Can Intrapreneurship actually happen.

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Recently someone shared a link on twitter to this post on Medium by Jeff Gothelf > Intrapreneurship is a lie. So I became a consultant.   Initially, I was in two minds about whether to click on it and read it but I was intrigued enough that I did.
After reading I started to reflect about whether I shared the same views that were expressed in the post and I realised that about 12 months ago I did. This time last year I would have said this post resonated with EXACTLY how I felt…But I understand that now I think differently and believe that there are some interesting lessons that I have learnt, some of them were very painful to accept.
I used to think of myself as an intrapreneur and thought that I was a pretty good one too, I mean I even won an award and was also nominated in the LGC most influential list. So the feedback loops around me were saying that I was pretty good, but I have continued to struggle to make sense of how all of this could happen and yet I was failing to create a lasting sustainable change in my council…so much so I wrote a post about that disconnect in relation to the difference between internal influence and external influence.
So revisiting the post on Medium – it is a 6-minute read and worth it, so suggest you take a moment if you haven’t already. There was so much in the post that did and didn’t resonate that I wanted to share my reflections.
In some ways, Jeff’s post for me makes an assumption that entrepreneurial spirit is and will likely sit with a few people and that in itself creates some challenges and problems when trying to replicate as an internal person as Jeff points out “big org realities kick in”. For me and this is something that I think I have made many mistakes around in the past, is that being entrepreneurial isn’t necessarily something that a person can do in isolation, it is more about the conditions and the system you operate within that allows the innovation and creativity to flourish.
In the past, I have assumed that I have the power to change things but am only really limited to change on the edges of the organisation, this has made me feel better inside in the past that small things happen but the failures to reach the core of the organisation for lasting change is something I simply tolerated and perhaps ignored as I didn’t want to face up to what the real issues were that were stopping that. What I have learnt over the last 6 months in order to be successful you have to ensure you have the right conditions and the wider system alignment to ensure lasting and sustainable change actually happens.
So the question I started asking myself more was – why is there a difference in the perceived impact between external and internal people and what are the causes of this variation?
Moving on for a moment What I’ve also learnt is that until new organisational models exist, ownership and power lies within the formal hierarchy.  There may be some people who disagree but from someone who is on the inside this is very much the case and is one of the lessons I’ve learnt which I will share more on in this post.
Incentives to change or improve the work people do doesn’t sit within the teams who do the work but with managers or change teams who sit outside of that work. So at what point can someone take real ownership of any change as the majority is imposed upon them.   So where is the incentive for those people who actually understand what is happening, who see the consequences (intended or otherwise) and yet are blind to the assumptions and thinking that led to the design of the work?
In the section of the post which talks about integration with the rest of the organisation, the question I have in my head is – Why is the responsibility for ideas disconnected from the people who implement them or even do the work, what creates this separation and what assumptions drive the design of that flow of work?
The challenge here and the underlying assumptions I believe sit beneath this are that you need to have people who have particular skills and traits that do “their bit” and then you can successfully move that along a pipeline to someone else and they do their bit and so on, until the change you anticipated or something like it pops out the other end.  The issue I have with this is that this is flawed in its design as to why you would not help the people who do the work develop the skills, knowledge and understanding to respond to the problems they have and allow them to do it. Or even allow them to pull expertise into their work at the time they need it!
The element of the post that resonated the most with me is the section about external influence always trumping internal opinion.  This was the bit that has aligned to my own personal experiences the most and has been the cause of most of my own struggles. However, I’ve started to realise where I went wrong and how in pushing and pushing and pushing to do the things I thought were right but never saw come to fruition is because I was trying to push and push and push. The irony is that I’ve learned to now operate and work in an on-demand model where I and the team are pulled to work with people because they want and value our input. This shift is a fundamental and yet profound change in how you can be successful as an intrapreneur – this will be at the heart of how intrapreneurs can design themselves to be successful.
The biggest irony in all of this is that we have on in the past pulled external people in to say exactly the same thing as the internal people do?
Finally, there is a fascinating comment towards the end of the post that states “there will never be a way for the kind of results both seek to be achieved unless large companies can make the cultural shift to spread innovative thinking throughout the company while finding ways to reward this work in a way that retains top talent.”
My only comment on this is that any size and shape company essentially needs to do one key thing – Understand and make visible the thinking and assumptions that create and lead to the design of everything in it. Knowing this allows you to better understand how to move forward…

The 3 leadership qualities I value and want to develop in myself.

