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.
It has been roughly two years now since LocalGov Digital came together – in my personal opinion we surpassed our original aspirations at the very first meeting when so many people committed to doing something together and we were blown away by the interest and momentum which came through at this years LocalGovCamp – it does prove that grassroots collaboration can and does work.
LocalGov Digital has also won Best Collaboration at the inaugural Comms2Point0 UnAwards. Sarah Lay has written a very good post on “We are all LocalGov Digital” which I think explains best what we set out to achieve and how everyone is key in that.
Anyway, here is a bit of a reflective post – what is localgovdigital, why we do what we do and a look back over the last two years and a look ahead…
What is LocalGov Digital?
Simply put, we’re a bunch of volunteers from local government and its partners who care about delivering brilliant user focused public services, enabled by digital where appropriate. Some of us are techies, web geeks, data crunchers etc and some of us aren’t. What we all have in common is our passion for improving public services. We pride ourselves on the fact that we’re a genuine practitioner network that gets things done for citizens in our localities.
The LocalGov Digital pledge:
We have adopted a Think, Do, Share approach to work and this focuses us on making sure that we actually deliver value on the ground, no matter how small, our approach encourages us all to think differently, do differently and share that widely across the network to help and support others.
The LocalGov Digital value:
Our underlying ethos is that local public services should be Open by default and Digital by design.
What we have done:
Since we formed as a network in September 2012 we have:
- raised the profile of digital service delivery in local government and sought out those like-minded people across sectors who care about delivering public services to collaborate and work together
- created a set of useful digital tools for local government digital practitioners including:
- Run a number of events including:
- Online Digital Democracy Discovery Days
- Created and curated regular blogs and though pieces on where the future of digital in local gov lies and its role in shaping local services
- Pulled together a tonne of dispersed digital news all in one place on our website and shared this through daily relevant links on Twitter
- Gathered the voices blogging or discussing online digital in the public sector and given this a home on our website.
What we are actively working on:
We are going to continually share and show people how we did stuff, so they can steal and reuse it if it helps.
We know there is a huge amount of work to do and there are currently only a small number of us to get involved and help move things forward. So we have listed the areas where we have active people right now. However if you are working on something else and want to get involved in expanding the thinking, doing and sharing then get in touch.
1. Skills and capability – does the sector have the skills, capacity and capability to deliver real change in public service delivery?
We’ll do this through:
- prototyping a “change academy” – this is about providing experiences / opportunities / moments to support people to meaningfully understand the tools and techniques to make change happen.
- Working with partners co-hosting a Service Design discovery day – Warwickshire, 20th November – what are the needs that local gov has on service design?
- Encouraging, supporting and promoting Service Jams and the Global Gov Jam Series
- Creating a resource hub, pulling together existing resources and linking to them
- LocalGovCamp – our annual gathering to support networking, hacking, leadership debates and sharing
- Continuing to encourage and support practitioners to join LocalGov Digital Voice and share their thinking and doing.
- Performance/digital dashboards – build on the existing work by councils who have worked with GDS and Socitm
- Working on breaking down the language barriers around digital and open
2. Democracy – is the sector supporting its decision-makers to understand and promote digital service delivery?
We’ll do this through:
- Different with Digital – this project aims to introduce new thinking around how local democracy might change as a consequence of digital. It is an experimental collaboration between specialist local government academics from four universities and local government practitioners working with LocalGovDigital
- Democracy Camp – February 6th / 7th 2015
- Produce user journeys for online democracy
- Local Democracy Discovery Day
3. Making – helping define best practice and joining up the creation and sharing of design and development of digital services, where common aims and local user needs align:
We’ll do this through:
- Localo – a set of common standards for transactions and data transfer to join-up IT and digital service delivery systems.
- Pipeline – a “Kickstarter for the public sector” to help those working in around local governments solve common problems through collaborating on the creation of digital solutions.
- Pulse – a resource to help find re-usable code and open resources designed by local government and the wider public sector.
- Future hack and discovery days focused on technical design and development.
What we’re not going to do:
- Create a single website for local government – we’re a practitioner network supporting local services in our areas
- Force people to do stuff – We will influence through showing and doing
What we know we need help with:
- Influencing decision-makers
- Getting our message out to the right people so they listen and don’t keep making the same mistakes in the digital arena (e.g. procurement)
- Financial support to get some things done – volunteerism only goes so far, we all have a day job to do
- People from all sectors who can offer mentoring and coaching to practitioners
Do you want to get involved and Join us!
We know how many people there are out there in local government and beyond who feel the same as we do about creating real and sustainable change in public service delivery.
We know there are loads more people who could easily sign up to the LocalGov Digital principles, because they’re already working on transformational service redesign enabled by digital. If that sounds like you, then take our pledge to think, do and share with us. Real change comes from within.
3 simple steps to getting involved
- Use twitter or a blog so you can think, do and share in public
- Start sharing your work or thinking with the hashtag #localgovdigital and connect your blog to localgovdigital voice
- Connect to your peers around you inside and outside your organisation and organise meet-ups to start thinking, doing and sharing in groups.
Getting involved with the LocalGov Digital Steering Group
We operate on the principle that people earn their way into the steering group through thinking, doing and sharing activity and providing local or regional co-ordination.
If this sounds like you, get in touch and share what you are doing.
In my last post I referred to a set of self-limiting belief and said that I had already taken steps to try to resolve that, well those steps were actively seeking our Mentors and Coaches who can help me develop and discover how I can be more effective.
I personally believe that having a mentor and people who can coach you is invaluable in the current climate as it allows you to stay focused on what matters as well as continuing your personal development journey. I also believe that these skills are critical for all public sector workers as we often don’t give ourselves enough reflection time to improve what we do and what happens around us.
