Case Study: Interim CEO of Groundwork West Midlands
Narinder Uppal, our membership & trade bodies consultant, speaks to interim CEO Alison Seabrooke about her recent assignment as CEO of Groundwork West Midlands
Groundwork West Midlands is part of the wider Groundwork federation of charities that works across the UK supporting the most disadvantaged communities through a host of local initiatives. In the West Midlands, the charity works on a number of individual projects and services in partnership with other organisations that benefit both people and the wider environment.
Groundwork West Midlands needed guidance through a period of organisational change and development. The task required an interim CEO to put a plan in place to steer the organisation in the right direction and modernise its processes to meet the mission, aims and objectives the charity aspires to uphold. The central work to be done was reviewing the organisation’s operations and identifying opportunities, whilst maintaining alignment to the overarching federation’s strategy and vision.
Simultaneously, the process to find a permanent CEO had to be carried out; a role that would succeed the interim and ensure the long-term progress of the organisation. The charity therefore needed an interim that had strong operational skills to review finances, HR, premises etc and as well as experience of charity sector project delivery. They would then be able to identify the type of candidate to take on the role permanently and continue the work.
To put the framework in place, Alison Seabrooke, a highly experienced public and not-for-profit leader, was selected to take on the role of interim CEO. Having worked extensively with charities for over 20 years, Alison has built a broad portfolio that matched the requirements of Groundwork West Midlands.
Alison’s only previous interim role was in 2005 as the interim CEO of the Community Development Foundation (CDF) where, after six months, she was asked to continue in a permanent capacity. She applied her knowledge of setting up several social businesses to transform it from a non-departmental public body to a social enterprise. She has also worked at board level, most recently as a trustee of the ASDA Foundation and has worked in an independent capacity as a consultant and strategic advisor to charity organisations, such as BBC Children in Need. Such extensive experience in a range of different senior roles gave Alison a holistic view of how to undertake the task at hand and implement a strategy that would ensure the completion of every stage of development of Groundwork West Midlands.
As the interim CEO, Alison had to deliver immediate impact in her short assignment but was also looking to solidify the future of the charity. Within the first few months of her 11-month placement, she worked closely with the executive directors to develop and present the Trustees with a three-year plan to get the charity on a pathway to the position it aims to be in.
Alison saw one of the most pertinent tasks to be carried out in the change programme was improving the ways of working to confirm individual responsibilities and create pace. Alison said that, “from my experience of change management work, it is critical to have a very tight senior team that works seamlessly together. I found that the fundamental change needed to be a re-establishment of a cohesive and clear system of management – the CEO managing the directors and the directors managing managers and managers managing their teams. Whilst this sounds rather hierarchical it provided clarity of action and consistency in expectations during a critical period of change. Senior managers were also involved in identifying the issues that needed resolving and the opportunities that needed to be grasped. It was a simple structure, but it needed to be clarified”. More expansively across the organisation, Alison said she worked, “quickly to remove siloed working in favour of increased collaboration across departments”. She created spaces for different disciplines to work together to improve efficiency and effectiveness.
To facilitate open communication, Alison established weekly senior management team meetings and monthly board meetings, the former to plan ahead and monitor progress and the latter to report progress against the three-year plan. The pre-existing monthly directors and managers operational meetings continued to be held but expanded to include strategic planning. She ensured that non-confidential notes from the weekly senior management team meetings were shared with all staff within a couple of days. This received positive feedback as lack of communication had been identified as an issue in the last staff survey in 2018. The aim was, “to keep the momentum of the discussions going and ensure all staff were clear on the decisions made. I was conscious of how change could have an impact on staff morale and so my aim was to have all members of staff aware of 80-90% of the conversations being had about change and why it was needed”. This was also reflected in her effort to improve board reporting. Alison said that, “as a seasoned Trustee, I had experience of the information boards needed at different organisational stages and so I changed the nature of the papers to focus on the most critical points. I also saw that there was scope to produce a different type of annual report to celebrate successes and provide a clear account of the future strategy. I took on writing the document – in the end, a professionally designed account combining narrative, visuals and numbers - to provide a clear and positive statement about the organisation’s expertise and intentions”.
As well as the internal processes, Alison reviewed the projects and services the charity was providing to the community. To keep consistency in high quality offerings, one project had to be phased out due to the disproportionate risk it posed to the organisation against the outcomes it intended to deliver. Despite the opportunity to receive further funding to develop it, Alison decided to discontinue the initiative so that efforts could be focused on other areas.
Alongside the work being carried out internally in the organisational restructure, Alison was working directly with Odgers Berndtson to find her permanent replacement. Being the principle lead in setting the plan for the future of the charity, she had a clear understanding of who would be the ideal candidate to succeed her in this project.
Since Alison took on the role of interim CEO, she has relaid the foundations of the organisation. Having reviewed the organisational structure, ways of working, financial outlook and services being delivered, Alison has rerouted the charity in just under a year. As there has been consistent and frequent communication about the changes with increased transparency across the organisation, staff morale has not dropped. She has managed to overcome the key impending challenges of the organisation, putting it in good stead for the permanent CEO to develop further.
Groundwork West Midlands is well on its way to success pursuing the three-year plan to reach their goal of stability, and this month the newly appointed permanent CEO, Andrew Thompson, is settling in to his new role to ensure the outlined changes are implemented and progress continues to be made.
Commenting on Alison’s work, June Campbell, Chair of Groundwork West Midlands Board of Trustees said, “The Board needed an interim CEO who could stabilise the organisation and create a solid foundation for the future. Alison swiftly restructured the team to reflect the realities of our funding situation and identified opportunities for long term growth. We still have work to do but the plan is well under way thanks to Alison”.
For more information please contact Narinder Uppal.