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.

 

      

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.

 

 

 

 

The first signs of autumn and looking ahead

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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.

 

People come and go all the time but

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I was surprised as many were to the resignation of a group of people at GDS (Mike, Tom, Leisa, Russell, Ben and others) – I provided a comment here on Mike’s departure and then went on holiday to sunny Cornwall.

The great thing about disconnecting yourself is that you give yourself the space and time to really reflect.

I thought a lot about what I can and can’t do in Devon, my role and what that actually means to me, my impact or lack of impact, whether or not I’m pushing hard enough or too hard, whether I’m too tolerant of some behaviours and not tolerant enough of others. Basically an all round reflection – probably triggered by my previous post. I’m content and happy with what conclusions I made and I’m clearer about what I need to be doing and what I need to be saying and showing.

I also thought a bit about why when things get really hard, I mean really, really, really hard – some people just give up…I’ve done it before and I now know my reasons why I did it at certain points in my life and I have promised myself that I won’t do that again.

I didn’t intend to reflect on what the departure of those people would mean and will mean to Digital Transformation but as you surf the waves of Cornwall your mind tends to bounce from here to there and I started to think about the implications and lessons for local government.

I then read this post on Tom’s blog and in particular this bit resonated with me:

The first government to reinvent its institutions such that their role and values are native to the Internet era will find that it can transform both the efficiency and empathy of public services, whilst creating new digital infrastructure offering the private sector a global competitive advantage. And that’s even before we get onto the potential positive impact on trust, data security and democracy

and then I read this interview with Mike on why he left Government – the whole interview is very interesting but for some reason this particular bit stuck with me.

It’s the wrong mentality to ask: how big is my department? We should be focused on the user need as that always results in reduced cost and better services. We need to say, as public administrators, that we need to work differently and more collaboratively in a system that is not set up to do that.”

So bringing together my reflections from my time in the sea in Cornwall and reflecting on recent posts I want to say the following…

  • Will the fact that these people (Mike, Tom, Ben etc) are leaving GDS change the direction of digital transformation across public services. I’d like to say no of course not – why would a few people leaving a job make such a difference – its worth stating that many people have started and left at GDS and of course even more have come and gone from local government before now without anyone going into meltdown about the future of digital transformation or local services. but unfortunately many people believe it will… Personally I won’t accept it and I don’t want to let that happen
  • The internet as a culture, as a business model, as an enabler is still so far from being fully understood in public services – it isn’t an evolutionary process into the internet – it has to be and must be a radical shift into the internet.
  • Mandates and support are critical if you really want to affect change – but in the absence of those mandates and support can we give ourselves the mandate and how can we quickly build momentum to show something different?
  • It’s time to step up and be loud and continually demand a the fundamental shift that is required to improve services OR we allow the status quo to continue and we know where that ends up…do we really want to see that!!
  • People will always come and go, it’s the lessons and inspiration they bring that truly matters – but how do we maintain momentum without clear figureheads to help drive and push things forward. Where are the local government leaders who are capable of doing this and how can we collectively mobilise them?
  • We need leadership to guide us to a completely new future – one which we need faith in, not to guide us through variations on the past.
  • I hope we haven’t spent the last 5-7 years telling a great story about digital to only step back and let the opportunity pass us by to radically reform services because it is hard and or because we ALL allow decision makers to be driven by the wrong motivations.
  • If we really want to see change, a range of people (I include myself in that) will have to let go, swallow some pride and start to really collaborate and DO things NOW and SHOW something is CHANGING.  If we don’t the dominant financial narrative will continue (its important of course but its the context not the purpose)
  • 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.

 

 

 

What I think about Local Government and Digital

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Updated July 2015: after feedback and comments

Mush of this post was written before today’s Budget announcement which contains a really interesting snippet:

Budget 2015 - Digital ambition extends beyond central to consider local services

I’ll make some comments about this snippet towards the end of this post but want to carry on with my post as originally intended.

In my previous post about Local Government in general I shared my thoughts and journey through local government.

In this post I want to share my thinking about Digital in Local Government. Probably for some a long overdue post but I must admit my views and thinking have not been consistent over the last few years so

To briefly recap this is what i said in my last post around the vision:-

We must demand and create world-class local public services and we simply can not compromise on this….

I believe…

We need demand led local public services that are responsive to the needs of citizens and are based on what people need and how best those needs can be met.

We need open by default and digital by design local public services that are transparent, inclusive and accessible 

We need dynamic local democratic processes that respond to the needs and value the views of local people.

