Culture change

An inspiring chat with Esko, Philippa and Rob got me thinking about culture change.  It started with me saying I felt a bit cynical about our new company values and behaviours document.

Me:  “Why do we need to publish values and behaviours for staff to aspire to,  isn’t that patronising?  Don’t we all know that we should be decent human beings towards one another?  I know I should collaborate, innovate etc. without being told by The Company.

The answer convinced me that we do need to be explicit:

  • We can’t assume that behaviours and values are universally shared.
  • By having an explicit statement, we can identify behaviours that are counter to what we want.
  • By being able to identify ‘counter-productive’ behaviours, we then have the opportunity to do something about them.

Next question:  “OK, if we are clear about what we want, how do we achieve culture change (assuming that the desired values/behaviours aren’t already widely embedded)?

  • What you don’t do is give everyone the piece of paper and tell them to comply (obvs).
  • I think the difficult part is dealing with clear cases of ‘counter-productive‘ behaviour.  One approach for managing this behaviour is to have a quiet word with the exhibitor of said behaviour.  It’s never going to be an easy conversation, so some skilful crucial-conversations-style work is needed.
  • What you can’t do is let toxic, damaging behaviours continue, unchallenged.  If you do, your values and behaviours document is not worth the paper it’s written on.

The art of the good meeting

  • Answer the question – do you really, really need to meet? (clue: meetings are expensive)
  • Have a clear objective for the meeting, mapped out in a pre-circulated agenda.
  • Max 4 participants.
  • Choose the right participants – people who are interested, have ideas, and can make decisions.
  • Say your piece then shut-up (i.e. be an active listener).
  • Make sure you stay aligned with the bigger picture / strategic objectives.
  • Enable participants to challenge each other openly and respectfully without emotion. #psychologicalSafety.
  • Stay focused on meeting objectives, and clearly agree next steps – what they are, who is owning them, deadlines, dependencies.
  • Capture key decisions and tasks electronically during the meeting – don’t wait until later to write them up, causing unnecessary delay.
  • Close the meeting when you’ve met your objective.
  • Communicate the outputs from your meeting to the wider team – Work In The Open.
  • Plus delta the meeting at the end – what worked well, what should you do better next time?

Thanks Coco for collaborating on this list with me.

Senior Leadership Support Is All That Matters

I’ve tried to introduce ‘agile’ working methods into two different organisations. In organisation A, we persevered for about 6 months before reverting to traditional waterfall approaches.  In organisation B, we’re about 6 months in, and we’re flying!  The obvious question is, why the difference?

The organisations are comparable in size, work in the same sector, and offer the same services.  Three words:  Senior Leadership Support

In organisation A, we failed to enthuse the seniors.  In organisation B, the seniors have driven agile adoption.  What a difference that has made.  I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions on the importance of getting your leaders on-board for any Organisational Development initiative.

Blame Esko, Ben and Coco / Working In The Open

I’ve had the great pleasure of getting to know Esko, Ben and Coco over the last year or so.  Esko and Ben have rekindled a fire inside me to Work In The Open.  I’ve previously dabbled with blogging, but the words dried up.  Since Esko and Ben fired me up, I’ve been extolling the virtues of blogging to Coco, and she’s only gone and done it.

So it’s only fair that I get back in the saddle.

I’ve been involved in some interesting work lately, so will no doubt find plenty of things to ramble on about.  Another passion that has been rekindled is agile, so I’ll write on that, as well as general observations from my geeky life in projects and generally shaking things up.

I’m looking forward to this.

1 – 1 Coco.  No pressure.

Maternity ward tips

Our little bundle of joy arrived safely (Praise Be to God), however we ended up staying in a while so I thought I’d share what we’ve learned:

  • It’s good to have someone with you (partner, friend, relative) when having conversations with medics.  A lot of information will be exchanged, and your wingman/woman can help recall details and questions that need asking. They’ll also help after the conversation when you try to remember everything that was said.  Of course, the wingman/woman’s top job is to be supportive and reassuring.
  • Tell your medics about your history.  It’s really important you fill the medic in on the medical history – longer term and more recent – don’t assume they’ve had time to study your notes!
  • Be prepared to repeat yourself.  You’ll likely see many different medics if you’re in for more than a day or so.  Again, don’t assume new medics will have read your notes, or that they’ll have spoken to each other.  Give each new face a comprehensive summary of the story so far, even when this gets a bit tedious.
  • You will have questions for the medics.  Keep a list so you make sure they are all covered off when the medic next pops in.  Consultants are crazy busy, so you don’t want to miss your chance for important advice.
  • Be proactive in your treatment.  For the best results, care decisions need to be agreed between you, your wingman/woman and the medics.  Don’t passively take whatever the medic first suggests.  Ultimately, it’s your body, and you’re responsible for what happens to it.  Medics need your consent to do anything, so take the question seriously and don’t give your consent if you’re unsure about something.  Good questions to ask are:  What are the alternatives?  What are the risks and  benefits of particular options?  What would the professional advise?
  • Dr Google is useful for reading around the subject.  Listen to the medic’s advice,  then see what Dr Google has to say, you may pick up some useful extra pointers.
  • Make sure you’re happy with the chosen course of treatment.   Don’t feel steam-rollered into something you don’t really want.  If something doesn’t go right, you don’t want to end up regretting not speaking up and taking a different option.
  • Make sure you know what’s due to happen, when.  Sometimes things will get forgotten or take longer than they should, and you’ll need to chase them up.

