UnMentoring Rebooted – Round 1 and Round 2

Back in January we relaunched UnMentoring because we were offered a chance to improve the process and hopefully the experience by Spark Collaboration who provided a platform to help manage the process.

Two months on and I’ve experienced 2 rounds of UnMentoring and have found the conversations fascinating as always. I’m a big supporter of learning from others and connecting people together to break down silos and to challenge our own individual mindsets so we avoid the group think scenarios.

You can register at any time and we welcome anyone who has an interest in public service transformation.

This post is going to reflect on two things:

  1. The conversations I’ve had with some great people and,
  2. How the platform is helping and providing a new insight on the connections

So lets start with the conversations

Round 1 – Sarah Roberts

Sarah works for the Fire Service and is working on employee engagement projects. We initially spent the first part of the meeting introducing ourselves talking about what interests and motivates us and then got into the challenges we face in our work.

We found some good synergies in the work we are doing so we shared some learning, insight and basically supported each other. It is always refreshing to get a sense check with other people in different organisations who share similar frustrations, similar opportunities and are keen to share that openly and honestly.

One of the areas we shared some learning around was story telling and I shared a project we are doing called 100 days of Change which is about collecting stories from within and across the council about the learning people are doing and the impact on them. The power of story telling as a way to support cultural change is fascinating and we are starting to capture some great stories from people.

100 Days of Change

We agreed to stay in touch and keep each other updated on some projects we are working on.

Round 2 – Sharon Dale

The most recent conversation was with Sharon who is doing work in central government with GDS, DWP and Civil Service Learning.

Luckily I’d had some previous contact with Sharon before via twitter so it was good to get stuck into what we were both doing and picking each others brains about things we were both looking at.

One of the conversations was about push and pull leadership

The Art of Change Making - Local Leadership Centre
Screen grab from The Art of Change Making – Local Leadership Centre

I shared some examples of how understanding this better has had a significant impact on my approach in meetings and how it is having a positive impact (that’s my perception anyway)

We also spoke about skills development in two forms, staff but also how we can start to work across organisations to think about skills development within the market and helping to create a more open route into some disciplines around digital. Tom in my team is doing some work on this where we are looking at how we can work with others to support a new apprenticeship opportunity.

Again we agreed to stay in touch and continue to learn from each other.

My reflections on both conversations are that is really doesn’t matter who you talk to, you’ll always find a common ground where you can discover and learn new things. You just need to create the space and allow the time for those connections to happen.  It doesn’t take a long conversation to make this happen either, both conversations were about 30-45 minutes which isn’t long. If you think about how long you spend in formal meetings. Ask yourself how much do you really know about the people in the room and how can you find a way to reach beyond the agenda and create space for different conversations and discussions to emerge.

The Platform

So as mentioned before, we shifted from a process that took hours in excel to something that now essentially manages itself. It has certainly freed up my time and allowed some extra space to emerge.

What the platform does in terms of measurement and visualisation is also really cool.

Below is an image of how the system visually displays the people within round 1 – groups of pairs disconnected in a network and isolated from each other…as you progress from round to round this picture changes and creates a flow of people who are connected – see the second image below.

unmentoring - round1
Round 1

unmentoring - round2
Round 2

This visualisation of how the network of people is developing based on the connections people make (assuming of course everyone actually gets to complete their match).

It will be fascinating to look at the levels of connectivity within the network as it grows…I’m keen to see how the visual display of the network reacts as new people sign up along the journey.

I will continue to share insights from UnMentoring as they happen and part of our work with Spark Collaboration is we look at evaluating the impact of this method and tool has on developing connections and relationships across the sector.

Looking back, forward and sideways

The new year always seems to bring on those reflective moments where you celebrate the last year and look forward to the next.

I’m a little late with this (well a week, is not that late) but that is because I’ve taken time out and actually disconnected over the Christmas and new year period from work. Well more importantly disconnected from thinking about work and all the challenges that are ahead.

Now I’m back at work I’m able to take a fresh look at the year ahead and beyond and consider what my role is and what my aspirations are for the future in general. I’m not so bothered about the next 12 months specifically but am more focused now on my journey and the impact I can make along the way.

But first I’m going to reflect on the last year – a year which pretty much for me was dominated by development on all levels – spiritually, emotionally, psychologically and physically. Not all of it was work related of course but it was a year of Personal Growth.

I’m not going to spend time here going back over the details of every key moment but I’d like to share some themes which emerged for me which I think might be helpful to others.

  • Coaching: I can’t thank the people who have coached me enough formally over the last 12  months and longer. The coaching sessions created a great deal of clarity for me when I was perhaps becoming lost and disillusioned. I found the emotional connections (on various levels) you make with others and more importantly yourself – deeply transformative.
  • Looking in all directions: Inspiration comes in many forms and can come at any time. I’ve been fortunate over the last year to connect to and be inspired by a great many people, most of which would not have known they inspired me as they were not setting out to do so. They simply created magical moments which helped me see different perspectives on a variety of problems, some complex and some quite simply but frustratingly hard to get to.
  • No excuses: When things get hard, it is all too easy to create excuses as to why things won’t or can’t change, well I’ve found that the majority of the time the real barrier is yourself. A lack of tactics, a lack of energy, a lack of drive, enthusiasm, inspiration, creativity etc. The hardest thing to do is to create new perspectives for yourself which help you to connect to other people in more meaningful and imaginative ways. Now I’m not saying there are not hard and complex problems out there but we can’t make excuses anymore. We simply have to move forward.
  • The power of “yet”: In my leadership course about 18 months ago I was introduced to Carol Dweck and her work on Growth Mindset. During the last year it became something which also moved into my world as a parent and a School Governor as the school has adopted this work for the children and adults in the school and it has had significant improvements in how the school is progressing. One of the key elements for me in the growth mindset is the use of the word “yet”. The shift in your own perspective by using “yet” is a powerful one. For example and a very simple one at that: I’m not good at that. Or I’m not good at that yet.

