Immediate Reflections on the 2015 Solace Summit

I shared my immediate reflections on this year’s Solace summit in the following tweets which, to be clear, contain my personal views and are framed partly as provocations, the provocative nature often enhanced by the character limit!

Reflection 1: Devo will give birth to people-place-changing awesome 21st C Municipalism (except where it miserably doesn’t)

Reflection 2: *Evidence* is an emerging must-have (for deals, for a slice of the 36% pie, for being better at what we do)

Reflection 3: We urgently need to scrap the word Digital because the word itself is obstructing progress – say what you mean

Reflection 4: We’ve not figured out how we will handle LA failure yet, partly because the first ones to go weren’t in the room

Reflection 5: LG needs to get more factional to make meaningful cases (and drive economy), without fundamentally falling out

Reflection 6: We must rethink the nature of engagement between LG & its private sector arm (a) at the summit (b) in life!

I’ll be taking these reflections – especially 6(b) – with me to a Harvard Kennedy School week on Creating Collaborative Solutions later this month.

Advertisements

Take-Aways from #LocalGovCamp 2015

Consolidating my thinking and in a spirit of sharing …

The Right Conditions for Digital

Paul Brewer (@pdbrewer) pitched a session about the Right Conditions for Digital (see his blogpost) based on his experience at Director of Digital and Resources at the very interesting Adur and Worthing.  This could have been a longer session.  Paul is clearly enjoying the extent to which he is making progress in his new role, but knows enough to realize that some of this progress is down to some untypical circumstances which apply there.  This is in contrast to common trait in local government which is to assume that “the good results I am achieving are because I’ve got my stuff together and if only people would just have the sense to copy me all would be well”.  Some of the Beacon thinking and indeed some of the Awards schemes potentially fall into that trap.

Paul is smart enough to reflect on what is going on, and to tease apart the ingredients for success.  That he adopts that kind of reflective approach is almost certainly one of the reasons he is being successful, it seems to me, and not something he himself mentioned – so I am saying it here.

Paul’s blog hints at some of the unusual circumstances at A&W, and in the discussion we reflected on the fact that the new Chief Executive at A&W early on created a very compelling vision for the council encapsulated in a document Catching the Wave – I think that anyone wanting to make change happen in local government should read this.  It’s a masterpiece.  And by securing agreement to it a space has been created that is the right shape for innovation.

I was interested to know whether the fact that Adur and Worthing are two separate councils with one shared management team acted as a brake on innovation and it seems not – the level of integration between the teams is very high.

I’m always keen to put the level of innovation which a council exhibits in the context of the resources it has and the financial pressures it is under – and I have some data from an external source which gives a rating for the level of stress that councils are under.  Both Adur and Worthing are around about the middle of the pack in terms of financial pressure – their success is not (for example) because they have loads of spare cash and are burning it up!

There was also a bit of a discussion about how it is possible to make the case for IT – which is perceived as a back office cost to be minimized especially when front-line services are being cut.  The back office/front line language really doesn’t help – it is far better to use language that reflects that the right “back office” spend – eg on the right sort of “digital” multiplies the effectiveness of the front line, and multiplies the effectiveness of the council in the community.  The Resources Directors Network, of which I am a part, wrote a report about the Future of the Corporate Centre which uses the language that is used in the army for support functions to the front line.  They are referred to as “force multipliers” which you have to admit is a better name than “overhead costs”.

Governance Challenges of Devolution

Ed Hammond (@cfps_ed) led a discussion about the governance challenges of devolution.  In great Localgovcamp style that brought together people with diverse perspectives and interests, including some insights into Amazon anthropology (the place not the online retailer) as well as knowledge of a range of devolved models an devolution bids.  It’s interesting how unconsidered this all is – there is a lot of detail still to be filled in about how the deals (which have been hammered out behind closed doors due to the speed imperative) will be governed, scrutinized, and how they will engaged with their relevant populations.  It is a blank sheet.

It was interesting to reflect that while there is a central government preference for an elected mayor, with the success of the London model in mind, no-one is requiring the scrutiny and accountability mechanisms which London has – ie the Greater London Assembly, Mayor’s question time etc.  In a way that’s not surprising – it’s a costly operation and repeated referenda have shown that there is little public appetite for a new layer of politicians – but it does mean that we need to think through the accountability mechanisms, and I am pleased that Ed and the fabulous Centre for Public Scrutiny are going to be doing some work on this.