I think that covers the important stuff.  The tips above are not meant to be a criticism of the care we’ve received, just a pointer as to how to maximise your care .  It’s clear that resources are tight, and that the staff are working really hard.  This experience has served to remind us how lucky we are to have the NHS, and how important it is to protect it.  Huge thanks to everyone on the Gloucestershire Royal Hospital Maternity ward – we are very grateful.

Finally, this experience has reminded me what an amazing woman my wife is – she’s a trooper and I’m a very lucky man to have her.

Have you had a similar experience?  What tips would you share?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Design thinking

It’s just over a month since I completed a three day leadership bootcamp run by the lovely SatoriLab.  I documented the tools from days 1 and 2 here, and am finishing the job by adding the day 3 tools / concepts here.  Day 3 focused on service design and prototyping.  Here are the highlights:

  • Brasília case study – example of city design that looked great from above but didn’t work for the users (citizens) at  ground level.  Architects/planners design new places with fancy aerial models, but fail to visualise what it’s actually like to work, live, and play in a space.
  • We need to frame the problem – why are we doing this work?  Who are our users?  What are their needs?  What services currently meet their needs?  What outcome(s) will users get from this service?  What are our key metrics?  What are the next steps to develop the service?  What should the user journey look like?
  • Most of government is mostly service design most of the time ~ Matt Edgar
  • The policy lab is a big user of design thinking
  • We should be a user centred organisation – putting our users at the heart of what we do
  • Use the agile life-cycle to hone problems and solutions:  Discovery > Alpha > Beta > Live (DABL).  Get users involved early, and involve them continuously.  Going through DABL controls exposure to risk by reducing the cone of uncertainty.  Funding is released in phases subject to passing of gate reviews.
  • Design council double diamond model:  Discover, Define, Develop, Deliver.  Spend more time on problem definition – up to half of the project should be devoted to this.  There’s no point delivering a solution for a poorly defined problem.
  • To understand the user experience ask yourself (and actual users!), what do our users:  Think and feel?  Hear?  See? Say and do?  What causes them pain?  How do they gain?  The goal is to empathise with the user.   Ask them open-ended questions… “Tell me about the last time you used XXXXX service”.
  • Constantly Replace Assumptions With Evidence.
  • Defining user needs – understand what users really need.  Don’t prescribe solutions in user stories.  e.g. “As a diabetic I need to see my GP once a month so I can avoid health complications” = bad user story.
  • Useful matrix for analysing the user journey:  for each stage (pre-service, during 1, during 2, during 3, …. during N, post service) – consider what the user was doing and thinking, how they were feeling, and any insights and opportunities for design improvements.
  • Take opportunities to collect user feedback – e.g. on a web page, ‘was this page useful?’
  • Rapid prototyping:   helps you pick the right goals and designs early;  helps check you’re designing something people actually need;  Lets you try something out without the pressure of perfecting it;  helps you to empathise with the user through role-play;  provides quick feedback loops.
  • It’s the bravest person that puts pen to paper first #jfdi
  • Make prototypes lo-fi (messy and amateurish) as users are more likely to give feedback if they see they didn’t take a long time to produce.
  • Prototyping plan – Key elements of the idea; what do we want to learn?; how will we test it?; Who needs to be involved?; When.
  • Hacker mentality – the meeting is ‘building the thing’, not ‘talking about building the thing’
  • The only people who can change the culture of an organisation are the people inside the organisation.
  • <[]>  The importance of opening, exploring, and closing a discussion.

Leadership bootcamp – tools

I’ve completed 2 of 3 days of a leadership bootcamp run by Satori Lab.  This has been a superb course, which has introduced me to, and refreshed my understanding of a great mix of tools and ideas.  I’m cataloguing the tools below for future reference, and will blog on my application of them in future posts.

