It is only a select group of charity staff who would proudly state they would go into battle if their CEO asked them, but staff at Autism Plus said this of their chief executive Philip Bartey, in one of many revealing endorsements that paved his way to become the 2010 Charity Times Awards Charity Principal of the Year. Such talk can be seen as clichéd, but the judges were impressed by Bartey’s
ability to take his organisation on to a new level. In fact, it has been a major turnaround job, and in his five years in charge, he has transformed the charity.
Bartey’s tale of success begins as he gets his feet under the CEO desk in 2005 with a proposed five year strategy to tackle the numerous problems within the charity. “When I joined, the charity had really stagnated. I asked the trustees ‘what is your long-term vision’ and they replied simply: ‘they didn’t have one’ and ‘that is why we have appointed you’.
“I led them on a number of strategic away days, but what I found was the former management team had embedded a blame culture and a bullying style of management. Staff were very despondent and frightened to speak about issues.” Evidence of this was the staff turnover, which stood at 29% at this time, but has now fallen to 2% today. He also tripled the charity’s income in his five years in charge from £3.6m in 2005 to the current £10.2m.
So what did he do to change this? “I am a great believer in inspirational leadership and I select models from history. And I tend to go for disabled models.” With 2005 being the bicentenary of Lord Nelson and the Battle of Trafalgar, Bartey looked to Nelson and his “challenge of the conventional way of doing things” and used his “winning the respect of his team, his workforce,” as the inspirational leader model.
This model was used on the strategic away days to find out what staff and service users were interested in, happy and discontented with, and these issues were worked through. Bartey then felt he was starting to engage with the team. “They started to come around. They realised they were being listened to, and valued, which made a step change in the organisation.”
It is valuing staff that is the central tenet of Bartey’s management style. “People do their best for a leader who values them.” Also in boosting staff morale, a small but significant example, was his refusal to allow staff to wear uniforms or name badges. He is now planning to provide a greater range of choice of accommodation for those who need support housing.
He then moved on to changing the make-up of the many facets of the charity. He recruited new trustees with what he calls, “diverse skills” many from business, as more than fifty percent of trustees were parents, which he identified as being an “unhealthy balance percentage”.
He put into train personal centre plans for staff. “We were able to measure how we were meeting needs and what we needed to do to improve. That evidenced itself in better reports from care standards, so it was quantifiable.” Indeed, under Bartey’s leadership Autism Plus is graded either good or excellent by the Care Quality Commission for all of its services.
In 2007 he set-up a question time event, where the senior team were the panel, with parents and families invited along to fire questions about the charity: what they were doing and how sons and daughter were being treated in its service.
Heart of it
“Some questions were friendly, some hostile. But it achieved something very important; it transformed the relationship between the charity and parents and families of users.We also engaged with the local authority.We then started to get to the heart of what service users required.”
Offering day services and education, residential and community support, transitions to adult services for school leavers, employment services and childrens’ respite projects, getting to what users require, is essential. The charity currently supports 150 people (up from 30 when Bartey started), plus works with 2,500 through its employment arm: Jobsteps.
Moreover, Bartey ensured Autism Plus, which provides a range of services for people with autism and other disabilities across Yorkshire and Humberside, was the first charity in the country to appoint a senior member of staff to address issues of personalisation of care budgets. “This is important, because five years ago there were a lot of talk about person centred planning, but I found no evidence of this. I am very focused on meeting customer needs. How do we underpin and place this at the heart of our mission? And we did that with personalisation.”
Then came the focus on the wider sector with the creation of The Adsetts Partnership (TAP), a not-for-profit business he set up in 2009, working across the social care, health care and education sectors to deliver projects for multiple needs groups. It includes Autism Plus, Jobsteps, and twenty other third sector organisations in various sectors.
Patchwork quilt of diversity
Here exists Bartey’s focus on contractual charities rising to professional challenges and becoming stronger in a unified group, but without each component part losing its identity. “TAP was formed with medium-sized charities with a diversity in provision: but all operate in the contractual arena. For us to compete, this is the road we must go down,” he says, his relaxed manner giving way to one of more steel.
As an issue, this is a real passion. “Look at the Work Programme that is emerging from the Coalition Government and you look at the last round of contracting under the last Labour Government; no charity won out. It all went to large national companies. And the private companies we are competing against have a minimum turnover of £100m. Competing with that we don’t have a cat in hells chance unless we stand together and present a united front; which gets us into the game. “TAP offers a different proposition: you do not have to merge, you can retain your brand and offer a patchwork quilt of diversity of provision”
The twenty organisation members so far have a joint income of £80m. Bartey wants this to rise in excess of £100m, to give the group real clout, although he wants to keep the numbers reasonable: forty of fifty charities as the maximum, so the focus of the operation is not watered down or becomes too big.
The theme for the next five years is the Battle of Britain and Douglas Bader, who tried three times to get in the RAF but was turned down because he had no legs, but was eventually recruited. “One of the things he did when the Battle of Britain started was he saw we fought the Germans on a piecemeal basis: we used small squadrons to meet 600 German aircraft and the Germans just laughed.
“It was Douglas Bader who went to the Air Vice- Marshal and told him the strategy was wrong: ‘we need to take force on with force,’ he said. And that was the beginning of the turning point of the battle. And the message for me is dealing with national companies penetrating the voluntary sector market: if we respond in a piecemeal fashion with single charities and single silo missions then we are more likely to fail. If we can find a way of standing together we have a better, and real, chance of success”
Going forward, Bartey is optimistic but aware of the challenges. “The public believe smaller and medium sized charities can offer better quality of service and support for vulnerable people than is the case with large nationals and private
companies: that is the essence of us.
” It is the case that the majority of tenders in the fields of employment and social care have recently been awarded to private sector providers, but the Adsetts Partnership and Bartey are challenging that monopoly by bringing together specialists in different fields. If his next five years are as productive as first five, Bartey could well influence a shift in this scenario.