Posted 22nd January 2016
This is a guest blog by Ken Hunter, an Edinburgh-based independent consultant largely focusing on change and internal communication and engagement. He has over 30 years’ experience in-house and as a consultant with organisations such as BP, Shell, Safeway, Rolls-Royce and GE Healthcare among others.
If accounting for social value (SV) is going to become ‘the norm’ then it is natural that those organisations wishing to tread a more enlightened path will be among the early adopters.
But will that create sufficient momentum for its widespread adoption especially to commercial organisations already juggling with complex accountancy regulations? Like it or not, if SV is going to realise its potential to make a big difference then it needs to broaden and deepen its involvement within the commercial sector.
Before SV plays a widespread role in routinely shaping top-level strategy, commercial or otherwise, I believe it needs to prove its value towards the delivery end of the organisational spectrum. And I think change programmes offer a platform to do just that.
Why? Most of my career – in-house and as an interim/consultant – has been focused on commercial organisations where I specialise in corporate communications, largely focusing on internal communication and engagement. It’s an area where more often than not I find myself having to focus organisations on value added and not cost. Sound familiar?
As you might guess, helping organisations with change is one of the main things that I do and I believe SV has something distinctive to offer when it comes to how change is managed.
There are many reasons organisations want to change things but ultimately it boils down to balancing three competing factors: cost; quality; and delivery. I think that SV has potential to help organisations:
- uncover where they might be able to deliver service improvement
- identify gaps where they might be able to provide a service/develop a new offer
- establish what clients/customers really value in a service
- focus on outcomes…around which they could then structure their approach
- identify risk/dissatisfaction which could pose a reputational risk
- mobilise their employees in developing and delivering improvements.
I reckon these are all benefits any sensible organisation would wish to accrue and many already apply a variety of approaches to capture insights and focus them on change.
However, SV’s approach of looking at value created and value lost is a potentially powerful tool against which to assess just how well you are currently doing and define what ‘better’ looks like, as well as helping to develop more effective approaches.
If the bullet points represent the ‘what’ then I sense an SV approach offers three stand-out attributes as to ‘how’ an organisation can go about the business of change. I don’t think we should just regard social value as an outcome – applying SV thinking and methodologies are enablers.
Firstly, it allows organisations to involve their own people in the process of change by tapping into their knowledge and also helping them clarify the potential outcomes (positive and negative).
It could help engage employees in the process and in helping co-create better approaches – people are usually more committed to change if they have participated in the development of something rather than when having to implement something foisted upon them. Clearly in large organisations it is impractical to get everyone involved at every step along the way but at the least you would be creating peer group advocates and behavioural research indicates these are a strongly positive influencers.
Secondly, to be effective, SV really needs to be conducted in plain language. I won’t pretend it is jargon-free but it can be kept pretty much clear of the ‘management and consultant-speak’ which often serves to alienate people and risks make genuine effort sound remote, impersonal and insincere.
Thirdly, and this only echoes what’s openly said about the SV approach, it identifies stories which help employees (re)connect with what they really do. For example, train drivers don’t just drive trains…they get people to work in a comparatively environmentally-friendly way, they bring families and friends together, the workers they transport create wealth, tend the sick, educate children…
Staying on track with this example, if a railway company is seeking to change how it operates and thus needs its staff do things differently it has a rich context in which it can both gauge the impact of its proposed changes and great opportunity to bring its proposals to life in a meaningful and engaging way.
A lot of what I’ve heard about SV is focused around it being a tool for charitable and social enterprises to secure funding for their programmes, or for organisations are seeking government-funded contracts. In many cases the funding or contracts will themselves be focused around delivering change – improving a service or making things better for people having a tough time.
As SV’s second principle is ‘understand what changes’ the link to change is already cast. My point is that there’s a win:win for SV; surely the application of SV thinking can improve change programmes by helping organisations, commercial or otherwise, better articulate what improvements they aim to make, and how they then develop and implement them.
To me that makes a powerful case for the wider adoption of SV thinking but it will be improved change outcomes which will sharpen a wider appetite for SV.
It would be interesting to hear your views…