The transition from old to new

Growing by Marissa Elkind – Flickr – https://flic.kr/p/YmkGcE

A fable about letting go:

Two travelling monks reached a town where there was a young woman waiting to step out of her sedan chair. The rains had made deep puddles and she couldn’t step across without spoiling her silken robes. She stood there, looking very cross and impatient. She was scolding her attendants. They had nowhere to place the packages they held for her,  so they couldn’t help her across the puddle.

The younger monk noticed the woman, said nothing, and walked by. The older monk quickly picked her up and put her on his back, transported her across the water, and put her down on the other side. She didn’t thank the older monk, she just shoved him out of the way and departed.

As they continued on their way, the young monk was brooding and preoccupied. After several hours, unable to hold his silence, he spoke out. “That woman back there was very selfish and rude, but you picked her up on your back and carried her! Then she didn’t even thank you!

 “I set the woman down hours ago,” the older monk replied. “Why are you still carrying her?”
Unknown Author 

When I was a line manager I used to take a fair amount of comfort from knowing that there were documented processes for everything, which essentially helped keep me safe, my colleagues and my staff safe (that was my assumption).

In having processes for everything, what that meant for me as a manager was that in a strange way, I didn’t have to think about anything – I simply followed the process and trusted that it got me to the right outcome (again that was my assumption).

Perhaps obvious to many people but this essentially means that rulebooks, processes and procedures tell people what to do, insist on discipline and compliance if you expect to be rewarded or stay out of trouble.  It is pretty much the lifeblood of command and control organisations. However, this has an unintended consequence that any form of creativity is pretty much designed out of the flow of work.

I used to think I was being creative and could be creative but I now know that I wasn’t.  Everything I did was wrapped within the parameters of the rules and processes which surrounded me (visibly and invisibly).  So on a personal level, I was only tinkering around the edges which over time end up becoming part of the problem.

Many of the conversations I now have,  make this increasingly visible to me and I can now start seeing the restrictions or parameters played out in what people say and how they act.  It has taken some time (a huge amount of unlearning and practice) to see this and learn how to tune out the noise and pay attention to the things that make them visible.

Most people state that they believe they have incredible freedom to act and they feel empowered to change any aspect of the work they do.  But what plays out on a practical level is actually the opposite.

I used to think I had a huge freedom to act, but I now know that I didn’t and was blind to so much stuff that stopped me creating lasting and sustainable change.

It is true that people can change some processes and some policies so that some improvement can become visible, but inevitably that change is single loop thinking – see my previous post talks about the single loop and double loop learning.

When you help make these things visible, the challenge is to understand why these things happen, what the consequences of these things are on the work and on the people who interact with services.

In simple terms, once you have done this, you can change those things based on knowledge and understanding.  Now, this is where I’ve started to find things incredibly interesting…the transition between old ways of working and new ways of working”.

In this “transition” space – you really learn about letting go and what letting go actually means and that it isn’t straightforward and easy.

Essentially the journey involves an emergent process of learning, where you have to unlearn and let go of all the things that currently get in the way of doing good things and then learn from a base of principle how to think differently, behave differently and act differently.

Underpinning this transition is ideally a shift from model 1 behaviours to model 2 behaviours (Argyris and Schon).

On a personal level this transition is still very much underway and as a team, we are discovering and learning what principles make sense for us and help us achieve our purpose (To help leaders see, think and behave differently).

So when it comes to letting go of old behaviours, habits, thinking, all the things that provide comfort and allowing yourself to become vulnerable and exposed, it is a no wonder that this is a much harder journey than some would acknowledge.

However and this is one of the biggest realisations I have – In my experience so far, moving to a principled way of thinking, behaving and doing is something that truly does liberate oneself.    It does allow oneself to legitimately move away from the constraints of how we currently work and importantly the constraints I placed upon myself that stopped me from starting this journey of learning and growing.

I used to think I was continually learning and growing, but I now know that I wasn’t. What I used to do was build faulty feedback loops that reinforced my current thinking and created further barriers to exposing my true vulnerabilities, restricting my ability to grow.

A final reflection is that through all of this it has reinforced one thing – I am truly privileged to be in a leadership position and how I think, behave and act has profound implications on others. I have a responsibility to understand those things so that I can ensure I create and add value.

 

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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.

 

What I learnt working at Public-i

Warning this is a reasonably long blog post…

Last friday marked the last day of my six month contract with the folks at Public-i.

