That elephant is ******* big now I can see the whole thing

Warning: This is a reflective post…i’ve had some time off and did some digging around my inner self 🙂

“There is a moment when you take a step or two backwards and start to see the bigger picture, the full picture, the elephant so to speak and then you wait, your eyes refocus, your body adjusts and there in front of you is the biggest thing you’ve ever seen…it is a massive elephant…holy shit…how on earth did I not notice this given it’s size, presence and impact.”

I’ve worked in a local council now for 20 years (half of my life) and I’d like to think I’ve managed to avoid being completely institutionalised.

But it isn’t until you start a process of transforming yourself that you realise that some of the cultures/behaviours/traditions that you work hard to remove have found there way into your own life.

In that very moment I felt vulnerable, without purpose and most of all I started questioning everything I did and do.

I’ve blogged about these types of things on here before, not in as much detail as i’m now realising sits within me, but my reflective posts and my journey of coaching for example are starting points for me to build on.

It has all got me to a point in my life where I now need to truly transform who I am and prepare myself for my emerging future. It simply isn’t good enough for me to expect others to do this without pushing myself through the change also.

I read quite a bit of organisational type stuff more than I read fiction if i’m honest, I’m always keen to learn and push myself and I really enjoy reading peoples blog posts of their individual and organisational journeys. I always thought that my journey wouldn’t be as profound as it is starting to be though.

Growing up in a local council these are the things that struck me…

I learned to live with frustration.

I learned to live with pressure and stress.

I learned to live in a world that is disconnected.

I learned that failure is to be avoided.

I learned that authority is to be trusted.

I now need to unlearn all of this as it has held me back and is unhealthy

I’m learning to live with opportunity and creativity

I’m learning to live in harmony and find my personal wellbeing.

I’m learning that the world is and has always been connected and I’m connected to it at all levels.

I’m learning that failure is a process of learning.

I’m learning that everyone is to be trusted.

Most of all…

I’m learning to open my mind.

I’m learning to open my heart.

I’m learning to open my will.

I’m learning to see that the elephant has been created by everyone to protect themselves from fear.

All of the above may seem a bit random for some people and that is OK.

Everyone is on their own journey and everyone experiences different things in different ways. We need to celebrate and acknowledge that difference more…we focus too much on creating artificial barriers and boundaries which hinder us all from simply being human.

 

 

Reflections on my second coaching / mentoring session

A couple of weeks ago I posted about my first coaching/mentoring session with Phil Norrey (my Chief Executive) and it has had such a positive impact on my thinking, approach and behaviours already.

This week I had my first session with Mike Bracken (Executive Director of Digital in the Cabinet Office) who kindly agreed to support me and help me over the coming months.

First and foremost I want to thank Mike for agreeing to do this and for taking time out to speak to me and help me professionally and personally it means a great deal and I believe it will provide the necessary challenge and encouragement along with my sessions with Phil to help me develop as a practitioner and a leader.

Like before the detail of the conversation will stay private but I will use this space to reflect on themes and specific challenges to help me work through them.

One of the interesting things in speaking to Mike was reflecting and talking about the work we are doing here in Devon (not just me, but the wider transformation that is also being driven hard by Sara Cretney and many others) and it isn’t until you try to capture everything that you realise how much is happening and how much things have significantly changed.

It was refreshing to get Mikes perspective and observations on the challenges we have faced and what we want to do moving forward and also reassuring that the direction of travel is a good one.

One thing I will share is the ‘killer question’ moment, I find that evercoaching / mentoring session has that killer question which makes you stop and really think, I mean really think what is the answer here. In this instance it was such a simple question and I felt disappointed in myself for not being able to answer or provide what I thought would have been an adequate response. The question was ‘What can you point at that tells me what you think?’  For me, I’ve never really thought about my blog in those terms, although more recently I did want to start writing with purpose and clarify my thinking, I’ve historically just thrown random ideas into this blog and whilst I have found that helped me there isn’t the final picture of what my thinking is for others to easily pull apart and access…

I’ve got a range of themes to reflect and ponder from the initial conversation and it isn’t until you start to reflect on different aspects of the conversation you realise how much you get from this process. The key themes for me from this conversation are:

  • Focusing on Local
  • Sharing your thoughts does not mean people know what you think
  • What people perceive you do is different to what you think you do yourself
  • Using the ‘language of old’ to change the future
  • Grassroots movements VS formal structures
  • We all have to let go of something to allow the future we want to see come to fruition
  • My story and my councils story are two different things and should remain that way, but I’m part of my councils story

An additional theme and more urgent action which I need to resolve as well is what role if any am I going to play in any of the change locally and or further afield…This wasn’t explicitly touched on in the conversation but in starting to reflect on the other areas plus the conversation I had with Phil, it is becoming an important question for me to answer.

