Dealing with crises will always be part of the Government’s DNA – the events of recent years certainly highlight that the ability to adapt rapidly and act with agility is vital. Of course, what’s really important is to learn from each crisis and address the root causes of problems to prevent them recurring and worsening backlogs further. It’s no good permanently firefighting, it’s crucial to get onto the front foot – planning and preparation underpin consistent delivery in ‘normal’ times.
Public sector backlogs are at an all-time high
The reality is that government objectives are influenced just as much by media headlines, reshuffles and public opinion as they are by strategy. Priorities are swiftly changed and focus lost, causing backlogs to reach all-time highs:
- Five-month wait for PIP payments
- Ten-month delays for tax refunds
- 59,000 outstanding cases in crown courts
The current situation has been exacerbated by rapid redeployment of people into new roles during the pandemic, along with shifting societal challenges and funding gaps. Technology, digital innovations, and automation are commonly cited as solutions, but unclogging backlogs needs people to shape these solutions and deliver results faster. Caseworkers who know where the snagging points are, teams who pull together across departments with shared ways of working that complement - not contradict each other.
"People are the fastest route to driving productivity, supported by tech."
Case study: Slashing backlogs and boosting productivity at the Land Registry
In 2019 the Land Registry had amassed a caseload backlog of around 80,000 as rising demand outstripped capability. Morale was low and team turnover high, caused by:
- Outdated ways of working
- Gaps in leadership experience
- Limited ownership of change at caseworker level
Baringa trained 150 leaders and 4,400 caseworkers, with planning ownership returned to 14 local offices around the UK. Service excellence was delivered by transforming the way the Land Registry develops and supports its people, with visibility and recognition given centre stage. Through direct involvement in shaping ways of working and removing process inefficiencies, caseworker engagement levels have continued to increase, delivering a 15%+ uplift in productivity to date.
Prioritise people ahead of technology
Future-proofing departments and teams means empowering people on the ground to shape solutions and drive change. When individuals and teams feel ownership and accountability, productivity and morale increase. Quite simply, people power works.
One of the best ways to get right to the heart of the problem causing any backlog is to deploy both top-down and bottom-up approaches. Talk to the people managing workflow on a daily basis and listen to their suggestions - tactical improvements can be more effective than strategic change. Small and simple tweaks to processes (often not even involving technology) can make a dramatic difference when implemented across government.
Top tips to tackle backlogs
Ultimately, reducing the backlog burden in any organisation requires commitment to supporting your people. Tangible change and enduring success are achievable when you focus on three key areas:
Prioritise leadership development
Provide real opportunities for people to demonstrate leadership capabilities, removing barriers to achieving their goals. When leaders empower their teams to be autonomous, continuous improvement follows.
Training leaders along with their teams is a great way to ensure skills are shared and leaders understand pinch points, barriers and opportunities. Future coaching can then be done in-house, with focus on supporting people rather than directing them.
20 of the NAO’s value-for-money reports, and 21% of their total recommendations, are related to problems with government’s operational management capability. (Improving operational delivery in government – NAO, 2021)
Increase visibility of planning, reporting and governance
Bringing KPI dashboards out of management meetings and into office and online spaces is a great way to keep objectives (and progress towards them) front-of-mind. Daily visibility of caseload numbers coming down gives teams direct accountability. Sharing reporting increases engagement, identifies opportunities and drives results. Teams who collectively set their own goals are happier and achieve better results.
Create a Centre of Service Excellence
Build a culture of independence and ownership to establish a sustainable model of continuous improvement. Create matrices of skills and experience so that everyone works to their strengths. Take a truly people-led approach by measuring and celebrating success - driving productivity through reward and recognition.
People-led change enables faster outcomes and increased benefits
Beating the backlog burden is best achieved with experienced and motivated people. It’s therefore important to build an organisational culture that recognises hard work and great ideas, as this improves retention. Retaining vital skills and experience makes teams more effective; recognising and rewarding talent makes people stay.
True change and significant progress can be achieved by harnessing the civil service’s greatest resource, its people. Backlogs will only be brought down by empowering and engaging individuals and teams. It’s time to put people first – only by developing individuals and supporting teams, will the backlog burden finally be eradicated.
Get in touch with Mark McLeary to find out more about how we are helping clients unlock the backlog burden.
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