We are lucky to have a “balcony view” of the sector. We can see how organisations are behaving. How government shifts in policy and funding are impacting and how customers are choosing. We have had a bit of a stop and think about what we have seen this year and have come away with our Top 7 Learnings for 2016.
1. Transition trumps Change
Apologies for using the word “trumps” (that’s another story of this year) but the focus on transition needs to be greater. Over the past few years, organisations have focused on the impending changes. They have been obsessed with understanding and reading about the change. The peak bodies (and others) have made a motza on information sessions and symposiums where the lead speakers have spoken about change and change management. In most cases the focus has been on information dissemination and compliance with new government rules. Enough! If you don’t get the change by now you never will. What organisations need to do is invest in understanding the impact of these changes and develop a transition plan. Knowing about the changes is not enough. Get your thinkers together to understand the drivers of ,and the drivers for change and invest in your business transition strategy.
2. Customers will demand impartiality and independence
In times of significant change and market disruption people yearn for unbiased, impartial information and advice to make their decisions. Some people also need support to navigate a changing system that doesn’t always deliver on equity. Just think electricity or for those of us old enough, telephones?
Getting impartial advice can be difficult for people and their families particularly when service providers are “chomping at the bit” to get customers through their door and secure their revenue base.
Anything seems possible and nice new brands, interactive websites, a few “freebies” here and there and many promises can be just enough to get a person to sign up for service delivery.
Support to understand the changes, without the “sell job” and independent care coordination to manoeuvre through a rapidly changing market place is highly valued. People understand that there are new rules of engagement and they all want to make sure they don’t miss out on getting “the best out of the system”. They aren’t always sure they can do this and being guided by their direct service provider who stands to lose revenue should another option be taken up could deliver poor outcomes for people. Beware of wanting to be everything to all customers.
3. Consolidation is the “new black”
It is getting too hard for some players and we are beginning to hear more murmurs about consolidating organisations. The key option on most tables seems to be simple mergers – with the view that scale will bring business sustainability and better responses to customers. We are not so sure and the research doesn’t necessarily support this view. Merging is better for whom?
The mantra of ‘’bigger is better’’ was manifest in the 1980s and 1990s when growth was almost largely achieved through the securing (usually via competitive tender) of government funding (contracts). Now the rationale behind the growth mantra has shifted and for many, has been driven by sustainability or survivorship. This is compounded by the fact that government funding is changing to a largely consumer-directed model and organisations are unsure how to grow without government funding (hence the propensity to entertain a merge or alliance of some nature).
The trend for not only this sector but almost all of those that government either funds or regulates is to consolidate the number of ‘’players’’ that government needs to deal with. In essence, consolidation is the desire, collaboration is the catch-phrase. It is debatable whether government would truly support or desire a sector that is highly collaborative but consists of a wide range and number of organisations. It is not debatable that customers and clients would desire and support a sector that is collaborative as well diverse and consists of numerous organisations. Who are you here to serve? Government or customers?
4. Prevention is better than cure
Those of us who have been around for some time can stop and rejoice. Our advocacy and evidence driven work of the 1980’s and 1990’s has been rewarded with a definite shift in preventative health and re-ablement. Ensure your future options of care and support are focused on keeping people well and engaged for longer. Demonstrating the impact of your models will be more important than ever.
5. Keeping up with Technology in Health and Social Care
Let’s not pretend. Our sector has been a bit slow with understanding and using technology to reach, connect and support customers. There is now widespread acceptance and increasing evidence that technology is playing a bigger and more important part of our lives. Whilst we accept and have made appropriate adjustments, there is little evidence to suggest that social care organisations have made similar adjustments. There is also little evidence to suggest that organisations have taken advantage of, or factored in the likely changes that will need to be made to the way care and support is delivered in a technology-enabled environment. It is conceivable that in the future, technology-based providers with an existing customer base may seek to leverage into the social care sector, given the focus on wellbeing and re-ablement. Get your tech heads to work on this sooner than later.
6. Workforce structure, performance and management
Arguably the biggest challenge and threat for social care organisations will come from managing, developing and maintaining a viable and skilled workforce. What is in effect occurring in the social care sector is that care, support and health are slowly being integrated. Whilst the integration is gradual given the legacy that exists in all the different industries, the desire and vision for government and more importantly customers, is that it will happen. For example, the work and thinking on the development and introduction of individualised e- health records will revolutionise how people manage their heath, access their providers and plan for their future. Technology will be critical and the control (and responsibility) will be shifted to individuals.
Success in delivering high value services will depend on a more flexible approach to skill acquisition, training and development. Integrated care works when there is clarity about the distinctive elements needed in the skill mix. The system-level challenge is to develop organisational capabilities to bring the right team together around the person/customer. The sector also needs to appreciate their own expertise and ensure it is built in and valued. We are not there yet.
7. Be customer ready
With the advent of the above changes, the role of customer is changing and becoming central to all business models. Customers are not ‘re-badged’’ clients. Clients have limited or no choice and are generally consumers of a service. Customers are different; they do have choices and are active participants in their own service.
This is not the same as "consumer-directed care or person-centeredness’’. These are terms that exists almost exclusively in the social care sector and we are seeing that one can be "consumer-directed’’ yet not "customer-aligned’’. Being customer aligned requires a significantly different skill set and thinking that the one required to be person-centered”. The two can and should co-exist but one does not act as a proxy for the other. Keep working on this.