Archive for the ‘Leadership’ Category
The day of great conversations
Today was the final day of the LGA Conference and for me it turned into a day of some great conversations and ended with a bizarre twist and the realisation that lots of work still has to be done.
Over the previous 2 days those that stopped by at the stand ranged from those with a genuine interest to those who were there just to have a go on the wii or pick up a business card holder. Today was different. Nearly all the conversations today were great ones. We had councillors asking us to talk to their service areas so that they could learn from us; I had the chance to show how to mash an RSS feed into Google Maps to show detail; I asked aCounty Councillor to consider shared ICT services with a neighbour; I asked another councillor to go back and find out who their BA was!
I really think that many of those who visited the Digital Inclusion stand went away educated, and I would hope in some way inspired to include Digital Inclusion in future plans for their councils.
I also managed to have some great conversations with other exhibitors (unfortunately I did not win the IPad). I learned today about the cultural transformation programme that Fenland District Council has implemented. It was very impressive to hear how it has changed the organisation from a demotivated, hierarchical council to one that driven by the employees for the benefit of the citizen.
Fenland have really understood that Leadership is different to Management and that people respond differently to leaders than managers. Many authorities and many companies can learn a great deal from that approach. (Learn to relax, learn to win.)
I also had a conversation with the Big Lottery Fund who are looking to support a number of projects that could really change peoples lives. In addition there will be the chance to bridge the Digital Inclusion gap with this funding.
By the time the Councillors and delegates had left to tell Michael Gove what they thought of him, I was on the way home feeling quite smug that, maybe, I had made a difference.
The bizarre twist
Having battled the traffic I got home and changed hats. One of my personal roles is Vice Chairman of Solihull Round Table and was invited to attend a local community meeting to help understand Council priorities for the future. I really thought that this was very timely.
It was a real shock entering that room to find that I was the only representative of a community group and the other attendees consisted of Local Council officers, Local Councillors (none of whom were at LGA) the Fire Service and the Police Service. The local people had put their trust in their councillors.
The conversations resolved around the work that the Council was planning to improve the neighbourhood and they were asking for affirmation that this approach was correct. The data used to formulate the projects was years out of date, a point quickly picked up on by the Councillors.
On Tuesday Eric Pickles made it very clear that from now on Councillors were in charge, the community knows what’s best and the council needs to meet the needs of the locality. Big Society was born!
The bizarre twist was that these Councillors did not know what was happening in their area and did not seem enthused to find out. I challenged the Councillors at the meeting and they admitted that they only learned and followed the bad news stories (such as bin collections!) and never the good news stories.
The council had put a lot of effort in trying to engage with the local people but actually had a poor response from the public. It happened that I was also a resident of the area discussed and it turns out that I was putting my trust in these Councillors to accurately represent my needs to the council. I have never even met my councillor, how can they tell the council what is working well or needs to be improved?
The Local Government Information Unit (LGiU) has released an excellent paper discussing the need for engagement with the community and how Councils should work with community groups to understand local needs. It also describes the roles that Councillors should take in the future to meet the expectations of Central Government.
My personal experience has made me feel that unless the community realises what is expected of them, their councillors will not change their attitudes and we will continue along the same path with the Council second guessing what local people want by using out of date data.
My challenge to Councillors: Get on the street, talk to every resident, learn what’s working and what’s broken. Ask the RIGHT questions!
My challenge to Community Groups: Be part of the Council, get involved, make sure your voice is heard, be active, promote the good and the bad.
Till next time,
Day 2 of the LGA Conference in Bournemouth got off to a bad start, my colleague and I had our cars broken into overnight and she had some items stolen. Luckily (if there is a lucky side) neither car was damaged. Needless to say this put a bit of a damper on our enthusiasm, but we rallied and did our best!
I would describe today as a mixed success – the number of people stopping by fell, however those that did come stopped and chatted for some time and, hopefully, went away with new ideas about Digital Inclusion. We also had a few repeat customers who, having thought over night about what we said, wanted to find out more.
