UnMentoring – 5 rounds in and counting

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UnMentoring-main

I posted a while ago about the changes that UnMentoring went through, mainly the switch to a professionalised system which takes all the hard work of administration away and simply connects people. Well after 5 rounds of UnMentoring I was keen to see what was actually happening and how connections were being made or not as the case maybe.

I also looked at the growth over the months as well and whilst it has been up and down there is a steady growth which is good…the initial peak was due to the change from the previous version (managed by excel spreadsheets) to this new system.

UnMentoring Growth Graph

 

One of the misconceptions affecting growth is that some people think this is just for local government people. UnMentoring is open to anyone who is passionate about the improvement and reform of public services and the broader the people involved the richer and more diverse the conversations. So if you are interested then please sign up.

The interesting thing within the network diagram as each round develops is the number of connections that didn’t get a chance to meet or didn’t confirm whether a meeting occurred. The red lines in the pictures/gallery shows the number of connections that didn’t meet.

I think this is something we need to think about and maybe the monthly commitment is hard to maintain, so we might experiment with a longer time frame and see if that helps people as well as asking a number of people as to some of the reasons why connections didn’t happen. Feel free to share some of your insights on the post by the way🙂  Without your feedback we will innovate in a vacuum. The previous excel system most probably had the same issues but they weren’t visible in this way, but now its visible we can start to something about it.

One thing we do know is that for some people these random conversations are transformative and the simple offer of connecting people is a valuable service to offer and we can only develop richer and more diverse connections if more people join and connect too. It doesn’t work for everyone although we do have and provide other ways to help people connect such as the events we help put on for example LocalGovCamp#NotWestminster and the new peer groups around things like the Service Standard.

With all the focus on technology and technology innovation, the challenge we want to help address is connecting and bringing diverse groups of people together to find common understanding and to solve problems and improve public services for everyone.

 

 

 

Pondering leadership – why digital is a distraction from the real challenges of leadership

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There appears to be a range of articles emerging which are titled along these lines “Digital Transformation is more than just Digital” you know the ones, well, on the whole they are really interesting to read but tend to repeat traditional business strategy advice that has been commonplace for the last 20-30 years. So why is this?

From a personal point of view it is absolutely clear to me that Digital is an enabler and whilst it’s a fantastic opportunity it’s not really where the challenges are in terms of leadership or with organisations.

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.

The reason I say this is that can do “digital” even in the current mindset as some people are claiming that there is digital transformation happening when you can see even from the outside that it is simply automating legacy processes rooted in old ways of doing things and all this does is reinforce the wrong behaviours and then make them visible to people via the internet – a lot of people know this is wrong but yet it still happens.

When you look to the future, things are only going to get more challenging in terms of how leaders to have situational awareness around trends and new developments not just in technology but in society. This long article is a fascinating read or perhaps disturbing depending on your viewpoint. Is essentially a report of a keynote presentation that futurist Gerd Leonhard made at a KPMG Robotic Innovation event on the Digital Transformation of Business and Society.

I’ve picked out some of the key points and takeaways from the article but I would highly recommend reading it if you can find the time.

  • Leaders must shift from a focus on “what is”, to a focus on “what can be” – Wait and see means wait and die
  • Do not underestimate the sheer velocity of change
  • Anything that can be automated will be
  • Industry boundaries will blur – ultimately we may end up with a handful of value ecosystems such as: mobility, shelter, resources, wellness, growth, money, maker and comfort
  • Intelligent assistants and augmented reality will replace the need for actual assistants within the next 5 years
  • Collectively, robotics, automation, intelligent assistants and artificial intelligence with reframe society, business, commerce and culture – this reframing will drive fundamental structural change
  • The exponential and combinatorial growth of the 7-ations will create abundance, job displacement and dependency – the 7 are digitisation, de-materialisation, automation, virtualisation, optimisation and augmentation
  • Total efficiency will be reached within 5-10 years and after efficiency is met – value comes from purpose.
  • Purpose driven organisations must excel at technology and humanity
  • Creativity and social intelligence will become crucial differentiators for many organisations
  • If some of the unemployment scenarios play out influenced by automation – a basic annual income might be required for citizens
  • Experience is a differentiator and you can’t automate experiences
  • We don’t just need better algorithms we need stronger values, ethics, standards, principles and social contracts

So looking forward, what we can safely say is that the future will have a lot more technology and innovation in it, organisations need to be more purposeful and leaders need to focus on what can be – this is a radical shift in thinking for the current leadership landscape.

