Northumbrian Water Limited (NWL) provides water and sewerage services to 2.7m customers in the North East of England, and water services to 1.8m customers in Essex and Suffolk. It has 2,900 employees, an annual turnover of £683m, and has developed several commercial businesses, including leisure and scientific services, which maximise the use of its assets and leverage the skills and capabilities of its employees.
NWL’s vision is to be ‘the national leader in the provision of sustainable water and waste water services’. Its performance in the last two years demonstrates that it is making great progress towards achieving this vision.
Extensive Model experience
Heidi Mottram was appointed as the new CEO of NWL in March 2010. She had used the EFQM Excellence Model extensively in her previous role as CEO of Northern Rail, and had seen the benefits of benchmarking against best practice and using the assessment results to inform business change priorities. Once NWL’s vision had been refreshed, and new medium-term goals and values established and communicated within the business, adopting the Model was the next logical step.
After reviewing the output from a self-assessment in 2011, the senior management team decided to apply for EFQM Recognised for Excellence certification as one of the priority projects for the following year. They realised that, unless NWL benchmarked itself against both other UK water companies and companies outside the industry, it was in danger of missing out on learning how the very best operate.
Coordinating the process
Matthew Grant, Head of the Business Process Improvement (BPI), and his team took responsibility for coordinating the assessment process. They began by engaging with the leadership team about the Model, explaining what the assessment would involve for them and their teams, and promoting the benefits of the process.
The BPI team then developed the approach for producing the submission document: they decided which activities best fitted each of the Model’s enabler and result criteria, and developed a matrix approach which mapped them all out. They engaged with managers to produce the relevant parts and prepare them for their interviews. They also communicated to the wider business what the assessment would entail, and managed the logistics of the site visit.
In June 2012, NWL was awarded EFQM Recognised for Excellence at the highest level of 5 stars. Its overall score in the assessment was between 550 and 600, with consistent scoring across the enablers and result criteria. This exceeded its target and was a great result for a first assessment.
One of the main benefits of any EFQM Recognised for Excellence assessment is the feedback report. This identifies which areas compare well against best practice, but also where improvements are needed and how to achieve them.
NWL’s report identified that it is performing well in a number of areas. In particular it noted the effectiveness of the leadership team in communicating the vision and demonstrating the values, and that the strategy, vision and medium-term goals were well-aligned with the company and departmental balanced scorecards. It also observed that the level of employee engagement was high and that customer perception results were positive and continuing to improve, while its society perception results were good and improvements could be clearly linked to actions being undertaken.
Against this very favorable background, the report also had some recommendations. It advised that employee engagement could be raised further by improving inter-departmental communication, addressing work life balance issues and promoting and recognising innovation. It also suggested that customer perception results could be improved by setting targets for all measures, identifying external benchmarks for some and developing new engagement mechanisms for some customer segments.
The report proposed improving process governance and ownership, undertaking further reviews of the effectiveness of end-to-end, cross-functional processes, and the speeding up of improvement initiative implementation by streamlining approval processes and avoiding over-consultation.
Heidi Mottram, said: ‘I am extremely proud of this achievement as it recognises that we are a great company that delivers a great service to our customers. It also clearly demonstrates our on-going commitment to being national leader in our industry.
‘This is the first time we have experienced such a comprehensive and holistic assessment process, covering every aspect of what we do. The feedback we have received will help us to identify and prioritise further opportunities to improve, as well as recognise what we do well.’