Interview: Lorraine Clifton

"It was really hard work, but we've done it in a positive way that has strengthened the charity rather than weakened it," says the chief executive of Clic Sargent, of the Better by Design programme

Lorraine Clifton says she hopes the ideas in the report live on in the organisation
Lorraine Clifton says she hopes the ideas in the report live on in the organisation

Clifton stresses the importance of genuinely engaging with staff on the programme and showing them it was an attempt to make the charity more efficient rather than simply cutting costs.

"No one really likes working in a place where they can see significant inefficiencies," says Clifton, who previously worked as a chief executive in the NHS and in the private sector. "I've always had an interest in organisational development and believed that nearly all organisations can become more efficient if a business improvement programme is carried out in the right way." She adds that the voluntary sector is not always willing to look at how processes can be made more efficient and their quality improved.

The charity was lucky to have a very supportive board, says Clifton, as well as an experienced and well-regarded head of change management in Sherine Wheeler. "We chose not to use external consultants because we wanted the programme to feel like 'ours' rather than something imposed from outside," says Clifton.

She adds: "The fact that Sherine had worked here for a long time and had credibility with the staff meant we were able to handle it internally. It was also crucial that I, as chief executive, was personally backing it. Any other charity that is considering a similar programme needs to make sure it has backing from the top."

'Appropriate to share'

Clifton is very comfortable with the decision to publish the report about Better by Design on the charity's website. "We got help and advice from other charities, and corporates, when we were planning our programme, so it feels appropriate to share our experience with others," she says.

Publishing the report might also stand Clic Sargent in good stead with potential corporate supporters and major trusts, says Clifton, because it demonstrates the charity's determination to be as efficient as possible.

The next step, she says, is to make sure the ideas behind Better by Design continue to live on in the organisation. "Some people were encouraging me to keep it going, but it's very difficult for staff to continue working at that pace. And when we launched the programme, we agreed an end point."

Clifton says she hopes the 60 or so staff who were closely involved in the programme will become "internal champions" for continuous improvement at the charity. The fact that each directorate will be expected to achieve at least one significant business improvement each year is also important, she says.

"I want a culture in which, instead of one team blaming another over some kind of inefficiency, they both get together to look at how it can be improved," she says.

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