  • Connected age vs industrial age ways of doing things
  • Ego-system vs Ecosystem
  • Agile – scrum flavour:
    • Product owner, Team, Delivery Manager
    • Rapid prototyping – Reduce the length of time in feedback loops
    • Problem statements
    • User Stories – As a <service user> I need <feature> …. So that I can <reason>.  (E.g. As a user, I need to upload photos so that I can share photos with others.)  Focus on unmet needs and external customers.
    • Epics are the daddy of User Stories e.g. As a person with disabilities, I need to be able to live independently.
  • The Learning Organisation
  • service-manual / GDS design principles
  • Growth mindset
  • Internal locus of control
  • Psychological safety
  • Google rework
  • What is the irreducible core?
  • 5 whys
  • Replace Assumptions With Evidence
  • Replace Fear Of The Unknown With Curiosity
  • Working In Public / Working Out Loud
  • Datavores
  • Avoid the Us And Them mentality.  Say We, not They.
  • 100 questions.
  • Focus on the whole person, not just the narrow skill set defined in their job description / person spec.
  • Organisational values – if there’s a big disconnect between what’s on the wall and reality, staff will disengage.
  • Personal values – unique to each of us.  Useful to know what colleagues’ values are.
  • 4mat / Kolb / adapted.   Why, What, How, What if.
  • The Connected Company, Dave Gray.  The more idiot proof the system, the more people will act like idiots.
  • Innovation drill (MIT)


I’ve really enjoyed reading the University of Birmingham’s report on the 21st Century Public Servant which articulates 10 characteristics that the successful, modern Public Servant requires:

The 21st Century Public Servant…

  1. is a municipal entrepreneur, undertaking a wide range of roles
  2. engages with citizens in a way that expresses their shared humanity and pooled expertise
  3. is recruited and rewarded for generic skills as well as technical expertise
  4. builds a career which is fluid across sectors and services
  5. combines an ethos of publicness with an understanding of commerciality
  6. is rethinking public services to enable them to survive an era of perma-austerity
  7. needs organisations which are fluid and supportive rather than silo-ed and controlling
  8. rejects heroic leadership in favour of distributed and collaborative models of leading
  9. is rooted in a locality which frames a sense of loyalty and identity
  10. reflects on practice and learns from that of others

This is a pretty sound description of what’s required in order for public sector individuals and organisations to succeed, although #2 feels very fluffy, and #9 smacks of costly parochialism.  I also struggle with #5 – the ‘ethos of publicness’ – and am not really sure that a public vs. private ethos is still valid.  If you work in the private sector, you need to provide value for your customers to survive.  If you work in the public sector, you need to provide value for your customers to ensure that public funds are not wasted.  In other words, work is all about adding value for customers, irrespective of which sector you operate in.

Partnershipability – the most important trait for the 21st Century Public Servant

The aspect that interests me most – and which is absent from the report – cuts across #5, #6 and #8 – and is a leadership trait that I like to refer to as ‘Partnershipability’.  Over the last decade, the most effective public sector organisations are those that have entered into successful partnerships with other public, private and third sector organisations, to unlock economies of scale; reduced duplication in back and front office operations; and ultimately improved customer service at lower cost.

The key to this success has been the values and behaviours of leaders in the prospective partnership organisations.  The leaders who have achieved complex but rewarding transformation have demonstrated trust, courage, deep relationship building skills, perseverance, vision and a willingness to jump into the unknown.  I do not use the word ‘courage’ lightly – senior leaders exploring partnership options will be fully aware that they are in the most precarious positions if any form of merger is to proceed.

An agile approach whereby possibilities for collaboration are explored iteratively, and ideas without legs are killed off quickly, has also enabled resource to be directed at more promising options.

Where efforts to collaborate have fallen down, the cause – which is often absent from any lessons learned document – often boils down to ‘relationship issues‘ at the senior level.

So if you want to take advantage of Partnership Based Transformation (PBT), you could do worse than to identify and harness those within your organisation with crucial Partnershipability skills and experience – a key trait for the 21st Century Public Servant.

Of course, not all leaders posses Partnershipability, and any PBT programme would do well to focus on early and sustained relationship building at the top of the respective organisations, and then throughout the organisational tiers as the arrangement develops.

I’d love to hear your views on the importance and prevalence of Partnershipability.

I’m so excited

and I just can’t hide it …

Because on 10th June, 5pm GMT, I’m co-hosting #pmchat with the fabulous Naomi Caietti – and we’re going to talk about one of my favourite subjects – project #wins!  i.e. cool new projecty stuff that works really, really well.  What makes this even better is the wonderful #pmchat community – it’s a group of knowledgeable, passionate and fun project and programme managers from around the globe.  I do hope you’ll be able to join us!