The MatchFit CLIMB programme has proven to be extremely successful in environments that, by their nature, have high levels of challenge. In this interview as part of our ongoing series with clients, we talked to Mark Creaven, the Governor of HMP Send, about his impressions of the programme, and why he has commissioned a second CLIMB for his SLT.
Mark has worked in the prison service for almost 25 years. Having started as a prison officer in 2000, he became an operational manager in 2009; Deputy Governor in 2014, before moving into roles at HQ. He was appointed as Governor of HMP Send in December 2021.
What were the challenges that existed when you joined?
“When I joined the prison, the first CLIMB programme had already started. It’s fair to say that engagement probably wasn’t as good as it could have been. There was a lack of attention to it, due to the challenges being faced in a pandemic and trying to run the daily regime. At the time, there was a disconnection within the teams so their initial buy-in was not as good as it could have been. My priorities for Send and the programme were about quickly building middle management capability and in the last three months of the CLIMB. We started to see some real progress and achieved some good successes. When we had the evaluation at the end of the programme, I could really see the value.”
What was it that you think changed attitudes and made the difference?
“I think it was selling the success of the programme and focusing on the achievements it delivered. For example, the process for managing attendance dramatically improved and I started to see managers progressing cases correctly in line with policy. In previous roles, one thing I’ve always done, certainly with HR practices, is ensure that managers ‘own it’. It’s for the senior teams to manage their functions and all the HR within it. So, my messaging around that, with the help of MatchFit, resulted in middle managers being supported in focusing more on their roles and the challenges therein. I’d say 95% of them really accepted it!”
What persuaded you to commission another CLIMB for this year?
“I’ve got a very good, engaged Band 5 and 6 team, who are very forward-thinking, but they needed this support to help build capability; some were new into role, so this program assisted them in understanding and executing all elements of their role. I could see people growing in confidence; I could see ownership of cases. But we were very early on in the process at the end of the last CLIMB, in being able to completely succeed and demonstrate full compliance with everything that we wanted from them. Another CLIMB was an opportunity to reinforce and strengthen what we needed to do in the prison.
My SLT also changed. Three members of my SLT moved, and my focus for this year was therefore to build the team. The investment was very much around the continuation of progress with my middle managers and supporting them in supporting their team, and also managing the expectations around them as well.”
What behaviours have you seen change?
“Taking personal responsibility. Historically, the norm has been to push issues up to the senior team; to get a problem off the desk and give it to a senior manager to deal with. This was probably because of a lack of confidence in being able to actually do the required actions. But having to deal with these day-to-day issues as well was overwhelming the senior team. So, the CLIMB has given middle managers the awareness that they need to take that responsibility, which they’ve been able to do because we’ve given them the tools and built their capability.”
Has the appetite for tackling challenges increased?
“Very much so. They’ve really grown into it. But for that to happen, you have to get the messaging right – when managing people, communication is really important. You’ve got to make people feel part of it. Giving them the tools and building their capability needs to happen alongside the messaging that ‘you’re a really important cog in the HMP Send machine’.”
Do you have an example of a particularly positive outcome?
“Firstly, the attendance management process has been a real success. When I arrived, the processes were really poor, and the cases weren’t being managed adequately. I can say that today, for every absence we have, we know exactly where we are: we know the journey, what’s required, and we’re managing them effectively to a conclusion, whatever that may be.
A second example is around the engagement with frontline staff. So, again, when I arrived at Send, our attrition rate was about 18%. Feedback from staff was that in their time at Send they hadn’t spoken to or had a conversation with their line manager. So, what we’ve done is insist that we, as managers, will meet with our staff every two months in an informal way and just ask how they are; just support them around their day-to-day. There were a couple of managers who were resistant to this, who didn’t see the value, but the feedback from the staff has been overwhelming. The staff now know who their line manager is, they feel that they have a voice, and the attrition has reduced from 18% to 8%! They feel they’re being communicated with and are valued.
