In this case study we hear from Theresa Hodgkinson, Chief Executive, at Ashfield District Council. Working with the LGA, Ashfield utilised the Decision-Making Accountability (DMA) review to develop their organisational structures.
A big challenge facing Ashfield District Council was prioritising key projects and change, one of which included focusing on the strategic direction of the council and ensuring that the right structures were in place, to complement the new corporate plan. There was a need to move away from being ‘reactive’ to be able to ‘plan for future delivery’. It was also important for the council to be competitive and an attractive place to work.
One of the challenges to the council was the knowledge that change to the organisational structures was needed, however, doing it alone may have been challenging. Through looking at options, the council decided to work with the LGA, and the DMA approach.
The DMA review highlighted that there were five layers of decision making at senior management level. This created a culture where most decisions including operational ones, were coming through to senior management. It was evident that roles were not fully empowered, and employees were not always making decisions appropriate to their level of responsibility. The structure included a deputy role, senior management, Assistant Directors and service managers. The DMA approach allowed a focus on the senior structure and highlight recommendations for redesign.
Although DMA reviews can bring efficiencies that lead to financial savings, Ashfield’s aim was to create structures that empowered roles while creating an organisation with clear decision-making responsibilities, in turn, enabling increased productivity.
Three areas were used to measure success of the DMA review:
- The first being creating an organisation where employees can understand where they fit into the council.
- Second, colleagues should have the opportunity for personal development and a clear sight of what progression routes are available.
- The third was that service areas were given milestones to work towards, while looking at corporate performance and achievements.
As part of the review, councils receive findings and recommendations. One of these was a restructure of the senior leadership team. Ashfield created four executive director roles, which covered:
These empowered roles were given more autonomy. An incongruous third tier level was replaced by assistant directors with clear levels of empowerment, responsibility, and accountability both corporately and operationally.
The DMA report enabled the council to reduce the number of layers in the organisation and create a structure which aided decision making. One task following the restructure that Ashfield achieved, was bringing together Strategic Leadership Team (SLT) and Corporate Leadership Team (CLT) within a joint leadership development programme supported through a series of master classes and tailored individual coaching
One important recommendation from Theresa is ‘that comms is key’. An important part of the DMA is preparing comms and ensuring all colleagues understand what you are trying to achieve. Engaging all staff and members will allow a clear understanding on the steps. The council created a comms plan and frameworks to support in the delivery of the DMA review and the recommendations. It has also been beneficial to the council to create specific frameworks to monitor progress and the effectiveness of the DMA review. There have been positive factors already come from the review including from colleagues answering the question ‘whether they felt proud to work for Ashfield District Council?’ where 86 per cent of respondents agreed.
Other positives that have been implemented by the council include:
- clarity of expectations, responsibilities and accountability for all senior roles
- 360 self-assessments with senior leaders
- the chance to receive individual development plans.
Theresa’s recommendations to other chief executives considering using the DMA approach include:
‘it can be difficult to deliver change like this on your own, so work with others throughout the review. A comms plan is a necessity, and it is important to consult colleagues throughout the process.’