The local media can be a mechanism for holding to account, and it’s interesting to spot that whilst some of the combined authority areas have a “natural” local paper (eg the Manchester Evening News in Greater Manchester) there are others that do not.  It will be interesting to see how the practice of different Combined Authorities is affected by different levels of coherent press scrutiny.

Uberising Rural Travel

Adam Walther (@adamwalther) from FutureGov led a session about rural transport – whilst there is much excitement about app-driven  disruptive entry in terms of things like Uber, and more gently with things like CityMapper, these focus on urban areas and relatively wealthy people.

There’s an interesting set of issues around whether the technologies can support different models of transport – eg a dial-a-ride that takes someone to a bus stop rather than to the ultimate destination.  There may be scope for deploying community resources – eg minibuses with volunteer drivers, car sharing – if there can be some way of surfacing the currently hidden demand for services.  We see what people do, not what they would ideally want to do.

The FutureGov work is clearly at an early stage but I was fascinated to hear about the transport systems in Helsinki where there is a deliberate design intent to make car ownership irrational.  “Mobility as a service”.  Thought provoking stuff.  There’s a Guardian piece about this, and it’s one of my main takeways from the day.

An Open Data Session that I Enjoyed

Simon Redding (@simonredding) from the Environment Agency did a session engaging a select but enthusiastic band of folk around discussing how Defra should prioritise making all of its datasets available.  I really enjoyed a session about Open data that was about thinking about creative uses of data, and thinking about where to land the ideas, rather than … the usual session that seems to happen about Open Data!  For those interested a jumping off point to find out more is on GOV.UK here  though there is clearly an opportunity missed to put an advert for analytics software on that page*.

*(An on the day in-joke).

Why do we Reinvent the Wheel – The #UKGC15 write-up

I pitched a session at UKGC15 to try to explore the issue of why some innovation happens from scratch rather than being a case of adopting and adapting viable solutions developed elsewhere.

I was motivated to do this from my experience as a member of the Service Transformation Challenge Panel where we saw quite a lot of reinvention going on – quite frustratingly sometimes, and we mentioned this in the #ChallengePanel report.  We recommended the setting up of a “What Works Centre” for Transformation, to provide accessible, and evidence-based insight that could accelerate change.

So I pitched a session and a good number of people turned up – about 25-30.  My cunning plan was to brainstorm the things that tend to lead to wheel reinvention, then brainstorm the things that contributed to adapting and adopting, then think about how we could mitigate the reinvention forces, and strengthen the adaptation forces.  In the end we spent almost all of the 45 minutes coming up with examples of reinvention and understanding their underlying causes.

Rather than just copy out the flipcharts I’m going to an impose an order on the points that is my subjective judgement.  I am going to list reasons for wheel reinvention that are potentially “good” reasons and then reasons which are “bad” reasons, as would be judged by an informed citizen concerned about how public money was being spent (the context of UK GovCamp being about public money). My own comments about these things are in italic. I have combined similar points.

Good Reasons to Start from Scratch

Creating something from new ensures that you understand the underlying principles of why the solution works.  This came up in the context of writing code from scratch but I think has some relevance more generally.  If you are slavishly copying something someone else has done it may work for a while but if some of the fundamental underpinnings change and you don’t understand them, then you may not realise it is time to change.

You can bring people along with you, as they co-develop and co-own the solution.  I find this very persuasive.  It suggests to me that where an organisation is going for Adapt and Adopt the users etc need to still be involved in problem specification and finding the solution.

Monocultures are dangerous.  Competition drives further reinvention.  If everyone is doing something exactly the same way then flaws can bring the whole system down.  Moreover if (say) there are a handful of vendors developing solutions then competition between them results in new relevant innovation and continuous improvement.

Search costs exceed cost of creation from scratch.  If the thing you have to do is relatively straightforward, but it will be difficult to find a standardised solution, or if you fear there is a significant likelihood that search time will be wasted because a solution may not exist, then it could be rational to invent.

