Commercialism - C.CO - CIPFA's New Consulting Company

Developing a commercial strategy? This post is for you

Natalie Abraham, Operations Director

I must start with emphasising that commercial activity within the public sector is not a new concept; the public sector has always operated in a commercial way to contribute towards the delivery of intended outcomes. Throughout the 19th century, when the building blocks of the modern public sector were created, Local Authorities invested in large scale capital projects which dramatically increased life expectancy, increased the size of the economy and improved the quality of people’s lives. Quite often these were created as municipal companies which created local jobs and returned profit back to the public sector to pay for our libraries and parks.

Fast forward to 2017, and whilst the drivers may have changed, commercial activity is increasingly viewed as an enabler to financial sustainability within the public sector.  As efficiencies are made and there are fewer obvious routes to driving out further costs, I consistently see the most creative of organisations looking to secure new revenue as a way forward; being enterprising is now more important than ever.

There can be a temptation to make commercial decisions driven purely by the forecasted finances, trading for trading’s sake or without due consideration to the capability, key stakeholders, existing policies and intended outcomes of a service or organisation. From my observations, it is clear that this oversight can severely limit the deliverability of decisions made.

C.Co has worked with a number of entrepreneurial public sector organisations on projects driven by a desire to be more commercial and cost effective. What we see is that the most successful organisations are those which have a clear Commercial Strategy in place that defines not only where they want to be in regard to service delivery but, crucially, sets out the priority outcomes for the organisation. Having a Commercial Strategy reduces the risk of reactive or siloed decision making, contributing towards sustainable services in the medium to long term whether this is from fees and charges, establishing trading companies or alternative delivery models. Every organisation’s starting point is different which means that there is no one size fits all strategy.

With this in mind, I wanted to develop a logical framework for organisations to follow which would help you to develop your own bespoke Commercial Strategy. This was the starting point for the development of C.Co’s six-step toolkit. Determining the suitability of any commercial opportunity is driven by an organisation’s Commercial Strategy. I therefore believe that developing such a strategy is vital for ensuring that all activity is consistent with your organisation’s overarching aspirations and the key priority outcomes that you wish to achieve.

The C.Co six-step toolkit embraces our organisation’s core values of collaboration and evidence based decision-making. It takes you through a process that defines what ‘commercial’ means to your organisation and the specific objectives of your commercial activity. The toolkit, if followed in full, will ensure that a clear, useable strategy is put in place to support your organisation’s commercial activity going forward.

The process of developing a Commercial Strategy is a beneficial exercise for all public sector organisations, not least because the end product is a strategy that will result in effective decision-making at all levels. If approached correctly, the collaborative nature of developing the right Commercial Strategy for your organisation can also assist with the necessary cultural mind-set shift that needs to occur in order for true commercialism within the public sector to be successful.

I recently delivered a webinar on behalf of our parent organisation, CIPFA, entitled ‘Developing a Commercial Strategy’, which highlights our approach. You can view the webinar here:

To find out more about the C.Co approach to assist your organisation in Developing a Commercial Strategy; SpeakToUs@WeAreC.Co or contact us via our website

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C.Co teams up with new Centre for Social Innovation and Global Public Service

We were really proud to have been invited to sponsor the launch event on 4th October of the St Mary’s University’s new Centre for Social Innovation and Global Public Service.

The event was attended by Ministers, Peers, Mayors and Council Leaders, leading academics, civic innovators, and policy influencers including our Managing Director, Richard Harrison (Twitter:@richardwearecco).

Hosted in Lambeth Palace with our sponsorship, the event featured a key note lecture from Director of the Harvard Business School and Harvard Kennedy School of Government Bloomberg City Leadership Initiative, Professor Jorrit de Jonge. De Jonge reflected on the capabilities of public leadership including his recent work with forty of the world’s city mayors – including Manchester, Merseyside, Teesside and Bristol. Piali Das Gupta, Head of Policy at the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives, was in the chair.

The Centre for Global Public Service and Social Innovation will focus on public leadership and social innovation broadly defined and most especially the skills, networks, challenges, innovations and opportunities that those seeking to build more inclusive and just societies will need in the coming decades.

The evening also saw addresses from Minister of State for Disabled People, Work and Health Penny Mordaunt, Lord Shinkwin, and Assistant CEO of London Borough of Newham Tony Clements.