It has been a great experience and one which has provided me with many learning opportunities and chances to challenge myself and be challenged – I actually feel like I’ve grown in so many different ways, especially in confidence…I don’t think I realised how much my confidence had been affected by the restructure process that had pretty much been my life for the previous 2 years before moving into the Digital Communications arena in the council and then having this opportunity with Public-i.

As I look back over the 6 months and reflect on what I’ve learnt, what I’ve achieved and where I go next. I can’t help but look at what I wrote after the first month.

It was a really exciting learning curve and one which enabled me to learn a lot about myself, I wrote:

What I’ve learnt about myself

I need to give myself more time overall to reflect on things that are happening around me. In a work context I need to give myself time to think and make sure that what i am doing is right, fits with a vision and makes progress.

I need to be more organised, I’m trying to work out how I can manage my calendars for all the things I do without them all being loaded with the same information…It simply isn’t appropriate…I’m trying some things out, and only time will tell.

I should have more awareness of the skills and value I can bring to situations. I really need to complete the Business Model for myself to help me with this.

I really love what I’m doing but maybe I need to focus on one thing and do it really well instead of spreading myself so thinly…Sometimes I think I am actually being counter productive by only dedicating a proportion of my time.

I do actually trust those people around me to help fill the gaps, although I need to be more explicit with people in relation to the help I actually need. (I’m unaware that mind reading is a universal skill yet).

I actually set very high expectations of myself and I get frustrated when I’m not meeting them, this is an internal process but is something that I need to work through

I could work at a higher level than I am now if I simply believed in myself more.

I’m was never fond of train journeys but they do create time for thinking, especially if you have music or audio books to help you gather your thoughts.

Clarity of vision and pragmatic in delivery is a very useful tactic.

These are still very important lessons for me and some of them I’m still getting to grips with like being more organised, although I’ve learnt that having less time actually made me focus on only the really important things, which is good, but also meant that some of the things I should also be doing (although slightly less important) didn’t get done. So I’m not sure if I’m looking forward to getting that time back :).

One of the biggest things that I’ve learnt is that having a change of scenery if for a short time like 6 months is great to get new thinking, new ideas and also new energy for what you love doing.

With the recent discussions going on about Local GDS, greater collaboration, co-operation and knowledge sharing, I can’t help but think that actually spending time in a different plan / organisation even if for a short time and only in a part-time situation can only benefit individuals and councils.

I have been thinking about people I know in local councils who could and would  (whether they wanted to or not is a different thing) benefit from this exact thing and the organisations they worked with – perhaps Public-i would offer this to others again or even FutureGov, Learning Pool, Kind of Digital, there are many organisations who in their own way are already doing this and would gain a huge amount purely by having those amazing people working with them on a common goal or challenge even for a short period or on a project.

You maybe reading this thinking I mean you, well I do mean you, YES YOU – It would allow you to spread your wings and be able to use that incredible thinking you have demonstrated and challenge things in new and different ways. Seriously I can’t recommend this type of opportunity enough.

I know my council has now got an even more motivated person than before, someone who is more confident, better able to challenge and consider views from more angles than before. In the current context, why wouldn’t councils encourage this short-term skills and talent development approach. Local Government as a whole can only benefit.

So moving away from the personal learning as that is something that is actually an added benefit of what I was employed to do  – looking back on the first post this was the challenge:

First and foremost I’ll be working with the development team and the rest of the good folk at Public I on helping them improve the overall user experience and focus of the Citizenscape product.

I’ll be providing constructive disruption and challenge and hopefully help make it a solution which helps the democratic process evolve

Now my take on whether I achieved those will naturally be slightly one-sided, but I’m going to take a pragmatic view on what I think my impact was.

  • I think one of the things I enabled was for Catherine who was previously pushing the product forward to take a step back and trust me to unpick and question the current purpose and vision for the product and to provide an alternative.  I believe I did this, I was lucky enough to be involved in previous versions and to have had many conversations with Catherine about this idea from the start, so the overarching concept wasn’t in question, however the current purpose and opportunity was a bit lost.
  • I also believe that I allowed people to be brutally honest with me about what they thought the current issues were without any issue that what they thought was even right or wrong…I’m not saying there wasn’t an open feedback policy at Public-i because there is – however someone new allows people to perhaps share their concerns which they never felt were important or were dismissed, so I think I allowed people to resurface some past concerns which were also very useful.
  • Overall I think I achieved a new clarity and purpose with the product, I think that by the end of my six months nearly everyone understood what is was and how it needs to develop in the short-term. The longer term ambitions will naturally differ and will also be driven by market forces and opportunities.