Coaching, mentoring and self-reflection are key areas outlined in the Change Academy prototype, I also believe that it is a commitment not just to developing yourself, but to developing the people around you and is why I’ve recently agreed to coach and mentor a colleague outside of my council as I personally believe it is important. We are perhaps fortunate here in Devon as we have an internal coaching network, so I’m encouraging my team through appraisals to consider the benefits of coaching as this provides a really good introduction supported by qualified coaches internally and to also seek out some external mentors to help them meet their personal development targets and improve their performance.
For those who aren’t sure of the difference between the two i’ve included a basic table below which broadly outlines the difference – this is not comprehensive :)
I’ve also recently agreed with two very senior and influential people in the sector to be my mentor/coaches – I’m very excited about this. I’m not prepared to share who yet as I’ve not had a practical conversation about those aspects yet. My first conversation starts next Wednesday and I’m in the progress of arranging a suitable time with the other. I’m very excited to be able to have this opportunity and would recommend to you all, to seek out a mentor and coach from outside of your council, someone who inspires you, shows and demonstrates skills and behaviours you want to learn and ask them if they can support you on your journey – if you don’t ask you won’t know :)
I also believe this simple step of supporting the development of each other across the sector can start (in a small way) break down some barriers around collaboration as I do believe one barrier is a lack of understanding and this can start to break that down.
So what are you waiting for?
Since hearing on Wednesday evening that I was selected and judged to be in the #LGC100 at number 48.
I’ve been pondering and reflecting on a few things which didn’t sit right with me, and started asking broadly 2 questions of myself and with some colleagues – the questions were broadly along these lines:
- How can I be judged in the Top 50 nationally around influence and power but yet sometimes feel rather isolated and disconnected to the power and influence internally? In my case this is really about the disconnect between the perceived impact and influence of the work, ideas and passion of those people around the LocalGov Digital Network (external) and my position as Digital Communications Manager and as a paid employee of Devon (internal).
- What can I do to better understand the influence I have and how can I improve the way I use it to benefit local and national outcomes around the redesign and transformation of local public services?
Let me try to answer them the best I can, most of the following will be a very honest account of my self-reflection and my areas for development, I share this here in good faith and hope that anyone reading that can offer advice and guidance does so in the spirit this was written.
The issue around internal and external influence or even perceived value to ones own organisation has been a subject of conversation for many years with many people and we would often say things like “Why is it my council will believe what an external person says over me when I have been saying the same for ages” or something along those lines…Well instead of resorting back to a traditional mindset of blaming others I decided to take a long hard look at what it is I do internally that is different to what I do externally.
After some soul-searching and a really great conversation with my head of service – I came to a conclusion which for the first time made some sort of sense and they split into two areas:
- I have a self-limiting belief which is still subjected to the powers and structures of the traditional hierarchy of the organisation I work for and like it or not, I’m obviously still accepting a “position” within that system and I’m not acting like a true leader in my field and supporting and helping the people at the top of the organisation to understand and connect to the digital agenda in ways which are meaningful to them – I’ve clearly focused too broadly and not enough on how it truly relates to each and every part of the business.
This is a fault of mine and I have already taken steps to resolve this but the biggest shift was in accepting that whilst I’m seen as “disruptive” I’m still only on the edges and NOW is the time to mainstream and scale up the impact and influence internally – watch this space.
- I’ve been able to tell a very generic and a broad story/picture of digital in the LocalGov Digital context and that has allowed me to consider the wider benefits and implications. I’ve been able to blog about this, talk openly about this in public forums, conferences locally, nationally and across Europe. I’ve been able to work with colleagues to champion a different way of thinking and working and through voluntary action make a small difference…
My missed opportunity internally and I’m calling it a missed opportunity even though we (my team) have made some great progress, continue to make good progress and consistently push for better outcomes but it has been my inability to grasp this issue and understand its impact around me that up to now, I have not formally pushed as hard as I now realise I need to, to get the team the explicit validation, mandate, recognition and support they need to be even more effective.
I need to work smarter, not harder to create the alignment from the top of the organisation to the team and outwards to other teams so the impact has a truly transformational impact. This is clearly something i thought i needed to work really really hard at and often on my own, but that is clearly foolish, I’ve developed some fantastic relationships internally which I need to use more effectively and smarter for wholesale change and I need to seek the support and trust of some different people over the coming months to make a positive difference.
However this inability to tell an effective story internally is also partly down to the journey the council is also taking around reshaping itself, so it has not been an easy task to fully understand which angle, perspective or tactic to take – this however is resolving itself now, with the councils new strategic vision and operating model which create a perfect hook by which i can start to articulate the exact story that Devon wants to tell and share – this is a work in progress with colleagues to co-design and co-author the story we want to tell and that will start to appear soon on Re:Work Devon.
The second question around what I need to do to better understand my influence will I suspect be an ongoing process, but I’ve taken some steps to seek out new mentors and coaches who can help me navigate this and hopefully that will come to fruition in the near future.
I’ve also started to talk more openly to close colleagues about this and have asked them to challenge me and to think about what this influence might mean. Some may say that I am over thinking all of this and that I should simply get on with work – well I believe that in understanding this better I’ll be significantly more effective and able to deliver and contribute to a deeper and more profound change and transformation not just locally but further a field.
That is worth exploring and understanding…I guess I didn’t have to be so open about all of this but I’ve been clear to myself that thinking in public is a commitment to a set of wider values which I firmly believe are at the heart of the transformation and reinvention of local public services.