Interview: Catherine Murray-Howard

The deputy chief executive at the social care charity Community Integrated Care talks to Ian Griggs about the organisation's five-year plan

Catherine Murray-Howard
Catherine Murray-Howard

The social care charity Community Integrated Care is unabashed about using the language of the corporate world, describing itself as a business and its beneficiaries as "customers".

In April, the charity embarked on a five-year transformation programme that it hopes will turn it into "the UK's leading health and social care charity".

The charity, already something of a Goliath with 4,500 employees and an annual income of £93m, hopes to grow its income and service provision by 30 per cent during the next five years. But how will it get there and why did the charity need to change in the first place?

In 2011, the incoming chief executive ordered a review of the charity using an external consultancy - and the results were alarming, according to Catherine Murray-Howard, the charity's deputy chief executive.

"The consultancy found that the charity had stagnated and there had been no net growth for three years, while our closest competitors had grown exponentially," she says.

In addition, the review uncovered a problem with the charity's structure, which had not evolved since the organisation was founded in 1988. Managers were running services thematically, in areas such as 'dementia' and 'independent living', but these services were spread across the country.

"We felt a change of approach was needed because some of our services were a little old-fashioned and tired," says Murray-Howard.

The external review cost £40,000, so was it worth the expense? "There is great benefit in having someone objective cast a fresh pair of eyes over your organisation," says Murray-Howard. "You need someone to give you a benchmark against other charities and it also gives legitimacy to making changes in your organisation. Change is scary, so you need objective evidence that it's needed."

The transformation strategy was agreed by the charity's executive team and the board, but the next hurdle was to communicate the plan - and its necessity - to the charity's staff.

The charity created a brand called Big Change to explain its plans and then ran a series of roadshows to talk to staff around the country.

Management also created a pack, including a DVD, and an intranet site to get its message across, as well as giving staff postcards and email addresses to get their feedback.

"About a third were positive, another third asked questions and the final third didn't feel it related to them," says Murray-Howard.

Beneficiaries also had to be informed of the changes and some were initially concerned, but the charity thinks it has won over any early detractors.

But the charity has a lot of work to do in the coming years to reach the position of being the leading organisation in its field.

"We need to understand the markets in which we are operating and then develop services or products that the customer wants," says Murray-Howard. "We've looked at how we price services and we've spoken to our commissioning partners about giving them better value. Quality of care is key to being sustainable."

Other charities can use the same process, she says: "It's about looking at what you do well and matching that with what your customers want, and then looking at how to respond to the changing landscape and being adaptable."

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