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  • Writer's pictureJohn Copps

Another year wiser: What we have learnt from 2015

Updated: Apr 6, 2021

As the year draws to a close, it’s a good time for reflection. We asked members of the Mutual Ventures team and some of our clients tell us what they have learnt from 2015.

“Big picture thinking always benefits from a dose of reality”

John Copps is a senior consultant at Mutual Ventures

Lots of my work is about helping teams of public servants stand back from their day-to-day job and think about the ‘bigger picture’. There’s no doubt that’s a good thing but what’s really valuable is to be able to combine this with experience from the front-line.

Two moments stand out for me this year.

In July, a tense board meeting at a social care provider I attended was interrupted by a group of service users with learning disabilities bursting in to say ‘goodbye’ at the end of their day. That certainly broke the ice and reminded us all what our discussions were really about.

At the start of the year, I supported a team of cardiologists who began a Friday meeting with the news that, despite an unusually high caseload of acutely sick patients brought in the day before, the outcome had been very successful: four out of five had survived.

There is nothing that brings high-level discussion into focus better than a dose of reality. It vividly shows us that there’s always a person at the end of public services, and sometimes it is literally a matter of life and death.

“Decision-making should involve those at the sharp end of services”

Polly Walker is a consultant at Mutual Ventures

Most public services say they put service users at the heart of decision making, but there is nothing more powerful than giving service users a seat at the table when decisions are being made.

Over the last year I have been involved in the set up of the House project, Stoke on Trent’s new model of accommodation and employment support for young people leaving care. The striking thing was that, from the outset, young people sat alongside council chiefs as decisions around governance and resource were made.

While this approach brings challenges around managing everyone’s expectations, I learnt that it makes everyone accountable to service users and focus on achieving the best possible outcomes. Too often lip service is paid to ‘user voice’. This was the real thing.

“Investing in getting recruitment right is always money well-spent”

Rachel Law is chief executive of PossAbilities, an adult social care provider in Rochdale

In the social care industry you are only ever as good as the staff on your team. At PossAbilities I regard every one of our jobs as important. We hire people who are passionate, caring and fun.

Recruitment is expensive, but worth spending the money on. I’ve made wrong decisions in the past. But making the right hire will pay you back multiple times over.

What has 2015 taught me? Don’t be afraid to invest in recruitment and set aside time for the process. As a chief executive it is the most important job you have .

“You must be vigilant about your finances, in the good times as well as the bad.”

Baron Anyangwe is a senior consultant at Mutual Ventures and Chartered Accountant

A career in finance has taught me that nothing should be taken for granted. Even highly successful organisations can get into serious financial difficulty if they lose focus on the management of their cashflow. And for public service organisations, a key factor to their sustainability is ensuring they diversify their income streams.

This year that was brought home when a friend asked me to provide some advice (on a voluntary basis) to a charity that had gotten into serious financial difficulty, after many years of success. Fortunately, crisis was averted – but not without a lot of sweat and tears.

It’s a reminder to us all to be vigilant around our finances, in good times as well as in bad times.

“Don’t be afraid of collaborating with your competitors”

Scott Darraugh is chief executive of Social adVentures, which provides public health services to the citizens of Salford in Greater Manchester

Salford is a city with a diverse mix of public service organisations – many of which, like ours, care deeply about the health and well-being of the local population. Before this year it’s felt like we’ve all been in competition with each other, chasing the same pot of money. This was OK for a while but as we were all looking to grow beyond the local area, it has started to look narrow-minded.

A conversation with fellow chief executives at the start of the year has led to a group of us clubbing together to set up a new structure – a Limited Liability Partnership – to pool resources and support each other to bid for new contracts. Under the new structure we also make joint investments and look to share back office functions. From this I’ve learnt the value of collaborating with your competitors and having an open mind – because you never know how things will change!

“I realised my freedom as the leader of an independent organisation”

Fiona Williams is chief executive of Explore York, an independent social enterprise spun out of the library and archive services in the City of York

In 2015 I discovered my freedom and the wonderful difference between being a council officer and a chief executive of an independent organisation.

“I learnt to be comfortable with uncertainty”

Luke Muir is a managing consultant at Mutual Ventures

This year I moved back to the UK after almost eight years living in Australia. Back home after nearly a decade down under and the start of a new chapter in my life.

By nature, I’m a big believer in planning. So, before leaving I had all manner of lists, spreadsheets and reminders to try to make the move go smoothly. Despite my best intentions, there were hiccups and bumps in the road as it’s impossible to plan for everything.

What did I learn? That you can’t avoid uncertainty. That sometimes you have to accept (and maybe even try to enjoy) the ambiguity that comes with change.

“Getting going after a General Election takes longer than I thought”

Andrew Laird is a director at Mutual Ventures

An election year is always difficult. In the lead up to polling day, the government juggernaut starts to slow down in preparation for a possible change in direction. No new programmes are commissioned and civil servants start to plan for all the eventualities so they can hit the ground running with whoever triumphs.

But 2015 has taught me just how long it takes things to get things moving again after an election, particularly if there is a lengthy spending review planned. I can only assume this period would have been even longer had there been a coalition negotiation!


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