I’m seeing staff start to think about their longevity at Send and the wider HMP. Having those supported meetings with them, identifying those future stars and future leaders, and having those conversations, is helping them navigate their next steps through the organisation.
Even thinking short-term, looking to gain promotion to that next step on the ladder, it’s not that they’re just an officer, or a Band 3 admin who is just doing their day-to-day, we’re encouraging people to think about the next journey for themselves. Because HMBPs bring us lots of opportunity. It’s about making sure that managers are having supportive conversations and listening to the staff member about what they want, and then they can help them. Just asking ‘are you OK?’ is really important.”
Culture change takes time, but are you feeling a shift?
“We’ve had a really good staff to prisoner relationship that’s been formed over many years. But where I’ve noticed a change is around the support of our new staff coming in.
What engaging with the staff has achieved, alongside the CLIMB, is that it’s repositioned a mindset. Regardless of the relative challenges of the place new staff have come from, what they feel is real. It’s about supporting them regardless of how you feel because of your own personal experience. That doesn’t mean what someone experiences day-to-day isn’t affecting them; isn’t affecting their mental health and affecting them coming into work.
That ‘How are you? How can we help?’ after difficult days or fallouts with colleagues, having a manager that’s approachable, has reduced a lot of those challenges around people’s mental wellbeing. There were a lot of mental health-related absences when I arrived, but we have seen an improvement in these cases. That managerial support has certainly contributed, but I think it’s also about making sure that staff are supported by their colleagues, too.
What CLIMB has done is to provide a range of tools for my staff and my managers to apply locally. It’s given them the investment they needed, which, from recent feedback, some who have been at Send a long time have never experienced. We’ve invested in them to be better, and they’ve risen to that. And that, to me, is where success has started to come.”
The CLIMB programme is a mix of interventions, group sessions and one-to-ones. Do you think this has contributed to the success?
“Definitely. I think it’s especially that bit around independence. I had a one-to-one with our MatchFit Consultant Catharine in the first quarter of this year and found the process really thought-provoking. It also gives the staff member a confidential forum in which to talk about themselves: what their challenges are; what their development needs are; what they need to do better, without their line manager being there to assess and challenge. It’s that important debrief time just to focus on what things have been like for them.
The last two and a half years have been challenging for everybody through the pandemic, but I have the utmost admiration for my staff who get up every morning and come to work, without fail, and do their job, despite the challenges and risks to their own health. They’re incredible.
I think we haven’t focused enough on how that’s affected everybody. I think we’re probably still running a little bit on adrenaline. So having MatchFit partnering with us has given us time to think, to go away and reflect. I think it was perfect timing for Send and perfect timing for my managers. It’s been really thought-provoking for them, but around the good news stories, not the bad ones.”
What will be the next steps to build on this foundation?
“I was thinking about this as I was driving home the other night, and it hit me between the eyes – it’s about opening the ‘too difficult to do’ boxes. It’s about taking ownership, and that’s what I’m going to focus on at the prison next.
Send is in a really good place now, but there are still challenges, that previously may have not been the right time to address. There are some things that go on sometimes because they have become ingrained; whether that’s inappropriate behaviour, or somebody just not performing to the required standards. I know we can resolve it with the appropriate support and guidance to those who need it. As managers, we need to manage and support our staff to return the prison back to a normal operating prison. If something’s broken, how do we fix it? If it’s difficult, we’re not going to fix it tomorrow – it may take six months, but let’s put those plans in place to do it. Once we do that, Send will be an incredible prison.
The MatchFit CLIMB has been a super intervention. How it’s pitched, how the MatchFit team engage and allow people to speak up and out— (and there have been some very strong voices at times)—has been incredible. They’ve seen lots of disgruntlement, lots of people who’ve had some difficult weeks, months, years, and to be able to turn all the negative into such a positive has been really quite an astonishing achievement.”