The Centre has been created by the energy of St Mary’s Professor Francis Davis, who addressed attendees on the night:

“The Centre is born from a conviction that this generation – and the emerging generations – of ‘public servants’ will need to be more creative than ever before, more innovative than ever before, more inter-disciplinary than ever before, more able to cross boundaries of class, space and formal power than ever before, and be more agile than ever before in identifying needs, mobilising opportunities and managing change.”

Richard Harrison added,

“we were extremely proud to sponsor the launch event and to be selected as a key strategic partner working together with the Centre to drive innovation in this important area.”

For further information please visit the designated area of the St Mary’s University website or SpeakToUs@WeAreC.Co

Up-skills - C.CO - CIPFA's New Consultancy Company

Webinar – developing a commercial strategy

On 19th September 2017, starting at 12.30pm, our Operations Director Natalie Abraham, will be presenting a webinar on behalf of CIPFA entitled Developing a Commercial Strategy.

This webinar will discuss the approach to defining an organisational commercial strategy which supports the strategic objectives, outcomes and aims of your organisation.

It will enable you to:

  • define your outcome framework
  • articulate your priorities
  • understand your environment, market and opportunities
  • identify your workforce capabilities
  • establish your appetite for risk
  • appraise your opportunities

Interested? It’s 45 minutes long, free of charge, and counts as CPD; you can book on here, on the CIPFA website. 

Communication, Conceptualisation, Collaboration - C.CO - CIPFA's New Consultancy Company

Collaboration; involving people in change

Reflections on the value of collaboration, by Nicky Waters, Senior Managing Consultant. A couple of months ago I was invited to host a workshop at the annual CIPFA Scotland Conference. As I started to prepare, I discovered that pulling a presentation together is a fantastic way to examine what you do and why. It really makes you think about the things you take for granted! To start, I had to decide which topic to cover in my 30-minute slot. What would be useful to a mixed audience? What’s a universal problem? What practical advice can I give in such a short space of time? My answer came quickly; people, or more specifically, collaboration and involving people in a change process. Time and time again, even with the best of intensions, involving people in change is something that organisations often get wrong by engaging too late, too little, or sometimes not at all. But it can mean the difference between success and failure because when you’re trying to implement something new, even with the best ideas, the best processes, and lots of investment, if you don’t have your staff, customers and service users with you then the chances are that you’re going to fail. If people don’t believe in what’s happening then they will go back to old habits as soon as the spotlight moves on. At C.Co, we genuinely believe in putting people at the heart, and head, of change; collaboration is one of our fundamental values. Not only will it give you better results, but, as human beings, it’s also the right thing to do. “But people hate change!” I hear you cry “they’ll just be angry!”. Well, if you wait until a decision is made and the deal is done then they probably will react that way. But if you get people involved early then it’s a very different story. Yes, change can make people anxious and you might have to have some difficult conversations BUT some short-term discomfort, trusting people to be the sensible and knowledgeable adults that they are, really will make it better for everyone in the long run; even if opening the doors to the unknown is a little bit scary. Being open and honest with people about the issues that need to be solved and giving them a chance to come up with a solution will pay dividends when it comes to implementation and beyond. Firstly, it will make the design and planning for the change so much better. Staff and customers know their service area, they know the realities of day-to-day operations, so they’ll tell you what will and will not work; what doesn’t make sense; what’s a waste of time and money. And then they’ll start to tell you what could work; how you could negotiate some of the problems; what they’d love to do but they’ve not had the chance to; what it would take to actually make it happen. They’ll also help to put other sources of information into context; finance, HR, performance data, benchmarking and all the number crunching that is still vitally important. Secondly, it gives individuals the time to make sense of what’s happening; to mull things over; to think of alternatives; to discuss and discount some of those alternative. This means that they are emotionally and operationally ready when it comes to implementation because it’s not a surprise, and they’ve probably already been making tweaks and changes in anticipation. They’ve been with you from the beginning, you’ve helped them find their voice, and the change now belongs to them. Plus, they will be far more aware of what needs to be done on the ground to make it a success. Thirdly, involving people right from the beginning of a change initiative can reduce the stress and anxiety that people inevitably feel, by being clear about what is known and what is unknown; what can be influenced and what’s non-negotiable; what they can get involved with and when. Highlighting what people can control and creating opportunities for people to genuinely influence the decision-making process will make a positive difference. This is vital for the health and wellbeing of your workforce, to support a long-lasting positive culture, and can help you to retain talent, even spot emerging leaders, during times of uncertainty. In turn, staff will be in a better position to help to reassure service users. Exploring issues together through workshops, suggestion schemes, 1-2-1 discussions, storytelling, drawing, games, designing prototypes, action learning sets – whatever makes sense for each situation – is a quicker and more enjoyable route to knowledge and insight. It creates an equal partnership where you can all learn from each other and make sense of things together. Trying to force a ready-made ‘solution’ onto a workforce just doesn’t work. Now, I’m not saying that staff and customers will have all the answers, or will act as a homogenous group, or will fully buy into whatever solution is finally presented. There will still be disagreement; there will still be conflict; there will still be people who are totally disinterested; there will still be tough decisions to be made. But the information and intelligence that you gather will be richer, the case presented to decision makers will be far more robust, and the space to play with and debate ideas before any decision is made or resource committed can help to avoid costly mistakes or all out failure. Even those who don’t agree with the answer will better understand and appreciate what led you there. And, I’m not saying that it will be easy. I come in as an outsider to a service, often when there’s a significant problem. I need to prove my worth and gain the trust of those I work with. If you’re a consultant or even a senior manager within the organisation you’ll need to do the same. You need to be consistent with your message. You need to make the effort to get out to people, in places that work for them. You need to do what you say will. You need to start the conversation then probe and challenge, and ask silly questions, and pull apart assumptions, and play devil’s advocate so that the final solution has been fully tried and tested in a safe environment, BEFORE it reaches decision makers. As a consultant and an introvert, this is the hardest but most rewarding part of my job; when we make sense of all the inputs and capture it in an amazing new model that actually represents staff, customers and service users as well as the strategic direction of the organisation. So, my challenge to you… the next time your organisation needs to even think about doing something differently or you’re brought in to help explore options, don’t wait until a decision has been made. Embrace the unknown and give people the opportunity to help to design the solution. If you do, you will get better design, smoother implementation, and better outcomes for your organisation and the people it serves.

