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Jamie Lawrence


Insights Director

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HRD Insight: Creating Person-centred Organisations


This feature was written by Stephen Stirk, HR Director at United Reponse.

Person Centred Organisations work on two simple premises – the first is a belief that the person centred thinking tools and practices developed primarily for use in interactions and relationships with and between people with learning disabilities could be applied to a range of other areas in organisations in order to improve planning, decision making, management, behaviour, performance and outcomes.

The second premise of the book is that the principles that should be applied in relating to and working with disabled people (but which sadly are often forgotten), can also be relevant in relationships and working with those who are not disabled, together with the use of the person centred tools.

To some, using the tools and approaches designed for use with disabled people should not be confused with the traditional techniques for leading, managing and relating to people at work, but I ask, why not? Here are a few examples:

  • Seeing the whole person – Recognising the whole value of an individual and encouraging them to bring their full range of talents to work
  • Focus on abilities not disabilities – Instead of moaning about what people cannot do, or perform poorly, concentrate on what they do well, and make sure you optimise the use of these abilities. This is of course, especially relevant in performance reviews and 1:1s with your staff. Imagine too what can happen if you treat peoples’ ‘disabilities’ as areas of their performance that are understandably weak and expected, and so require your helpful attention and support.
  • Look for the triggers for challenging behaviour – If someone does not perform very well, or is difficult and awkward, or gets upset and raises complaints and grievances, look for the reasons this might have happened. Imagine again, what can happen if you remove the causes of such behaviour rather than having to deal with the consequences.
  • Pay attention to what is Important to someone, as well as Important for them – Most of the time we forget to discover and respond to those things that make people feel good at work, and extend our managerial duties only so far as is necessary to keep them safe, warm and comfortable.

Of course, others before have coined some phrases, which summarise many of those approaches, such as:

  • Assume positive intent
  • Catch someone doing something right
  • People’s needs are best met by people whose needs are met.

In a social care organisation such as United Response, supporting over 2000 people with various disabilities, there is no ‘product’ as such, but there are outcomes, and, crucially, there is value.

The value in what we do as an organisation is all in those moments between a person we support and their Support Worker(s) when something that is important to them is realised; or something that was not working is suddenly working, or their hopes and dreams are met. These are often tiny steps forward, but are of immense value.

It is how well the rest of the organisation aligns behind that Support Worker in that moment which determines how often successful outcomes will be achieved.

So how an organisation is designed and organised; the mission, vision, values and strategies it adopts; the leadership and management style; the way people collaborate; the policies and procedures; the attitude to risk; and individual behaviours; all have enormous influences over how that Support Worker will behave in that moment. Some will argue that people bring other influences to their work – from their domestic and personal circumstances – that also influence how they may behave on any given day and which we cannot control as an organisation. That may be so, but we can greatly influence the context and environment into which those external factors are brought, and we can temper them to what is important to and for the organisation, and more importantly to the people we support.

The more an organisation can display the congruence with person-centred approaches in everything it does, the more successful it will be. Leaders can implement one page profiles to learn more about their staff. A one page profile typically has three sections – an appreciation about the person; what is important to them from their perspective; and how best to work with them and support them. Those designing policies and procedures, or new ways of doing things, can do so in response to what is working and not working from the different perspectives of the people involved or affected. Managers can understand better how to manage their staff by learning what makes a good day or bad day for them (this can also bring in some of those external factors). Standards can be set by explaining to staff what praise and trouble means around here.

While my examples have been about social care, there is nothing here that cannot be true in any other type of business.

For the words ‘People’ we support, simply substitute the words ‘Customers,’ ‘Clients,’ ‘Passengers’ or ‘Patients.’

If all of the staff in an organisation understand that achieving alignment and congruence, and what is working/not working for the customer (and their families / friends / associates), then great results are possible. This means real tangible results too.

As well as receiving very positive feedback from customers and their families, and achieving a number of external awards, in the last few years United Response has also:

  • Achieved significant business growth in a highly competitive tendering marketplace
  • In a time of recession and savage public spending cuts, managed to improve financial performance.
  • Experienced turnover of staff on a downward trend over a period of year, saving large sums on recruitment and training.
  • Driven down the cost of absence
  • Reduced the costs of temporary agency staff significantly.

These real business results and some of the fundamental reasons behind them are reflected in the results of staff surveys which show, for example:

  • 98 percent said the direction and values of United response are important to them
  • 97 percent said they feel they can do their job well
  • 96 percent said they know what is expected of them in their job
  • 93 percent said they can be creative and take initiative in their role
  • 70 percent said their contribution at work had been acknowledged in the last week
  • 85 percent felt their opinion matters and they have a voice in the workplace
  • 77 percent felt valued by the organisation

Try translating some of these tools and practices into your own business terms. Start by asking all your staff to complete a one page profile and share them with each other. See what you learn that helps people work better together.

Or, at the organisation level, try developing your vision, mission, values and strategies from what is important to/for your stakeholders, and what is working/not working for them now.

The key is to keep the person at the centre of what you do, whether that is the customer, a staff member, an external stakeholder, or a patient and their family.

It works.

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Jamie Lawrence

Insights Director

Read more from Jamie Lawrence