Innovate or die — a charitable story

Change management skills in practice

At the recent British Red Cross Leadership Conference it was a privilege to hear an inspiring speech on the need to ‘innovate or die’ from Ruth Owen OBE. As the Chief Executive of Whizz-Kidz she has enabled significant change across all facets of the charity.

Ruth Owen — CEO Whizz-Kidz

Put the customer first

Her drive and enthusiasm have transformed the organisation that truly puts the customer first in everything that they do. Ruth has brought a great deal of private sector expertise into her organisation, using the private sector focus on goal and task achievement to change what the organisation can deliver. This has allowed them to increase the support they provide from a few hundred children to supporting over 4000 children and their families.

Forensic review of processes

This customer focus extends into every process and administrative activity. By reviewing all processes while keeping the customer first it has been possible to identify what value they deliver to the customer and if activities are not improving the service then they are removed. Ruth was very honest when she said she was ruthless in eliminating waste and has made excellent use of the lean techniques to streamline every aspect of Whizz-Kidz.

Talent Management to deliver Change

Ruth described her leadership approach to change. Her first step is to surround herself with the right people. She is incisive in her talent management, quickly identifying when someone has the right mindset to contribute to her vision and empowering them to take the lead in their areas of expertise. She has partnered these change agents with mentors from the private sector who help them develop their raw talent into core skills and competencies.

A key leadership activity during change is talking. Ruth described how much of her time has been spent talking with people every day, reassuring them about their contribution to the organisation.

Clear performance targets

Another important tactic that Ruth shared with the group was the importance of establishing targets and measures so that those who are being asked to work differently will know when they are on track.

She gave the example of clinicians at Whizz-Kidz who perform the mobility assessment to identify what mobility aids will meet the child’s needs. Ruth and her team have put in place clear performance targets for how these assessments should be carried out and equipped the clinicians with technology to keep processes lean. Each clinician has a tablet on which they write up their assessments, along with calculations to identify how much their solution will cost, as the total spend is capped, so clinician are responsible for the financial implications of their decisions.

Firm hand to deal with resistance

When Ruth experiences resistance to change or progress is slowing she believes it’s important to lead by example. So she rolls up her sleaves and dives back into the subject. She was very honest about the need to ‘railroad’ people towards her vision and uses her position of Chief Executive to ensure the pace of change and the hunger to always do better doesn’t falter.

During her presentation Ruth made the point that whilst she encourages debate and listens to the views of others she is not afraid to cut the discussions short and demand more action. She recognises the importance of allowing people to talk through the impact of change but she doesn’t allow that to be at the expense of making the changes. She was also very honest about not losing sleep if people decide the changes are not for them and decide to leave the organisation.

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