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The other day I read a fantastic post by colleague Kelly Doonan “Eight Steps to Good Leadership” It is well worth a read, so if you haven’t read it, please take some time now or after this post to check it out.
After reading it I was inspired to write this post as I haven’t blogged for a while, although I have many “draft posts” sat in here waiting to be finished…
Recently I was asked by colleagues to do a 10-minute talk/presentation on “Leadership” in the Chief Executives office as part of a set of recent Leadership Events in the council.
So my usual approach was to think about what leadership really means to me, what I thought the leadership challenges are and considered my personal experiences and observations, in particular, those people that have inspired and challenged me over the years and still do.
I made some detailed notes, which is unusual for me but given that I only had 10 minutes I thought I better try and stick to time so wanted to ensure I focused myself. This post has essentially been created using the notes for that session with some post edits as I pretty much ignored my notes when presenting, even though I held on to them during the entire presentation – I believe I stuck to time though 🙂
The reason for not sticking to the notes was that the two previous speakers who were great, made me think about how things feel and what it means to talk about those things more openly…this basically led me to change the first half of the talk and draw upon my thinking in a previous blog post “Love of Fear – Which one rules you”  I felt that it would better suit the flow of the whole session. I was happy to adapt it and actually felt more comfortable simply speaking from the heart as opposed to reading from a script.
A part of the design of my talk I started to think about what problems I saw, what caused those problems and how I thought particular leadership qualities could rebalance or directly address those problems. Reflecting on my experiences, observations and understanding over the years, I came up with the following:
  • increasingly isolation of people and organisations
  • a lack of clarity and understanding as to why public services exist
  • an acceptance or even tolerance that things are the way they are and can’t or even won’t change.
So I distilled three leadership qualities that I believe are either missing, in short supply and/or will provide solid foundations for the future. The qualities are clearly for everyone and anyone but I firmly believe that these are essential for people in legitimate leadership positions right now across all public services and wider. I also want to further develop these qualities in myself.
In thinking about the session I was pondering how these problems came about, how they are allowed to continue existing and I started to think about the blind spots that the sector has around leadership capability. So I decided to call my session “Why I think public sector leaders are undermining the opportunity for improving the sector – and they don’t even know it?
The 3 Leadership Qualities
Firstly – Curiosity – the desire and drive to discover and explore the deeper meaning and purpose of all things. To know and sense that there is always more to understand, more to learn and unlearn about ourselves and the world around us. That what we know today will be challenged by what we learn tomorrow and to be comfortable with uncertainty.
Secondly – Compassion – developing a meaningful connection to all things – to truly understand the lived experiences and lives of others and all living things and to be purposefully driven by that connection to take action – selflessly and for the benefit of others not individual gain. In doing so leading by example, not through rhetoric.
Thirdly – Courage – to find and connect to the inner strength in us all and to step forward and lead when everyone around us is simply stuck in the comfort of the status quo. To be authentic and to choose our own destiny and path in life and to acknowledge our responsibility to future generations.
I believe that these three qualities can reduce the isolation, help us find meaning and purpose and challenge our assumptions that things can improve
The event was filmed so I have included the link to the video below.

The continuing evolution of LocalGov Digital – my honest reflections

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When LocalGov Digital started as a practitioner network back in 2012 I remember the passion, commitment and energy in the room. We were a group of practitioners who had faith that we could collectively collaborate to help make local government better for the people in our communities  – It really did feel like we could change the world.

We were brought together through our shared frustration, shared purpose and shared values.  We have continually evolved from an initial network which was supported directly by the LGA to a network now which is self-directing and independent but rooted in the role of the practitioner. Whilst we were aligned to LGA we received a huge amount of support from individuals that helped us develop new relationships and how to use some of the influence we had started to grow. But I think we were still seen as something created by the LGA as opposed to something that grew out of the sector itself – A true grassroots movement of practitioners wanting and needing to make a difference.

As our journey continued we started to wrestle with some of the “governance” issues surrounding a network and I think we made mistakes in trying to create structures where none needed to be created. Instead what happened was individuals within the network simply made stuff happen, in response to user needs and in response to gaps in the market so to speak. This was a shift which has helped move the network forward and grow its influence more and allow us to respond quickly to the needs of practitioners as the network created the space for practitioners to simply make things happen. Some examples of this include #NotWestminster, Pipeline, The Service Standard, UnMentoring, The Content Standard and the Web Usability Dashboard – all these things were made by and with people in the sector for the sector and we also took over the running of LocalGovCamp

The network now has a level of momentum which previously wasn’t there but one of the challenges we have always had is “how do I know if I’m part of the network?” Until we resolve that we won’t get a sustainable network which continues to provide value into the sector and beyond.

So we have now approached a time in the life of the network where we either accept the informality and the risks associated with that or we look to create something more tangible building on and strengthening the things which have been successful, learning from the things that failed.

So as a network we want to consider plans to become a community co-operative, and want to design this with people who work in and around the sector. Our initial ideas sound very similar to how other cooperatives work, a membership fee, an AGM, membership types etc. We think that some of the things we already have might be able to play a key role in helping to grow the network and the participation such as UnMentoring, LocalGovCamp and Makers etc. We know we need to think about how those individual things work and run so that we can support the wider aspirations of the network. BUT The key thing to remember is this initial consultation is only about the future of the network itself. But if you ahve ideas and views on those other things then please do share them.