I have already created some actions for myself from speaking to Mike and feel very positive about the experience and process and I am already looking forward to the next session.

Early experiences – On being Coached / Mentored

I wrote just before Christmas that I was actively seeking coaches and mentors who can help me develop and improve my productivity and impact.

I’ve previously had informal coaching/mentoring relationships with a range of people and still value those links and I don’t think people should be limited to just one as I believe that we all constantly need support and advice and we are always developing mentoring and coaching relationships without realising and without ever formalising them.

For example the following people have probably had the most significant impact on my career over the last 5 years due to their informal mentoring and coaching relationships over the last few years and in some cases much longer;

Andrea Siodmok – the first time I met Andrea I was inspired, her outlook and her experience in Design disrupted my thinking and broke me out of a world which I felt comfortable in and it is her influence, advice and support which has helped me to find a balance in how I look at the way I work. The approaches I take and the constant opportunity of working with people on the ground. She never stops making me think and inspiring me to consider new perspectives on problems.
Dave Briggs – I’ve always valued my conversations and interactions with Dave and would very much consider Dave a friend. I find every conversation engaging and memorable and not always for their coaching value :). Dave has provided a huge amount of advice, challenge and support whether he knows it or not which has helped me at critical times and he deserves a huge amount of recognition for his work and influence on a wider number of people in the sector.
Martin Howitt – for someone who had to put up with my constant questioning for a two year period when we actually worked in the same team and opposite each other in the same office, Martin provided some of the most valuable support and guidance at a time I felt out of my depth, lost and full of self doubt. Martin should know he is a valued friend and I always look forward to our informal conversations over coffee.
Catherine Howe – one of the most intellectually stimulating people I’ve ever worked for and with and Catherine has always been supportive of me and I am personally grateful for her encouragement, challenge and honesty. She is one of the people I hope I could see more but fear that my brain would explode if I did 🙂
Sara Cretney – I’ve only really started to get to know Sara over the last 18-24 months and in that time she has provided some of the most timely and fundamentally honest coaching I’ve received. I have to thank her for providing a balanced viewpoint and reflections which stopped me at times resigning from the council. Looking back and looking ahead, I’m hugely grateful to her for that support and she is very much a kindred spirit and some of the best work and progress I’ve made in the last 18 months is also down to her support, advice and influence.

So last week I had one of my first coaching/mentoring sessions with my Chief Executive (Phil Norrey) and found the experience hugely valuable for a variety of reasons which I aim to explore in this post. I’d like to thank Phil here for agreeing to be my coach/mentor and I hope I can offer some value back to him during the process.

Before I continue with reflections from Phil, I have also now set the date with my second coach/mentor for 11th February so will be able to share reflections and details after then. This year is going to be a significant year in many ways.

So reflecting on my first coaching session with Phil. Firstly it was VERY productive and HUGELY helpful to me in thinking differently about my role, my professional development and the opportunities ahead. It was also initially strange having a very personal conversation with someone whom previously I’d only had professional based conversations, but those feelings disappeared pretty quickly once we get stuck into conversations.

One of the reasons I asked the Phil to coach/mentor me was because I believe it will be valuable to me to be challenged by a strategic leader who does not fully grasp the digital agenda and that is ok, I don’t expect him to understand it all, however he is clearly aware of its potential, opportunity and its transformational capabilities. The key aspect for me was to be challenged around relevance, strategic alignment and reframing the story the needs to be told around digital locally…whether we like it or not the county of Devon is not the same as a major city and presents very different challenges around digital and whilst it is fine for me to believe in a digitally enabled future, unless I fully understand the strategic picture in Devon I’ll never be able to exert the right kind of influence to see a digital Devon emerge.

