Keeping managers connected to people’s lives

23 June 2015

One of the leaders I admire is Richard Williams, CEO of Options for Supported Living.

Almost a decade ago we collaborated on a paper that brought together what we had been learning about person-centred leadership. Richard talks about the importance of managers staying connected to someone who uses their service, not in an ad hoc way, but built into the diary each month, and included in job descriptions and I think contract as well.

The purpose is to stay connected and grounded in the lives of people you support. It is around someone’s kitchen table, with a cup of tea, and through everyday conversation that you see the impact of your policies and procedures, your decisions about finances, and HR practices. This is one approach that needs to go alongside practices like Working Together for Change, working in partnership with self-advocacy groups, or employing family members as Dimensions does.

I explored this idea with colleagues in Certitude’s leadership team. It sparked a robust debate about the value and the challenges of doing this.

  • Would this be ‘using’ the person?
  • What about consent? How do you find someone who is willing to do this?
  • Is it just artificial friendship?

Aisling, the CEO, blogged about this and how she, and her colleagues connect with people Certitude supports. Making time for each other – Certitude

One way to address these challenges, for senior managers to achieve an authentic connection with someone the organization supports is through Community Circles. If an organisation has a Community Circles Connector, as Alternative Futures Group (AFG) and Brandon Trust do, there is an opportunity for each manager to be part of a Community Circle.

The manager would be there, not as a senior person in the organisation, but as part of the group of people who are working together to help the person change their life or move towards an aspiration or dream.

This means, that each month, for an hour or two, they would be sat around a kitchen table together, but instead of just chatting, it would be a focused conversation supported by an independent facilitator.

Pauline is supported by AFG and she has a Community Circle. The purpose of her circle is to help her to find local volunteering opportunities.

Louise, one of the senior managers is part of Pauline’s Community Circle.

As Louise has much local knowledge and experience of supporting people with volunteering opportunities, it made sense, with Pauline’s permission to invite her to be part of the circle. Louise is part of Pauline’s circle, not as a senior manager, but as a circle member, sharing ideas and contributions as the other members do, all working towards a common purpose of supporting Pauline with her aspirations.

The benefits to Pauline of Louise attending the meeting are the ideas she is able to contribute, sharing her experience of volunteering opportunities and local knowledge.  Pauline is also able to suggest others who it might be worthwhile getting in contact with.

For Louise, being a part of a circle, means that she is able to influence change and support Pauline with what she wants to achieve; really being part of making a difference to the lives of people who are supported.  Through focused conversations, looking at what’s working and not working, Louise is also able to see first hand the challenges which may present around transport and work together with the circle to overcome these.  The process of the circle also highlights how some policies may be restrictive, supporting Louise to appreciate how they have an impact on the people who are supported and be in a position to change these to better suit people’s lives.

Harriet Phillips is Area Director at Brandon Trust, where there is a Community Circles Connector in the London area

She says:

“We are only just starting to realise the huge impact that Community Circles will have in the lives of people we support and it will also dramatically change the way we work as an organisation.  Community Circles provide us with a new way to really get to know the people we work with, what matters to them, what we are doing well and not so well and how systems and processes can get in the way of people living their lives.  We are intending to ask our managers, both operational and in support functions (HR, finance etc) to be part of Community Circles.  They will have their own connections, ideas and contributions to make, but ultimately they will be able to understand how our organisation and the decisions we make impact on the people we support.  The benefits don’t end there; I have no doubt that participation in Community Circles will provide our managers with connections, relationships and experiences that will improve their working lives and enhance their own sense of community and belonging.”

What would happen if we expected all managers to be part of making change directly in someone’s life, through a Community Circle, as well as this being a way to keep people connected with the real issues that impact on peoples lives on a day to day basis? Please get in touch if you want to explore this with us.



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