The important thing for me personally is shaping something around shared values and principles and ensure that we continue to generate value and continually evolve the network and adapt it to meet the needs of the practitioners and essentially improve services for citizens.  

The co-operative model really resonated as I believe the principles and values of the co-operative match the aspirations of the network and the ambition to grow around these values also make sense. It is interesting to read that a number of former GDS staff are now working for the Coop and I suspect apart from all of the interesting work that needs to be done, one of the main drivers for those people joining were the principles and values.

We know that in moving in this direction it will create challenges and will inevitably mean more work initially, but we also believe that the benefits of doing so are such that it is worth the investment of time and energy in the short and long term.

We know that we currently, we have only engaged a small group of people who have validated our thinking but that isn’t good enough and is often a dangerous place to be, so we are really keen to hear from people who think this is a waste of time, a bad idea – but importantly why you think or believe this. Only through a new understanding of what people think can we be informed in our thinking to make a decision about the future of LocalGov Digital.

I hope that you are able to share your thoughts and reflections and also if possible get involved in making this a reality.

The link to the consultation news item and proposal is on LocalGov Digital.

Once upon a time there was an enormous turnip

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As I do – I think about my work, wider society and the world and wonder why the problems we collectively create that no one wants to see? This post is meant to be a little playful and fun…

Tackling this problem is at the heart of a course I’m currently part of called Theory U which is an online edX environment provided by MIT. Highly recommend the course if you’ve not heard of it before…

In a conversation today with some colleagues, I was reminded of the children’s story about the Enormous Turnip and why collective and collaborative action is required to tackle the big problems facing us today.

If you know or remember the story you might know where I’m going with this but for anyone who doesn’t let me explain.

Let’s say the farmer who planted some seeds represents our historic design of public services. He planted them on good soil, cared for them, watered them and soon they began to grow. Much like our public service landscape

Enormous Turnip

After a while things get out of hand and take over…in this case the turnip was enormous much like how we see the problems of public services today…it isn’t what we designed or intended but it is a direct result of the things we fed it and maintained over time.

Enormous Turnip 2

Much like the farmer our problem is one of bringing people together, he can’t possibly solve this problem on his own, he could if he thought about it harder, start cutting the turnip whilst it is in the soil, but this would leave the roots and it would inevitably grow back still leaving an enormous turnip in the soil. So he starts to ask for help, he realises that he needs the strengths of other people to help solve this problem, to actually pull the turnip out of the ground altogether, including the roots. Much like our public sector landscape we are not sharing our problems, we are in fact trying to cut the turnip whilst it is still rooted in the ground. We have yet to invite the collective efforts of people around us to directly address the problem head on…and we know it will be hard work. Now the farmer manages to pull off some impressive things, he manages to get people you wouldn’t expect to work together to come together all for a greater and common cause…the dog, the cat and mouse !!

Enormous Turnip 3

It is only when everyone comes together and puts their collective efforts to task that the problem is addressed…it required the resilience of everyone and a recognition of the common problem and to bring them together and be successful…

Enormous Turnip 4

When are we going to come together and start pulling the turnip out of the ground…as I’m looking forward to sharing a delicious supper with everyone 🙂

Images from Slideshare

Event Reflections – Redesigning Public Services – Strategic Importance of Digital

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Wales Audit OfficeDuring September I was fortunate to be able to participate in and attend the Wales Audit Office Good Practice Exchange seminars called; Redesigning public services: The strategic importance of digital. The first was held on the 13th September in South Wales and was repeated on the 29th September in North Wales.

Myself and Councillor Barry Parsons (Cabinet Member) were invited to do a bit of a double act and share our story, not the specific story about Devon’s journey but more about our collective journey – one as an officer and one as a councillor.

Firstly whilst myself and Barry were asked to share our story, we both reflected and found that we also learnt a huge amount from the event and were challenged by those who attended which was great. It was a well organised event and gave lots of opportunities for the participants to discuss with each other, ask questions and attend some workshops which were repeated so you could get into see more than one. It was also only half a day which I felt added to the great attendance at both events.

As a contributor to an event it is always interesting to reflect on what lessons emerged across both events and i’d like to share the key themes and messages which came through and I’d also like to throw a challenge back at everyone.

It is worth replaying the intended focus and objectives of the day:

Public services in Wales are entering a new era in how they deliver services. The Wellbeing of Future Generations Act calls for a massive step-change in how we plan and deliver services, whilst technology has fundamentally changed the social environment in which we work.