Coming back to digital, what all this talk and momentum around digital has helpfully done, is represent a diverse range of different influencing factors on how organisations need to adapt and how the people working in them need to adapt to the way people in society live their lives. This is where simple things like understanding how social media can challenge and change communication and customer service. I’m not personally bothered whether leaders are fully versed in the inner workings of social media, but not having an understanding of the implications and potential is no longer acceptable…so their is a legitimate leadership challenge around basic digital skills which needs to be addressed. But when you start to extend this into business model innovation and how organisations can be built around the internet and not just having a website that sits on the internet, well there is a massive leap to take here and i think we need to allow new leaders to leapfrog the current ones…

This leads me onto the bigger and more fundamental issue for me which is around public service leadership itself and in particular the cohort of current leaders in the public service landscape right now. From my personal point of view there are good leaders who understand this and I have total respect for them and admire the work they do in challenging environments, but they are a minority. There are also good people trying to do the wrong things and sadly the leadership challenge is systemic therefore I’d like to propose a vote of no confidence in the current leadership landscape and ask them to either step aside or better still recognise as current leaders they are a barrier and allow the emerging leaders to help navigate the landscape of change and help transition public services into a new environment – the current leaders have a clear role to play, they need to help make this transition by ensuring the current system doesn’t completely fail people, but they need to allow and encourage new leaders to provide the energy and momentum to change the current system.

Now this is probably an unrealistic ask, so in the absence of that I want to offer my help and the help of those emerging leaders in the sector, a small proportion of which are part of LocalGovDigital but the majority are in the services delivering and responding to people every day. Collectively we need to come together around a shared endeavour, share stories, share learning and truly support each other. A few examples of this is that as Devon we have over the last 12 months actively started conversations with other organisations outside the public sector to challenge our thinking, a simple example of this is the Exeter City Future initiative has challenged our thinking around the use, management and opportunity of data. As well as sharing our learning and seeking learning from others examples of this include, Nottinghamshire County Council, Buckinghamshire County Council, Suffolk County Council, West Berkshire Council, Cornwall Council, Bristol City Council to name just a few. This sharing of learning has taken many forms and most recently the learning between us and West Berkshire was a shared conversation between myself, my Chief Executive and Phil Rumens and his Chief Executive via skype, the main purpose of that was to connect the chief Executives and we have already set up a regular catch up. What this has not achieved is any real hard wired collaborative action between any of the councils. There are also more opportunities we have engaged with over the last couple of days which will enable us to share our learning even further, more on this in good time.

Before we start moving forward I want to talk about how digital has unhelpfully complicated the issue as well. The problem with using the term digital is that it is simply too easy to lump it in with a bunch of technologies and start calling it platforms and software etc. Technically this is just technology and those leaders who understandably don’t understand the inner workings of technology start to say they don’t understand digital as this is clearly someone else’s job and most scenarios this is revamped Heads of IT, who have a bloody hard job in just keeping the current legacy environment working – again some who make that transition and do it well are good, but not all have.

In making this link to IT, this is where you end up getting the automation of existing processes promoted as digital transformation where it is clearly just a simple automation of a process, but how many times do we ask ourselves, why are we doing this process, what is the thinking behind this, how is this helping or contributing to meeting the needs of people in our communities.

So this post ends up being another one of those posts titled – digital means more than digital so i apologise for that.

But what I hope to achieve in sharing this is that we need to demand either current leaders step aside or step up. Either way there are people who can help, so just ask for it.

 

      

UnMentoring Rebooted – Round 1 and Round 2

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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.

Are we a Digital Council?

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The strange thing happened recently, I received an email stating that Devon had been nominated by someone as a Digital Council for the upcoming Digital Leaders 100. Now this was a nice surprise and it was great to think other people believe that we are worth considering as a possible Digital Council of the Year nominee. Initially I was like – yeah, finally we have been noticed, but that quickly faded as I started to think about what we could actually say which was really visible to people.

