Jasminder was the chief registrar (of births, deaths and marriages) in a northern industrial city.

Her council had suffered under an administration widely touted as incompetent.  A new administration had had a clear out of senior management.  The new chief executive was given two targets – the council tax had to come down and services had to get better.

The CE decided that continuous improvement was the way to do it and after some early struggles a training programme was put in place for middle managers.

Jasminder was one of those who “got it” – many didn’t.

She reflected on the service she provided.

At first it didn’t seem there was much scope for improvement.  Basic processes and targets were prescribed by law and carefully monitored.  The size of the market was fixed – she couldn’t increase the number of births, deaths or marriages.  Births and marriages were (usually) accompanied by much joy but there wasn’t much scope to delight the customer when a death was being registered.  And while her service had a monopoly on registration, the one area with some discretion about level of service – marriages – was in competition with many other venues, religious and secular.

She did what she’d been trained to do – get her staff together to explain the need to cut costs and improve services and the council’s new approach to improvement.  If anyone was going to do it, it had to be them.

They used the techniques she’d been taught to analyse the range of potential problems and collect some basic data about each.  One of her registrars suggested seeking customer views – something they’d never done before.  The biggest issue emerging was that the service, although competent, was not seen as a positive experience.  The whole place, at the back of the town hall, was dowdy and unwelcoming.  The marriage room was especially criticised.

With budgets tight there was no scope to bid for money to do the place up but again the improvement disciplines focussed their minds.  A brainstorm led to the idea that value could be added for wedding parties, which should increase income and allow the whole area to be refurbished.  One hitherto silent clerical assistant suggested doing up a small patch of ground outside that could be used for wedding photos.  A local florist was approached to replace the tacky plastic flowers in the wedding room with a welcoming spray in return for a discreet card advertising his services.

When I last visited the place had been transformed.  It was light, airy and welcoming.  Jasminder and her team had the data to show how the number of marriages (and income) had increased and were alert to trends which might suggest a problem.

But best of all there was a palpable buzz about the place.  The staff had taken ownership of the service and were clearly enjoying their work.