Resource. If you stop and think about it, it’s a terrible way to speak about people. A resource is something you take and use. Applied to people, it carries dismissive and devaluing undertones.
All change is system change — to say otherwise is to ignore a fundamental truth about organisations being living breathing human systems.
I was asked this morning for the two main blockers to progress in the various attempts at technology enabled change over the years, whether titled e-government or digital transformation.
Here’s what I came up with – it would be interesting to get your thoughts:
Two main challenges for me would be two elements of core capability. The first would be technology, and specifically software. The main line of business systems in use in most local councils is simply not fit for purpose for the digital age. They are horrible to use, don’t interoperate, work poorly on mobile, don’t offer great customer experience for self service and are dogs for the IT team to maintain. Time and time again, otherwise excellent initiatives at e-government or digital transformation are scuppered because of issues relating to core back office systems. What’s more, the market seems to find it impossible to have an impact on the situation, and so driving the incumbents out is very hard to do.
Second, and possibly more important, are the people issues. First is culture, which is risk and change averse, often because of the role of middle managers, many of whom are ‘experts’ in their service area and extremely dedicated to preserving the current way of doing things. Folk on the front line can often easily diagnose problems and suggest solutions, and senior executives are usually well up for a bit of disruptive change. However those in the middle can slow things down and block progress. The other bit of the people problem is capability, in that there aren’t enough really good people around in organisations to drive the change needed forward, which takes guts and stamina as well as intelligence. Without a reasonably sized army of these people in place, initiatives can get run into the ground very quickly.
I’m pulling together a list of interesting, thought-provoking reading on how design, technology and change (the three things that, for me, define ‘digital’) can help organisations that work in the community, voluntary, charity, non-profit, social enterprise type space.
Is there a less clumsy way of describing these organisations? I think under the last Labour government, ‘the third sector’ was adopted, but that seems to be used less these days. Have heard ‘civic sector’ and ‘civil society’ bandied around, but don’t know how well established those terms are. Any help on that one?
Anyway, I’ve found a few I will point to here:
Any others? Leave a note in the comments or on Twitter and I will add them.
It isn’t said enough, I don’t think, that change – particularly in big organisations – is hard. Really hard!
If it wasn’t, it would be happening all the time.
At events there are regularly discussions that go on along the lines of ‘my boss just doesn’t get it’ – tales of woe where someone wants to do something new but is stopped by management or bureaucracy or a combination of the two.
What makes a someone a real force for change is the ability to get knocked back, dust themselves down, and have another go.
Again, and again, and again.
It won’t happen the first time, or the second time. It might not even happen at all in one organisation – you might need to move on to get the chance.
But nothing worthwhile is ever easy and if you’re committed to making a difference, you’ll recover from setbacks, never get too disheartened and keep coming up with new ideas, new strategies and new ways of persuading.
It’s easy to have a go and give up. The ones who make the difference are those who stick at it.
Five for Friday is WorkSmart’s weekly roundup of interesting stuff from the week’s reading.
- About change, defaults and disruption – “large organisations are racing against start-ups to stay relevant”. Great stuff from Anne McCrossan
- Creating a minimum viable product using WordPress – Chris Lema on using WordPress to throw together prototype services
- 5 More Unexpected Ways to Work Smarter, Not Harder – useful ideas. Thanks to Dan Slee for the link.
- Is it time to quit your job and launch that new start up? – nice video from Bethnal Green Ventures via the Nominet Trust
- Forrester argues piecemeal digital transformation won’t work – interesting research. Lovely quote: “Dabbling with digital isn’t the route to success”.
Five for Friday is WorkSmart’s weekly roundup of interesting stuff from the week’s reading.
- Attention, Please! PC Programs to Stave Off Distraction – can technology help you stop wasting time with technology?
- Oppia – a Google 20% project to “enable students to learn by doing online”
- The trajectory of ‘cultural change’ matters, as Microsoft demonstrates – even if you’re not interest in Microsoft itself, well worth a read for the culture change stuff
- Digital Analytics Fundamentals – a free online course on data stuff from Google
- The ART of Collaboration (reprise) – a great, very comprehensive post from Steve Dale on collaboration culture and technology.
I find this stuff so you don’t have to:
- Redefining the Digital Divide | @helenmilner
- The system is failing, hack the system – via @annemcx
- The Four Freedoms – wonderful piece on #opensource by @photomatt
- The dangerous appeal of the Silicon Valley narrative
- G+ Hangout: open source CMS for local government
- Interested in social leadership? Then elevate your audience – great stuff from @annemcx
- Supporting Software as a Service | Gallomanor
- Mapping the NHS: Prototype questionnaire | @curiousc’s Blog
- Sitebox – The new and intuitive way to create websites with your Dropbox
- Aesop – A Crowdfunded WordPress Storytelling Engine
When people talk about their IT departments, they always talk about the things they’re not allowed to do, the applications they can’t run, and the long time it takes to get anything done. Rigid and inflexible policies that fill the air with animosity. Not to mention the frustrations of speaking different languages. None of this is a good foundation for a sustainable relationship.
If businesses had as many gripes with an external vendor, that vendor would’ve been dropped long ago. But IT departments have endured as a necessary evil. I think those days are coming to an end.
Worth reading in full.
Something like Wikileaks couldn’t happen in local government, could it?
Well, it looks like something similar is kicking off in Lincolnshire, with the Watching Lincolnshire County Council blog.
It’s a whistleblowing site, where disgruntled employees are sharing rumours, gossip and occasionally confidential details, all anonymously. Collective Responsibility have an interview with those behind it.
Whether or not this is the right thing for those behind the site to do is a moot point. The real issue is that the internet makes this kind of activity easy to do, and very difficult to stop.
All organisations need to be aware of the fact that any of their employees at any time could start something similar. And no matter how sophisticated your information management systems and processes, the fact that it’s human beings behind the controls means that any data can find its way into the public domain quickly and easily.
What can you do about it? First of all, acknowledge your lack of control here. You can’t stop this from happening. All you can do is to try and prevent the situation arising where employees might want to do this.
That means: be open in your communication, and involve and engage staff in any large scale change programme that might be taking place. Examples such as Watching LCC show that staff are increasingly willing to go to the internet to share their concerns – other instances include the setting up of Facebook groups to support staff in similar circumstances.
One way to prevent this is to provide a similar area for discussion within the organisation, such as simple discussion forums, or with tools like Yammer. Ensure staff trust the space, don’t manage it, and hopefully they will prefer to air their issues internally rather than in a public space.
There’s an assumption that face to face communications are always best. That may be true, but the problem is that they don’t scale well. As soon as you are dealing with groups larger than say 25, the intimacy is lost and there are better ways of dealing with it.
I remember being involved in an organisation-wide restructure when working in local government, and most of the communications involved hundreds of people trooping into the council chamber to hear the chief executive tell us what was going to happen to us. There was an opportunity to ask questions, in front of everyone. Unsurprisingly, not many people bothered.
Discussing issues openly and in a trusted online environment won’t be a panacea for employee engagement during times of significant change. But it might mitigate against the risk of staff going elsewhere to have these conversations.
Has anyone else heard of any public sector staff rebellions, using the web? Are any of your organisations actively managing the issue – and is it in a positive, constructive way, or a negative, let’s-shut-it-down way? The latter, of course, is bound to fail.