I started to think about it more and more and looked again at the category criteria, I started to think, it perhaps isn’t the right time for us, we need a bit more time to really show the impact of the work we are putting in.

Now we have made some fantastic progress and worked on ensuring we put the right building blocks in place so we ensure we have a meaningful and transformative impact as we move forward.

The work we have done over the last 12-18 months has been focused on a combination of delivering projects (redesigned public website) as well as focusing on building capacity, growing our understanding through developing new governance approaches and embedding the digital agenda into the heart of our approach to change to ensure end to end service design is embedded in how we work and challenge what we do.

We also have Digital as a key component of the council’s operating model (Digital by Design).

We have a range of activities and projects which underpin our approach to Digital transformation.

We have a new responsive governance board – a Strategic Digital Delivery board – Chaired by the Chief Executive.

We are offering and providing Digital coaching and mentoring to Senior Leadership and Cabinet Members on a group and 1-1 basis as well as a programme of discovery, lightening talks and practical experiential learning.

We have started an in-depth piece of work mapping existing technical capabilities and then reframing these into high level user needs – this work is already starting to allow us to ask better questions of our technology and have a better understanding of our capabilities in terms of how they meet user needs and demand, it has also started to inform “investment” and priorities which has allowed us to start thinking about what work, out of all the work we have to do, is really focusing on improving how we deliver services to people 

We have been working on our public website for the last 18 months working through a process of redesign and then delivering better user focused public information all aimed at better shaping demand at first point of contact. Some examples being:

  • Adult social care with the development of a new public information offer including a local community directory and an online self checker
  • Highways through developing reporting and tracking problems using a simple web application to pinpoint the issue on a map

We (Lucy Knight and colleagues) have continued our work around Open Data and have been developing dashboards with Scrutiny members further developing ad building on our Open Data Champion status.

We are also starting to reference the European Digital Capability Framework within some of our commissioning and procurement activities as we want to be able to look at the market in terms of its maturity around innovation. This is an emergent piece of work and we have yet to formalise anything but we are prototyping some of this within existing areas to better understand how it challenges the market and delivers value for citizens.

We are doing lots of things, too many to list here…What we haven’t done properly yet is deliver significant savings based on any digital agenda, but we are now on a journey to ensure that changes we make are sustainable, appropriate and designed around the needs of people.

I’d like to think we are doing some great things here in Devon, but I’m also very aware that other councils are equally doing some fantastic things…having a category for Digital Council of the Year is counter productive in so many ways – although very flattering that others think we are doing things that make others believe we are digital. I think we would be better off, looking at whether councils who are doing good things are also ensuring the building blocks for sustained improvement and continuous innovation are embedded in their organisations. I certainly believe we are doing that and we are making good progress on this.

We don’t want to simply plug technology into our council and say we are digital – we want to challenge what we do and make sure we don’t make all the inefficiencies, digital inefficiencies.

So are we a digital council…No, but I’m not sure that’s our ambition either – our ambition is to design and deliver services around the needs of people and if we can use digital technologies to make that easier and more efficient for people then we will do, but it will be an informed decision of where technology can play a role and not one driven by the technology opportunity in isolation.

 

 

 

 

Networks, shared purpose and systemic change

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I didn’t attend UKGovCamp 16 this year and haven’t for a while now, which is fine as I still get to consume the many, many posts and reflections from the people who attended…you can’t replace physically being there, but the quality of the outputs certainly helps the wider community develop its thinking and practice.

I read this post last week by Catherine Howe about Networks as a driver for system change and was reminded why I always enjoyed being in Catherine’s company as it resonated with so many things that I’m facing right now.

I was also struck by one of the comments left on the post and wanted to let that sit with me for a few days before I could work out why it didn’t feel comfortable or why it stuck in my head…

The specific comment is available on Catherine’s blog post here. Firstly let me just say that I’m not writing to specifically argue with the comment but wanted to explore the comment further as it is something I’m wanting to understand more.