There was a lot of discussion regarding the future of councils and the scope of their empowerment. I found that many of our visitors were interested in how the Beacon Councils have saved money by delivering services more efficiently through innovative use of ICT. It appeared that Digital Inclusion aimed to support the community and individuals directly was not on their radars.
I made the point today of asking our visitors what did they think the challenge was for Digital Inclusion in their areas. Two main concerns came to mind:
- Lack of access to broadband
In the majority of cases this was limited to accessing broadband in rural areas, however in some cases it was lack of high speed broadband that was causing the issue.
Many rural areas are still suffering from lack of coverage, however schemes and ideas do exist to help these communities. Schemes such as Staffordshire Moorlands Digital Bus which visits these areas, bringing with them a host of ICT equipment and connectivity to introduce people to the benefits of the internet. In other areas community centres are being used to host digital spaces. Where the centre is already connected, opening it up to allow access to other users is a benefit to the whole community.
Schools are another example of where they can be used as a hub of Digital Excellence in rural areas. One councillor I was speaking to was advocating that schools should be open 7 days a week around the year and become more than a traditional school.
The second element of lack of access to broadband concerns high speed broadband. For those areas luckily enough to be ‘covered’ and hitting the 2mbps universal commitment the next challenge is about how to attract new business to their area if they cannot provide high speed connectivity.
Large businesses have the ability to pay for what they want – if they want 100mbps lines then they pay and they get. Small businesses cannot afford this luxury and so instead are looking for locations that can provide these speeds “off the shelf”. By not having this high speed internet access innovation is being stifled and ideas are quashed. What would a council say if it learned that the next Micro-Goo-App-Soft-le-le decided not to invest in their area because while they were small they could not get the broadband support that they needed at the time.
A number of Authorities around Birmingham, UK, have got together and formed the City Region group. One of their aims is to promote the availability of high speed broadband to enhance the region as a location for new businesses. A workstream of the group is to define planning guidance that will ensure any new developments (commercial or residential) will be capable of delivering high speed broadband to the premises.
To do this the region is asking planning departments to include requirements that ducting needs to be included in any new designs.The ducting will be used by the telecom operators to provide high speed fibre to the development to enable the speeds desired by companies.
A plan for the future roll out of broadband across the UK is essential. To become a digital nation we must accept that there is an urgency to clear the ‘not spots’ so all areas can receive broadband – but we cannot stop there. We need to be looking to the high speed future that is essential to keep innovation alive.
- The finances don’t add up
I mentioned yesterday that the need for a suitable business case still has to be found. When speaking to Councillors today they were asking for the Golden Egg, that pot of cash that will be saved by investing in Digital Inclusion. I was happy to point out that Digital Inclusion is not 1 large egg but many small eggs that make up the savings. Unfortunately, although they agreed in principle, I doubt that they were anyway ready to sign and Digital Inclusion projects off!
Having been given time to reflect on the announcement that Local Authorities were going to be held responsible to voters and not to central government this gave me the chance to talk to the Councillors about what the voters wanted. Councillors have a duty to listen and how would they react if they were told that the voters wanted to be Digitally Included and that it was the roll of the council to create the environment that will support growth in this area. Would the Councillors then consider investing in community centres, or as mentioned above, transform schools to become the hub of the community with ICT facilities available to all.
When looking at the same problem from a different angle, the Councillors were suddenly warming to the idea. If the message is delivered by the voters, loud and clear, to the Councillors then Digital Inclusion can happen.
A surprise conversation and a challenge
One of the final people that I talked to today was from the construction training industry, a fellow exhibitor who stopped by the stand drawn in by one of the freebies! We got talking about the importance of Digital Inclusion in general terms and I started to think about how Digital Inclusion could be relevant to the construction training industry. I had a small eureka moment.
The courses that the construction training industry delivers are not just about putting one brick on top of another, they, like nearly all courses, include elements of research and the submission of coursework. Why don’t a training provider, like the construction industry, work with a local authority to retrain individuals who are receiving benefits. In return the local authority would fund a PC and broadband connection for the duration of the course.
