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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Uncovering assumptions

Think!
Think : Christian Weidinger via Flickr

I’m continually fascinated by what happens around change and why some things, that on face value appear to sound and look great and are perceived to be exactly what is needed to help things improve. But yet over time they simply fade away and people are left wondering, what happened to that piece of work? or what happened to that project? and importantly why didn’t things actually change?

Over the years in my previous role as Digital Lead, I often supported and created projects on the edges which on face value sounded good and for a period of time generated some positive buzz and some momentum, but as I sit here now I am left wondering why didn’t those things create the change I thought they would, why are things not changing.  I accept there have been some surface changes, but I’m not going to kid myself in thinking that those surface changes were worth it. After all, nothing fundamentally has changed. In fact, one thing has and that is ME, I’ve fundamentally changed.

The shift for me in understanding this systemically and conceptually has been the learning and practice within my new role. In this role, I am learning about Systems Thinking and Intervention Theory which is helping me to support leaders to see and think differently.

Over the last few months, I’ve been reflecting on some of the things I was involved in and whether I can, could or should re-engage but have struggled with this as I’ve not really understood how to do that in a practical way which helps. One of those things is LocalGov Digital – something which I dedicated a huge amount of personal time and energy into over 5 years.

When the network started in 2012 I was in a different head space. When I look back at that now and the decisions and motivations I had then, I can now understand why I did what I did and why I think LocalGov Digital managed to get the traction it did at the time and continues to do so.  We had a good narrative, we had a groundswell of support and recognition and were able to harness that to grow our collective visibility – things were looking good.

I thought it was a great way to connect to people but one assumption underpinning this was that collectively we (LocalGov Digital) were already thinking differently (more on this later) and therefore took an unconscious stance of “we were right and others were wrong”.  I now know this is not a constructive position to take and inevitably leads to conflict and tribalism.

I didn’t know any different and for me personally, the value the network created was one of support and connection with people which previously didn’t exist…I felt like I belonged and found a safe space. Finally, I was able to connect with others who thought the same as I did….but over time I was blind to the unintended consequences of the actions the network took, including actions by myself.  I’m not suggesting everything or everyone was wrong, in fact, what I’m saying is that I’m learning that actions I took then internally and through the network are having consequences over time that from my new point of view were not constructive or helpful.   I know the network did the same as a whole, but the network was simply behaving within the parameters of a public sector system which triggered those actions.

In terms of seeing this as a pattern of behaviour, I am now seeing this across many networks and can see this is essentially how networks come together – I can even see elements of the same spirit and determination of early LocalGov Digital being replayed albeit slightly differently through the One Team Gov‘s activity / messaging.

My observations are that both endeavours are coming from a place of good intent, (change public services for the better) however, there are some BIG assumptions sitting behind that good intent, those assumptions are currently invisible and therefore have been unchallenged.

For me, one of the biggest assumptions sitting behind both LocalGov Digital and One Team Gov is that everyone who engages or contributes with any of this work is already and actively thinking differently?

When I say “thinking differently” how I now understand that is that people are learning in a double loop way, resulting in thinking differently.  What I’ve learnt about myself is that I was not thinking differently, I was, in fact, thinking very much like everyone else, including the people I had assumed I thought differently from…that realisation was a pretty illuminating and painful one, but I am now able to learn from that and can see the journey and the power of that journey.

There is an excellent article on double loop learning here, it is quite a heavy subject but this post articulates it clearly in my opinion. I’d very much recommend reading it before continuing but just in case you don’t have time I’ll be quoting from it anyway throughout this post.

“For double-loop learning to occur and persist at any level in the organisation, the self-fuelling processes must be interrupted. In order to interrupt these processes, individual theories-in-use [how we think] must be altered.” (Argyris & Schon)

“An organisation with a [defensive] learning system is highly unlikely to learn to alter its governing variables, norms and assumptions [i.e. thinking] because this would require organisational inquiry into double-loop issues, and [defensive] systems militate against this…we will have to create a new learning system as a rare event.” 

When one applies to this oneself it has transformational impact, this is the journey I’ve been supported to go on in my new role here…

This next snippet sums up for me the nature of the journey i’ve been on…please note the wall they refer to in the snippet below is a barrier to double loop learning.

