Friday 11 February 2011

You've come a long way baby

Yeah, so it's a me post. Sorry. Something @willperrin said to me today after this afternoons #lgovsm session has really really hit a sore spot. So, naturally, I'm here to share the sore spot. Because I'm that kind of girl. But also because...he had a point. And it's always the comments which are true which hurt the most.

He said I'd do better if I focused less on social media and more on business objectives.

He doesn't know. Which indicates to me that quite a lot of you don't know either. So here's the truth, plain and simple.

I had never even read a strategy until 12 months ago. I didn't know our Council objectives until 6 months ago. I didn't know we had Council meetings. I didn't know we had an Executive Board. I didn't know what being a Unitary Authority meant. I didn't even know 'local government' was the correct term for what we were. I didn't know how it all tied together. I wouldn't have recognised one of our Councillors if they'd hit me in the face. I'd spoken to a Director (one) once or twice. I usually went through his PA. The PA ordered me around and over saw what I did sometimes. I was managed by a Business Support Manager, and in all but name, I was an administrator. There to make the tea for meetings, do others bidding, not think, not suggest, not have ideas, not hack workflows, not suggest, not get involved in big discussions.

I didn't in the evenings either. I went home and I played World of Warcraft. I used my brain to level faster, to see the loopholes and quick damage configurations. I didn't take it seriously, I didn't really work well as a team in big raids, I wasn't anything special.

I studied a HND in Business and Finance at university. I failed a module. An accounting module. I kicked ass in the rest of them, but I failed all the same. Didn't apply myself.

I had a job once, where I managed 15 ppl almost straight out of university. I was in my early 20's. I got promoted from helpdesk to team leader quickly, and probably would have made call centre manager eventually. Until I took voluntary redundancy after firing people twice my age kind of took the sparkle away and the dot com crash ripped the heart out of a company I was so proud to work for and so dedicated to I drank, laughed and grew up with my colleagues and some of the team members.

I learn fast. Voraciously. I pick up terminology fast. I catch on quick. Throw me in at the deep end and 9 times out of 10 I will swim. But don't presume I always know what you're talking about without needing to Google something quickly first. Don't assume I've got a background in policy or strategy or PR or marketing.

I've self taught everything I know. It means there's gaps. It means I'm smart, yes, but it means there are gaps. Understanding social media and digital and where it fits into the larger picture of a massive organisation is something I am still grappling with. I'm still putting the finishing touches to a strategy for the organisation I work for and completing an Executive Summary for it when 12 months ago I didn't know what an Executive Summary even was. I've borrowed someone elses template and populated the strategy from scratch.

I am learning by asking questions. I am learning through taking part in #lgovsm - I set it up as a learning platform for me as much as for anyone else. I didn't set it up for attention. I didn't set it up for comment or compliments. I set it up because I needed it and I hoped other people needed it too.

I can write. I can express myself using words. I can wrestle with difficult concepts. But in the process of doing so, don't assume I understand them, only that I am trying to get my head around something because I just want to know more.

I have never and will never present myself as an expert on anything. I wrote posts and articles from the point of view of someone in the middle of all this beautiful digital magic who looks around and asks questions, who queries the assumed, who wants to know why people have always done things a certain way and how they can be done differently.

I disclaimer every post, because I need to. Because I am not sure of myself. Because I am painfully aware of where I've come from, which is nowhere at all. But I am learning, I am progressing and thanks to the help of very very many people I am finding my feet here in this shiny world. But it takes time and everyone has their own pace and everyone is somewhere different along that learning curve - so be patient with me, okay?

Someone asked today, whether I wanted to be an Officer or a Director. I don't know the answer, the same as I didn't when someone asked me the week after I started in my current job. Tiger Tiger, burning bright etc etc. What I do have is a complete and utter determination to change things, to make things easier, to make things clearer and simpler, to allow Plain English to reign, to help shape our future so it doesn't descend into digital chaos, to try and allow the little guys voices to be heard, to hack workflows and change worlds.

I want to change worlds. Big aspiration for a little girl, and I don't know where it came from, I don't know why I am like this, only that I can't switch it off, can't simply make it go away. So if I have to become a Director to make any kind of different in this world, well then maybe one day I will be good enough. One day. With a lot of hard work, reading, learning and questioning.

