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LET’S TALK

With Jim Robinson, Head of End User Services at Defence Digital, Ministry of Defence

The Ministry of Defence (MOD) is a ministerial department of HM Government that works directly with 25 agencies and departments.  End User Services at Defence Digital supports devices and infrastructure connected to top secret and security critical activity.

MOD has around 200,000 employees

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British Army

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Royal Air Force

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Royal Navy

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National security

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Support during national and international emergencies

Changing behaviours – without a change programme

How do you lead change and inspire your team to engage with critical projects in an organisation that’s constantly undergoing change? That was a question facing Jim Robinson when he took over as leader of End User Services in the Defence Digital arm of the Ministry of Defence.

Jim wanted to improve the team culture and keep it aligned to the wider digital transformation activities in his area.

Outlining the challenge he and his team faced, Jim says: “We deliver critical projects and programmes … that rely on our ability to work together, share ideas, and get the most out of the tools we have. It’s important we understand how to harness our platforms of course though I also need my team members to understand their value and it contributes to the team and our work – so I chose to work with experts who can help me do just that.”

Stages of a plant gradually growing and representing the culture and behaviours aspect within the Ministry of Defence's workforce,

Jim turned to Inform’s culture + behaviours expertise to listen, advise, and collaborate with him as he helped build community in his team. This work has focused on how they, as a department of disparate roles and personalities, communicate with each other – from the critical planning to business as usual to developing as a team. and maintain the improvement programme he inherited from his predecessor.

He wanted to build the positive – from removing some of the hierarchy and give people a sense of being part of a great team – and remove the negative. This might be calling out behaviour that didn’t align with better working together.

Jim’s consultation with Gini Holden, our behavioural change expert, helped him see he didn’t need a ‘big bang change programme’.

A man and a woman infront of a giant lightbult

Multi-faceted change programmes, one after the other, can intimidate people, leading to a culture of change apathy and ultimately disengagement and underperformance.”

Gini Holden, Behavioural Psychologist at Inform

Instead, with Gini’s support (and without even mentioning change!), they’ve used a series of micro changes to build up to something that is starting to bring lasting improvements to how the team works together. Improvements in performance, efficiency and happiness – it’s a persuasive argument for the importance of cultural change.

Big change from small moments

Small nudges can often much easier for people to absorb and to get on board with. Indeed, with the right plan in place, often people can take on new ideas and make small adjustments to their behaviour without even realising it. By not having to dedicate so much effort to make change, it reduces the cognitive load on people and reduces practical resistance – “I don’t have time for this” – and cultural resistance – “that’s not the way we do it here.” And by introducing smaller changes, the cumulative effect becomes something beyond the sum of its parts.

People and different symbols behind them representing the different ideas and opinions they have about change programmes

As we deliver small change alongside Inform’s targeted communications and content support, we’ve helped Jim to introduce a stream of improvements to boost positive team behaviours and collaboration. Now when people join the team for example, there’s a clear induction process about why they work in the way they do and what behaviours are expected, not just the nuts and bolts of, say, how they manage documentation.

And with new team members having space to introduce themselves and what they’ve done before, it’s a chance to see what knowledge and expertise they bring too. These simple steps draw people into a team and show their value and worth to the team. People know how and where they fit and who to rely on, even under stressful conditions.

This sort of change is a key part of Inform’s culture and behaviour expertise: that we inspire people to use their own abilities to adopt new ways of working and habits.

This sort of change is a key part of Inform’s culture and behaviour expertise: that we inspire people to use their own abilities to adopt new ways of working and habits.

Building connections to improve performance

Jim observed the pressure his team can be under – for example, if there’s an outage of critical infrastructure hardware, they often have to scramble to resolve (which is sort of reassuring when you know the end users they’re supporting are essential to our national security!) He understands that the work is relentless – and a big deal if something goes wrong.

With Inform’s support, he’s putting effort into how people can feel more connected to their work. Which is an effective way to retain talent.

“Our work relies heavily on the commitment and dedication of individuals. Giving people the knowledge of why their work is important and how we value it, is important from a retention perspective – and from a happiness at work perspective.” – Jim Robinson
A laptop with two people in air baloons floating out of the screen representing cloud technology bringing people together

When people feel a stronger connection, they can more easily cope with the everyday workload as well as more challenging situations – it improves happiness and performance too. Social psychologists – like our culture + behaviours experts – have been studying the human need of belonging for many years. It’s well established that a sense of belonging is an important intrinsic motivator as anyone who refers to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs will attest.

