was just another way of ensuring that we could achieve that goal. Essentially it was moving from a blame culture to one of aspiration and openness.

Shortly after, the ETE team won the Probation National Team of the Year Award. This was for setting up a new Social Enterprise that could work with those with a criminal record in new and innovative ways. The Social Enterprise could also bid for a much wider range of funding streams.

I went with the team to the National Awards and experienced the sensation of being recognised for good work. I was so proud of the team and they were so happy. I still have the picture on my wall at work. The final part of the jigsaw was defined: we had to develop a culture of not being afraid to celebrate success.

What do you need from me?

I was very aware that I was asking a lot of a lot of people. It was a complete overhaul of our performance and quality systems and culture. I was asking people to believe that we could make all this work and really improve our services within reducing budgets. We were proposing to deliver – not just ‘more for less’ but ‘better for less’.

I was very fortunate to have a very dedicated CEO who remained clear and supportive throughout. The Senior Management team had evolved and a number of new appointments were now actively leading this work and modelling the leadership behaviour that I knew we needed. We were committed to a ‘Corporate Approach’: even if we disagreed with individual specific decisions after a robust debate, we would hold the line with staff so that they felt that their leadership team was united

I was clear that we could only hold staff to account for performance if we were sure that they had all the data, analysis, training and good process design that they needed. Our systems were outdated and we had no high level analytical skills in the Information and Business Development Team. I proposed a business case for the recruitment of a data analyst (now the Information and Quality Manager) and a process management tool which we now call How We Do It (HOWDI). This was approved. I recognised that it was my role to ensure that governance, budget and finance issues were resolved to ensure that specifically required resources were allocated, even in a time of reducing budgets.

This has developed over the past 4 years into a highly sophisticated system under his leadership. We now produce a 40 page monthly performance and quality report which breaks down performance and quality measures by team and by individual member of staff. This is easy to access and understand and the Information and Business Development team members are always available to help by phone or by attending team meetings. There is regular dialogue with Team Leaders to help the guide their staff.

We are able to identify staff that are reducing re-offending in a statistically significant way or who have exceptional results on other measures. We are working with these staff to identify good practice and see how it can be shared. Staff do not generally feel threatened that the outcomes of their work is transparent in this way. We all understand that a member of staff working with the most prolific acquisitive offenders will have a different profile of performance to those working with high risk sex offenders.  The key is to establish appropriate benchmarks between similar activities.

Quality is expected across the board and the current big development projects are embedding a new Offender Management Quality Framework called ASPT 360 which will integrate all the academic research on what works in Desistance Theory in terms of assisting people ‘go straight and lead crime free lives. While this Quality Framework is a contractual requirement of the NOMS contract, for staff it is a natural development of the work over the past 6 years.

HOWDI is a Process Management system that lets us analyse and record all our key operational and corporate processes. Again this has facilitated NOMS contract and quality assurance requirements in terms of delivering services to operational standards but for staff this is more about having a single version of the truth in terms of ‘How We Do It’.

This system also enables processes to be costed which is an important aspect of being able to bid for further funds. Operational models can be ‘unit costed’ and inform the financial aspects of tendering. Staff understand it cannot be ‘quality at any price’ as we deliver with public funds and have a duty to delivering value for money. This has become more pressing in a highly competitive environment where the Transforming Rehabilitation Agenda will require significant savings to be made.

Overall it is important to be clear with staff that they will be held to account for delivering the required performance and quality. However this will only happen when we have provided all the system and support required to enable this accountability. Staff engagement and feedback is crucial.  At this point there should be less concern about developing an entirely transparent system as, rather than be afraid of being exposed as a poor performer, staff are more interested to know who is doing really well and why.

Its going to be worth it – I promise

Finally just a few reflections on the importance of very intangible aspects of Leadership like Hope, Belief and Trust. I needed to have the courage of my convictions and there were many times where I was unsure, worried and not at all convinced that we could make the transition to where we are now.