Fear of “over-selling”.  People with good ideas tend to be enthusiastic about them and there’s a human instinct to assume that they have cracked it  and that everyone can achieve the same results as them, despite the fact that some of the underlying circumstances (eg senior buy-in) may be different.  People (literally) “selling” an idea may have an incentive to exaggerate efficacy and ease of implementation.

Bad Reasons

Not knowing that a solution exists.  Failure to identify that the presenting problem is an instance of an already solved problem.  Shouldn’t professionals in an area be aware of good practice?  The Local Government Digital Pipeline and similar initiatives, including the What Works Centre if we get it, can be key here.

Fear of replacement/losing job if there’s a better way of doing this that doesn’t need me, so I’ll build a solution around me.

Money to buy in a solution is “real” and would require a budget but my time whilst reinventing is “free”.

Government grants to support innovation emphasise the importance of novelty, indeed they require it.  I will get funding for inventing from scratch but if I want to adapt and adopt I have to pay for it myself.  Beyond this I personally think there is a huge scope for results grants of this type to be made more replicable and scaleable if provider organisations of whatever sector are included – provider organisations have an obvious incentive to take ideas that work in one place and sell them in to others.  A public sector organisation typically doesn’t have as clear an incentive to spread the word.

I believe that my organisation is unique and special and therefore nothing done elsewhere can be relevant.  For me this just starts to specify the required “adaptation” that is likely.

The “technology” must always be fitted and bespoked to the business process.  Actually, sometimes it’s easier to change the business process to fit the standard technology.

Professional self-justification.  Someone pointed out that every council website has text with advice in dealing with pests. This text is invariably written by a pest control officer at the council.  To what extent do we say “hey – this text is great, let’s copy it (with acknowledgement)”.

Creating something new is stronger for my reputation, and more likely to attract kudos, awards etc.  Maybe we need the LGC “stolen with pride” award?  But who would want it?

So What?

What I take away from this is that the cultural and personal obstacles, which not “good” reasons are even stronger than I had thought.  Significant effort – significant leadership – is going to be needed to create a new culture.  As the saying goes “culture is the behaviour that worked in the past” and persual of these lists show that reinvention “works” well at the moment.  I am more concerned about this issue after the session than I was at the beginning.

This also gives a number of pointers for any mechanism that seeks to support the process of identifying prior working solutions.  I don’t think a database will ever cut it.  There does need to be a repository of material, but I think there will need to be a collaborative human “interface” to it, to encompass the inevitable tacit knowledge that exists in a situation of this type.

The Maturing of GovCamp and an Iconoclastic Suggestion or Two…

So, 24th January 2015 (also known as “yesterday” on a special one-day-only limited offer) was UK Govcamp 2015. It was really good, in all the ways that such events are good, and not so good in ways where … it could be a bit better.  In some ways it is maturing well, in other ways some of the seams are starting to show signs of pre-burst tension.  That’s what this blog is about, and I’ll drop in some of the other things I learned on the way.

The good stuff about GovCamp is well rehearsed but it’s worth restating sometimes – for me UKGC (and variants such as LocalGovCamp) mean hearing ideas I won’t hear in other places, meeting people ditto, and increasingly it’s about meeting again people I have enjoyed meeting previously and getting caught up.  It is always energising to be in a roomful of people who have given up their Saturday because they care about making the world a bit better, for all.  And a big up for the organisers.  Selflessly to do what you do to create the space for others is a really great and generous thing.

This time I was thinking about not pitching and I am grateful to those who encouraged me to do so (thanks Glen, Catherine) because the session I did was well attended in both people and ideas and has moved my thinking about an issue on a bit (this will be another blog idc).

I went to Andy Hollingsworth’s session about digital leadership and I was struck by the way that, compared to other similar sessions in past years, the change-makers in the room had a much more nuanced understanding of the role of senior leaders, making change happen etc.  The dialogue was no longer “why oh why don’t they realise that if they only just talked to us and did exactly what we said and gave us money to do whatever we want, we could do awesome stuff”.  (I exaggerate to make a point, but not that much, actually). A massively stronger understanding now.

I did an experiment of, for one session, spending 5 minutes in each room in turn, wondering what I’d learn from that.  In the end I learned that it is a pretty useless way of spending a session!  However it did make me think about the format.

And, do you know what, I am starting to fall out of love with the unconference format.  I’m not sure it quite works any more. Or only sometimes.

