Interim Assignment - Transforming a Failing Research Organisation

Client Organisation

The Research Institute in Surrey, part of the UK’s Science Research Council, is world renowned for leading virus research and protecting the UK from dangerous pathogens.

Amongst their many successes was the elimination of the deadly cattle disease, ‘Rinderpest’, from farms across the globe. Surveillance continues on other livestock diseases and viruses that spread from animals to humans.

‘Biosafety’ underpins the whole operation, without which the outside environment could be exposed to deadly viruses.

500 staff and £30m operating budget

The main deliverables for the interim assignment were.

  • Restore rigour in biosafety and engage new operating procedures
  • Culture shift to commercial acumen and a High Reliability Organisation
  • Establish a new business operating model across Executive, Board and organisation
  • Develop a robust information systems architecture
  • Create and launch a motivating new identity.

Background to the assignment and why an interim manager was needed.

Confidence in the Institute was questioned when a complex high containment procedure was breached causing HSE to lose confidence in the organisation’s ability to operate.

There was a proud history and strong world-wide reputation for research excellence, but a review of procedures across site revealed dysfunctional ways of working, poor morale and a fall in sponsorship.

An experienced interim manager was appointed to develop a completely independent remediation plan, get to the root of the safety issues, and importantly deliver and restore the organisation to a well-managed and confident business.

My title: Transformation Director and Interim Director of Risk

I reported to the Chairman of the Board with indirect reports to the Chief Executive and Executive Board.

The key actions I took:

  • Established a new Risk and Assurance team and appointed a permanent Director of Risk towards the end of the assignment
  • Through workshops across site developed new, high containment operating procedures emphasising simpler processes and failsafe communications 
  • Introduced a new and smaller executive leadership team and operating model built on clear strategy and business planning, engaging with the Board and site
  • Appointed a Business Director to commercially develop the Institute’s products (e.g. vaccines) and bring in diversified sponsorship
  • Helped IT / IS Head develop new systems architecture incorporating ‘big data’
  • Through facilitation, arrived at clear USP, culture and values and developed motivating storyboards and case studies to promote a new brand promise
  • Held an open day for all staff, sponsors and clients to promote a renewed and refreshed organisation.

Why the deliverables were achieved.

  • There was a strong and united need to see the interim as the focal person and way through a serious situation
  • A background in change management in the wider world and degree in agricultural sciences rapidly established credibility and rapport
  • Staff developed and owned the new operating procedures which have been self-sustaining for the future
  • The interventions put the institute on a sound business and operating footing
  • Pride in their organisation led to the development of a new brand, successful open day and restored confidence within and by sponsors and HSE

Results of the interim assignment - some hard numbers

  • HSE assessment of the institute changed from ‘at risk of closure’ to ‘fully acceptable’
  • The number of ‘non-reportable incidents’ was reduced by 95%
  • The new £200m Security Level 3 laboratory received its license to operate
  • The institute has gone from strength to strength receiving record sponsorship and highest possible accolade by peers and Government for its vital work.

Some key learning points I would like to emphasize

  • The project emphasises the importance of delivering a complete ‘owned’ solution involving strategy, people, processes and IT / IS systems.  As a result, change was self-sustaining, continuing without external help after the interim had handed over.
  • Introducing new strategies and operations is always met with some skepticism and resistance.
  • Delivery is so vital and can only be achieved with united and motivated leadership and sponsorship – drive the plan forward
  • Research institutes can develop much needed business focus. 

 

Leon Labovitch - October 2017   E mail: leon@labovitch.co.uk    Mobile: 07887 758116

 

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