One of the conversations we covered was around my career so far in the council (I started in 1996) and how I have got to where I am today and the very organic nature to the way I’ve moved around the council and how in nearly every single job I’ve had, how I always seek out opportunities and activities outside of any formal Job description I was assigned to do…I realised that I’ve never had a job description in my time at the council which completely satisfied my curiosity and my skills…which is why I’m very grateful to my current line manager who allows me to discover and explore new things whilst also focusing on my core activities.

The question Phil asked me in response to this was simply but yet, no one had ever actually asked me and it really made me think – he asked “are you happy with the organic nature of your career so far?”

That question really made me consider what it is that is important to me and what it is I really want to do…the answer to this was after some reflection simple. It is fundamentally important to me that any job I do or if I were to apply for something, that it allows for and encourages personal and professional discovery, or to put it more simply, that I actually have inbuilt 20% time but with a broad purpose and for me this has since I started working for the council in 1996 about improving public services. The consistent them in my time at the council has been around and how technology, people and democratic participation / accountability can help reshape what this can and could be…

One of the benefits of taking to Phil was that we could simply talk and have a conversation around such a wide variety of things, I shared my thinking and vision for digital in Devon and asked him questions about the internal and external political landscape, we spoke about the future of Devon and pondered some random opportunities looking forward to 2050. One of the most reassuring things about the process was how similar (to a degree) our thinking was….ok my thinking is at a very different level at the moment as I’m working in an operational context and not the high level strategic context Phil and the rest of the corporate leadership consider and deal with all the time.

I always had a lot of time for those people who become chief executives of local authorities and always thought that it would never be a role I would envisage myself doing…I have even more respect for those people who have to deal with huge amounts of complexity on a daily basis and who, at least those I have met, maintain an engaging personality…I appreciate My reference points are those who I meet at conferences, meet online and those are clearly making a different statement because of how they behave, but it demonstrates and reassures me that it is something that perhaps one day I would want to do…but not for a long time yet 🙂

Phil and I agreed to meet every 6 weeks which I am grateful for and am looking forward to the personal development journey.

Tomorrow, Later today or on Friday 23rd (depending when you read this) I start my first session coaching Sarah Lay from Nottinghamshire County Council. Sarah is a friend, someone who I have a huge amount of respect for, we have been on a journey together and she has provided support and guidance to me over the years and I just hope I can help her through coaching achieve what she sets out to achieve.

My Reflections – 3 days of learning

This week I attended a 3 day residential as part of the strategic leadership programme I blogged about previously.

The 3 days were fun, intense, emotional, challenging, tiring and jam packed with valuable insights about myself, my peers (which also taugh me about myself) and my current perceived limitations.

As I sit here looking at the sketched notes during the 3 days there are some interesting themes which emerge and I’d like to share those here.

Innovation in a vacuum

This was probably one of the most interesting and surprise insights across the 3 days. The phrase was coined by a fellow participant. How i’ve taken this is that sometimes people/teams/services or anyone really who innovates in isolation and disconnected to real things can still create amazing things but they are less valuable unless they have a clear purpose and are trying to solve real tangible issues…it basically becomes misguided. Although the result is still valuable learning of course.

Don’t make assumptions

I’ve blogged about this before and it is actually really hard to surface the assumptions you are making at any given time unless you provide some kind of internal process for capturing them.

In saying all of that when you end up doing things and you are under pressure, we all found we kept making assumptions which were counter productive to us achieving the goals of any given task…we naturally all became more aware and got much better at stating them but how often do we support each other to help identify the assumptions we are making as we make decisions.

Responsibility

As existing leaders and as future leaders we need to be more responsible and take more responsibility around all the things we do.  We also need to take responsibility for coaching and nurturing other people to become effective leaders.

Now is the time

After a couple of days of reflection I think one of the biggest things I learnt is that now is the time, tomorrow won’t do and isn’t good enough. Why aren’t I creating a sense of greater urgency for action, why aren’t I challenging the counter productive behaviours I see now, why aren’t I simply stepping up and becoming a more effective leader. People aren’t necessarily going to come and ask me to do something so I need to be more proactive, take responsibility and really “lead”. That means to me, helping to create a vision, helping others to connect and understand that, allowing ownership of that to spread and to openly invite and encourage ideas and solutions around that vision. I need to stop thinking that I’m fighting a solo battle…I’m not.  I also need to really step back and understand how my strengths can be used to involve others and how those strengths can be used effectively and constructively moving forward. This may sound overly critical, but it isn’t. It is simply an honest reflection of where I’ve been this week. My challenge is how I reconcile this and become a better person.