“The first task is for you to see yourself – you have to become aware of the wall…and Argyris & Schon are suggesting that you may (likely) require an intervention (a shake) to do this. Your current defensive learning system is getting in the way.

Let’s be clear on what would make a successful intervention possible, and what would not.

An interventionist would locate themselves in your system and help you (properly) see yourselves…and coach you through contemplating what you see and the new questions that you are now asking…and facilitate you through experimenting with your new thinking and making this the ‘new normal’. This is ‘action learning’.

This ‘new normal’ isn’t version 2 of your current system. It would be a different type of system – one that thinks differently.”

So when I say think differently, this is how I now see and understand that.

So coming back to the “assumption” of everyone already and actively thinking differently presents a number of questions for me;

  • How do we know people are actively thinking differently?
  • How do we know that the people who are looking at their work are able to legitimately change that work?
  • How do we know they are doing purposeful work and do they know what purposeful work is?
  • Do people know and understand the purpose of their work from an outside in perspective?
  • Are people able to have the current conditions that apply to their everyday work suspended?
  • Are the leaders who have the legitimate power to suspend those conditions engaged and connected?
  • How are we learning what good looks like through a new lens of thinking?

So with these questions and more in my head, I’m starting to wonder now whether we are simply advocating people do different things over actually thinking differently?  And what are the consequences of that approach?

If the purpose was to help people to think differently as defined through double loop learning, what would Local Gov Digital and One Team Gov do differently as a result of that shift in purpose?

I don’t have an answer to this but welcome peoples thoughts and opinions no matter how diverse they are.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A letter to myself of 12 months ago

06-03-10 You Wrote Me Oh So Many Letters
Dear colleague,

You don’t really who I am although I will look familiar, I know you, actually better than you know yourself. I’ve wanted to write this for a while now as I’ve been meaning to connect with you and offer some words of support, some words about pain and suffering and some of what you read might challenge you to your core.

Writing this isn’t as easy as I had imagined it would be as I’m considering how you might interpret this, react to this and respond to everything I write in this letter.

What I have learnt over the last 12 months is that it is nearly impossible teaching anyone who thinks they already know what they need to learn. You helped me learn that. You showed me the impossible is possible.

I know and understand that your desire and passion for wanting to see change happen can seem unrivalled compared to some of our colleagues and I applaud you for that. You are well respected and liked by your peers and you are always up to date with the latest and newest things and always appear knowledgeable about change and changes elsewhere. It has taken time and effort but you have justifiably earnt the position you have. That space inside you though that feels empty won’t go away on your current path. It is a calling for something profoundly different.

Making change happen in organisations is a complex affair and can be incredibly frustrating especially when other people don’t get or understand what you are doing or trying to achieve.  I know you wished people would simply think the way you do! But I’m here to say you are one who needs to change the way you think!

I’m not suggesting that what you do is wrong or that change in some form doesn’t happen as a result of what you do. However, how do you understand the consequences of the approaches you have taken and continue to take? Are you aware of your blind spots? Are you even capable of seeing them? Are you aware, particularly around whether you can actually see the change you envisaged or are you blinded or suppressing the truth – my truth was – I was contributing to the problem I was trying to fix?  I know that you are part of the problem you are trying to solve!

I found it personally difficult as I thought I knew what I needed to know – BUT I have spent the last 12 months unlearning nearly 100% of what I knew and understood. That nearly broke me, it pushed me to the edge of my emotional resilience, I cried (often), I felt lost, insecure and often thought my time was up and I should leave my job, but deep down there was a spark that refused to die. In those moments I found myself amongst the best people I could have ever hoped to have around me to support me, challenge me, help me to understand a new perspective. A new team, friends, colleagues and fellow companions on a journey of discovery.  You will meet these people soon – cherish them.

I used to think and believe that ‘starting many fires’ and constructively disrupting the status quo from the edges as a ‘rebel’ was the only way change would and could happen. In fact I would go as far as to say it is how I positioned myself and my role for a number of years, I even went on training courses advocating this was the only way change could happen – I know you deeply believe this to be true too, but you will unlearn this and find the truth. I can’t tell you what that is as you need to learn this for yourself and when you do I will be here for you.

After some reflection and searching I can draw upon the experience I have through a different lens and that tells me (if I truly listen) I was misguided, misinformed and lacking the self-awareness to truly understand how change happens, real sustainable change and my realistic chances of affecting change. Don’t let the hype that surrounds you blind you to the truth and your inner truth.

