Local Cornerstone: Purpose versus Targets, by Edel Harris

Edel Harris

Edel Harris

Over recent years, with the emphasis on austerity and the resulting public service funding crisis, the social care sector in the UK has become an industry that in many cases has lost the focus on the person requiring care and support.  Time and tasks have become the order of the day with often stressed, low paid workers following a schedule and a set of rules that have more in common with a manufacturing production line.   

Power needs to be felt within local communities where one of the most intimate of transactions is delivered by people who are trusted to do a great job.  To this end Cornerstone has introduced a new model which we call ‘Local Cornerstone’.  The model is based on several principles, the most important being related to our purpose

“To enable the people we support to live a valued life – a life they choose”.

 If you work on the premise that people who want to work in the social care sector are motivated by making a positive difference.  If you recruit for values and attitude and you then provide an environment where colleagues are genuinely trusted and empowered to do a great job you will find that amazing things happen.  

Can you imagine a workplace with no managers, no supervising and checking, no burdensome policies and procedures, three simple measurements and a network of up-skilled, local, self managed teams all focused on achieving a charitable purpose?

Cornerstone is changing  its culture to remove hierarchy, replace traditional management with a coaching approach and by stripping out unnecessary policies and procedures we are  trusting people to do the right thing.  We only recruit and retain the very best people by hiring for values. We are improving staff retention and happiness by demonstrating our appreciation of the wonderful work our colleagues do and by allowing team members to manage their own workload.  By reducing our central overheads and as a result of a significant investment in technology we have managed to do all of this in a financially sustainable way. 

Most importantly we can see the difference this new way of working has made to the lives of the people we support.

Clare moved into a self-organising team in Glasgow. Clare was supported to appreciate her value and given the confidence to recognise that hers is a valued profession. She was paid more. She has blossomed in her role and every day undertakes activities with the people she supports that are not restricted by a list of tasks and over burdensome processes and policies. She is free to use her imagination and skills to meet our charitable purpose. She recently attended a care review. In her old role she would never have been allowed or expected to attend such a meeting. With her new found confidence as a ‘professional’ she contributed as an equal and her input was appreciated. Clare left the meeting feeling ten feet tall and knowing that the outcome for the young man is exactly what it should be thanks to her contribution.

A Local Care and Support Team in Irvine support Mary who has had a very traumatic life. Her children were taken into care and only recently is she back in touch with her daughter who was planning to get married. Mary is too unwell to attempt the trip. The team decided that Mary should experience being a ‘mother of the bride’. They took her to buy an outfit and to get a manicure; they organised a buffet and transmitted the ceremony onto a big screen. The whole team came to the ‘wedding’ dressed in their finery. This wasn’t within contracted hours but because the team are trusted and empowered to deliver on the charitable purpose they were able to make this happen. The Prosecco served at the wedding, in the old days would have been a breach of our Alcohol Policy!

Brian lived with his sister Joan in Dundee and was her main carer. Joan had dementia. Cornerstone colleagues visited Joan three times a day. Joan died suddenly and all the contracted hours of care were immediately stopped. The team realised that Brian was grieving and lonely. Because he was the main carer he had lost all community connections. The team decided to continue to call in to see Brian to help him to re-establish friendships in the area. After a while the daily visits became ‘now and then’. The extra hours of time were paid for by the Cornerstone Foundation

Throw away the rule book. Recruit and retain the best people with the best attitude. Value them and trust them to do a good job. Remove the obstacles that are in their way and challenge regulation and contract compliance when you believe it is contrary to the outcome you are trying to achieve.

No one wants their legacy to be that they met their KPIs – we are driven by a sense of purpose and a desire to make a difference.

Edel Harris joined Cornerstone as CEO in 2008, having previously been Deputy Chief Executive of Aberdeen Foyer. A former Metropolitan Police Officer, her background is in health promotion. Edel is also a Director of the Aberdeen Football Club Community Trust, Director of the Scottish Council for Development and Industry (SCDI) and of the Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce.