Catch22 is a charity that works with young people in the UK who find themselves in difficult situations. Last year, it helped more than 34,000 youngsters who were struggling to find their way in life, through problems with learning, domestic circumstances, exposure to drugs and other personal or social pressures. At a glance, it scarcely appears to be the sort of organization that would much care about contracts and commercial management. So Tiffany Kemp, Managing Director at Devant Ltd., was understandably surprised when she received an on-line enquiry about commercial contract training. However, she quickly came to understand why Catch22 depends on its contract and commercial skills – and also to appreciate the extent to which they needed bolstering. As a charity dealing primarily with public sector clients, commercial discipline was not intrinsic to the Catch22 organization. Its dedicated staff was far more proficient in understanding its young clients’ needs than it was at negotiating contracts. And for many, these long, complex documents seemed to have little bearing on their day-to-day work, so they were reluctant even to read them. “There was little scrutiny of contracts,” comments Tiffany. “But by taking the step of making their enquiry through our website, Catch22 was one of the first organizations in this sector to really understand the importance of commercial / contractual relationships. Our task was to help their field workers appreciate how commercial understanding was a good thing for their organization and for the young people they are working to assist.” The key breakthrough was to help staff understand that contracts offer a mechanism not only to operate within budget, but to generate a surplus to fund other projects. “Before (the training), contracts were seen as legal instruments to manage what most saw as theoretical risks. They were typically signed without any real review and certainly no one used them as a tool to manage the relationship or to generate income,” explains Tiffany. The initial targets for training were the Regional Directors, who were in charge of projects within their geography and signed off on each contract. By focusing on this senior group, the program not only emphasized the importance of better commercial understanding, but also ensured that top management started to demand more from their staff – and to explain the benefits. Training is now extending to lower levels in the organization. In the words of Chris Wright, National Director of Operations at Catch22: “Managers are being more proactive about commercial issues. They are raising more questions about proposed contract terms from commissioners and are able to enter contract negotiations with their eyes wide open. In addition, they are now more confident about setting appropriate expectations with commissioners which is improving the risk profile of projects and, hence, the operational and financial outcomes for Catch22.” In Chris’s view, the success of the program is because it avoided “dry as dust legalese” and focused on “pragmatic, business-oriented principles that made it very easy for us to relate important commercial and contractual issues to our everyday activities”. Tiffany echoes those sentiments. As an enthusiastic supporter of IACCM, she ensures that Devant’s work as consultants and trainers emphasizes the role of commercial management in delivering good financial results through sustainable and well-structured business relationships.
Catch22 is a great example of the spreading awareness of the role that contract and commercial management play in today’s business and economic environment. They offer the control and disciplines that enable improved management decisions and create a platform for change and innovation. Fran Pollard, Catch22’s Director of New Business Development, added: “As Government relies more and more heavily on the voluntary sector to deliver services in support of its social policies, the potential for delivering significant benefits to young people has increased – but so have the risks to providers, both commercial and operational. It is essential that the voluntary sector is equipped to negotiate a fair balance between the risk taken by commissioners and that taken by themselves. Catch22, with help from Devant, is at the very forefront of this drive.”
Successful training has proven to be the first important step. Now that they understand the benefits of commercial management, and feel equipped to enter into contract negotiations with commissioners, the internal teams are pushing for improved procedures and tools, to assist in handling some of the common issues and opportunities. “Now we have helped the commissioners recognize that they too could benefit from improved commercial skills,” laughs Tiffany, as she prepares Devant to tackle what may be a future opportunity. Devant (www.devant.co.uk) was created in 2003 to provide Contractual and Commercial Management services. The company works with the belief that contracts should be a tool for managing business relationships, rather than just an 'insurance policy'. This means that they need to “reflect how you do business - how you sell and deliver your products or services, your company's culture and your tactical and strategic objectives”.