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Restoring your bottom line - Restorative practices in the business environment

There has been a quiet revolution going on in some areas of public service in Hull- one which I doubt many of you have heard about yet.

Over recent years, starting in a few schools and spreading to all of Children and Young People's Services first in the Riverside area and then to all of Hull, Restorative Practices (RP) have been deployed to improve the outcomes and quality of all interventions that Hull City Council and Humberside Police make with young people. The impact has been immense; for example, adoption of an RP based system for young offenders by the police had a cost of 259,000 but yielded a saving of at least 3.5 million, by reducing entrants to the Youth Justice system (by twice the national average) and cutting custodial sentencing by 23%, amongst other outcomes. Reoffending in the group affected is quoted by the police as 13% (vs a national average of around 27%). Schools report engagement of difficult students and families as over 95% against pre-RP figures of 0 to 47%, with classroom disruptions reduced by 90% and savings of nearly 60,000 per term in supply teaching costs for one secondary. Results such as these are accompanied by anecdotal evidence of improved relationships, rifts between neighbours healed, staff disputes solved (and staff working together happily thereafter) and old issues and feuds between families and individuals successfully closed off.

Clearly Restorative Practices already make a huge difference to the public sector, and in these times of austerity we're all pleased to see our taxes being spent more efficiently and to a greater effect. But to believe that the private sector- real businesses that have to make a profit to survive and prosper- is not able to benefit from these techniques would be a huge mistake. To appreciate how useful RP could be, first we have to get over the term 'restorative', and then understand more about what it enables your staff and you to do.

The term 'Restorative Practices' was coined to summarise all the processes originally developed to deal with an event after the fact- to repair harm and bring resolution to victims and offenders in crimes and anti-social behaviour for example. In this context it is clear what it means- there is something obvious which needs restoring. However, where RP really comes into its own is in the avoidance of problems arising in the first instance by the realistic and open discussion of issues and needs within the group of people affected- whether that group is a class of schoolchildren, the residents of a kids' home, a street of neighbours or the staff of a business. Restorative Practices are restoring things in all these contexts but in a much more subtle way; raising the standards of engagement and understanding to levels previously unobtained, and with them the impacts achievable. Experience shows that in the organisations gaining the greatest benefits from RP, 80% or more of the time spent on the implementation is spent in proactive activities rather than the reactive ones more normally associated in the public mind with RP.

How can this apply to a business, and what is involved?

There are a few things which many current management models either skate over or touch only briefly, and they are important omissions. Two which are especially relevant here are the fact that all the staff we employ are driven by their emotions- indeed, even when they are making apparently rational and reasoned decisions or following predetermined processes, there is increasing evidence that emotions have a significant bearing on the quality of the decisions made and the level of output which individuals will achieve. The second omission is that all really effective organisations are communities, or even communities within communities, not just groups of folk working together. This is a measurable effect; Gallup, Cohen and Prusak, and Best Companies have all produced independent research undertaken in a variety of ways which shows an indisputable correlation between high levels of emotional engagement, high levels of 'community indicators' and high levels of performance and productivity. RP provides a clear and explicit framework of practices which are easily understood and can consistently be applied by managers and supervisors to engage staff in the right way and build social capital within the organisation, boosting performance and results. Further, the practices are self-policing by virtue of the openness and expectation to challenge unacceptable behaviours, which form intrinsic parts of the package. It's worth reiterating both those points: RP provides clarity for managers and staff about what to do and how to do it, and expects non-conforming behaviour to be challenged by colleagues. Failure to challenge is itself unacceptable and so is itself challenged.

None of this of course takes away the ability of the individuals concerned to express their own style and personality when operating within the framework, in fact the open nature of communications actually encourages it- just visit an organisation where RP is embedded at a management level to see some of the most focused, purposeful and laughter filled meetings you will have observed, aided by the unique clarity of values and purpose, open communications and trusting relationships which RP brings. In fact now would be an opportune time to summarise what RP does bring; the following is from Hull Centre for Restorative Practice's latest planning document, slightly adapted to suit Hull businesses:

Aims of restorative Practice

Building and repairing relationships - To work in ways that are respectful and engaging, enabling staff to develop understanding and empathy, and consider and understand the impact of their behaviour both positive and negative. Additionally to work in ways that enable participants to put right relationships, both internal and external, when harm has been caused.

Empowerment of individuals, teams and work communities. Restorative practices aims to support these groups to build confidence and control over their own lives and work activities. RP provides strategies that build relationships and empower departments, teams and whole businesses to take responsibility for the well being and effectiveness/performance of their members, including their customers.

Mutual Accountability - Restorative practices hold that everyone is accountable for their own actions and the outcomes from them, both positive and negative. They thus both encourage positive feedback and provide opportunities for wrongdoers to be accountable to those they have harmed, and enable them to repair the harm they caused to the extent possible.

Shared Responsibility - The approach builds on the knowledge, skills and resources in both formal departments and teams, and informal staff and work-community networks to work together; sharing responsibility, knowledge, skills and resources for the wellbeing and improvement of themselves, the business and the customers.

Outcome and Solution Focused - Restorative practices aim to focus on outcomes and solutions using the results for stakeholders (Business, customers and staff) as the basis for all action. The work is solution focused, concerned primarily with using the knowledge and strengths of participants to find solutions and get good outcomes for customers. This will increase the work and collaborative skills of those involved and enable individuals and teams to build on strengths and constantly improve standard methods and levels of service.

To apply RP within a business takes a few distinct steps. Firstly top management have to commit to it and provide time for it to happen, on the understanding that they will recoup this investment many times over in due course. They also need to discuss and agree the values of the organisation- the fundamental things that the organisation stands for, promotes and expects from its staff. After this the staff and management need to become acquainted in a practical way with the six principles of RP, to enable them to apply them throughout every working day. Concurrent with this, the working day needs to be rearranged so that adequate opportunity is provided for staff proactively to build and then maintain social capital, in both structured and unstructured ways. What constitutes 'adequate' will vary according to circumstances and starting point, and will in any case reduce once the practices are embedded and RP has become 'the way we run the business'. There follows a period during which fair process is used to work with staff to develop a number of norms and standards making explicit the behaviours expected of staff. This clarity is essential as a basis for effective management and enables the rest of the principles of RP to work. In many organisations it is lacking or missing entirely and in such cases may need to be extended to operational procedures as well.
Once these steps are complete then the stage is set and the following period will be concerned with putting the principles and new knowledge into practice consistently across the business. Generally some form of self-assessment or monitoring is useful here.

Continuous Improvement in an RP environment.

One set of benefits which becomes far more easily accessible in an RP environment is the achievement of a continuous improvement culture. Organisations where such a culture exists are (often without realising it) highly restorative, enacting many of the principles even without using the terms. The reason for this is that in order fully to engage staff and have them take responsibility for the improvement activities necessary, most of the other elements of RP must be in place- simply because of how people are. In effective CI implementations a great deal of time and effort is put into getting this culture in place, and it follows that if the situation is approached from the opposite direction by using RP to instil the culture, then all the massive benefits and improvements possible through implementing CI can easily be accessed for a small additional effort, mainly involving the provision of 'lean' analysis and improvement skills to the staff.

Next Steps

If you are intrigued by the possibilities that RP management offers your business or organisation and may consider joining Hull's revolution, then Hull Centre for Restorative Practices will be happy to visit to your organisation to review and discuss your current position and the steps and methodology recommended to enable you to implement RP based management. We can also provide a unique combination of RP management, client-facing RP, and continuous improvement training in whatever proportions are required. Please contact John Macdonald on or call 07957 336856 for more information.

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