Firstly I want to make the point that Digital means different things to different people and that is in my opinion one of the fundamental barriers to wide-spread collaboration across the sector at the moment, although it should be the biggest opportunity to get people together as well!

There have been many discussions online and in person, some helpful, some not so helpful about what local government should do about Digital and it is reassuring that so many people actually care about the sector to express their points of view. The thing is no one is right or wrong as each person brings a different perspective and a different solution to the table – all of which most likely have a place somewhere.

I don’t claim to know what the answer is, nor do I claim to represent the views of the many practitioners who perhaps want different things. But what I can do is share what I think the problem is, where I think we as a sector need help.

The landscape of digital in local government ranges from aspects of the traditional IT domain to Web/Public Information to skills development and connectivity. It is all these things and much more.

As a practitioner in local government right now working to push digital innovation through my council, the approach I’m having to take is to set very high standards around the areas we have direct control which is the public website and the public information. We are in a process of change here and are currently moving our site to a new platform.

We now control content more than we ever did. We have an evolving approach around how we develop content – understanding what the demand is for a particular service and then mapping this to user needs and looking at how we can reposition the content to meet needs whilst also providing additional content/messages which signpost local community and voluntary services and we do this because that is where people look first.

What we found out is that a good proportion of people don’t look at google first, people ask friends, neighbours, people they know who may have experienced similar situations. Only if they don’t find out any information do they resort to google or think of us as a council – we are seen as almost a last resort.

The problem is that the way we have set up the system of local government so that once people contact us we collectively tend to want to pull them into our systems and processes and manage them as cases, contacts or customers and then we often think about how we can exploit that contact and provide sight of all of their interactions with us in a single view. Who does that really benefit, and who does this really empower…it feels like we still hold the power in this model and that feels wrong. This doesn’t in my opinion treat people as people it treats them like assets which can be exploited.

We need to shift away from this centralised model to one which is personalised, empowering and designed around the lives of people. We need to design and build services which can be pulled when needed / required and or that respond dynamically to people’s lives and transitions that they experience.

We need to design our services to fit into the workflows of everyday people and not around the processes of policy and government only then we will deliver truly radical change.

Digital is not really a set of solutions, it is the symbolic behaviours that go with all that the internet represents.

I do believe we (Local Government) need to share aspects of what we currently recognise as IT infrastructure and we also need to consider how we can provide a consistent but not uniform public interface to the whole of the sector, not just local government but the multiple organisations that deliver local services.

That may mean that we consider and properly review whether a single platform for publishing would actually help make that better or make things worse…I think whilst cost is a driver, we can not make cost the priority focus for making these choices as we either want to deliver world-class local public services which we believe and know will reduce costs or we reduce costs and make the best of what we can…I’d rather start with world-class public services.

Coming back to the snippet from the budget – here are my top 7 things I demand as a Digital Practitioner in Local Government.

  1. Appoint a Chief Digital Officer(s) for Local Public Services, who would have a responsibility to pull together the vision and map out the support required for each area and provide system leadership and direction – In light of discussions around the sector and a fear that we end up rewarding old structures and models I believe that GDS should be central to this recruitment process as they have a proven track record in Government of recruiting and building leadership qualities. This might be a single person or a collection of people given a single mandate and the authority to make it happen.
  2. Adopt a relentless and uncompromising demand led redesign approach to ensure users are at the centre of what we do.
  3. Develop, support and enable a skills development programme ASAP which addresses the fundamental skills gap in local councils and local areas to actually make the changes on the ground happen and sustain them. This might be matched with a framework of approved suppliers who can be used to support who work to a consistent set of standards and approaches.
  4. Demand open approaches, open systems, open practice. We can no longer tolerate design and development in isolation within councils and across councils. Opening ourselves up and sharing the problems
  5. Reward and incentivise collaborative and co-production action – We need to be uncompromising in our approaches to collaboration and co-production and demand this is designed into funding, rewards and any inspections. It has to be the the rule not the exception – no compromises
  6. We can no longer tolerate digital ignorance in strategic positions across the local government landscape. If strategy and policy is disconnected from the opportunities we will continue to fail
  7. Fix strategy and policy so that local services are designed around the lives of people and not around the boundaries of organisations

What I recognise is that we all need help, we all need to feel we are not doing this in isolation. We need help to agree an ambitious vision for how local public services can be delivered and then we will need help in relentlessly focusing on delivery against that vision – especially when it gets hard, really hard.  That is what I think about Local Government and Digital.