Transformation tips

The following tips are from conversation with a handful of transformation directors from across the country. These are not rules, but observations from their lived experience…

Where to start

  1. Work in an equal partnership with voluntary, community and faith organisations and with well connected leaders in communities. Engage them well and early: they know more about where they live.
  2. Start small and do it and make it work; build from small examples with a coalition of the willing. Do not underestimate the importance of change in the short-term rather than waiting for the bigger stuff. We think it’s best to have lots of pilots rather than a big gamble.
  3. Give permission to safely make mistakes and test new approaches at all levels – enable a culture of learning and problem solving. Sandbox these experiments so that mistakes don’t undermine confidence or lead to safeguarding risks. (Sandboxing means testing in a safe way, so the risk of things going wrong is contained. For example, in children’s services you might run the new service model alongside the old one for a period to ensure there are no unintended outcomes.)
  4. From the beginning, evaluate the impact. Partners are interested in the evidence of outcomes and demand reduction that affects them, so tailor your messages and show them the findings.

Practical stuff

  1. Where you can, try to flex budgets across traditional service boundaries — to move resources to where the local need is, and to invest in early help.
  2. Lots of things can get in the way of whole system transformation with partners and the community. An indicator of maturity is the extent to which these issues have been accepted or overcome by the partnership. Tricky issues you might come across include: aligning boundaries between organisations (even if the change seems small), asking one partner to manage the staff of another partner, or challenging personal relationships that affect progress.
  3. Early help is a big and complex system. Think widely about the connections to and contribution from businesses, environmental factors that affect families’ outcomes, or the Local Enterprise Partnership investment strategy. What can you influence? For example, there could be a strong business case in your area for young people leaving care to be supported by the LEP.
  4. Break the divide between place-based problem solving and case-based problem solving. These are two sides of the same coin, but we tend to think about them very differently.
  5. Invest at scale in asset based approaches. But also think of the small things and systematically review, for example, how do our policies across the local authority and partnership affect people with low income? Are there small changes we can make that are a big difference for some of our residents?
  6. Workforce development is important — for the frontline, middle management and for leaders. Examples include: whole family working, an induction for all public sector staff in the principles and culture of the area. Or running a Transformation Academy to develop leaders, build relationships, enable cross-cutting transformation projects, and use systems thinking to solve local challenges.


  1. It seems obvious, but senior leaders must be leading the transformation, or it won’t get going. However in parallel we should also encourage people to lead the change from the ground up.
  2. Translate the complexity into a simple and clear vision — so staff can see their place in supporting the goals, and residents can understand what will be different. It’s no good having a 50 page A4 strategy that no-one reads — it is the short two page summary that you wrote that will become the real strategy and help inspire the change across the workforce and communities.
  3. There are tens of thousands of professionals you want to think differently in your area, as well as many community groups and residents. How are you planning to engage all of them?
  4. Encourage a real connection between professionals and communities and residents in their area.
  5. Key skills for senior leaders include: systems leadership, charismatic approach (although not in a hero-leadership way), emotional intelligence, understanding of partners needs and able to translate the change to their world, persistence and commitment to the vision. When a new requirement comes along, leaders are able to knit this effectively into the existing direction of travel, making the new agenda the same agenda. It’s so important that all the changes reinforce each other and are seen as coherent, rather than competing for air-time.
  6. It sometimes helps to be ruthless about who is on the place-based / partnership leadership board. It sounds brutal but advice from some transformation directors is to spot the hangers-on and those who are negative about the change and remove them. The board should operate at a portfolio management level — shaping the programmes across the early help system, managing dependencies and getting the benefits.
  7. There is a stark difference between areas where officers and local politicians believe in early help and areas that are disinvesting.
  8. Systems leadership is about understanding connections across the place, giving up power in exchange for influence over wider resources, and operating at both the strategic level and on the ground, holding risk rather than transmitting to staff, and enabling others to lead and change the system. And, systems leaders often have to let others take the credit… that’s OK.