Lost in transition? The personal and professional challenges for probation leaders engaged in delivering public sector reform

Lost in transition?
The personal and
professional challenges
for probation leaders
engaged in delivering
public sector reform
Matthew Millings and Lol Burke
Liverpool John Moores University, UK
Gwen Robinson
University of Sheffield, UK
The outsourcing and transfer of labour in the contexts of policing, prisons and courts
illustrate that, even in a national context, these transitions are not uniform. Rather,
there are a diverse set of ‘privatisation journeys’ that can be taken and that need to be
understood. Our focus in this article is on the experience of probation leaders who,
under the Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) reform programme, were charged with
stewarding their organisation from the public sector, through a 10-month transitional
period, and into the full relinquishing of ownership to the private sector. It is an account
of how, with no clear ‘transition and transformation’ precedent to follow, a locally-
based senior management team from one probation trust engaged with the task of
implementing organisational change during a period of great uncertainty. We
explore managers’ engagement with the language, working styles and vision of
engineering transformational change and how they processed and began to articulate
the challenges of new ownership, both for themselves (as individuals) and for their
organisation (as a collective). We examine the resilience of the organisational culture
Corresponding Author:
Matthew Millings, Liverp ool John Moores University , Faculty of Arts, Professio nal and Social Studies,
Redmonds Building, Liverpool, L3 5UG, UK.
Email: m.n.millings@ljmu.ac.uk
The Journal of Community and Criminal Justice
Probation Journal
2019, Vol. 66(1) 60–76
ªThe Author(s) 2018
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0264550518820120
at senior management level; the operational dynamism of leaders to embrace change;
and the extent to which senior managers felt able to participate in, and take ownership
of, the new Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) they were charged with
community rehabilitation companies, organisational change, Transforming Rehabili-
tation, leadership
The launch of the TR reform programme represented the most profound change in
the structure of probation services in the history of offender management services
(Ministry of Justice, 2013). At its core was the splitting of probation services from 35
public sector probation trusts into a much smaller public National Probation Service
(NPS) – responsible for the management and supervision of high-risk offenders –
and 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies where a blend of public, private and
third sector organisations would bid for and deliver services to medium- and low-risk
offenders. In this article we draw on observational and interview-based research
with the Senior Management Team from one case study CRC as they set about
establishing and then running a new organisation. Capitalising on access granted
to us by the Chief Executive of the former probation trust from which the CRC
emerged, our research spanned the period March 2014 to July 2015: that is, from
immediately prior to the dissolution of the trust to a point in time some six months
after new owners had taken full responsibility for the CRC.
In other articles we have explored the impact of the TR reforms on the organi-
sational identities of staff (Robinson et al., 2016); the development of occupational
cultures (Burke et al., 2016); and the challenges facing privatised probation ser-
vices in negotiating their organisational legitimacy (Robinson et al., 2017). Our
narrower focus here is on the professional and personal reflections of the senior
management team in our case study CRC whose responsibility it was to establish a
new organisation and guide it through the procurement process in readiness for
new owners to assume control in February 2015. Having recorded and analysed
senior managers’ unfolding experiences, we argue that there were four identifiable
phases of transition – Absorbing, Adapting, Owning, and Relinquishing – through
which members of the team progressed sequentially. We further argue that, ulti-
mately, this process was not only intensely draining for the individuals concerned,
but also that many of their good intentions were ‘lost in transition’ during a period of
great uncertainty.
At a time when the Ministry of Justice has announced its intention to prematurely
end the contracts to run CRCs (Ministry of Justice, 2018), we feel the insights from
senior managers’ experiences of engineering organisational change provide
compelling lessons which authors of future policy reform should consider. Our
research suggests that the professional judgement and practice wisdom of
Millings et al. 61

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