Terra Nova training and development

Resources: Case Studies


Thistle Foundation

There can be few organisational changes more challenging than those currently facing The Thistle Foundation.

After nearly 50 years of supporting and caring for people with disabilities in largely residential settings, Thistle Foundation has been working through the realities of a new vision for, and the practicalities of, creating a range of services to support disabled people living independent lives. Residential homes have been closed, and the focus of care has moved to client-led support in the disabled person's home. And as funding moves from service organisations to the individual, the client increasingly exercises choice over the kind of service that best suits them,forcing the service providers to adapt.

Terra Nova’s Philip Roycroft has been challenging Thistle’s senior management to examine the "unwritten rules" of the organisation, teasing out its values and behaviours in ways that had seldom previously been articulated. The senior team has gone on to draft a set of values - linked to actions—which were then tested by a number of focus groups within the organisation.

This is just part of a major shift in Thistle’s culture - cross-sectional working groups are already actively re-writing the book on Communications, Reward, Behaviours, and 360 degree appraisal, in which Phil is an active participant.

"Things have had to change - we now compete with other major providers and individual contractors to provide a service," says Thistle Foundation’s Director, Jayne Fisher. "We had already done some work across the organisation, but progress has been slow. After we held a residential session with Terra Nova, the impetus for change picked up. Things have moved to the next stage."

Jayne joined what had been a traditionally hierarchical, command-and-control management model over ten years ago, and has instigated major changes in terms and conditions, working practices, and most recently management style. The activities and composition of the internal working groups - many of which have no Directorate members - is an overt act of trust. There can be few greater signals that things have changed.

360-degree appraisal has now been introduced at senior level—and will soon be extended to all staff.

"This has been introduced in the context of creating a learning organisation. We have created a one-year strategy which has been cascaded as far as the users of the service," says Jayne. "We have set off on a journey - some have the knowledge from the beginning, others don't. Some are keen to take the journey, others are reluctant. In the first six months some people have been doubtful, and wouldn't engage - but as time goes on there is more acceptance and engagement."

Managers within Thistle have experienced a range of emotions through the change process. There have been role conflicts between the concept of manager and that of leader; anxiety and excitement have intermingled; and there has been recognition that these changes are the responsibility of the entire organisation, including the client group (25% of the management committee comes from the client population). Recognition already exists about the need to share knowledge - about successes and mistakes.

With change high on the agenda, Operations Director Diana Paton has already co-ordinated Thistle’s success in attaining IiP recognition in December last year:

"We weren't always sure that we needed to go through the assessment - what was important was doing the work put good practices in place - but it gave the whole process an additional momentum. The assessor report was very complimentary - if anything critical of us for being too concerned about detail!"

Thistle's energy and capacity for change is apparent. With increasing involvement of the staff and client group, and a new business model driving the changing management style, it's likely that they will continue to be a beacon for good practice


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