When people say “be more like the private sector”, I want to cry

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A relatively short post for me…. :)

I’ve been having a range of conversations lately and some if not most of them include an odd reference to the public sector budget deficit and how the public sector should be doing more things like the private sector.

Now I’ve tolerated those statements for a while because I know the people saying them don’t mean that we should be more like the private sector generally but expand on this and suggest very specific things such as a particular approach to something or how they invested in X and managed to get a great return on that investment.

However in a general sense, the public sector can’t be like the private sector whilst we still have a vast number of statutory duties to meet (over 1200), equality impact assessments to complete on service changes, effective consultation and engagement activities to conduct and of course managing all of this with a rapidly shrinking budget and with no billionaire investors waiting in the wings to bail us out with no hidden agenda other than maintaining the outcomes – unless you are a person who see’s outsourcing/commissioning as the being the same “bailing out”…for the record I don’t.

I’m not for a second suggesting that we can’t learn from other sectors, nor should we stop trying to reduce inefficiencies where they exist and transform services to deliver better outcomes. That is simply a no brainer now…So a plea – please stop making broad statements like “be more like the private sector” instead be very specific about what it is someone else is doing which you think the public sector can learn from. It would be far more helpful and constructive.

I think we are missing the point

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I have written quite a few posts recently about not focusing on the technology or the tools when speaking about social media and that is what I believe (I could be wrong), but we really have to take people on a journey in order that they can see the real impact of all of this stuff and that is the “behaviour change” and “expectation” this all creates in individuals (staff and citizens), mostly everyone recognises this but we rarely focus on this when speaking to folk.

Ok so twitter, Facebook, WordPress, Flickr, YouTube and many others are all the tools that people use to share stuff with friends, family and pretty much anyone interested in their stuff.  But the key point to focus on is the behaviour change all these tools are driving and the expectations they are creating in everyone we meet.

I’ve been to two events in the last week where this issue has popped up – last week I attended the Guardian ICT Leadership Forum in London and yesterday I attended a lecture at the Met Office (for Met Office staff primarily) by @AnnHolman on the impacts of social technology on business.

The thing that kept coming up was that people get fixated on the current tools and make comments like “I’m not in Facebook, or on twitter so I can’t see the value” or “surely Facebook and twitter will go away of be bought by someone and we’ll need to get on the next big thing”.  The answer to both of these comments is “your missing the point”….

The point is (for me anyway) and I made this at the Leadership forum as well as the Met Office meeting (although Ann had already said exactly the same thing at the beginning of her talk – it is about behaviour) is that these tools are not the things we should be primarily concerned about, it is the impact on people and the expectations and behaviour changes they foster in people…

  • the fact that friends and family can instantly communicate via any device to each other from anywhere in the world.
  • the fact that I can share precious moments with people via video or photo as soon as something happens or even broadcast it live over the internet
  • the fact that i can learn new topics and subjects and watch videos on how to play the guitar or learn how to use a software package by simply searching google
  • the fact that i can access a huge amount of information about what my friends like and what they are doing, thinking, watching, listening to, who they are with all from my mobile phone
  • the fact that email seems like it takes too long to get a response and I might as well instant message someone instead
  • the fact that i can touch a screen and it responds instantly to my gestures and I can explore information in new ways
  • the fact that when i work on something i expect friends and people I’ve never met to help and assist me with my tasks.
I’ve not mentioned any particular tool here, but I could…but what value would that add to the conversation?
These are simply some of the basic changes people expect to see, I’ve not mentioned or referred to location based services, mapping, workflow, task management, i could go on and when you take these expectations into a local government context you can see the challenge we are facing. Challenges we *must* overcome or we will become irrelevant to pretty much everyone.  The issue is we expect these kinds of solutions in an organisational experience.
The challenge/question for ICT leaders and managers is can consumer grade products provide 80% of the functionality to reduce costs across the sector…or do we spend lots of cash on enterprise grade products that can’t change as quickly and force uniformity on everyone – the web allows individuality?
The impact of social media isn’t whether or not you have a twitter account, Facebook profile, YouTube channel, Flickr stream – It is whether your organisation wants to be relevant and able to communicate with people how they communicate with each other.
This all means we need to rethink everything about our organisations and keep the stuff that is relevant and change the rest that isn’t…for some (if not most) that will mean everything.  We do need to face some potential obstacles though and we can not ignore them.
  • Security – we need to think about security in a pragmatic way that allows us to stay in touch and relevant whilst maintaining our legal duty.
  • Risk – we need to think about our approach to risk, we need to manage and mitigate, not avoid.
  • Thinking – we need to change our thinking, we *must* focus on opportunities presented to us by new thinking
  • People – we need to accept that all of this is about people and changing people’s behaviours.
  • Culture – we need to challenge existing cultures by empowering people to adopt new thinking, to take risks.
But saying all of this, sometimes it helps to start with twitter and work out very quickly to the wider issues, but we need to make sure we don’t stay focused on the tool, it is the behaviour change we need to champion.

