Brett Leahy interview – learning from experience and sustaining change

11th August 2020 / BY / IN Change

Often, the hardest part is not making the change, but sustaining it over the long term. Sustaining change is challenging and can only be achieved upon a platform of shared understanding. Those sustaining the changes should believe in their potential and understand why they have been made.

18 months ago, Mondrem helped the Development Management team at Redbridge council reimagine their approach and look beyond their statutory obligations.

Struggling underneath an exceptionally high case load, the team felt overwhelmed. Complaints were frequent and the pain points were numerous.

But this all changed, and it wasn’t long before Redbridge began to be recognised for compliments, rather than complaints. Rejuvenated by a transformative approach and motivated by a shared understanding, the team began to swim rather than sink.

So, I met up with Brett Leahy, Head of Planning and Building Control, to find out whether the changes implemented during Redbridge’s time with Mondrem have stuck.

“The strategy that we adopted has really stuck,” Brett revealed. “I’ve used the Mondrem approach three times now, Redbridge being the latest and most successful. We have got better at understanding the approach and better at understanding what works and what doesn’t work. I was very pleased with the way Liz and her team responded; we’re still benefitting from the fruits of their labour and the strategy we adopted through Mondrem.”

Brett is quick to stress the importance of patience and learning from past mistakes. He tapped into his own experiences at previous councils when it came to informing the approach at Redbridge.

“There are certain things you can put a finger on. I think experience is key. The older you get the wiser you get and you do learn from your mistakes. This time, I got Mike to do much more mentoring and coaching.

“At Redbridge we made sure we developed a strong shared understanding. The standard assumption is that everyone is on the same page, but that’s a misguided assumption and it’s really important that you develop that strong sense of shared understanding before you embark on the journey.”

Forging a shared understanding is pivotal to introducing wholesale change. It’s what enables change to stick.

“I think it comes down to individuals as well. It’s about the culture you create and depending on what you think and believe, you can change a culture. At Redbridge there was a lot of belief in what we were doing.”

Once the foundations have been laid and the opportunities identified, the practical changes can be introduced.

“At Redbridge we used the tools differently. The best tool is the short interval control tool, which was about recognizing where the problems are, before making a concerted effort to resolve those problems. The tool also helped change behaviours and habits.”

For Brett, being able to measure productivity was transformative.

“The work in progress tool and the fact you can measure productivity. The revelation to staff that they can control their own destiny. They can manage pressures. Measuring productivity provided the visibility for the team to understand that we can manage our workload and get to a place whereby rather than holding 120 applications per officer, we are holding 20.

“I think that revelation was strong, therefore I think that the team believe in it and have held onto it. The team still do their weekly progress report; they still refer to it and they still believe in it. It remains a live tool. The team can see the benefits.”

The team at Redbridge began to take ownership of their case load. They began to act as a team.

“I was really chuffed with my Director’s response to the change. Initially, he was quite skeptical. I think the shared understanding is the core thing and the team began to own the problems. For the first time in his career, he walked into the room and the planners were sitting around a table and they were owning their own performance and helping each other out. He was incredibly proud.

“And now, 18 months on, the change is living and breathing and has stuck, which is incredible. It’s value for money.”

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