By providing the ICT to support the individual during their course would lead, hopefully, to an increased pass rate and less drop-outs. These increased skills would enable the individual to come off benefits sooner than if they had not taken the course, leading to a cashable saving for the council. (I cannot deny that there will be risks such as unfortunate job market etc, or guarantees that the course will lead to a job.)
I came to the conclusion that people need a reason to use a computer and succeeding in training could be the enabler that is required to make Digital Inclusion work. I think that this could be the start of a viable business case.
My challenge then is to Local Authorities to work with education provider and become that business case. Make Digitial Inclusion work.
Till next time,
Tomorrow is the last day of the LGA Conference. If you’re around call in and see me on the Digital Inclusion stand, or alternative follow the twitter hashtag #lgaconf
I thought that I would go to basics and create a quick presentation that highlights what, to me, are the essential elements of any business that need to be considered when looking to apply Business Analysis.
The main message is:
They are all intertwined and together they form the ‘business’.
Business Analysis looks at each of these elements to ensure that they support each other and that they are right, timely and affordable for the business.
Till next time
We are now two thirds of the way through SOLACE 2009 and I thought that I would let you know of my observations since my last post.
As far as I could tell day 2 was all about leadership and the power of communication (led by Drs Peter & Susan Glaser). This comes as a useful reminder to any Chief Executive, no matter how many years ‘under the belt’ they have got to the name. As organisations Local Authorities have to treat people well to ensure that they will give their best. The definition of corporate leadership has been defined and redefined over many year and I doubt that 1 of the Chief Executives attending have never heard this message before in someway or other.
Although local authorities have been challenged before and each have managed these challenges it’s still useful to review the approach to ensure that it is still gaining the objectives as it was intended. My question is how many people heard the message, realised that it applies to them, and decide what are they going to do about it?
The main surprise for me has been the attendance – or lack of it. ~350 delegates were registered, however when passing the registration desk at least 40% of the pre-paid badges had not been collected. It was also clear in the exhibition area when speaking to other exhibitors that not many Chief Executives were making the rounds and as 1 Chief said ‘he could not be bothered with the hard sell’.
I also feel for Oracle who invited myself, along with all the delegates, to a free evening reception prior to the conference dinner. I would estimate that 60 people showed up for an event which Oracle would have expected at least twice that amount and catered accordingly.
I wonder if these major companies will think twice about signing up to sponsor next year. BT was a major conference sponsor but did not take a stand in the exhibition hall. I wonder if we’re seeing the start of the end of ‘conferences’ in their traditional sense.
If delegates have more pressing engagements that force them to give up their conference seat then maybe the conference is not working. I would imagine that at least it will be scaled down next year.
I am going into day 3 of the conference glad to know that I am going home in a few hours. I feel that the people we did speak to benefited, however we did not get the message across as widely as we had hoped.
Make sure you follow the ‘action’ on Twitter using #solace09.
Till next time,
Well the first day of Solace 2009 is over and I suppose it is a time to reflect on what I have observed during the conference, the exhibition, the curry house and the bar.
The general messages that was being delivered out were “the hard times are here to stay” “efficiency, efficiency, efficiency, save, save, save” “must do more to save more”.
What I did not hear were the ways that our Chief Executives were supposed to get over these hard times, maybe this will come over the next couple of days.
It is a different perspective as an outsider watching the happenings of SOLACE 2009, I feel somewhat remote, but on the other hand passionate about what is happening on the other side of the wall. To explain, I am here as an exhibitor and my day-to-day role does not normally trespass on the Chief’s territory so this is a rare opportunity for me to see what goes on behind ‘closed doors’.
My role this week is to help promote the use of IT to deliver services that benefit the customer to local authorities Together with my colleagues from the other digital inclusion beacons we are working to enlighten the minds of chief executives one authority at a time.
Today was the first day of the conference and the passing footfall included some of the other exhibitors, a couple of delegates and a few interested parties. In short, not as many of the Chief Executives as we had expected. I had hoped to be able to ask our CE’s what their authority was doing to meet the digital challenge and how IT was perceived within their organisation. Maybe tomorrow will bring better fortune!
