Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Case Study

Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service (RBFRS) are on the front lines every day, fighting fires, rescuing animals and protecting the local community. On-call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, their operations span 18 fire stations across the county. All in all, they are responsible for around 125,914 hectares of land spanning from Slough to Newbury, with over 600 staff working tirelessly to serve a population of around 860,000 people. 

With such an important job to do, they are always looking for ways to improve their delivery. In many places, this goes right back to central operations, refining their processes, and ensuring everything are running as smoothly as possible. But after a major restructure across the national fire service, they found there were some gaps that needed filling, but they weren’t sure where they all were. That’s when the senior leadership team decided to bring in our team to help their group manager project lead for protection, Jess James, identify and fill the gaps in his team.


Identifying Problem Areas

When we asked Jess what first drew him to using a service like ours, he commented that:

“We had gone through a significant period of change and also a restructure, and it was absolutely clear that with so many new staff, there was such a gap of experience and knowledge. We had people doing things because they have always done it that way, and then they were leaving or retiring, and now new people have come in and we have no way to teach them what they need to know.”

Unfortunately, this is a common issue in businesses across the country. Knowledge transfer is a challenging area for most businesses, particularly if you have a series of specialised roles within the organisation. Many businesses don’t plan for their employees to leave, which means when they do they have to start the whole process again. But if you have a structured process for knowledge transfer, along with written processes and procedures, then you can be sure that the impact on your business will be minimised by the change in staffing. Jess added that:

“The whole transition showed us that if you build your process on assumptions, it doesn’t take much when something gets pulled out for it to come tumbling down.”

Defining ‘Business As Usual’

With an organisation as large and sprawling as a county fire and rescue service, it can be a challenge just figuring out what everyday operations are, and what needs to be done. ‘business as usual’ becomes an abstract concept, because there are just too many moving pieces to define it. But without an idea of what your standard operations are, and how they work, organisations like RBFRS will struggle to grow and implement change in the future. Jess explains:

“So we really just wanted to get down and find out what the ground truth was and find out where the holes were and the weaknesses. We need to have strong footings first, and then we can develop our new way of working from there. You can’t do it on a weak base, and there was too much change to support what we were doing. So we wanted to find out what wasn’t working and to evolve it into new ways of working.”

“The team came in and mapped all of our processes. They captured all the processes for technical and practical fire safety, and literally went through every basic thing we do. From when we do fire safety audits to fire safety complaints, licensing, enforcement – the whole scope was covered. They effectively interviewed all key players that we could identify, and Paul used his skills as he very, very cleverly does, starts off from a position of knowing absolutely nothing – to by the end of it probably knowing more than our own staff about the process and what we do! Then they took all of that away and created a process map, and also report on where they can see the gaps and the risks to the organisation what needs more work. And then they wrote out our procedures underneath it.”

By taking part in a series of intensive process mapping sessions, the team at RBFRS were able to get all of their processes down of paper, see what was happening and where there were problem areas that needed addressing. Our team provided them with a benchmark of where they were, and a roadmap of where they needed to go, and how to get there.

A Fresh Set Of Eyes

Sometimes, a fresh set of eyes is all you need to see things that should have been obvious, but you missed. We provide clarity to organisations like the RBFRS by being the ‘outsider eyes’ they need.

In this case, we interviewed Officers, staff and crew from within the Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service headquarters and asked them to describe what they do, how they do it and why. This covered every aspect of their jobs, from the everyday mundane tasks to general processes teamwork and handling bigger projects. Because we weren’t involved in the organisation, we were able to ask the basic questions that often get overlooked, capture the grumbles and issues of employees anonymously, and expose some gaps in their processes that weren’t obvious before.

For Jess, this was a real bonus:

“They bring with them an objectivity – a fresh pair of eyes. They’ve got no agenda at all, but they’ve got to overcome the sort of distrust and people not being open with them in the beginning. Paul really overcomes that. He is totally objective and very able to get individuals to answer the awkward questions, and then keep going back, asking what happens next and then what do you do. Until you can go no further and you can see the massive hole that’s always been there.”

“We really needed someone external to the fire service administration, who knows nothing about it, to come in and give it a purist view of what is going on, even know they don’t know anything about the subject matter. Some people just need to feel and touch and see things in a different way before the penny drops and that is what they did for me.”

“If you want to see the wood for the trees they can come in and do that, they give clarity. And they don’t make a comment whether it’s good or bad. They can make a judgement if they identify risk, but ultimately they don’t tell you that you’re doing things wrong – they just show you what you’re doing and where the gaps are.”

Eat The Elephant In Pieces

For organisations as large as the RBFRS, process management isn’t just a trivial thing – it’s a time-consuming and demanding process that can absorb a lot of man-hours when done internally. At RBFRS, they discovered they simply didn’t have the internal resource to dedicate to such an immense project – even though it was a critical need. Outsourcing their process mapping helped free up a lot of time for their staff and gave them a firm foundation for their business operations. But that wasn’t the only reason Jess saw the value in working with an external partner:

Going through your business workflows and making changes can be an enormous job – almost too big to tackle in one go. And that’s why a lot of businesses avoid digging into their processes. But if you could break it down, make it more manageable and easier to take action on, imagine how your business could transform. That’s what Jess found when he started working with us:

“This is now sort of the launchpad for me to focus in on specific areas around the mountain of work in front of me. I said all the way through this project, ‘you eat an elephant by little bits at a time.’ They have broken it down and given me those little bits at a time, and I can now target problem areas without thinking’ how the hell am I going to do this.’ That’s where it’s been most valuable for me.”

“As the project lead I have found them extremely helpful and great to work with, very flexible and I think what they produce is the absolute highest quality as far as I am concerned. I couldn’t be any happier, I think they are an excellent service. I enjoy working with them and they are really supportive. I’ve even recommended them to other fire services when I’ve been out there since they’ve done so much for us.”

We are dedicated to helping businesses and public organisations ‘see the wood for the trees’ and really understand the processes that go on every day. From process mapping and identifying gaps to generating workflows and creating new procedures, our team can bring clarity and understanding to your business processes. If you would like to find out more about how we can help your organisation better understand your processes, please get in touch with us today.

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