Why do you do want you do? Are you really clear on your purpose? Are you sighted on your defacto purpose playing out for others to see and feel as the consequences of the actions you take ripple outwards working against the very thing you hope to achieve?

How aware are you of the influence and power you have to make a sustainable change?  You should revisit this dynamic once you have understood the answer to why there is a disconnect between your external influence and internal influence!

I’m not for one moment suggesting you give up, throw in the towel or walk away.   Just trust when I say to you that you will need to pause, take stock, reassess and reframe everything.

It gets better, in fact, I can tell you I’ve never been happier in my role, in my life and it starts when you let go. The clarity emerges but allows yourself to lean into the uncertainty, the darkness and the space between who you are now and who you can be.

We may not agree on what is written on this page, but understanding how you feel, how you think and why you do what you do is important to me.

When you are ready, I will be here, waiting – I will be ready to hold your hand, stand beside you and walk with you into your future.

Regards,

A friend

It has been a while…

blogThe 18th March was the last time I blogged on this site, this is probably one of the longest periods of no activity on my blog, but yet one of the busiest periods of work I’ve had as well. I’ve had so many blog post ideas in my head which I simply haven’t found the time or better still haven’t actually prioritised in those 3 months for various reasons. So this inevitably ends up being a very long post as I clearly don’t have enough time to write a set of shorter posts 🙂

As I reflect back on the last 3 months in particular I get sense that the pace and scale of change (here in Devon and other places) is rapidly increasing and I need to challenge myself to stay committed to blogging regularly as I fundamentally believe that open practice and open thinking is a critical part of the culture that needs to grow and scale and support those in and around the sector to connect, inspire and challenge each other.

The two biggest themes that come through the activities I’ve been involved in over the last 3 months are: Collaboration and Design – Nothing I do really directly starts with Digital which used to be the case a while back…maybe that is my approach or the organisational awareness, perhaps both in equal measure. But it is great to have more in-depth conversations around the design of things.

So here are some highlights?

Team Delivery

The team have been VERY busy redesigning and redeveloping the council website and we have had some significant pieces of work go live recently. None of this is anything I have done, this is purely me being very proud of the team on some key projects

These projects have been fantastic examples of how the team have followed the Government Digital Service (GDS) phases of developing digital servicesdiscovery, alpha, beta and live – from end to end. Some of the key challenges have not been within the team but from across other areas who have not yet fully appreciated the shift in our role and approach.

Sarah in the team has blogged about all the work that happened through the discovery, alphas, beta and live versions of Educations and Families and it was a real team effort.

The team have also started to share the development journey around building the new homepage too again a huge team effort and not just our small team but the whole of Communications – the story starts in this post by Matt and this one from Tim. There are more posts planned as part of this journey so keep an eye on the teams posts on Rework Devon

Working and Collaborating with Public Health Commissioners

It has been a pleasure to work with some of my public health colleagues who are really engaged in Devon’s new operating model (a framework for how we work) and that has meant that they are prepared to fundamentally challenge assumptions, seek new perspectives and invite new collaborations to discover new solutions. One of the outcomes of that was realised on Monday this week when as part of a commissioning process, we ran a “Discovery Day” to help clarify the problem relating to a future healthy lifestyles service. From our perspective it was certainly a success, it really focused us all on understanding the target audience and defining the problem. We developed 4 broad persons loosely based on mosaic data and public health intelligence. I tweeted a photo of the 4 personas – see below

The additional aspect to this commissioning process is that I am also supporting the Assistant Director directly through our joint submission to participate in the Far South West Commissioning Academy, which is a local franchise of the Cabinet office Commissioning Academy.

The Commissioning Academy is a development programme for senior commissioners and those responsible for transforming service delivery in all parts of the public sector, including, local authorities, health bodies, justice organisations and central government

The Cabinet Office has been running a Commissioning Academy since 2013, designed to help senior commissioners learn from the example of the most successful and innovative commissioning groups to deliver more efficient and effective public services.

