Tuesday 19 July 2011

Enable, Empower, Imagine, Implement

I am very quiet at the moment. Mostly, this is because I have been producing work at my day job at a speed hitherto only reserved for the last time we thought moving 56,000 properties bin days in the space of 12 months was a good idea and I was responsible for sending the trucks down the new routes and the new houses being told at the right time in the right order the right details of the new round. Baptisms of local government fire don't come more intense than that - had it gone wrong it would have effected every household in the Borough which is not something you get to say very often in local government.

It didn't go wrong.  The reason it didn't go wrong relates to a three letter acronym which I temporarily suffer from in such situations where I check something, check something again, then implement new and interesting ways to recheck my facts and figures again, again and yet again.

Those times were the only ones where I stuck my head above the parapet, but the nature of my involvement meant that whilst the project team knew I was being epic, no one else did and I really really appreciated that. Had it been any different, I would have felt very uncomfortable.

So why am I telling you this?

It relates, quite directly to yesterday and today, which I spent in the company of 12 other local government types, an assessor and two course delivery bods from a college in the NE who were delivering, at no cost to us, a Business Improvement Technique Diploma. You're probably thinking 'what a waste of time' since I addressed the cost already. Well no, actually. You see, for 6 days out of work, work are getting something rather unique out of us. They're getting 13 enthusiastic, passionate people designing a new process from the ground up, bringing to bear the sum total of 107 years of service in local government, for no more cost that their man hours.

Think about how much it would cost to buy that experience in. Think about whether buying that experience in would have the words passionate and enthusiastic attached to it (discount the rare people on Twitter like Dave Briggs or Dominic Campbell, they're not the norm, we all know they're not).

I'm not lying or spinning this either. We have all been so determined, passionate and enthusiastic, in fact, that we overran today, needed some quite serious marshalling and produced too many outcomes resulting in the course leaders needing to ask us to revisit - apparently they're used to dealing with people producing widgets and not dealing with people. Heh, people break stuff as soon as they enter a process, we all know that.

So what's the point and how does it link to the beginning?

Well the thing is, my previous Department helped me test my wings. I learnt I was good at something. I didn't learn how to do anything else, but I was allowed to do something very risky, trusted immensely, praised quietly and in a way I was comfortable with when it went right and learnt a shedload about teamwork.

Then I joined Comms. Lets think about the reputation of Comms in some areas for a moment. Now let me tell you about the person who entered the Department last August. She was shy, she was not confident, she still wasn't too sure of speaking up, she always backed down if she thought someone else knew more than her and she damn well never ever ever spoke unless spoken to.

Spin forward to yesterday and today and there's a comment in my Diploma folder and it says 'Louise is positive and active in discussions and acts as an interpreter and explains things to people who don't understand in terms they can understand and comes up with interesting solutions to problems which the group adopt and incorporate'

I suggested something totally leftfield yesterday, about using the 3,500 brains and skillsets we have to bear on issues raised by our residents through engagement processes. I suggested that we always assume the same people know _everything_, we ask our Heads of Service and the internal established networks to know everything and we never ask anyone else in the organisation who might have a new and innovative and cost effective way to fix the problem.

'If you always do what you always did, you'll always get what you always got' - My ex boss

You see, sometimes the tools you bring to bear are a combination of the words of wisdom spoken 24 month before, combined with the empowering nature of the environment you are now in, combined with the confidence imbued by a Head of Service, Deputy Head of Service and Director listening to me and believing in me, mixed with the encouragement and cheerleading of assorted other individuals in the Department. But the sum total is a woman who has gone from timid as a blooming mouse to having the confidence to shape future service delivery and speak up and defend and stick to her guns and persuade and discuss and document and be proud of doing all of those things and not ashamed in the slightest of being smart, of thinking fast, of typing faster....

I'm not embarrassed any more. And for that I owe the company and kind mentoring of some very very very lovely ladies who are quietly teaching me that I am making excuses if I say I am embarrassed. That I am shying away from responsibility. That I am not stepping up and letting myself and everyone who has invested time in me down in the process of avoiding stepping up.

So yesterday and today, the organisation got the best out of me. But it was the sum total of many peoples hard work and I am afraid, so afraid, that local government will have no capacity to do this in the future. So where will the lost little girls go then? Mmmm?


  1. Really enjoyed your blog - investing in people is so important and something we need to find ways to do given the budget situation we all face. If we can find innovative ways to do this then we can hope to keep hardworking staff really motivated.

  2. ha. let's hear you roar.
    But keep the talons in.
    You could wipe out the monkeys if you climbed that tree hun.
    Tigers can purr too. And what gorgeous creatures.
    Keep the faith pussycat.

  3. I think that people forget, a lot, that investment doesn't have to be courses. It can be...trust. Or faith. Or permission to fail. Or permission to experiment. All of these things have allowed me to...take responsibility for my learning myself, but inside an arena where I know it's okay, really okay, to fail because I am surrounded by professionals who will forgive that, fix it, then expect me not to do it again.

    I haven't been on a single course to get here bar yesterday and today except a presentation training course I paid to go on myself. All the input has come from management. But the thing is, before now, they'd never have know the value of what they've put in, nor perhaps seen such a clearly laid out feedback of the outcome - because our 1-2-1 systems we use don't allow for this kind of development, they don't ask these questions.

    And if you don't see ROI, cos you're not being prompted to ask the right questions...why would you bother? Does that make sense?

  4. @chris - I couldn't have done what I did yest & today had I been at the top of the tree. I like being where I am, it almost...if you've no responsibility, you can suggest the impossible, work on it, hone it, and look at actually implementing it, because you've got the wriggle room, and the permission.

    I sometimes think those poor monkeys, they're paid a lot but I bet the view aint so good. Too many taller trees, too many clouds, a little rain. Down here, the view is what I make it and I have space to fly around suggesting things and pollinating lots of flowers ;O)

    I hope, though, that one day I can teach another bod at the bottom the lessons I've learnt and the lessons you've all taught me ;O)

  5. aye, share the joy. don't go climbing that tree, you can soar to the top and glide around the valleys, pollinating at will. Much better idea. we are a bit manic with the metaphors tonight. must be bed time. night night.

  6. I'm really glad you're learning to fly on those wings of yours :)

    The couple of times we've met and the number of times we've spoken or shared or collaborated online you've struck me as a very inspirational woman and I've no doubt that you're already passing on your lessons and will continue to do so.

    Keep it up Lou! You've come a long way for sure but as you become more comfortable with your abilities and your permissions I think you'll do even greater things yet :)

  7. What a lovely post. I too have benefited from the support and encouragement of some inspirational women, who have let me be me, and helped me to become a better me. They aren't my managers, but people I've been able to work alongside and learn from. And we advocate the sort of empowering support that you describe, we think it's hugely important across the public sector, and enables agencies to work in empowering ways with the communities they serve. It really helps me to think of 5 parts to empowering ways of working - supporting others to be confident, inclusive, organise with others (the teamwork you refer to), co-operative (pollinating flowers perhaps) and influential - the latter obviously requires managers or others being open to influence. These ideas are captured in the Community Empowerment Dimensions which 'changes' work with (see http://changesuk.net/themes/community-empowerment/)

    It's interesting what you say about training courses too.

    I agree with you about the monkeys, it can't be much fun up there, and I love the idea of pollinating lots of flowers :-)