 

 

 

Maybe one of the reasons why “social” is scary to public sector folk

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I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the opportunities and challenges of all things social within my council and the wider public sector and wondering what it is that might be at the root of some of the fears or issues people have around embracing or adopting social within the mainstream operations of the organisation.

I’ve spoken to a number of people who have shared various reasons as to why they can’t possibly use social tool, but none of them really are actually “real reasons”, they are mainly born from alternative perspectives and a lack of awareness of what social is really about.

“It hasn’t got anything to do with technology” is what I often say and it usually helps the conversation along better than saying “Facebook has about 1/3 of the UK population so you better get a move on or you’ll be left behind”

What I’ve started to hear more of is that the thought of all staff having direct access to the public is quite a scary situation to suddenly jump too from perhaps a situation where only a limited few and those who actually understand how to deal with the public…yes we have to learn how to deal with the public before we can interact with them…

This isn’t an insurmountable challenge but you should really take stock and look to understand your local context and the short history of how some of your existing communications and customer access channels and technologies evolved. I think this may help you devise a strategy to how you can socialise the business without focusing on the technologies and tools.

For illustrative purpose your short history might go something like this:

In beginning your organisation only had reception areas and those staff were trained to work in those environments and you rarely got to phone an officer direct.

Once the telephone became more pervasive, cost-effective and mainstream you could continue to visit the reception areas but if you were unable to travel you might also check your local yellow pages or phone book and try one of the 100′s of phone numbers that emerged to contact the various departments. You were unlikely to get a “friendly” service if you got through to someone who had never previously been in a direct customer contact role…if you had dialled the wrong number or simply wanted to deal with more than one enquiry you were often asked to phone back on a different number.

You were essentially witnessing and experiencing the traditional hierarchy and structures that are now breaking down in local government.

Moving on…

After the phone became the default access channel – staff were often sent on customer service training to ensure that those who called got a consistent experience, not always but that was the intention.

Then email came along and this was initially used as an internal system for sending memos etc, but again once the use of emails became more commonplace and more pervasive we started publishing email addresses as a way to contact the council. This also happened to coincide with the emergence of very simple and narrowly focused websites (primarily tourism and visitor information based sites).

Now that email is an official contact channel, standards and training emerge to support those staff who have responsibility to respond…now these standards were different to the phone as the standards included things like acknowledge within 1 day respond within 3 days. This presented challenges to the staff who have worked a particular way for at least the previous 10-15 years plus without any major change to they way they do their work.

The website…

In local government terms the web really became a major channel between 2003-2005 when the government at the time embarked on the national eGovernment programme which among many other things had a target that all councils would have a website and that 100% of services were available online.

This was also the time when contact centre within councils became an official “channel” and the 100′s of numbers were rationalised into either one or at least a consolidated set of numbers to make it easier for the public to contact the council.

As a citizen or customer, you could access the council through a number of channels 24/7, 365 days a year – a major shift and something we should sit back and reflect on for a moment.

In my personal view, organisations could create effective websites without fundamentally impacting their organisational culture and I don’t believe that actually changes anything in the long-term.

Now to the last couple of years and the emergence of  social channels

A completely new approach to contact and the biggest thing is the impact and implication adopting social means to the organisation as a whole.

This means your whole business needs to be social and customer focused if anyone in your business can be contacted via social channels. It represents a flatter structure, one in which knowledge flows inside and outside your organisation seamlessly.

Going back to the comment about contacting anyone in the organisation so suddenly is quite scary for people, this is one of the reasons why it scares them. It challenges everything that know about their current role and job and that will change, in fact it will also change and that is also scary for most if not all people.

So it is worth taking a bit of time and thinking about how you might “sell” or “communicate” all things social within your organisation as there are people who do not want to change and will fight to keep things as they are now. We all know they won’t last or stand a chance but they believe they do…

 

Even more determined

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Personally I was very pleased to hear that Walsall Council had decided to do an “experiment” with twitter and tweet for a full 24 hours.  But this post is not about that work although you can read more about it here on Dan Slee’s blog and follow it for yourself on twitter with the hashtag #walsall24.   It was also great to see some national coverage on the Guardian website and this was a great thing to see….But then I started reading the comments on this Guardian Article.

