MatchFit Interview Series – Sarah Castle and Janet Peel, Ministry of Justice

The professional development of employees can be a sizeable financial commitment for organisations, and it is all too easy for budgets to be spent on short-term benefits that quickly fade away. Core to our MatchFit values, we work in partnership with our clients to facilitate the development process that drives real change, and empowers participants to embed this change in organisational culture.

As part of our ongoing series of interviews with clients and participants of our MatchFit CLIMB programme, we spoke to Sarah Castle – Official Solicitor and Public Trustee and Janet Peel – Deputy Public Trustee & Head of Operations and Private Office, of the Offices of the Official Solicitor and Public Trustee (an Arm’s length Body of the Ministry of Justice) about their experiences of this process so far.

What were the challenges that you were facing before working with the MatchFit and HRCT consultancy team?

Sarah: Janet and I have felt for some time that as a senior leadership team, we needed to start thinking cohesively as a unit, instead of in silos. We wanted to maximise our potential in working together as an SLT, so that was certainly a primary motivation. We have a lot of people who manage others in the OSPT (Official Solicitor and Public Trustee) team, with a lot of staff progressing up through the grades system. I wanted us to really help our managers to manage performance, guide progression, and have a better, more informed, understanding of what management actually means; how to manage difficult conversations et cetera. So it was both a senior leadership piece and also an opportunity for the general management and leadership path that we have for staff.

We felt lucky to be chosen for the MatchFit CLIMB project, as we know that not everyone has yet been offered it within the MoJ. Janet and I really grabbed it with both hands and wanted to maximise the input. We have genuinely loved and benefited from it – we’ve engaged with Bradley (Honnor) and Tim (Foreman) from MatchFit and we’re making real progress. Some of it has challenged us! We’ve used MatchFit as a sounding board, and been provided with really helpful feedback and advice. They’ve challenged us to push our vision through, and given us the confidence to move it forward.

We work closely with Tim and feel that because of his experience, he’s able manage things in quite a subtle and sensitive way, which has been of real value. He has great emotional intuition – some of our challenges are not straight forward, and he’s navigated this really well!

I don’t think we would have made that progress in quite the same way, at the pace we have, without that support and intervention from MatchFit.

Janet:  I agree – I think one of the big challenges has been around our vision and moving the organisation towards that and how it needs to be. A real sticking point was the fact that even at  SLT level, we were having difficulty moving forward and getting on board with the vision collectively. So to have this opportunity has been invaluable. We’ve had two of the CLIMB sessions so far, and there was a tangible shift in mindset from the first to the second. It feels like we’re making progress, and I don’t think we would have made that progress in quite the same way, at the pace we have, without that support and intervention from MatchFit.

So what changes have you seen?

The language has changed

Sarah: Our senior leadership team is partly made up of senior operational staff and partly senior lawyers. They are very different in terms of experience and approach! I think one of the changes I’ve seen is that there has been more receptiveness to seeing matters through a different perspective, and a move away from thinking that if someone is having a hard time, it’s purely their problem. I’m seeing a shift to a more supportive and understanding circle of colleagues. It’s hard work to get to that, but I really think we are making head road.

Janet: The language has changed as well – what was really interesting at the last CLIMB session was that there was a lot more talk in terms of ‘we’ rather than ‘me’ and ‘my team’. That was a nice shift and I was really pleased to hear it.

Was there a pivotal moment that you could identify where you could say ‘this is actually making a difference’?

A relationship of trust has developed

Sarah: We have had a crisis in our work, to be honest, and as a result of that we had to have some very difficult conversations. The result of those conversations has been a positive shift. It wasn’t an anticipated crisis and it was painful at the time, but I think, now we’re coming out of it a little, it’s moved us on a lot in terms of relationships.

Janet: It has – but that is with the support of Tim and his colleagues. They really waded in to provide that assistance.

Sarah: They did – Janet and I trialled our plan with them and they said, ‘there’s nothing in there that doesn’t make sense’. They gave us the confidence and the push to go for it, which we did. They also helped in the background, having conversations with colleagues who had been affected by the plan and providing that independent support.

What’s happened subsequently is that a relationship of trust has developed, and I think that has enabled team members to be quite open and honest about what they’re feeling. There’s been this confidential sounding board that plays back what they’re saying and pushes them in the right direction, in a non-confrontational way. So I think this has helped a lot. This combination of interventions has moved us on, and some of it is quite subtle. I’m a bit worried for when the framework disappears!

I think you have to commit to the programme, there’s no point doing it half-heartedly. To do that, to buy into it and to trust the process, the personalities involved are really important. If you gel with the consultants who are chosen to work with you, then it’s a win-win. It feels as if there is a lot of science behind the programme. When you’re dealing with highly experienced professionals, the consultants also have to have experience and professional depth to work with them. Participants need to be challenged – they are in a position of leadership, and while Janet and I can keep reiterating the point, having that external professional presence has made a big difference.

How do you see the relationship developing?

I would have the consultancy here indefinitely

Sarah: We want to consolidate the progress we’ve made, and push it as far as we can go within the life of the programme. I would have the MatchFit and HRTC consultancy here indefinitely. I think we would really benefit from having ongoing input, because I’m hoping that over time, the senior leadership composition will change and there will be new faces, new ideas and more diversity in the leadership group.

Why would you recommend MatchFit?

It’s been one of the best things we’ve ever done.

Janet: The flexibility that they’ve shown has been a big factor for me, because we have been able to bounce ideas around with Tim, David and the others, and we hadn’t expected necessarily to have them as informal advisers. They were really happy to be responsive to our needs and flexible about what being on the programme meant for us.

Sarah: I’ve also been very impressed with how they’ve taken the time to really understand our business. You can’t work effectively with people if you don’t understand what they do, and they’ve really taken the time to do that. Because of that, it’s developed a trust and a respect that has truly helped senior colleagues buy into the process.

It’s been one of the best things we’ve ever done.

Janet: Without a shadow of a doubt. Especially given how short a time we’ve been on the programme so far – just six months. And of course the first three months really are about interrogating the data and getting information to inform the rest of the programme, so we’ve actually only been doing this in a meaningful way for three months. What we’ve derived from that three months has just been so impressive!

Sarah: Yes! And MatchFit don’t dictate to you, they work with you, and I think that’s really important. They want to set realistic goals with you. I found the analysis they did at the beginning and the report that they produced, holding a mirror up to our service, both a scary place to be and fascinating at the same time.

We will use that information, all of it, good and bad. It got under the skin of our organisation in a way that other interventions haven’t.  

I found it personally very supportive and I don’t want them to go! I don’t think you can make a better recommendation than that. I can see a place for them indefinitely as part of our ongoing leadership and management training.