You can view a short RSA Animate video which talks more about the growth mindset here

  • There maybe no money but: Everyone has been focused on the lack of money for such a long time now that it can’t really be a reflection from last year, however my point here is that whilst there might be austerity around public finances, there is certainly no austerity on people’s ideas, creativity and imagination. So let’s make sure we create the right conditions for that to flourish so that we can create new public and social value for a modern society.

Looking ahead my aspirations or even a set of principles are similar to those that Sarah Lay posted – Here are mine and they will drive my decisions and actions throughout the year.

  1. Live full and with meaning
  2. Balance digital conversations with real world conversations
  3. Embrace “Yet”
  4. Be “Open” with my whole self
  5. Enable others to shine and grow
  6. Don’t give up, when things get hard, embrace it and push through – that’s how you grow

So that’s about it for this post, although one final thing to say is that I must blog more, I’m missing it.

Deeper reflections from coaching and mentoring

“The battle and balancing between the old and new power will be a defining feature of society and business in the coming years”
Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms

So around last christmas I started coaching/mentoring conversations with Phil Norrey (Devon County Council’s Chief Executive) and Mike Bracken (Cabinet Office Executive Director for Digital and Chief Data Officer)

I’ve previously written about some early reflections here and here but wanted to dig a little deeper in how the process is challenging my practice and helping me to develop as a practitioner and hopefully as a leader.

Some key insights and learning from the last 8 months…thanks go to Phil and Mike who have and are continuing to support me on this journey

  • Balancing thought leadership with doing leadership
    I’ve started to see this more as “how to do system leadership effectively” – One of the things I gained the most from this process is having a mirror displayed in front of me and being able to see and understand the value I offer from different perspectives and sometimes the value I create is not what I thought it was…I’ve always been keen to share my thinking and whether that makes me someone who offers thought leadership is perhaps for others to decide but It is also the doing leadership which is where I had most insight as I always thought I wasn’t doing this very well…I know more about how I can better balance this and have a clearer understanding as to my role in Devon and wider. This doesn’t remove the barriers of course but it does create clarity around direction and focus.
  • Creating a pathway from the edge to the centre
    When your work makes you work on the edges of your organisation you often feel isolated or frustrated that people don’t listen or you feel annoyed that projects never scale – a previous view of mine was to pull the organisation to the edges and hope for a disruptive impact…that didn’t exactly work – through this process I’ve learnt not explicitly but implicitly that I have to focus more and work harder to push the change towards the centre of the organisation and change the fundamental and underlying structures and systems we work in for sustained change. Again all of this is probably obvious but I hadn’t realised or given myself the time to be challenged or challenge my own thinking in this space.
  • Letting go so I can move on
    Before I started this process I didn’t think too much about the stuff I had to let go off in order to allow myself to move forward. One of the most simple things I did was forgetting my Job Title as the label by which i am defined…obvious to some perhaps, but the job titles we have are labels or boxes by which we constrain and limit ourselves. This was in response to the first session with Phil, when I asked him what value he sees from what I do and none of it was around digital – which was great to hear but equally hard to hear as I thought that was my niche!
    I also realised that letting go of ideas, thoughts, preconceptions was a healthy process and one which allowed me to rediscover ideas in new ways, gaining new insights and new vantage points.
  • Better understanding and harnessing the people around me and in the network
    This is linked to the system leadership question which has and does underpin most of my self discovery. Again and no surprise my insight here was and is such a simple one, but you can’t be a system leader unless you make a commitment to positive change, connect and collaborate with others, influence and mobilise peers and coalitions of people, accept and encourage feedback and having confidence in yourself.
    None of this happens without the people around you, the people whoa re directly and indirectly connected…creating lasting and positive change requires  bravery, courage and a willingness to build and sustain networks and relationships.
    I always thought I was pretty good at networking but that alone does nothing, the challenge is how we can all collectively create impact. It is also about knowing when you need to step back and let go and allow others to lead.
  • My role in supporting othersJust as I have asked for help, I realised very early on that I needed to be open to offering and being asked for help by others. A really good example of that process is Sarah Lay’s journey over the last 6 months
  • My personal ambition
    Before this process started my personal ambition was very much on the emergent side of things – a lets see what happens and take it from there point of view…all of this was reflected in my previous appraisals where you capture what your want to do moving forward…mine read like this – “Carl is happy and content exploring new avenues and will assess opportunities when they arrive, Carl does not currently aspire to be a head of Service or a Chief Executive”  I don’t know why I limited my own ambition or set limits…I guess it kept things safe and comfortable and this was one way I coped with the uncertainty of the future.

Now it’s different – I think differently about my ambition…I feel I want to become a “Head” of something, a “Director” of something or a “Chief Executive” of something – the what, well that will no doubt emerge or be created in response to things I help make happen. But I’ve now set that direction and that has changed how I see myself as a leader and a practitioner and most importantly how I see the opportunities and possibilities in front of me.