From the observations that I have made today I feel that the general impression is that each authority needs to focus on generating savings to minimise spend as income is only going to get less. Unfortunately, as I mentioned above, not much was being said as to how this should be delivered.
A positive presentation came from Jeff French who talked about the perception of the public towards local government who started the discussion as to how local authorities can understand their shortfalls by ensuring they as the right questions.
Philip Hammond challenged the Chief’s by saying “if we want innovation, we must learn to embrace failure” – I am not sure that many councillors will feel the same way and will lend their support to their chief.
Personally I view the issue as a 3 sided triangle (or as Andy Sawford put it at the bar tonight - a 3 legged stool) with PEOPLE, PROCESSES & TECHNOLOGY supporting the future. I can see that the drive to improve PROCESSES was being discussed today and I would imagine that it will carry on being discussed till the end of the conference.
The TECHNOLOGY was being discussed at the SOCITM Conference 2 weeks a go and I could imagine that at a similar HR event the PEOPLE element of the triangle would have been discussed.
So far SOLACE has not combined the 3 legs of the stool, and without this top down understanding the “savings, savings, savings’ and ‘efficiency, efficiency, efficiency’ cannot be delivered. We need to build the business case that will allow us to embrace the failure and through combined effort transform into stronger local authorities.
I hope that the speakers tomorrow will help strengthen the triangle and I hope that more Chief Executives will come to the Digital Inclusion stand and not be distracted by the opportunity to drive around Silverstone in a F1 car!
Till next time.
In the last few months Social Media has exploded. Newer tools such as twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace have now been fighting for space in the corporate boardroom alongside blogs and traditional web-pages.
Different organisations take a variety of approaches as to when new technology should be implemented. These can be summarised by the innovation adoption curve…
The most useful phrase that I have heard when describing new technology and the debate when to implement is that some innovation can be ‘a solution without a problem’. I feel that this is true.
As social media is re-writing the rule book about engaging with customers a pro-active area is that of local Government engaging with citizens. Work from the IDEA and others in their wiki have been trying to understand the problems and how the solutions can be used to deliver them.
I want this to go to the next stage. Social media is changing the way that we live our lives and so we need to adapt our working practices to meet the way that the world is turning, this goes for Local Government too. My question is: how will Local Government change to meet the expectations of how citizens will expect to interact with their council?
Councillors have traditionally represented the electorate by being voted on to the Council. The council is then split into portfolios to enable a broad coverage and public representation of the issues affecting citizens. The portfolios then act as governance for the various departments within the Council, ensuring that any plans represent best value, deliver required services and the needs of the citizen are met.
With the growth of social media resulting in a reduction of the formality required to interact with anyone, how should councillors change their traditional ways to embrace this new dimension. I think that it is now time to review the structure of councillors and their role within the community; if they’re not willing to embrace social media then they are not representative of their ‘customers’.
Before I am shouted at – not everyone is using social media! However a growing majority is using social media and can now interact in a way that was limited before.
My question to councils is do we really need to have so many councillors? Why can’t we open other channels of communication to allow citizens to speak with their own voice, rather than that of an unknown individual? Councillors are supposed to be the voice of the community, but how do they listen to that voice? (The answer is not anyone can talk to me).
Councillors should be listening to the community, understanding how the community talks, going to where the people are. The online community is growing, national ideas are filtering into local issues and local voices are looking for answers from their Councillors.
If you had the chance to redesign your local council – how would you do it?
By the way… When was the last time you met your councillor and were they representative of you?
Till next time,
This blog entry describes a visit by Robert Scoble to a company called Zappos. Although what they do is less important – it is how they do it that is of interest. The approach taken is not one of the traditional workplace with stringent hierarchy, with managers, line managers and directors – but it is an in formal structure more resembling a family rather than a business. Zappos have learned to relax and by doing that they have learned to win. Another classic and often quoted example of changing the workplace can be found at Google.
By relaxing their organisational structure the company has empowered staff making them feel part of the family and as such has increased the productivity. Staff want to go to work and want to work. Even the simplest steps can make an organisation more employee friendly and each step is a step away from the traditional Victorian factory structure that can be perceived by employees.
