How to choose benefits to deliver

I was talking to a friend about a Local Authority (UK Local Government) contract recently, and they asked "How do you choose what Benefits you will contract to deliver?"

Cart - but where's the horse?The context is important.  Just saving money isn't enough anymore, especially as many outsourcing contracts don't save money they just shift the pension bill.  So public services are asking for more from their suppliers - demanding that the supplier creates additional jobs locally, or builds "affordable housing" (housing for high priority but lower paid workers), or a whole range of things that are an advantage to the public body but may be more effectively provided by its commercial partner.

It's an interesting question.  We hadn't discussed the public sector body or their strategic objectives, which makes it all the more interesting - a cart with no horse in sight.   

It's about what the government is really about - creating an environment for business, better schools, better health, better public health, more achievement.  The first step is the Strategic Plan.

Strategic Plan

Most public service bodies in United Kingdom (UK) publish a Strategic Plan. This describes the priorities for change (acknowledging that they will continue to collect the refuse, to keep the roads in good repair, to ensure that the law is enforced so people can go about their business without fear, to keep the schools and care services functioning, and so on).

Priorities might be;

  • reduce crime from X level to Y level in such and such a location
  • improve a city centre for shopping
  • etc

These are your customer's priorities.  Any Benefits you offer to deliver should contribute to your customer's priorities (actually this isn't 100% true - sometimes they are happy with a contribution to one of their less high-profile aims).  

So what do I promise, and how do I deliver?

Well even this question isn't as simple as it seems.

If the organisation is on a risk/reward contract (in other words, if they will gain by succeeding, and lose by failing), then they need to take into account:

  1. what is actually achievable
  2. what needs to be done to achieve it

Breaking these down.  The customer wants an improved city centre.  But how do you define "improved"?  Fewer boarded up shops?  More people using the city centre for their business/ leisure?  More rates (premises tax)?

If you are building the customer a new shopping centre, then you might not want to commit to "fewer boarded up shops" because your whole project is focussed on your shops and not the other ones (which might remain boarded up).  But you WILL want to encourage more people to use the city centre.  It's in your interests as well as theirs, so you will put the effort in to achieve this promise, and they will put in the effort to achieve it too (*BUT see below*).

That's just the start.  What about delivery?

Many people believe that the most important parts of Benefits Management are defining the right benefits, and then measuring them. No it isn't.  The most important thing is delivering or achieving the benefits.  Measuring is how you know what progress you are making, and measuring helps you to focus your efforts on the right activities - the ones that make the most difference.

So let's assume we have a way to measure the numbers of people using the city centre - how are you going to achieve it? And how will you make sure that you don't break something else for your customer - I mean you want them to recommend you to other customers?

You need your own staff on board.  This means you need to gain their commitment - giving orders simply isn't enough in the new "knowledge economy".  You also need to get their staff on board, since you probably can't achieve this on your own.  Everyone needs to focus on making things/ doing things/ facilitating things that will make it happen, and most of these things are outside of your direct control, so you have to be persuasive.

hanging baskets in a town centre

Vision

You need to communicate the vision in such a way that everyone agrees it is the most important thing they can do with their lives right now.  Everyone has too much to do and everyone decides what to prioritise and what to "not get around to" - you want them to make the effort to achieve this goal.

One of the best ways to do this is to have in place some interim measurement which everyone believes in, which shows progress.  This will encourage the right sorts of behaviours.

Measurement

Measurement that people believe in is one of the most interesting parts of my job.  People hate filling in forms to say how much of something they've done today.  It reeks of Time and Motion, and it reeks of having the boss standing over your shoulder.  

With a big enough Why (the vision), you can achieve a lot.  But you need to measure something that shows that progress is being made, and the thing you measure needs to be common-sense, honest-to-goodness, good for people.  A beautiful town centre is a year away, but flower boxes on the lamp posts can be counted and can be started now.  Or clean streets is an outcome (following litter picks and volunteer clean-up groups), and also an obvious common-sense step in the right direction.  Note that the beautiful town centre is a step along the way of your ultimate goal - to get more people using the town centre for business and pleasure.  And getting more people into the town centre is obviously (common-sense obviously) good for businesses in the town centre.

You might also decide that more parking would help, but it isn't in your contract to deliver parking.  There's nothing to stop you sponsoring workshops at the local authority based on encouraging use of the city centre (there's no conflict of interest or hidden agenda - it's clear that this is what you are contracted to deliver) and let them realise what they need to do for themselves.

Delivery

Deliver is the most important bit.  Benefits are only benefits when they happen.  Deciding what you are going to do, and how you are going to measure it is important.

But the most important of all, is to get everyone engaged and committed.  

What you find is that empowered people are very good at making things happen.  If they are committed to making it happen.  I guess the point of this post is that the promise and the measurements are useful, but you (the supplier) really need to plan delivery, and that's something that I have done very well in the past.  With many hands, you can achieve almost anything!

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