Benchmarking at Guide Dogs for the Blind
When it comes to helping our clients with organisational evolution there is no way to avoid the nitty-gritty. Asking those tough questions and holding up a mirror to the organisation as a whole is what these consultations are all about and our work with Guide Dogs for the Blind was no exception.
Guide Dogs For The Blind need no introduction. Founded in 1931, they have 1,355 full-time employees, 16,000 volunteers and an annual turnover of £107M. A household name, Guide Dogs have a unique position within the charity sector in that they are the only organisation that do what they do. However, due to their age and size, they were susceptible to a lack of internal dynamism and having a culture that was anachronistic and inhibitive to innovation.
What We Were Asked To Do
With the arrival of a new CEO, they wanted us to conduct a benchmarking report on their indirect business i.e. everything that wasn’t frontline service-based.
What We Proposed
We wanted to use both qualitative and quantitative methods, beginning with a review of internal strategy, as well as external data. We also proposed benchmarking within their industry and across public as well as public sectors in order to pull identify themes and common issues. In addition, we proposed finding out who their leadership admired, who they saw as competitors and what their organisational culture was about.
Finally, we wanted to interview their leaders, middle-management and trustees in order to get a cross-section of perspectives. The output of all of this we proposed presenting back to them with recommendations and associated next steps for the following 12-months.
The main challenge for us was benchmarking. As mentioned, the charity is pretty much the only organisation in the UK doing what they do. However, this enabled us to conduct a cross-sector benchmarking process that was ultimately enriching as it enabled us to see what best practices could be adopted from elsewhere. Within the cross-section we chose, however, the challenge we did face was around the sharing of information and insight, with some organisations choosing to keep some key information to themselves. This was a shame, as it prevented some cross-pollination but it didn’t prevent us from gaining a good enough picture to be of tangible use.
What We Did
We interviewed the Executive Directors Team and nominated direct reports. We also interviewed a number of external charities and business HRD’s in order to accurately benchmark the charity.
Our questions focused on three key areas: People, Strategy and Operations with detailed analysis looking at both individuals divisions as well as strategic overarching themes and trends.
Our benchmarking organisations were The National Trust, Save The Children, Macmillan Cancer Support, Scope, London & Quadrant Housing Trust and RNIB.
What We Found
We found that Guide Dogs has a very low turnover of committed hardworking staff with many areas of talent, capability and potential. Some teams were clearly over-delivering.
Critical to the success of the organisation, their volunteers provided incredible support to both service users and employees. Volunteers were closely involved in the charity and were a core strength in the delivery of services.
Strategically they had come a long way over last 10 years with many services well-received and appreciated by their customers. This was consistently proven through their strong external reputation.
There was a solid balance sheet with ambitious fundraising targets continuing to achieve. We also found strong delivery of day-to-day activity especially in Finance Operations and Property Services. Both income and spending were typical of the similar-sized charities we benchmarked.
What We Recommended
Our findings enabled us to make a number of recommendations – both general and very specific. This included:
- Creating New Directorates
We recommended additions to the Executive Team to add more balance.
- Investment in Infrastructure
This was needed to standardise processes and increase the use of data-driven decision making,
This needed more investigation and careful management on the client’s side.
- Getting More From Volunteers
With such a large volunteer base, but with an management of them overly-centralised we could see that better management of volunteers was needed.
- Organisational Geography
Realign to ensure service delivery was happening and this had an adverse effect on perception.
- Cultural Shift
The overall culture showed good engagement, a shared ethos and strong identity. However, there was also evidence of a silo mentality in some departments which was hampering innovation. Although staff turnover was very low, there was a lack of ‘new blood’ – something that can inhibit evolution and lead to an imbalance of ‘business as usual’.
- Digital Readiness
The organisation as a whole was behind the curve and needed to invest in their IT department in order to make significant savings further down the line.
- Removing Duplication
The Fundraising had their own digital marketing team, even though a separate Digital Team existed elsewhere within the organisation.
Leading by example, as opposed to more directive methods were needed. Empowerment of staff in all departments was also required to help power innovation and greater effectiveness.
Responses and Next Steps
The directors responded very positively to our suggestions and could see the value of what we uncovered. The next steps included further exploration of some of the themes but also further consultation on implementing change.
It’s common practice for larger organisations to hire-in consultants like us to help them see where they are at and make the changes they need to thrive more fully. The big question though is what organisations do with these insights. Do they sit on them and allow nothing to change or do they embrace the change needed to progress?
We admired both their courage and their openness when it came to our interviews and we were happy to reflect back to them the positive things about their organisation that clearly work but like all organisations, Guide Dogs needs to evolve – and that can become uncomfortable. Change is inevitable, but it’s a matter of adopting change proactively and consciously rather than responding further down the line when it’s more painful. Our conclusion is that this initial report was timely and proactive enough to nurture innovation and inform a clear roadmap for the next phase of development.
If your organisation would like to benefit from a deep review of your current culture and performance please contact us here.