You’d expect the body charged by Parliament with sorting out complaints between financial businesses and their customers to understand the importance of data. And so it is at the Financial Ombudsman Service, says Amina Hassan.
Amina is the organisation’s risk and governance manager. She was also the founders of its Enable network six years ago and is now its co-chair. Amina says: ‘we introduced a new workplace adjustments programme last December and encouraging people to share data was a key part of this.’ For this project, they worked with Graeme Whippy, a consultant who ‘helps employers become brilliant at employing disabled people’. As he explains in our data and monitoring podcast, Graeme is a big believer in the old maxim: if you can’t measure it, you can’t control it.
Amina goes on: ’I have a neurodiversity condition but I wasn’t diagnosed until after I‘d finished my academic studies and was in work. It was fascinating, an eye-opener but it wasn’t a negative experience. In my team, with my line manager, I was in a comfortable space and I found it easy to share. I had workplace adjustments including coaching, flexible working and adapted technology. But I could see how it could be very daunting if you weren’t in the right environment. That was very important to us as we redeveloped the adjustment process.
‘Graeme Whippy is an expert at helping organisations design and implement workplace adjustment processes. He helped us take a step back. The process has a lot of stakeholders: the individual, their line-manager, HR, facilities and IT. We wanted to consolidate and create a universal experience. We looked at individual cases and asked ourselves: how can we enable colleagues to feel comfortable and trust the process?
‘We developed a trust model. You don’t have to prove anything. If you know what adjustments you need, that’s fine. If you want an assessment, that’s fine too.’ The process is designed to be holistic and to remove as many barriers as possible. ‘We have a designated advisor who works with individuals from the initial contact throughout the process and even after deployment of the adjustment.
‘We realised that language can be a big barrier. The law talks about reasonable adjustments but we don’t. If you’re hesitant about sharing you could spend a lot of time worrying about what exactly “reasonable” means. This can be particularly difficult when it comes to neurodiversity. We’ve shared stories from day one including from a carers perspective. The more you share, the more you reduce taboos, increase relatability and make it easier for others to share.’
The other key fact in encouraging sharing is support across the whole organisation, top to bottom. ‘Just setting up the project with Graeme showed how seriously the organisation took this piece of work,’ says Amina. ’The enormous support we’ve had from the senior leadership, our executive sponsor HR director Caroline Nugent and our lead ombudsman and director of casework Tim Archer, has made a massive difference to creating the right environment. Support needs to be both formal and informal. Our senior management are present at our events either in a formal capacity or informally in the audience with everyone else which demonstrates the right culture.’
The new system will be a year-old in December 2019 and Enable intend to review it to learn more about the journey colleagues are on. But the anecdotal evidence, Amina reports, is that a lot more colleagues have shared and asked for adjustments or coaching.
There is another area of current work that says a lot about how Enable are trying to create an environment in which everyone can share. They’ve organised two workshops in conjunction with the wellbeing team to raise awareness about cancer and its impact on both employees and the wider society. Amina says: ‘Perhaps some workplace networks don’t see it as part of their remit but the truth is that one person in two will be affected by cancer. My co-chair Peter Bolton’s partner had cancer and it made a big impact on him. That was the driver for us to talk about it. We had the organisation Working With Cancer come in to talk with us and we set up a working group for colleagues living with cancer in one way or another.’
At PurpleSpace we believe that it is only through sharing information that we can get better at what we do - and this applies to all organisations. But asking someone to share their data always raises the question: what’s the purpose? And we need to answer that very clearly. Numbers matter but it’s the power of qualitative information - feedback and personal stories - that really drives change.
Like many networks, Enable is about ‘being your authentic self’ at work but at PurpleSpace we were delighted to see this as the strap-line in Enable’s logo and as part of the email signature. The logo (pictured below) also includes a graphical representation of DNA which really underlines the point that we’re all different. These two concepts - difference and authenticity - seem to us to be the cornerstones to creating the right environment for sharing data and stories: authenticity will only ever be an aspiration in a culture that does not celebrate difference.
Financial Ombudsman Service fact box
- Set up in 2001 to resolve individual complaints between financial businesses and their customers
- Locations in London and Coventry
- Workforce 3,800
- 8% have a disability (annual report 2019)
- Enable was founded in 2013
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