Personal and relevant feedback is very powerful

I’ve always believed this but there does come a point when you get such intense and relevant feedback and literally straight after completing a task that it becomes a very powerful tool for personal learning.

We received a mix of feedback, so we had things we did well and things we could improve upon…and also lots of observations about behaviours and styles which is really interesting.

We should really encourage people to provide feedback and it should form a healthy part of effective teams.

The other aspect of personal and relevant feedback is the stuff you do yourself. The reflections and moments when you consider your own performance. This was enhanced as we were introduced to some really effective coaching techniques. We explored this in pairs on the first day which was really powerful and given that we didn’t really know each other that well, the groups positive views of the experience indicated they all felt as energised from the process as I did. Another example of this was on the final day when we had some rapid 10 minute coaching slots and within minutes of being coached I was really nudged into considering and focusing on the key questions which will help me grow moving forward. I’ve taken some key actions away about my behaviour and some actions around my leadership style as well as how I engage others.

Final reflections

Truly understanding your strengths and the strengths of others isn’t an easy process but an essential one and we should spend more time reflecting and having opportunities to coach and be coached.

Honesty, Urgency and Optimism

Warning – This post contains honest and personal views with a sprinkle of optimism towards the end and is the culmination of years of frustration and self motivation. No single conversation or person triggered this but merely the collective build up of mediocrity. If you are offended by this then stop reading and move along or skip to the end and read the last section – you’d probably enjoy it.

I’m not generally a political person although there have been times when I’ve thought about putting my name forward to be a councillor or MP. But the current system really puts me off and i believe I can affect change more where I am than in those positions. I often look at elected members and politicians and say “If only they could be more honest and provide a greater sense of urgency” This applies to anything and everything really, however what happens when you know that some are being honest and are trying to create a sense of urgency – what happens then! Well most of the time and this maybe a bit of a stereotype, people jump on them and try to smash them down for telling the truth or not being sensitive enough to the current situation – but I admire and respect those people and we should celebrate and hold them up as leaders more often, instead of reinforcing the status quo.

THIS DRIVES ME CRAZY….

It really frustrates me, when other people, the media, or advisors or whoever it is decides and makes the decision as to whether I’m mature enough to cope with the truth, to respond to it in a meaningful way and to take that truth and to do something with – to motivate me to change a behaviour or to challenge and have a proper debate/discussion about what should happen.

I know that generally speaking the majority of people aren’t really able to cope with the “big truths” and prefer to sit within a bubble of ignorance as it simply makes everything about daily life flow that little bit better. But this doesn’t deliver the sense of urgency required in some situations.

One of the problems I see is that generally speaking most people think and believe that someone else will solve the big problems and all will be fine…they won’t even have to hear about how close we all were to near certain doom or the end of the world…It has been a successful formula for movies for a long time – James Bond, Mission Impossible, Terminator to name a few…

You know the routine – the general public are completely unaware as the hero battles near impossible scenarios and through personal trauma and tragedy to at the last-minute save the day – it certainly makes great viewing with a bag of popcorn and a beer on a Saturday afternoon…but real life isn’t like that…well I’m sure there are the extreme situations where governments are working behind the scenes saving us from Armageddon every other day, but we need to look a bit closer to home and start thinking about the urgency required locally to save our communities, families, friends and ourselves from going into thermal nuclear meltdown.

Now I’m more of a person which would rather fight and go down then simply sit there and watch the world crash and burn around me…I’d rather sink to the bottom of the ocean on a boat then drown 1″ under the water…

I guess what I’m saying and sharing is that – how bad does it have to get for people to get engaged, at what point to people stand up and say – i’m going to do something about this.