Still standing at a crossroads and still not sure which way to turn. But I do know I need to be more strategic and I do need to understand business objectives better in order to play with the big boys. And since that appears to be where I am being thrown, then so be it. I will learn.

It hurt, that comment. But it's taken on board and acknowledged. But please acknowledge too, how so very very far a little administrator has come.


  1. Oh Louise. I feel for you. I was there, 26 years ago. I'll tell you something, it was a damn sight more frustrating then and social tech gives so many new opportunities today.

    I really don't think Will's comment should have hurt. He wasn't to know your position and it's a credit to you that you are engaged in strategic conversation. Keep exploring and learning. Even more importantly, keep positive and add value in everything you do. You'll have a great career in #localgov, I'm sure. Ken.

  2. Think your honesty shines out of this shiny blogspot, i guess most of the people would think the same as you if they weren't so busy climbing the trees to think.
    In many cases especially in social media there aren't experts. The ones I class as experts always admit they don't know it all and aren't.
    The ones who profess to be experts generally know very little.
    Same with a lot of things.
    Turn towards the sun, keep your world shiny, enjoy what you do, and the journey too.

  3. Ken> Thank you. I suspect heartfelt, and it's appreciated. And it helps to know you're not alone in feeling something. A lot. And thank you - I wasn't looking for compliments, but thank you.

    Chris> Where does a monkey do most good, at the bottom or at the top, is the question.

  4. Ken couldn't have put it better Lou. Same goes for me - I started as a humble clerical officer. 25 years later I consult back into local government. I learn every day, I Google every day, I wonder if my question is a dumbass question everyday. Will is a great guy and a "player" in central government information management. Take his comments and learn - I am sure you will. But, as Ken says, don't let it get you down, turn it to a positive and build on it. Remember it everyday and it wont do you any harm. Alas, I see a lot of deadbeats around the public sector who turn up 9-5 and go home. You arent in that mould, you have a passion, a burning to change the world we live in for the better. At any time local government needs people like you; in the current climate you are gold dust.

  5. Chris has got it dead right. Social Media is about listening and speaking, learning and teaching. If you think you are an expert, you have probably switched off your listening and learning faculties, and you've demonstrated you just don't understand what it's all about.

    Keep doing what you do, Lou. We are all on a journey.

  6. Acareo> I know he knows. I know he said it for a reason and maybe the reason was a rocket. But it's important that people _don't_ assume, which means a responsibility on me to always be honest and truthful in an effort to never accidentally pretend to be something I am not.

    John> I know. I hope yours is as fun as mine is, even on days like today - it looks like it from Twitter ;O)

  7. Like Ken and others, me too. Family unable to support me through university, so work it was. Family business not an option, so in at the deep end, learning the local government ropes from the bottom. And it was a hell of a long way down, back then. Starting salary on Clerical 1 was £984 a year. Near poverty of 1973 three day week etc, but like you, Louise, I absorb learning like a sponge.

    Trainee scheme got me qualifications and the OU habit, but it's always been about the people. The good ones you work with and under give from the heart. The others teach you the hard things about human nature. It is all about growth.

    So much seems so sophisticated and care-riddled these days, compared to what now seems an innocent and naiive "time before", but the fundamentals are just the same. You will get what you want. Just depends how badly you really want it. People and relationships are the key. Others really are a mirror of yourself.

    Will was actually quite right. It's not the tools. Where you want to get to is far more important.

  8. good for you louise - your passion is wonderful

    my point is simply that if you connect that passion to the busines objectives it will achieve more within the organisation. this came in the context of a twitter discussion in which people were trying to work out how to make more imapct with social media in local government.

    most bureacracies are designed to be safety first and that means limiting innovation risk, often before assessing it properly. this isn't right, it's just the way they are in my experience.

    unless you are lucky enough to work directly for a visionary leader, to make a real impact with innovation in a bureacracy you have to play their game.

    that means leading with business benefit or understanding the motivations of senior leaders and opinion formers. then showing where your innovation can help achieve them. in a cuts climate social media has more of chance than in a spending one. suddenly something that can help you deliver business objectives in cheap/free, quick, informal, imperfect way is the order of the day.

    in the dozens of talks, seminars, unconf sessions etc i have given on the impact of the web locally i never start with the web, i start with tackling social problems, then show how the web can help, then extend that to show many others doing it, then return to how the audience can do it.

    as we discussed, look forward to discussing this over a drink sometime

  9. The great thing about social tech and your skills as a networker is that you don't have to know it all. You just have to know people who do :-) You don't have to know the answers to facilitate the conversation. That's what community management is - the ability to bring people together in conversation with another tab open to Google search.