To create a sense of balance to this review I asked Ady Coles, who was my line manager whilst working at Public-i to provide me with a short quote:

Carl has brought a tremendous amount to Public-i. He gave his expert, third-party view of our products and services, sometimes strengthening our thoughts and at other times, questioning them. In particular, his role as CitizenScape Product Manager has provided new ways to view the platform and – in his enthusiastic questioning and eagerness to learn – enabled us all to understand it better.
Both Carl and Public-i have gained a lot from the last 6 months and I would have loved for Carl’s tenure with us to continue.
Ok, So that wasn’t really balancing out the post 🙂 But heh, it is great to share positive feedback and positive experiences with a wider audience and I’m proud of what I achieved in those six months.
I hope to be able to continue in some capacity my input and involvement with Public-i, after all, in those six months, people went from being “folks at public-i” to “friends at public-i”. That is probably one of my best reflections.

Managing a team, even a small one

It is that time of year when the much-anticipated and eagerly awaited appraisals are held…I had my appraisal a few weeks ago and enjoyed it – Yes I really did enjoy it…I’m not being sarcastic here, I actually found it a really useful and valuable process and it helped me form the basis of my recent post about reflective thinking.

After my appraisal I obviously have to arrange and conduct the appraisals for my team (I manage 5 people) which has been happening over the last few weeks now – Whilst as a team we talk often (or least when I’m in the office we talk a lot, I suspect they are grateful for my days when i work for Public-i at the moment ) I always find this a good time to set aside focused discussion on an individual and reflecting on their learning over the past year, discussing what they think has gone well and not so well, what they are proud of in terms of achievements and we agree and talk through a series of targets – I assign my targets as team targets and then each member of the team may have some specific individual targets to focus on as well.

The whole process for me is refreshing as I have those conversations with individuals that are not often had in open, getting into their real motivations and listening and seeing the passion come through. As a manager you have such responsibility to ensure that the people you are employed to support and manage fulfill their potential and feel valued and empowered to get the work done.

Over the last 16 years of working in local government I’ve had such a diverse range of managers all with great qualities in different areas – I’m sure they had their own opinions of me too which I dare say were not all positive, but I’d like to think I’ve changed for the better and have listened and learned from them. Obviously I had and have my favourites (rightly or wrongly) but they all taught me about managing people and about leadership.

The one common factor they all shared in my experience was in allowing me as a person to grow, to challenge myself, to challenge others, to question why things are done, to be the awkward voice sometimes and for that I thank them…but it is this quality I need to replicate with my team.

I see the core purpose of my role to ensure that my team can do what they need to do – when all is said and done, I’ll not be the one who actually makes the changes, who builds the things people use and interact with, who codes some clever plugin to solve a problem…I’ll be the one going wow that looks awesome, how did you do that!

I guess I’m like a conductor of an orchestra, to most people I’ll simply be waving my hands about in random directions with my back to people, but people are not really interested in what I do, they are interested in the outcomes of the team.

This is one of the reasons why I’m encouraging my team [ and hopefully others from across the wider communications team ] to contribute to a team blog and to share their learning, their experiences, their thinking, their ideas.  The blog is called [ Re: Work Digital ] and we soft launched it last week, Matt in the team was the first to write something and went live with his post “A new pair of trousers“, we’ll no doubt get more things into the blog once we get things a bit more organised however it is a learning curve for the whole team so please be gentle and if possible,  encourage them with constructive feedback.

You’ll soon be in a similar position to me, learning about my team, listening to their motivations and passions, hearing about the challenges we have and how they might be solved. That is pretty powerful.

The power of reflective thinking…

Reflection, Imitation, Experience
Reflection, Imitation, Experience By Rickydavid on Flickr

I’ve not blogged as much as I used to, partly because I’ve been really busy (or lazy) and my draft posts and rough reflections don’t get finished like they used to (again lazy), but also because sometimes it is worth just taking stock and reflecting on what has happened, what is happening and what needs to happen.