I’d like to think I was a good person who broadly speaking tolerated a range of things, I don’t think I could tolerate the people who stop necessary change from happening…people who continue to protect out dated ways of working, people who protect capable people and ignore vulnerable people. People who claim they speak for others when all they do is speak for themselves, people who write policies which support nothing but outdated traditions and reinforce processes that protect themselves and no one else. I just don’t know if I could tolerate the mediocrity around it all, but yet I guess I do and I guess that is what motivates and pushed me to continue working – I actually believe that I can change things – perhaps not alone – I do believe in people and the power of humanity to do the right thing.

I watched a TED Talk video featuring Simon Sinek called How great leaders inspire action – I’ve linked to this before on the blog and the thing that struck me when i watched it again is the Law of Diffusion of Innovation by Everett Rodgers

I’ve seen it and heard it before, I’ve quoted it in meetings before – but something else struck me today in the context of the wider change happening in society and the service changes happening across the public sector.

How are we actually helping people connect to the changes to facilitate a faster adoption rate?

Rogers defines several intrinsic characteristics of innovations that influence an individual’s decision to adopt or reject an innovation.

Factor Definition
Relative Advantage How improved an innovation is over the previous generation.
Compatibility The level of compatibility that an innovation has to be assimilated into an individual’s life.
Complexity or Simplicity If the innovation is perceived as complicated or difficult to use, an individual is unlikely to adopt it.
Trialability How easily an innovation may be experimented. If a user is able to test an innovation, the individual will be more likely to adopt it.
Observability The extent that an innovation is visible to others. An innovation that is more visible will drive communication among the individual’s peers and personal networks and will in turn create more positive or negative reactions.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diffusion_of_innovations

If i take these 5 areas, it pretty much sums up why the public sector (broadly speaking) is failing to create a sense of urgency and engaging residents, citizens and service users. We simply fail to articulate or even do any of the above, not on purpose, but because the system doesn’t really promote it…other are breaking this down and GDS are an example of this.

relative change: we don’t actually have a good track record of doing things better and the things which stand out as innovative – are not really that innovative but are the best within an overarching system

compatibility: we don’t have a particularly good track record of making things easy to be integrated into people’s lives, we tend to focus on getting people to fit into our processes. We should understand that things happen in people’s lives and we are part of their processes not the other way round

complexity or simplicity: we always over complicate things as we try to make things bigger, more single system focused and that simply drives complexity – we need to break things down, remove complexity and get back to the purpose and outcomes

trialability: as a sector we have a pretty good reputation of thinking we can’t let anyone access anything until it is perfect and then when people complain then have to wait months or years for those changes to be resolved – an obvious solution is to offer a beta solution, a prototype of even design and develop with people and then iterate.

observability: this comes right back to the honesty and urgency thing – we aren’t very good at getting people to see changes, we aren’t very good at admitting that something is different. Comms and marketing people do this all the time, however they can only do it if they have something to communicate and market.

Earlier this week I read an interesting post by Jane McGonigal titled The Hard part is the fun part where she basically provided the contents of a speech she gave at Miami University to around 4000 students, outlining a challenge – a game and I thought it was such a great way to think about the next few years and thought it would be good to share it with you.

I recommend reading the whole contents of the speech and the game itself, but i want to share this bit with you here:

You’ve put in a lot of hard work to get here today, and your reward is that from now on, you get to choose your own adventures. This is a wonderful power to have. You are now officially in charge of your own destiny. And you’ve earned it. So please, have fun with it. Enjoy everything. Even the hard parts! In fact, especially the hard parts. If there’s anything I’ve learned as a game designer, it’s that the hard part is the fun part. We need a good challenge to have fun, to feel alive, to unleash our strengths, to turn strangers into team mates and allies. This is why we play games – sports, videogames, all games. We play them because nothing makes us happier or stronger than tackling a tough challenge that we choose for ourselves…….

…..I try to remember this when things aren’t going so well in my real life. I try to remember that tackling tough obstacles is what we choose to do for fun when we’re bored. If you play any game or any sport, you’re like me. You crave the hard part.

We can all play this game together – we can all help each other, we can all send up our paper air planes for each other to catch and to inspire each other – I see it already on twitter and in unconferences and #camps…keep doing it as we have a hard time ahead and your words help keep me going.

So my virtual plane message is this:

#advicefrom2017 Stay honest, be brave and smile – reflect on where you have come from – you changed the world.

What would you write, who can you inspire.