The programme is for 8 days over a 6-8 month period and consists of master classes, workshops, guest speakers, site visits and peer challenge and covers issues, such as:

  • Whole-systems thinking, bringing all facets of public services together to tackle issues
  • Systems leadership
  • Working with the voluntary and community sector
  • Behavioural insights
  • Market engagement and development
  • Alternative funding models
  • Joint commissioning across organisational boundaries
  • New models of delivery

Participants of the programme are also required to develop a 100 day plan post development to support transformational change in the local area.

This is an exciting opportunity not just to deliver radical change within this area but also to gain new skills and insights as part of the programme. I’ll be sharing more as the programme develops around my learning and insights i gain from the programme itself.

Design Thinking in Public Services Programme (LGA and Design Council)

In May we received an email inviting us to a launch event about an opportunity to submit an application into a design thinking programme – Design in the Public Sector, developed by Design Council and supported by the Local Government Association – cost of participation is fully subsidised as well which made it more of an attraction.

This is a short extract from the email:

There is a rapidly growing interest in design thinking in central and local government and the contribution it can make towards addressing the challenges you face.

Key design principles, methods and tools such as understanding users’ needs, prototyping, visual techniques and working collaboratively can all be applied to service, system and digital challenges in the public sector to great effect.

If your organisation is based in the south-west of England and you have a current or future service delivery challenge which could benefit from a different approach, this could be your opportunity to gain support through a proven, innovative accelerator programme.

So myself a colleague from our organisation change team (Kevin Gillick) went along, got inspired and pulled together an application, engaged some internal colleagues, the Chief Executive, a Cabinet Member and pulled together a core team and we were lucky enough to be successful. The programme kicks off on the 15th and 16th July in Bristol. I’ll be writing a joint blog post for Rework Devon shortly with Kevin to share our aspirations, expectations and challenges. We are committing to being open through the whole programme so expect to see and read lots of reflections, learning, opportunity and no doubt failures.

Beyond the Smart City

So the awesome folks at ODI Devon (Martin, Simon and Lucy) have asked me to oversee one of the most important events in the year.  From the 25th to the 27th of June ODI Devon, alongside the Met Office, is bringing together talks, workshops and, most importantly, people to explore what’s needed for better connected, greener, more human Smart initiatives.

The whole programme looks superb, the speaker list is amazing, the workshops sounds perfect.

To be asked to help out is such an honour as I know how hard they have worked to get to this point and the fact the event is happening at all is such a testament to the excellent work and determination of those awesome folk behind ODI Devon.

I can’t wait for it to all kick off and support them, I hope you can support them too by coming along.

The website has all the details: http://beyondthesmartcity.com/

Final reflections and some additional highlights

We’ve also been looking at some European funding streams around innovation which has developed some interesting relationships and connections with colleagues in the UK and across Europe, not sure what will happen but the networking has been invaluable.

A couple of weeks ago a colleague from Buckinghamshire County Council came down for a bit of a joint show and share which was a great opportunity for myself and colleagues in the council to share some learning around some innovative projects. It was refreshing getting an external perspective on some of the activity we have been doing and I’d suggest that we don’t often reflect how far we have come until we stop and share that journey. It was also great to hear about the great work Buckinghamshire are doing and we have much to learn from them…so this is really the start a many conversations.

There is so much internal activity happening around the digital agenda that I’ll follow this up in another post at some point…there is so much we can share.

Also the UnMentoring which is part of the LocalGov Digital offer linked to a prototype change academy is going VERY well, the feedback is fantastic, the connections across the sector are clearly growing (small-scale) but it is something which can grow and generate huge value in simply connecting people to share learning and experiences. If you haven’t signed up feel free to do here.

A couple of additional highlights one of which i can’t say much about at the moment – but it is one of the most interesting projects that I believe will have a radical impact on me and my team and how we work and collaborate as well as how we connect and network across teams.

Also I’ve been working across the LocalGov Digital Group on how we can start to rethink how we work, how we shape ourselves and how we can improve and deepen our impact moving forward. All of this will be a challenge to each and everyone one of us but it is something that needs to happen, we just need to work out how…A blog post will appear shortly on this, this isn’t secret I just don’t want to share it in this post…

My final reflection is that I’m perhaps unsurprisingly optimistic about the future even though i have no idea what my role will be, whether I will have an active role. But I do know that from my perspective the narrative has shifted from tough decisions and grey clouds, to one of opportunity, growth and blue skies. I know not everyone sees that…and it has taken me some time.

 

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.