The first signs of autumn and looking ahead

As I’ve been cycling to work this week, I really noticed the colour of the leaves had changed and some trees had such vibrant colours that it warmed my soul on such a chilly morning commute. Its moments like that which you remember…I must take a photo before it changes too much.

I know that I’ve not blogged as regularly as I used to and I’ve been thinking about how I can start to rediscover or rethink my approach, until then, the sporadic nature will continue.

I wanted to share some thoughts and reflections around what has happened since coming back to work from a refreshing summer break.

I wanted to just share some of the activities that have stuck with me the most and things that have happened since returning from summer…it isn’t comprehensive – didn’t have time to pull that list together 🙂

  • The main change is that one of our organisation change team (Julie) is working with me to better define the digital transformation picture for the county council…that has provided some really helpful support in a range of things.
  • I’ve started Digital Coaching sessions with one of our Cabinet members (Cllr Barry Parsons), which simply formalises an informal catch up session approach we previously had been doing over the early part of the year. We spoke about making the conversations more visible to the organisation and making them more relevant and strategic so that is how it started – simple really. The first conversation started well with some really productive discussion around digital operating models, government as a platform, Buurtzorg and the Simon Wardley Value Chain
  • I’m also working with procurement colleagues to start to engage suppliers around our digital direction and strategy. I’ve been invited to a provider marketplace day in November which will provide an opportunity to share some of our thinking and direction.
  • I’m working with our Social Care colleagues to work-up the details of a strategic Digital session where we can explore what digital means and the opportunity across social care.
  • We had a visit from colleagues at Suffolk County Council to share digital transformation lessons and will be exploring further opportunities for collaboration
  • Mike Bracken came down and spoke to our Corporate Leadership Team and Heads of Service around Digital and the approach of the Government Digital Service around change and transformation. That visit triggered a range of responses internally (all positive) and has unblocked some minor barriers and opened up new conversations which is great.
  •   I had a couple of visits to London for discussions with Local CIO Council, Socitm and other colleagues including some fellow localgovdigital folks (Dave Briggs, Paul Brewer, Ben Cheetham and Phil Rumens) around Place as a Platform. It was a fascinating session and we still have quite a way to go before we really avoid putting technology first in our discussions about Digital…the example from Adur and Worthing by Dave and Paul demonstrated that it is all about rethinking the fundamental operating model of the council.
  • A visit to the treasury with some other colleagues to have discussions and explore the technical architecture of a digital platform approach to Libraries working  – this was something which our Head Libraries (Ciara Eastell) had asked if I could support as she is the current President of SCL (Society of Chief Librarians)
  • I managed to fit in two coaching/mentoring sessions with my Chief Executive and Mike Bracken..I’m finding the coaching/mentoring sessions really productive and helpful and they are having such a positive impact on how I see myself and it has improved my confidence and I believe (although others may disagree) my outputs as well.
  • A fascinating and insightful provider perspective day as part of the Far South West Commissioning Academy – This process really highlighted to me the challenges of procurement and commissioning and the impact on relationships and trust in this process. I’d always suspected as much but to hear the details and insights from providers really validated that.
  • Further mind-boggling fun with the Design Council and in particular an awesome master class from Becky Rowe from ESRO – we shared our thoughts and reflections on the design council blog here
  • Following the design council session we (myself, Kevin Gillick and Jo Prince-White) ran a couple of prototype user insight sessions for around 30 colleagues from across the council – it was a fascinating process to rapidly pull the workshop together and the feedback from the participants was great so we plan to run some more plus other workshops as we continue our learning through the programme.
  • Outside of work – this week I was Elected Chair of Governors at my local primary school. I’m really proud to have this role and it is an exciting time for the school, we recently had a OFSTED inspection and were graded a solid Good and the report outlines some outstanding aspects which we are very proud of as a school. I now look forward to continuing to work with the other governors and the school and most importantly the children to improve outcomes.  I’ve been fascinated by the work of primary schools in particular for a while now and the work they do is such a great insight into how organisations can approach change as well as. In the last few years I’ve witnessed more design thinking in a primary school than in the wider public sector. I suspect the autonomy and relentless focus on children’s outcomes is a great place to start. In a recent conversation with the Head Teacher she outlined an approach to a piece of work around well-being with staff and every step matched the Design Councils principles of “Human centred” > “Being Visual” > “Iterative and collaborative”. It really is fascinating to see this in a different context. OR maybe my connection to design thinking is helping me see the wonder in everyday decision making of good and outstanding leaders.

The one thing I feel I’ve done very little of though is broader LocalGov Digital stuff, However my thinking around this is that unless you have a focus on local delivery and change you can’t effectively engage on a broader level as you end up disconnecting on both levels.  This is all part of the system leadership challenges we all face.  But my aim over the next few weeks and months is to properly re-engage with colleagues in that space as I missed LocalGovCamp which I was gutted about.

But I’m even more passionate and committed to providing support and leadership where I can to help Devon and the whole sector transform.

I’ve said it before in my last post but it is worth repeating here….

The primary purpose of public services is to improve people’s lives not to effectively manage the money, that is an enabler much like digital is, information is, data is and of course the people in and around the system are enablers.

 

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.

 

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.

Seeking mentors and coaches

 

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 🙂

coaching-mentoring

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?