Let’s collaborate!

If you share our commitment to collaboration and would like some support, take a closer look at what we do or get in touch; SpeakToUs@WeAreC.Co

Sanjeet Bains - Senior Managing Consultant C.CO

My first 100 days at C.Co

In the lead up to Christmas 2016, after nearly 10 years working in Local Government, I handed in my notice. I was leaving a good job, good opportunities and colleagues who over the years had become good friends. So why did I do it? I saw a new challenge, an exciting opportunity to broaden my experience, develop my skill set, work with a passionate and committed team and join a company whose values matched by my own. So, 100 days in, is it living up to expectations?….YES.

C.Co is a great place to work. Moving from a large corporate organisation with infrastructure and support structures to a start-up company was daunting, the simple things (like no IT helpdesk when your computer stops working!) took a bit of getting used to – I am now an expert at solving IT issues via google search! but this was quickly outweighed by the things that matter, having the autonomy to act, opportunity to discuss and share my ideas, accountability over my work/clients and having an interesting, invigorating and balanced workload. In one single day I could be agreeing marketing artwork with graphic designers, doing detailed analysis for a client, interviewing end-users as part of a project, updating our social media, through to preparing a pitch for a new client project – I am being challenged and learning something new every day.

I know it sounds cliché, but the values of C.Co and the team I work with make working here a pleasure, we focus on generating value for our clients, not just profits. This ethos is central to what we do, how we work with our clients and how we work together as team. C.Co gives me the best of working in public and commercial sectors along with the confidence that through CIPFA, our parent company, we are investing any profits back into the sector, to continually add value.

The longer I work here the more I see that our varied client base also share our values – making every assignment that more rewarding. My first assignment along has given me the opportunity to work at the heart of organisation, working with frontline practitioners, engaging with end users and supporting strategic boards – all in organisations who are driven to be leading edge, to transform services, realise tangible delivery and make positive change to people and organisations.

On a personal note, working remotely took some getting used to, but now, I love it! The fear of feeling isolated was quickly dispelled – Technology is brilliant!. Learning to use skype and working with a tremendously supportive team means that no one is ever more than a phone call, video call, text, email away to discuss a work issue, get some advice or just catch-up about what you did at the weekend. Coupled with a great work-life balance that means I can enjoy being off-work as much as I can being at work – what do they say, work hard, play hard!

So, 100 days in…and I can’t wait to see what the next 100 days has in store!