Inside the head of a designer


Undercover Boss
July 26, 2010, 8:38 am
Filed under: interesting | Tags: , , ,
channel four - undercover boss

channel four - undercover boss

Anyone who is looking to do ‘more for less’ should be taking a leaf out of CH4’s Undercover boss series.  I’m not saying that we take every CEO of a company and put them on the frontline undercover, but that we do learn from the knowledge at the frontline.

The one that interested me the most was the Tower Hamlets episode.

For me, Tim, part of the pest control service summed it up for me.

“we’re not there to make a profit, we’re here to run a service”

For anyone who is not familiar with the series, a ‘top dog’ of a company will go into the ‘coal face’ and spend time with staff understanding what their job is like.  In this episode, Kevin Collins the chief exec of Tower Hamlets council spent time with the meals on wheels service, pest control, the homeless office and other much needed local services.

Kevin hits the nail on the head about this being different to private services,

“being the chief executive of a public company is different to a private one, the people are my shareholders.”

Before leaving for the front line Kevin talked about the council needing to take risks to improve their services, which, in our current economic climate, is a difficult thing to stand up and say.

“I’m sure there is going to be an absolute wealth of information…I’m going to understand the organisation better, get to know the staff, and tell people how we can do our job better”

His first stop was with meals on wheels.  Experiencing the service as a front line staff member showed Kevin that decisions made were more than just numbers.  The people receiving the service were often elderly, vulnerable or living with a disability and the visit was their only point of contact in a day.

The next stop was a council office providing vital services to people who were homeless.  Kevin commented,

“having the right temperament at the first moment you’re met, sets the right tone”

Malakay, the receptionist was highly commended by Kevin, and the way he discussed the young man, was like that of a touchpoint.  By experiencing first hand the centre, Kevin could see that this is not a service that can be cut but other improvements could make the service more efficient and save money.

“There were questions though, like could the computer system be better.  It could be slicker and faster”

Tom, from pest control, for me, summed up something I’ve been struggling with to understand is why design, or what the value is for public services.  Tom showed the Kevin the extra mile he went to in finding the root of a pest problem.  Kevin compared to how an outsourced company may just treat the problem.   In a private world, creating additional value is all about increasing profits.  In the public sector world, it’s almost about ‘throttling’ numbers, it’s about the prevention of foot fall not just the treatment.  An interesting thought for what ‘added value’ might mean in the design context.

“what we run is a kind of a whole service, which allows us to get to the causes rather than just the symptoms, I’ve got to think whether you’d get such a whole service if you farmed  it out”

The programme ends with Kevin inviting the people he met to his office, unveiling the fact he is not ‘Colin’ (his undercover name) but their boss.  What I really appreciated here was that he then invited the staff members to become involved in projects, which sums up for me, an integral part of any embedding design work in the public sector.  Harness the knowledge your staff have.  Secondly,they felt valued, with one staff member commenting that they, ‘finally felt listened to’.

The video above is a previous ‘star’ of Under Cover Boss who discusses how the show helped him to see what elements of their service needs improved by experiencing the service from the staff’s point of view.  You could liken this to Shadowing, an ethnographic technique often used in Service Design.

For example, the company ditched a monthly newsletter which was costing them money, but no one was reading it.  They have now opted for more regular news in short snippets.  Experiencing a service first hand, always makes you understand more emphatically what it feels like, both for the customer and the staff who deliver it.  This is far more powerful and rich than any survey could achieve.  While numbers are not to be sniffed at, these qualitative methods should go hand in hand with quantitative analysis.  As Stephen Martin, CEO of Clugston Group says above,

“Information is filtered through at least a dozen levels, by the time it reaches the CEO you’re not getting the real heart felt emotions from the workforce”

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