Within the busy environment of a social care setting, getting on with the day-to-day tasks of running the service, attending to people’s needs and dealing with unplanned issues can take a considerable amount of time and attention from managers and staff alike.
The social care environment can be full of activity on any given day, things can change at a moment’s notice. Managers don’t always have the time to complete a well-structured to-do list. An emergency or incident, a employee issue or absence can adversely disrupt well thought out plans for managing the day, or even the week, leaving managers with the task of dealing with such pressing issues, in place of any good intentions for developing the service to more effectively meet the expectations of their customers.
I admire the relentless work of managers of social care settings. The role is demanding, as they often need to wear many different hats to fulfil the role. Yet we rely on their dedication and commitment to run an operation that takes care of vulnerable people.
However, in the face of the pressing demands of the day, to maintain quality standards and indeed improve them to satisfy customer expectations, it is essential that managers have the opportunity to take a step back to review the service from the perspective of their users and families. A review of the service’s touchpoints and how these contribute to the overall customer experience should be a priority.
There are many reasons why this may not always be possible, as it can be difficult to really see what is going on within a service when you are working in that environment and are closely associated with the people who work and/or live in the environment delivering the very service you are to assess.
There is also the emotional investment within social care settings that can affect how you perceive the quality of the service or indeed the impact it may have on your customers and their perspective on what meets their desires, needs and expectations. Managers may have already put in place measures for change that in practice need to be reviewed and developed, the realisation of which can be difficult to recognise or even accept.
Yet observing practice within a social care setting to truly understand its impact on the quality of life for the people it serves is something that needs to be done on a regular basis in order to assess how the service is performing and gain a better understanding of peoples’ experiences.
There are many ways you can observe practice within a social care setting and there are a variety of audit tools and techniques that could be used to facilitate such a review. Whatever approach is used, the points below are a helpful reminder on what to include.
Encouraging the wider staff team to actively take part in observing practice should be strongly encouraged and supported wherever possible so that the practice becomes something that is regularly completed across the organisation by all levels of staff who are fully engaged in the delivery of the service, alongside managers. As Benjamin Franklin is famously quoted ‘Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.’
For staff to deliver services that are meaningful and fulfilling to customers, the learning process is essential and one of the best ways to facilitate this is through observing what works, its impact on individuals and then changing practice accordingly in order to promote more positive and better experiences for people.
Here is a list of some of the touchpoints through which customers engage with adult social care services that could form part of the review process.
Let’s start with the internal environment – whether you provide a service that provides accommodation or a central office, maintaining a clean and welcoming environment applies to all.
Ask some probing questions to include: Is the environment clean or does it smell? Is it welcoming to visitors and the people who regularly use it? Are staff well presented and identifiable? Is it easy to navigate around the facilities? Is it free from unnecessary clutter and accidental hazards? Is the environment one that you would be happy and comfortable to live in, use or for your loved one to belong?
This area can often be tricky and easily overlooked, but the external environment from which you operate is as equally as important as your internal space, as its an extension of your service and tells people what type of operator you are and what they can expect. It is therefore important to make sure that the external environment lives up to your brand promise and helps to portray the quality of the service you operate.
Try to answer the following: Is the area outside clean and welcoming? Is the parking area and entrance accessible and free from clutter or rubbish? Are the grounds kept clean and well maintained? Is there appropriate signage to direct visitors where to go?
Staff and service delivery
Your staff team are a great asset to your organisation and are the face of your business. You will need to make sure that you have sufficient numbers on duty to meet the needs of service users and that they are identifiable and well presented as an extension of your public image.
Although, staff availability and appearance is important, it is vital that staff conduct, attitude and behaviour reflects your organisational values. Interactions between staff and service users should be person centred, caring, supportive and respectful.
Observing interactions between staff and service users would provide you with a good indication as to the level of quality provided and give you helpful insights into areas that could be improved and developed further through staff training and support.
Some questions to ask include: Are peoples needs being met in the way that they want? Are they being effectively supported to live the life they wish? Is the service provided of a high standard to promote peoples quality of life? Are staff caring in the conduct and interaction with service users and their families? Where good practice is identified, sharing such information to aid learning will encourage further involvement and participation to enable change and improvements to be made.
Service users and families feedback
As mentioned above, the experiences of people using the service is an important indication of quality standards. How people feel, think and act towards your service and about your organisation should be captured, taken seriously and the information used to facilitate ongoing improvements where possible.
I always think it is important for operators to have tools in place that help them to capture peoples opinions and views. Whether this is through satisfaction surveys or comment cards, feedback is essential and should be actively encouraged.
In addition, a process for people to raise concerns and complaints should also be in place to encourage openness. As we know, things may not always work to plan and providing the opportunity for service users and their families to give feedback and/or complain will help providers to gain valuable insight as to what works and what doesn’t work, so that steps can be taken to introduce change and better outcomes for people. Such learning will improve and help you to develop the service further to satisfy your customers needs.
Now, I can’t finish this blog without reference to the importance of record keeping. The care setting is heavily regulated as we know too well. Maintaining sufficient records to demonstrate compliance to the regulator and commissioners is an inevitable part of the work in adult social care settings. However, good record keeping should not only be about compliance. Effective records will enable providers to deliver well-managed services, as well as benefit their business as a whole.
The above touchpoints will be familiar to many and in some way quite simple to recall. Yet, the challenge remains that in the busyness of the social care environment it can often be overlooked as other issues take priority and contend for staff attention and time.
Edna Petzen @LyndenConsult is the director and consultant at Lynden Consulting, a strategic management, marketing and communications company helping organisations develop marketing strategy, build and protect their brand, improve performance and achieve communication excellence. Find out more