This seminar is the first in a series of events on the theme of digital service delivery. This particular seminar will share how organisations have laid the groundwork and recognised the need for a cultural shift before tackling service transformation. Public services are likely to already have the necessary talent within their organisations, but organisational hierarchies often separate the knowledge from authority when making decisions. This seminar will share different approaches to overcoming these barriers.

Walking away from this event, delegates will understand how to get the right talent and authority around the table to work collaboratively for better public services.

So let me start by sharing 8 key issues/themes that emerged from across both events

1) Digital isn’t the real problem we need to solve

I’ve said this many times before but “Fundamentally the challenge for current leaders and public sector organisations is the legacy thinking and a business model which is rooted in serving a de-facto purpose which is disconnected from the people and places the organisation or leaders serve”.   

2) We seem to have a Leadership vacuum

Leadership is an overused term and for me it can come from anywhere, however there is very little leadership in this space nationally which explains why so many people are unclear about what they can and can’t do, how to move forward as well as truly understanding the vision and direction of travel. My challenge to everyone is if you think you are lacking leadership from above, be that leadership for others and start taking action. Don’t wait around for people to give permission, it rarely follows, so simply think, do and share and hopefully those around you will start to recognise the value and impact of what you are doing…you may need to ask for forgiveness but most likely you’ll be asked to help others.

3) The Wellbeing of Future Generations Act is a fantastic opportunity to reinvent the whole public sector landscape (let’s help them)

In terms of direction, Wales has a slight advantage over the rest of the UK and i’m envious in a good way of the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act – The Act will hold to account public bodies to think more about the long term, work better with people and communities and each other, look to prevent problems and take a more joined-up approach. Basically it states that what they do must be done in a sustainable way. How awesome does that sound…clearly there is some way to go before whether we actually see this Act having an impact on the outcomes for local people…but it has certainly created better conditions for those working within its scope.

4) Digital is still struggling with a clear definition that everyone can agree on

Digital will always mean different things to different people and we need to accept that as individuals we simply need to discover what it means for ourselves. What we must do though is not confuse digital with technology, you see many digital strategies simply talking about the implementation of mainstream technology within our current mindset and thinking…I’m full of admiration to any organisation who puts themselves out there and asks for help…But we can’t let this lack of clarity distract us from the real challenges facing us, the reinvention of our organisations around a revised purpose which is absolutely connected to people and place.  

5) We all need a gentle reminder that we can’t design FOR people we must design WITH people

I was surprised and somewhat shocked by the number of questions which basically assume we (public bodies etc) can do this stuff for people and how can we do that better – a traditional model of delivery, we will do stuff for people. Let me say though that the people in the room at these events clearly have/had the best intentions of people in their communities at their heart, however we just need to support each other and gently remind each other why we exist and what our purpose is…Also and more importantly that we need to involve those people in the redesign, otherwise we simply risk re-creating a new legacy of failure…I want to reference again the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act here as I firmly believe that given the right support and conditions Wales can flourish and provide global leadership in this space…The question is will those involved deliver on that ambition?

6) Our wellbeing is important – It’s going to be incredibly hard work…let’s accept that and prepare for it

I think everyone accepts this but we aren’t talking enough about it which i don’t think is helpful – our individual wellbeing is SO important that we need to ensure we are individually prepared for the challenges ahead…the challenge we face in redesigning public services is going to be incredibly difficult and for some people, it will be fundamentally challenging everything they currently do, believe, know and understand…collectively we need to recognise this and find ways in which we can support people on that journey. Let’s be open about how we feel, let’s be open about our fears, let’s be open about our hopes and we can all support each other.

7) Overthinking leads to inaction – start small and get going

It also struck me that some people are overthinking the whole thing, what I heard was people struggling to see a way out of their current worldview and everything new was going to be on top of this world…An example of this was when a question was asked to the panel about how do we find the time to innovate or try new things if people are so busy…My response was that we have the time, it is just that we spend a large proportion of our time on doing the wrong things…easier said than done i know, but it is true…AND we can’t create excuses about this anymore. We need to prioritise doing better things and I’d argue all day for people spending more time rethinking, redesigning and delivering new services than perpetuating the status quo. Nobody wants to see the collective results we are creating, so we are we accepting it?

8) People are still not sharing enough – openly

This is a simple problem to solve in reality but requires people to be bold, brave and trust one another. The open sharing of our learning will help us all discover what works and what doesn’t and also will allow us to connect to each other on different more meaningful levels.

One thing people can do is to connect more with each other through the WAO randomised coffee trials mentioned at the events or sign up to the wider UnMentoring here

Good Practice Exchange

A final comment from me is that Digital is of course strategically important in terms of business strategy and understanding the disruption to markets and consumer behaviours as a result of digital innovations is important but no more than important in terms of being able to actually deliver services than our people, our reducing funds and money and even our data!

Lets recognise that true transformation is a lever for digital innovation and not digital being a lever for transformation