I’m fundamentally of the opinion that if you can get people collaborating and get their behaviours right, then performance will follow.” – Jim Robinson
Four puzzle pieces representing people coming together and connecting

Moving away from siloed working is a challenge that faces many organisations. Jim needed to get people more comfortable with uncertainty and clear about wider team goals. This would help them be ready and willing to move fluidly across teams and projects.

It’s made a big difference to managing projects and pinch-points in the system. His people don’t feel so anxious and resentful of moving around. In fact, they stick their hands up to say they’re ready to work on the projects that need help. It’s an important step towards genuinely effective people utilisation – one of Jim’s ultimate goals.

A target board with two people on devices talking to eachother

To help drive this openness to moving between high-profile projects, it’s vital to maintain quality communications. Helping people understand what to think, feel and do through well-crafted communications is essential if you want to join the dots between behavioural science and the end user. The Inform Team helps shape this communications work. “It’s been a core element of the work. We’re much sharper on our project comms – they’re updated and repurposed often rather than creating new.” A time and efficiency saving that boosts understanding and morale without costing heavily.

As new team cultures and behaviours germinate and take hold, it’s important that leaders nurture morale and grow with the team. Seeing how your boss interacts and performs with change is a fundamental source of behavioural and cultural influence. It’s something that can affect people and their appetite for change.

A mountain with a pink flag on the top signalling people reaching their goals
How Inform's campaigns + content expertise supported the work
Inform helped Jim experiment with the style and approach of his monthly briefings to the team. We gave them structure, experimented with facilitators and introduced regular sessions, such as deep dives on important projects that impact the team and a Get to Know You for team members. We made sure the team got to hear from other people across the MOD too to build their knowledge and understanding of how their work has dependencies with other departments.
All very obvious perhaps though it took Inform’s support and delivery to make it happen, and in a way that was aligned to their annual plan, with creativity to improve engagement, and to follow through consistently.

Where leadership and culture intersect

People standing behind eachother representing leadership at work

Importantly for Jim, the relationship with Inform has given him a sounding board and shortcut to workable solutions, including developing as a leader. Relying on our science of behavioural insight gave him a shortcut for success in this work.

This included in concentrated work with the leadership team – modelling behaviours and approaches that can lead to better team connections and are easily repeatable.

“I’ve been able to sense check plans and ideas with Inform – it’s more rounded and it gives me more confidence that it’s going to work.” When Jim needed to boost the team and build trust, Inform’s behavioural psychology expertise reinforced his ideas and gave it the rigour it needed.

“A big part of building trust was me showing vulnerability and that I didn’t have all the answers. One exercise we used was going to my senior leadership team and getting them tell me what I need to do better. We also did a work about what we needed from each other.” Trust has always been an essential part of leadership and working with Gini helped shape how he framed and managed these exercises – getting them to land and to drive results.
It’s the objectivity of being outside your organisation that can give clients the confidence to review and challenge ideas – and backing it up with the experience and evidence of what works.

The conversations I’ve had with Gini have been invaluable. With her input and experience, I’ve had more confidence to move forward and that what I’m doing will have impact. The work isn’t finished though the solid building blocks are in place.”

It’s the science behind effective change

The science gives the compelling arguments and reasoning. With Gini and other change managers, Jim gets the chance to think aloud. Figuring out the route from the as is to the to be helps review the objectives and why choosing one plan of action might be better than another. It’s brought a level of formality and confidence to Jim’s work – giving him so much more from the actions.

As Jim observes, a lot of his colleagues and peers are generalists, and don’t always have the expertise for all elements of a project.

A man sitting with a laptop and a green arrow going upwards behind him representing a growth mindset at work.
Opinions are two a penny but experience of what works is invaluable – that’s what consultancies like Inform offers. Everyone at Inform is approachable and personable, which is great of course, though it’s the honesty and being proactive that for me builds the trust.”

The growing connection and confidence in the team is helping Jim’s long-term goal: efficient staff utilisation. While advisory support may sound like a luxury, it’s actually a quicker way to see results. Ultimately – it’s improving how he’s able to meet end users’ needs as well as reduce time and money costs of staff churn.

With these sort of returns, Inform’s support of Jim’s vision has been essential. He sees relying on Inform’s culture and behaviour expertise as something he’ll return to time and again.