The comment was this:
I tend to feel like I’m trying to influence and shape the culture of the group, rather than curate it. And the ways I do that are through my actions as a member of the group (the “be the change you want to see” approach); trying to consciously champion/ignore/call-out the good/undesirable/toxic behaviour in others; and thinking up actions/experiments/initiatives which nudge the culture in the direction I want it to head. 

The actual bit of this comment i struggled with is the very last bit – the bit that reads – “nudge the culture in the direction I want it to head” Now I can understand the motives behind this and the sentiment but I am personally wrestling with the implied statement of someones individual direction being a preferred route over someone else.

So the question I asked myself was: Is it ok for someone to push their own agenda through a system or is this just manipulation?

Now I’m not going to hide the fact that, this has been an approach I’ve previously adopted but it hasn’t worked that well in terms of really affecting the whole system, what it did was connect me to people who had a similar view and a similar mindset which has been great. But what all of this lacked was a real sense of system wide change over and above simply connecting people across a system. That is however an important part of how systems change…networks and relationships are critical, but they must have the trust underpinning them to be really effective.

The issue I see in pushing an agenda through a system is that you inevitably marginalise people who don’t initially align with the direction. This then reinforces the echo chambers which end up sitting isolated within a system.

The learning I am going through now is challenging me to think about my role and my contributions within a wider system and what a duration role really means in terms of improving and transforming the outcomes for people and places and how we can see a system change itself informed by a new shared sense of purpose…after all the purpose of the system is what it does!

One chain of thought led me to look at the various styles of leadership and the relative merits of each in particular circumstances and situations but all that did was validate that diversity of thought and diversity of ideas and approaches is at the heart of shifting thinking and shifting to a shared purpose. But the key aspects here are that whatever style, the pre-requisite is that all styles of leaders need to think about a new mode of operating which is open, transparent and authentic. Clearly some leadership styles will struggle with this but that is the challenge we face.

 

Another chain of thought led me to consider the context for LocalGov Digital and how as a group of individuals who essentially have come together around a shared purpose. So i asked myself what is missing to see systemic change…what is the role of a core group of people to curate and create conditions for people to define the shared purpose in such a way that as individuals we all make appropriate changes which affects the wider system.

To a point i think the network is doing some of this, but it comes to scale and the reach of the network and the perceived lack of “signing up to something”. This has always been an issue for me, I’ve often thought that if people have the same shared purpose then we simply need to connect and help mobilise and enable them to create change…however some people have said that they feel the need to sign up to something…but can’t really articulate what that needs to be.

As LocalGov Digital we often get stuck in a place which tries to define an offer as if the network was a membership as opposed to clearly articulating the shared purpose and playing a role in curating and enabling people to come together around that.  I feel that we are getting better at this, I feel that we need to actively shift the focus on to things which bring people together for a shared purpose to emerge and evolve. Events like UKGovCamp and LocalGovCamp are examples of this, however taking time out and prioritising these types of things isn’t easy when you are essentially locked away in a sub system which has its own priorities which are not aligned to a new emerging shared purpose…

I have no answers but I am actively thinking and practicing new ways of working so I can help others around me – one thought occurred to me is that the greatest contribution I could make is by getting out-of-the-way of others so they can contribute more effectively – realising I might be blocking someone is hard to take as it is so opposed to how I want to work but being open to that means I’m becoming more mindful of my actions within a wider system and letting go of more things all the time to ensure others can grow themselves.

So coming back to the comment…
I tend to feel like I’m trying to influence and shape the culture of the group, rather than curate it. And the ways I do that are through my actions as a member of the group (the “be the change you want to see” approach); trying to consciously champion/ignore/call-out the good/undesirable/toxic behaviour in others; and thinking up actions/experiments/initiatives which nudge the culture in the direction I want it to head. 

Most of the comment above is fine, but the last bit needs to be challenged as people need to learn and identify the positive and negatives themselves…one approach in my view is that there is only a shared purpose and if you have a purpose you are trying to see, share it, allow others to challenge and develop it, make it better, deeper, more meaningful. Accepting that we can only ever have part of a picture means we need to share more, open up more and that makes us all vulnerable…which is ok…as I trust those around me and where trust doesn’t exist, i am actively working on how to develop it.

So my final reflection is this: Trust is the only currency worth focusing on…everything else comes from that…