Last year I started a personal journey of reflection which has developed into more of a regular and critical part of my personal learning and development. Going through two restructure processes last year helps you think about what you believe your key strengths are and what you actually want to do and more importantly who you want to be…Part of this story of reflection has already been told, so won’t dwell on it further here, other than to say, focusing on your strengths and understanding them, I mean really understanding what they are is a very powerful and enlightening experience – a process which was supported in a blog post by Kate Hughes on strengths 2.0, where she managed to conduct some kind of online questionnaire to explore some of her strengths. She states…

This approach immediately resonated with me. A weakness I’ve carried through my career is my lack of attention to detail (something necessary in my field). I’ve developed techniques to manage it; re-reading with a fresh pair of eyes, using spell check and asking colleagues to proof read documents I’ve produced. But it always feels uncomfortable for me and no matter how much I kick myself when I make mistakes, I don’t seem to be able to overcome my weakness.
Once I’d identified my strengths (through an online questionnaire that you access through a code in the book) I could see that detail was never going to be my thing and it would make more sense to focus on what I’m good at. According to the questionnaire, my strengths were: Futuristic, Ideation, Strategic, Activator and Significance. I think it summed me up to a tee.

Back in January at #UKGC12 on the second day, I suggested and then spent pretty much most of the day attending a session on “reflective practice”. Initially it was suggested because there was a spare room and I had a bit of a hangover if I’m honest, so the quiet space seemed an ideal opportunity to simply “recover” – the silence, the space, the time was truly valuable.

I remember reading a blog post after UKGC12 by IceRunner which summarised the session held by Lloyd Davis on new kinds of conversations and the value of silence… I really like this quote…

One of the themes that kept recurring was that of ‘nothing’. How the natural pauses became less awkward as time went on, how we strip pauses and filler noises such as ‘um’ and ‘err’ out of a conversation when transcribing it. How ‘efficient’ communication makes no place for gaps, and how much information is contained in the gaps between words; how silence in a song can add an undefinable quality; to what extent our self-image is defined by others’ opinions of us, creating a space within which our self-image exists.

BUT I ended up learning a lot from the silence, the time, the space, the company (although conversation was sporadic and random) it all helped reflect on learning and also a range of other things.

So continuing the theme of reflection – readers of this blog will be aware that I also work part-time with Public-i – This has provided me with a lot of learning and also further reflection and has also helped me understand and prove to myself the strengths that I thought I had are actually real and can be of benefit to other people and organisations…that is a reassuring process which I’m lucky to be able to get.

The double-edged sword of working with Public-i is that on one side I get to be involved in some really fascinating projects which are generally in and around the Brighton area and also meet some very inspiring people in the process…what isn’t to love about this opportunity…on the other hand however for me this has simply inspired me to think about my own local community and how I can and should be doing more to improve it, connect people together and take forward and extending other people’s ideas into my local area. One example project which i believe has huge potential in my community as well as linking with my local school is Casserole (a futuregov project).

I’m hoping we can incorporate this thinking with the school and children’s centre, as we have starting talking about a community kitchen and garden project…I’ve no idea exactly how this will turn out, but we have some ideas, some assets, some resources and importantly some passion to at least see what can happen with it…It is this type of thing that I feel I want to do more of…These kinds of projects which make a real difference on local people. Now I know i can do that with Public-i but not in my local area and that is something which is important to me…It may take longer, it may be more frustrating but if successful my family will benefit directly from it which is why it is worth taking forward.

At this point in time I’m reminded of a great quote from Martin Howitt’s blog on being awesome

I don’t want to be chasing my own dreams on my own. I don’t want to stand out and be awesome.

If I have to sit in meetings all day nudging things forward inch by painful inch rather than being the swashbuckling, disruptive Lone Ranger to make that happen? Ok then.

What I love about Martin’s quote is that he simply wants to make things better, he isn’t after personal glory, he is more interested in being part of a team, chipping away at a wider challenge and pushing things forward, one day at a time…I really admire this viewpoint.

I’ve come to realise, more so in the last year than at any other time in my 16 years working for local government that I really love working for local government – I really do – you’d think that I would have already had that view, I mean 16 years is a long time working for one organisation, but I don’t think i really appreciated what opportunities you actually have to make a difference to other people’s lives.

It couldn’t be a more challenging time to work in local government, it couldn’t be a more financially challenging time, but yet within this context, I am meeting and seeing more and more great people – passionate about doing things differently, thinking differently and full of energy – It is very reassuring and something I thought wouldn’t happen as you see and read about lots of really amazing people leaving the sector and moving on to new challenges.

I’ve also learnt that (and i think this has become more pronounced since becoming a parent) getting involved in voluntary work in my community – I have developed a stronger and deeper passion for my local area and how it can be improved. I feel like I’ve become more of an active citizen and experiencing the projects with Public-i have brought these things into perspective more as I’ve seen and heard from people who are doing exactly that in their community.

The next few years will not be about doing more for less, the same for less or even less for less, it has to and must be about doing things differently. I for one want to be part of the journey and am grateful that I have that opportunity in Devon and in my local community.