In our work, either when giving training or in our consultancy work, we are focussed on ensuring that teams and organisations deliver customer or business value. This is after all, one of the main reasons why organisations exist. However, we also talk about doing so in a way that is humane, sustainable and fair to the people that are doing the work. At Red Tangerine, all of us have seen companies where the only true concern is for business goals and delivery, while compassion for people is absent.
Matthew Reynolds, vastly experienced in Software Development and IT, is well versed with this pattern. Wanting to break the mould and provide a great service with compassion for those involved in providing it, he has combined his years of experience in IT, a passion to provide a service to compete with the best, and a desire to do social good. To this end, he founded It’s What’s Next IT, the UK’s first IT Services Social Enterprise, and we met him in a shared office space to discuss the initiative.
It’s What’s Next IT provides IT for small businesses to help support their growth, for example supporting Office 365, SharePoint, managing backups, helping with licensing and help-desk support. First and foremost, as Matthew explained, people buy a service because of their pain point, because of the service that they actually need. “We need them to be the best,” Matthew said of the people that come to work at It’s What’s Next IT. And that is why new joiners go through an 18-month program consisting of an initial 3-month study period leading to, for example, Microsoft certification, and a 15-month on-the-job apprenticeship guided by experienced mentors. They are paid the living wage, a rate significantly higher than the minimum set for apprenticeships.
But the initiative is actually so much more. As well as providing a great service to his clients, Matthew wanted to create something to help people that need it the most. He told us about his personal desire to move into social work, part-inspired by witnessing the recovery of people with social problems close to him, problems that put the stress of a software delivery deadline into perspective. However, the move to become a social worker would have required significant time and investment in retraining. Matthew was itchy to help people as soon as possible, and felt it would be a shame to not make use of the years of IT skills and knowledge that he had acquired.
And so Matthew arrived at the model that is the basis for It’s What’s Next IT. Focussing on reaching out to people that fall through the gaps of the existing care system, “those that are impossible to help, because they are the most difficult to find,” as Matthew describes them, the model is to provide a career path while – crucially – putting their recovery and life stability first. This could include people that are ex-offenders, young people leaving care etc.
Life is hard for many, with low wages relative to the rising cost of living, but a glance at some of the stats on TransitionsUK, a charity that Matthew works with that supports young people at risk, shows how tough it is for the people Matthew is trying to help; 1 in 5 young people unemployed, suicide as the biggest killer of young men, young people having left care making up 60% of the male population and 40% of the female population of those in youth offending institutions.
Matthew’s vision for It’s What’s Next IT is for the company to support people’s recovery and everyday lives with profits going to other social enterprises and charities to “create positive social change, as opposed to enriching shareholders”. While Matthew himself is providing mentoring to the first people joining the company, his model is one where, as people become more experienced, they become mentors for the next set of trainees joining the company, so everyone coming to the enterprise is supported by others that have been through similar journeys. It is a model that Matthew terms “Industrial Mentoring”, and one that he hopes to one day take beyond IT to be used in other industries.
There are some obvious risks, however Matthew has a belief that the approach, built on an environment of transparency, trust, autonomy, empowerment, and a shared responsibility for people working as part of a collaborative team will bring the best out of people. This in turn will create more people that, like him, want to be part of a company that wants to help others while also providing an excellent service to their customers.
In the Agile space, we talk a lot about change; reacting to changing technology, market places and customer behaviour. Changing processes, ways of working and evolutionary change to make our organisations leaner and more fit for purpose. Responding to change over following a plan is one of the core values of the Agile manifesto. Yet, it was humbling to meet Matthew, someone that is actually trying to make meaningful change; to people’s lives who need it the most as well as to support the growth of small businesses that It’s What’s Next IT serves. It is clear that Matthew has a mindset and compassion in tune with our own.
We will be staying in contact with Matthew to see how the initiative progresses. We wish him and It’s What’s Next IT the best of luck for the future!