Some ‘quick wins’ could include relaxing the dress code. Firstly why some organisations insist that employees wear suits and ties is beyond me. If there is no reason for your staff to wear a suit then why do you make them wear a suit. The feeling of being able to work in clothes that you feel comfortable in is important to staff. It is a simple psychology win that will allow workers to feel that they have some say in the company.
Secondly wins could relate to flexible working – sometimes this is not possible, however where possible it will allow workers to feel more in control of their lives. Flexible working could include the ability to come to work between set hours, or taking lunchbreaks when staff want and not by a prescribed =time. Other flexible working could include ‘flexi-time’ or the ability for staff to earn additional time off work by doing additional hours in advance.
Thirdly wins can also be gained from allowing employees to work from home. This is not suitable for all organisations, and in some places it is not suitable for many employees due to their personal circumstances, however the ability to work in an environment of their choosing can increase productivity and loyalty of the employee.
The way that organisations relate are just as important as the perks that they offer to staff. As described above hierarchy exists in many companies and the way that staff are treated can resemble a feudal system with a Chief Exec at the top, directors below, managers, team managers etc. etc.. unfortunately to accompany this structure similar communication channels exist with any bottom up messages having to be approved by a more senior person before being passed on - or not in some cases.
More flexible organisations are removing this communication barrier and looking at a social network structure rather than a traditional hierarchy. A social network structure is made up of those people required to deliver the goals and many networks may exists depending on the aspirations. A network may exist for a project and may include staff from many different departments from across the business, it may even go wider than the organisations. The social network appreciates the skills of the individuals and does not distinguish rank but, when working for the goal, gives each member of the network equal status. This improves the speed of communication resulting in faster decision making processes. in addition it also removes individuals who do not need to be part of the chain. In some cases it may be possible to utilise technology to assist social networking in the workplace – but that is for another post.
The key blocker to more organisations not empowering their workforce and learning to relax and win can be summed up as ‘line of sight managers’. These are a special breed of managers, usually suit and tie wearing (even at the weekends) who are convinced that staff do no work unless they are smart and can been seen at all times. They can be described as ‘old school’ managers who live in a world that they know best and everyone else is mistaken.
In some cases it may be possible to reeducate these managers so that they can become more flexible and learn to trust their staff to achieve goals – but in some cases it cannot. What will a leader do if one their managers cannot, or will not, change in line with the organisations..? What happens if a manager recruits only people like themselves – how will the organization develop?
Organisations need to ask the are they ready to plan for the future and realise that the organisation as we know it is changing and are they equipped to deal with that change, have they the people, the processes and the technology..?
Till next time,
I am typing this blog entry while sitting on a train heading to Manchester for, if I remember rightly, a training session on how to use a collaborative working tool for the benefit of local authorities. As I look around me I can see a number of people all probably heading the same way for a variety of reasons.
Let me just point out a few things – I first got on to the platform at 6.15am this morning, the session is due to start at 10.00am this morning, I am having to travel at peak time, I will be returning at 4.00pm (again at peak time) and will not get home till approximately 6.30pm. It will be a long day.
The big question for me is why am I doing this..? It is not a case that the training I will get will not be useful or beneficial, it is more of the issue is there a better way to deliver this training, or meeting without me incurring both the financial expense of traveling and also the tiredness that will come with it.
Tools do exist that will enable organisations to collaborate without having to leave the office, however as it requires some investment in ‘internet’ technology many organisations are sometimes afraid to even try it. Web technology such as webex and Microsoft Live Meeting in it’s basic sense combines the telephone with a presentation, allowing the parties to see and hear what is happening and interact in the same way they would in a meeting. In a more advance setting it can combine multiple participants and also video conferencing. All without the travel costs.
There is a lot to be said for the ‘face to face’ meeting, and there may still be occasions that this is necessary, however an organisation must ask itself just how many of these meetings are really necessary. In addition who is to say that the ‘client’ is going to be available to meet with the business at a suitable time and place.