    Personally, I think that lgovsm chats should be a mix of strategy and tactics. That's what's useful every day. So, yes - I agree with Will - but it's not the whole story. I think tactical and tool discussions are also useful. But tactics and tools are nothing without objectives.

    I also agree with you - it's worthwhile discussing tactics with the people who are wrestling with the strategy. It's great to talk tools, but what are you trying to fix?

    Community mgmt is about using the power of your community - so go and set up a user voice page or use the CoP forums and ask people what they'd like to talk about in lgovsm.

  10. Epic comments of epicness.
    Right - Will - I see now where the comment came from - we were actually discussing barriers to social media use internally within our organisations and how to get around them! Hence me being completely broadsided - it was very out of the blue. As for drinks definitely, but you've also provoked a lot of thought, which is no bad thing.
    Ingrid> Agreed. And perhaps someone who's no experience at facilitating is not the best person to be running these chats. But no one else was and it seemed...needed.
    I think I'd like to blog about lgovsm on the CoP. It's a job for tomorrow. Summarise the last two and go from there.

  11. Louise,

    I don't know you but feel like I do just from what you've written. It is so where I'm at right now - though the Strategy and Business stuff I have done. I am also self taught and I have grappled/am grappling with very similar issues. I also have great aspirations for my service, my Council, my area, my country, the world! Perhaps we can help each other, though not sure yet how this might happen. I am only over in Rochdale so perhaps we can stick a stake in the ground to say 'we will see what we might be able to accomplish together' by meeting up locally?

  12. Louise - I too have the same experiences as you know. Passion, frustration and a feeling no-one is listening to someone who's not even an officer all play a part in my daily wrangling. I am learning everyday and will continue to do so even if it still has to be outside of my day to day work. Passion = drive and that will lead to change.

  13. Everyone else has pretty much said everything that needs to be said on this so all I have to add is to reinforce something Ingrid's mentioned in her comment - never underestimate the importance of active networking in your career progression - it's very, very important.

  14. Helen> Are you on Twitter? I think possibly it might do us both good to meet and share frustrations but also ideas and how to get them implemented.
    Karen> I think you're right. I hope passion driving change continues in light of all the cuts. I am worried it wont and it will be sacrificed on the alter of ROI. Very worried.
    Mary> Stupid question perhaps - but what actually is networking? How do you do it? Just keep talking to people and learning and going to events and learning?

  15. Networking: be helpful, generous, open and honest. Understand what you can do for people and how they can help you. Introduce people, get introduced. Create connections and have conversations.

    That sort of thing!

    Actually, I have a blog post half written called 'the networked public servant' which does cover a lot of this stuff. Ought to finish it...

  16. I was just thinking I might write a blog about networking too Dave - doesn't matter that you're writing one as well as there's no doubt our narrative will be complementary rather than competitive :)

  17. Dave/Mary> I think it would help immensely. There's a lot of us who need to be better at this - and as Carl mentioned, we don't quite know where to go to become better at it!

  18. Many were increasingly of the opinion that they'd all made a big mistake in coming down from the trees in the first place. And some said that even the trees had been a bad move, and that no one should ever have left the oceans.
    And then, one Thursday, nearly two thousand years after one man had been nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change, one girl sitting on her own in a small cafe in Rickmansworth suddenly realized what it was that had been going wrong all this time, and she finally knew how the world could be made a good and happy place. This time it was right, it would work, and no one would have to get nailed to anything.
    Sadly, however, before she could get to a phone to tell anyone about it, a terribly stupid catastrophe occurred, and the idea was lost forever.

    This is not her story.

    But it is the story of that terrible stupid catastrophe and some of its consequences.
    (HitchHiker's guide to the galaxy)

    Saw that just now and remembered this blogpost!