Team work and support is critical as often others remain clear when you do not and vice versa. Detailed factual analysis and research is important to provide the evidence for your proposals and how and why you think they will work. Success stories from other Trusts, organisations and sectors are all important, as are quick wins, engagement and communication.  Securing the critical resources required is also vital.

At some point in this process I went to a conference where I heard the phrase ‘Culture eats Strategy for breakfast’. I realise that this could sum up our whole journey. If I had tried to ‘Improve Performance’ so that we could ‘hit our targets’, I am absolutely sure that I would have failed or been considerably less successful. I could have designed and executed the most detailed project plan but – without the attention to staff engagement and values, communication, ownership and feelings – as well as facts – I have no doubt that we would not have been as successful.

Celebrating the milestones along the way of being ‘the most improved Trust’, being ‘in the top 3’, winning awards and gaining a range of quality accreditations are so important as this generates and sustains believe in the plan: particularly when things get tough. Noting feedback from service users and staff is also crucial to help judge what their experience is and to tailor further development.

Essentially, you have to believe that it can work and then you have to enable others to believe as well. All of this is to enhance services to protect the public, prevent victims and reduce offending. Maybe this is where I do share a Vocation with Probation Staff as they have to genuinely believe that an individual with a criminal record can change and succeed with a crime free life. They then have to persuade the individual that this is possible and the offender has to believe and trust them and their professional integrity. They then work together to try to change. If things don’t go to plan you have to start again, you have to be clear about what is required and provide tailored support, enforcing the system if needed: if things go well you have to celebrate that success.

We now have a well developed local awards programme where anyone can nominate anyone for an award. The categories mirror the National Probation Awards and the local winners receive their recognition at the Annual Staff Conference before being put through to the National Awards. We have continued to win at least 1 category every year since 2009. In 2013 we have already won the Team of the Year for Community Payback and have nominations in 2 other categories. For this reason, I had to carefully reflect on my Butler Trust nomination from my staff and recognise it for what it was: an honour and a reflection that we were still on route to our goal of ‘evidencing that we are all making a difference’.


[The following article appeared in issue 5 of the Butler Trust’s magazine, Inspire]

Helping staff to understand what motivates them to do a good job and make a difference to people’s lives is one of the achievements that has made Diane McAdam a much-valued leader and role model and earned her a Commendation. As Assistant Chief Officer at Avon and Somerset Probation Trust, her entrepreneurial spirit and approach have driven commercial development at the Trust as well as having ‘an outstanding positive impact on the health and wellbeing of staff,’ according to her colleagues.

For Diane, the starting point for successful commercial development was to ask: ‘Are we good at what we do? Are our services good quality? Do we make a difference? How do we know?’ This made activities like contract target and performance management, data quality, process management and continuing professional development feel highly relevant to daytoday work, rather than just box ticking, she says.

As part of the Employment Training and Education (ETE) Team, Diane has established many different partnerships with external organisations. This has not only been highly successful in securing funding, but has also enabled her to secure additional resources to help offenders overcome barriers to employment, such as recent contracts to deliver a work programme and careers service.

Diane’s culture of collaboration has brought many benefits for staff, including joint training with private and voluntary sector providers and helping many of them to acquire new skills, such as becoming qualified skills

advisers. The high morale and sustained high performance of the team have not only been shown in low sickness and staff turnover rates; they have also won national recognition through the National Probation Team of the Year Award, the Matrix Excellence Award and consistently positive reports from Ofsted – achievements that were driven by this ‘extraordinarily capable and intelligent individual,’ according to her CEO, Sally Lewis.

Liaising effectively with union officials, Diane has had a strong role in achieving positive industrial relations and was a key organiser in managing the transition to Trust status. In all contexts of her work she is credited as an inspirational role model, respected and admired by staff and recognised for her outstanding contribution.

For the future, Diane hopes to continue energetically developing new business models that not only rely on robust business and financial modelling, but also draw on a fully embedded approach to service user and staff engagement.

‘The real work ahead lies in developing a leadership and cultural approach that captures the heart of our values and complements this with the most effective business approaches from other sectors,’ she says.

For more information: contact Avon & Somerset Probation Trust; Probation Service

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