What if we really applied our organisation’s values?

Do you know your organisation’s values?

When was the last time you had an operational conversation based on those values?

Probably all of us can answer yes to the first question, but would struggle with the second. If you then thought about the kind of organisations where people could answer “regularly” to the second question, a prison would probably not figure highly on your list (that is unless you’ve had your eyes opened… which is the subject of this long-overdue reflection).

During 2017 I had the privilege of being on a training programme called the Project Leadership Programme, coordinated by the Infrastructure and Projects Authority and delivered by Cranfield University. Through this I’ve met a number of people from across government doing interesting and varied programmes. Through this programme, we are encouraged to do ‘field visits’ to each other’s programmes — and towards the end of 2017 I got the chance to visit the (then) newly opened Berwyn prison in Wrexham.

Two of us from the course had made the trip that day and our host Craig greeted us at the visitor centre. Within 30 seconds Craig was talking about the strategic priorities of the organisation. This was odd, cos he’d seemed a normal bloke on the course, albeit one with a reputation for hogging the cheeseboard. But here he was, enthusiastically talking about the values the prison was designed and built around:

  • A rehabilitative culture

Craig explained that although this was the biggest prison in Europe, yet they’d chosen to do things differently from the off.

Our first stop was industries. During the day, men are allocated time to work in the variety of industries or undergo training (note men, not prisoners; following the principle of normality). Again, following the principle of normality, men are not chaperoned from their rooms to their work, but are trusted to make their own way during ‘movement time’. The principle of rehabilitation means that the focus is on reward for good behaviour, not punishment where possible.

A significant part of prison life is dependency, where men come in reliant on prescription or other drugs. The lead pharmacist explained that their approach is to address dependencies, that have been managed rather than tackled for years (principle: rehabilitative culture). This team were particularly inspirational as they explained their aims to do the best for the men for the future.

The pharmacist was part of a NHS Wales team embedded in the prison and this theme of partnerships would occur again at the Adult Education centre. This centre was run by Wrexham library service and looked like any public library. Men can sign up for art workshops, ICT training, and music sessions to name just a few. Men are issued with laptops when arriving at Berwyn, and they can use this to order books from the library from their room. Following the principle of normality, the men can also use these laptops in their rooms to skype home, say goodnight to their children, book a doctors or dentists appointment or book a time for a friends and family visit, all things that would be done for them in conventional prisons.

At the time of the visit, Berwyn had about 800 men, but at capacity it will hold over 2,000, so things are done at scale. Take the kitchens for example, huge vats of curry were bubbling away and men were making hundreds of cheese and onion pasties. All staff recruited to Berwyn, even if they were already in in the prison service, were recruited using values-based interviewing. We saw the effects of this when meeting the catering manager, who explained a recent change where they’d decided not to buy bread from a supplier, but come to an arrangement with one of the industries to purchase some equipment for them to make bread to be purchased by the catering team, which seemed like a brilliant synergy. Given that the budget per man per day is £2.02, this was just one of the innovative approaches used to make that money go further.

Food for each meal is stacked in a heated trolley and send out to the wings in the prison. Although the prison will accommodate over 2,000 men, it is split into three houses, each with their own identify, and each house split into 8, with a focus on developing that small community of about 88 men (principle: making big feel small). There is consistent staffing in each house and hub, meaning there is more chance for building of relationships, ownership and belonging to develop.

What was inspirational about the visit was that the values of the organisation were front and centre of what every person was doing. The principles made sense, and could be applied at every level of the organisation; everyone we talked to could naturally link their work principles and could test out decisions against them.

It’s easy to say that a prison is focused on a single activity and therefore it is easy to link values to activity, but with over 1,000 staff and 2,000 men, the operational size is pretty significant. Furthermore, a prison is an entire society, running a smaller level, with all the same complexities and challenges that society brings.

I saw a clear example of how living the principles of a complex organisation can provide inspiration and motivation to everyone concerned. Which made me think about how we apply organisational values:

  • Can I point at everything I do and link back to the values of the organisation?

Husband. Dad to 3 smashing lads. Cub Leader. MAMIL. Group CDIO for Northampton and Kettering Hospitals. Ex NHS Digital. Views own. Always learning.

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