[Update - The comments have now disappeared or been removed - the Guardian site displays article history which states - This article was published on guardian.co.uk at 08.29 GMT on Thursday 3 March 2011. It was last modified at 11.51 GMT on Friday 4 March 2011]

I’m not going to reproduce any of the comments here as I simply don’t agree with them and would not want those comments seen on my blog (I do have standards).

What I will say is, it is very good to see a council experimenting and trying new approaches, even if it is to simply learn lessons about whether a particular medium can or could be used over time to aid communications – and in this instance, it was free and staff did tweets in their own time using good will.

Regardless of how many people follow Walsall Council or even how many people are actually residents….It was an experiment and no doubt was to try out something new whilst the council has staff to try things like this.  Some people would see this as a waste of time – But I don’t  - I think Walsall should be applauded and I’m looking forward to hearing about the lessons learned.

It very much feels like that as local government we are damned if we do try new things and damned if we don’t.

In this climate and over the next few years we simply HAVE TO CHANGE and It would be great if we could all support those in local government and understand and accept that we all make mistakes and we all need to learn – please support your colleagues and friends in local government as we are only trying to make local services better for us all.

If anything it makes me more determined…..I’m always happy to get feedback and I love a good debate and discussion - as this helps people move forward….what I don’t value is just negativity  - It just doesn’t help anyone.

Whether people like it or not, we are ALL in this together and we ALL need to work together to find better solutions and to provide better or different services.

Stop changing the way people work!

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It has occurred to me more and more recently that trying to get people to change the way they work is a pointless exercise and pretty hard work really especially if what you are suggesting challenges what they stand for and the very role they have become experts in over a number of years.

In my experience people don’t want to be told that what they do is “wasteful” or “inefficient” because it affects people on an emotional level and that can often make them even more resistant to change. I believe that fundamentally people want to deliver efficient services or do things in an efficient and effective way. I mean why would you do something if you thought you could do it better. We do this all the time in our personal lives. This is the reason I now do digital banking. More efficient use of my time.

Now before anyone shouts at me I am very aware that some people are keen to change and promote change but are often knocked back and then get frustrated in their roles.

However these people actually suffer from the problem I do. Trying to get people to change the way they work.

You might often hear “change is great as long as I don’t have to”. Well the best way to get around this is to adopt an ever so slightly different approach and it is really quite simple. In fact I suspect all of us already know what to do, but like myself get caught up in the culture and structures that support these views.

So what we really want to be doing is:

Change and challenge the way people THINK about their work.

We can not change the problems we have with the same thinking that created them. If we can can encourage people to step out of there daily roles and look at the outputs and outcomes they are directly or indirectly contributing to, you can start to have a better discussion around how best to deliver the service. After all people are often very passionate about the customer and delivering quality for them. This is essentially about looking outside in – a Systems Thinking view really- but it actually gives you the angle that encourages people to question how best to deliver for the customer, instead of focusing on their specific role.

There are of course challenges in facilitating that process and ensuring you look at the big picture around people, process, information and technology but the key for me is actually getting to the point where meaningful conversations about fundamentally transforming the service can be had.

It is often in these conversations that people come up with ways to change their bit of the process, that in itself is one part of the change management task completed as people are more likely to accept change if they can understand and own the change. This can remove some of the uncertainty and lack of understanding around the need to change in the first place plus and don’t underestimate this – it was afterall their idea and not yours.

So if we are really serious about Transformation and Radical Reform across the public sector then we must start giving people opportunities to think differently about their roles and services.

Without getting into a huge list here – how you can do that will depend on local circumstances and the type of service area you are hoping to engage or participate with, but could include:

- Action Learning sessions/programmes – bringing practitioners from different organisations together to review, challenge and “think” differently about service design. This could also be online through the Communities of Practice platform or other social and professional networks
- Art of the possible sessions – practical demonstrations of how services have been delivered elsewhere using technology as an opportunity for change.
- Connecting people for learning and knowledge sharing
- Discussions and conversations with service users themselves.
- A cross organisational group of people to provide peer review and constructive feedback and challenge
- Traditional consultants who are “experts” in service transformation.

There are many other ways you can achieve the above and it doesn’t really matter how you do it, but we must start focusing on the THINKING.

I’d be interested to hear any other ideas you have which have worked and helped contribute to transformational change.

So my challenge is to see how we can do this in Devon. The Enterprise Architecture function I sit within has a unique opportunity to facilitate this process as it is exactly what we are here to do. We just need to get our approach right to be effective. We may need to change our thinking about how we do our job as well.