When businesses are looking for efficiencies alternatives to days out of the office must be investigated as the cost is too high. I recently read an article about companies who were ‘ditching’ their weaker customers and focusing on their more efficient, easier to please, clients. This goes along with the saying that 20% of your customers take up 80% of your resources. Imagine the case if a low return customer is demanding regular face-to-face meetings in a different part of the country every month. How much will this cost and how much will this contribute to the organisation? Would it better to ditch the customer if they are costing more to service than a customer who does not contribute as much financially, but costs much less to manage?
The middle ground does exist and that is to cut down on those travel expenses by utilising technology that is readily available to both small and large organisations. It is a simple business case does the savings from travel outweigh the benefits of investing in web technology to deliver the same meeting functionality?
I would recommend that businesses of all sizes take a serous look at what they can afford and how they can utilise existing technology to save on meetings.
Till next time, I’m going to try to enjoy the view – of Crewe!
There has been a lot of talk recently regarding ways for Local Authorities to embrace ‘social media’, ‘web2.0’ and other key words such as ‘engage’ and how they can deliver better services by using technology. Although some people are passionate about embracing new ways of working there are still plenty out there that are not yet ‘with the programme’.
I was recently brought into a discussion about web forums and how they might be used in a local authority to try to engage the staff to feedback ideas to improve the council. What I learned from these discussions was not so much that there was negativity towards working differently, but it was more the fact that some people did not even know that an alternative solution existed, let alone what to do with it.
In my experience those at the coal face are usually quite good at creating the business case for a new tool or a process if they understand what it is all about. The biggest challenge is getting that message understood by those that can and will make a difference by using the tools. I talked recently about the role of the Business Analyst and how it was important that they were a translator between ICT and the business area. It is this skill that is essential when trying to promote new technology, translating the tools into words that the end users will understand. There is a key question that needs to be answered ‘What’s in it for me?’ if that cannot be answered then the changes will stay on the shelf.
Tip 1 – When trying to get business buy-in ensure that you can relate the tool to the individual that you’re talk to.
Secondly, and this is always the biggest problem to overcome, is culture. Moving towards a 21st Century way of working means changing the culture of an organisation to understand what is happening ‘out there’ in the world.
We are living in a very exciting time. The world of social media, micro-blogging and user engagement is expanding at a rapid rate. This means that our next generation of workers will be web aware and will be expecting to deliver their tasks using the tools that they use on a daily basis. Think if you were changing jobs and you got offered 2 positions, exactly the same money, benefits etc.. however one company expected you to work with a typewriter and post letters while the other gave you a laptop with email. Who would you work for..?
Currently organisations, and local authorities in particular, are in a battle of culture. Councils are never going to be seen as leading edge adopters of technology (some would say that they could be compared to scavengers coming along after the battle has been fought and and grabbing what they can) and as such councils are never going to attract the risk takers that can deliver the wins expected by the private sector. The downside of this is that they have become risk averse and failing to keep up with the expectations of the public. The culture needs to change, and to do that education is required.
In discussions I often break an organisation into 3 key elements:
Each element is just as important as the others and no one element can save an organisation, they have to work together and constantly evolve. It is often the case that organisations throw money at technology expecting it to deliver but without the people understanding why they are using the technology or how they will use the technology it is a waste of money.
Changing the culture means changing the people – this could be both figuratively or literally. Are you willing and capable to change the culture..?
Tip 2 – Be expected to change people to change the culture.
I mentioned above that to advance we have to understand what we are delivering but also be willing to change the culture to ensure that it evolves with us rather than against us. The big question for us now is – where do we start?
A number of sites have been publishing top tips recently about where to find information a couple are below…
- LGIU – The local democracy blog – see this entry for a discussing on Twittering – Twitter top 10 – Local Government
- FutureGov see this entry for a discussion on a web enabled government – The GovWeb wish list
Another exciting recent development has been the advertising of the post of a Director of Digital Engagement for the Cabinet Office. This post will be there help change the culture and educate local authorities to how it is possible to embrace the future and build the business case.
Till next time.