Here are some symptoms:

– It can be hard to really get a good idea of what a session is going to be about from the pitch.  By the time you’ve half remembered what they said when they were standing pitching (whilst also thinking about your own pitch), mistranslated that into your understanding of the session title, and so on, there can end up being quite a gap between what you think a session might be and what it is.  Now obviously some of that is just the luck of the draw, but I think that some of it is because the nature of GovCamp is changing.

– For example, some of the sessions I saw yesterday were thinly disguised sessions by sponsors to promote themselves and their organisations.  “Let’s get together about how we achieve X”  was sometimes a genuine “I am really up for ideas about X, bring them on” (as in the best session I went to yesterday – Jon Foster’s session about how to get residents of blocks of flats to separate their recycling despite using communal bins).  And sometimes it actually turned into “let me tell you about how we did X at such-and-such a place”.  This might be useful but it wasn’t what was promised.  I understand that sponsors need value (believe me, I do!) but forcing it through the pitch format makes it slightly, and I’m sure unintentionally, deceitful.

– The rule of two feet is being observed in principle much more than in action.  I heard this many times – words on the lines of  “I know I should have left but I’d be walking into another session halfway through and the door was creaky and it would have been distracting to get up from the table and push past others to go, and the seats were big and comfortable and I thought I might as well stay and follow what was going on in other sessions on the hashtag instead …”.  Add in to that the fact that some of the sessions are more like conference presentations really – you can’t really walk into them half way through – there is a narrative thread running through them – then this is problematic and makes session choice all the more important.

The best unconferences I’ve been to are the Brighton City Camp.  One of the reasons for this is that they start with a set of presentations which give a context about the City and its community, and can then inspire people to pitch ideas to help solve problems.  That unconference also makes substantially more use of ideas online first, and initial voting, so that people can refine ideas, and have a more considered view of what someone may be presenting.

So this is building up to a thought – some suggestions for consideration.  This suggestion would mean putting a bit more structure on things.  Yikes!  Sorry about that.

How about this:

1.  Start with the intros and the one word offers / wants.  It was well worth trying out not doing this – excellent to experiment – but I’d like to see it back – and it needs to be really driven hard to be crisp.  Maybe literally just names. Apart from anything else this lets you put names and faces to twitter handles.  The idea of wearing a sticker with Ask me about / Tell me about was good – but I think people could handwrite them themselves (less admin).

2.  If you’re going to have a plenary speaker do it at the beginning so that pitches can develop it and the ideas further during the day.

3. Have a strand of pre-booked sessions – based on online pitching and voting.  People can explain what a pitch is going to be about more, online.  The “7” sessions with most votes 24 hours before it starts get to run.

4.  Then have a strand of completely blatant sponsor-led sessions, again advertised online beforehand.  No need to pretend.  These are sessions where people will try to sell you something, and if they advertise what they want to talk about clearly and accurately, and offer genuinely useful case examples and insights, then that will be genuinely useful, and you might even buy.  As someone who works for a big company that often works with smaller companies I’d find it really useful to decide which to go to listen to, to see who we might be able to work with and bring into our “supply chain”. And as a sponsor having five people in a room who have already expressed the beginning of an interest in buying, who have agreed that they have a problem that you may be able to solve, is much better than having a roomful of people who are uninterested or mildly cross.  One session for each sponsor – all at the same time – and you decide which one to go to, but you have contact info and so on so that if you want to chat with any sponsors offline you can do that.  Suppliers are really proud of what they do – give them the opportunity to explain why, unblushingly.  This will also really help explain to their lords and masters why money spent on GovCamp is a good investment, and so help make it more sustainable.

5.  Then have pitches, just like now.  People pitch ideas that they would like to discuss.  They would need to say whether these sessions were “help me” or “show you” sessions.  As in “I have a problem and I’d like some help” versus “I’d like to show you this cool thing I did”.  Both have value.  But let’s be clear which is which.  And it would be really neat if some of the pitches could be inspired by the sessions just gone.  “In that earlier session it occurred to me there’s a real problem in X but we didn’t have the time to nail it – anyone else have that problem and have ideas to share?”- that sort of thing.

6.  Then have lunch.  Yesterday’s lunch was great.  As a vegetarian I was pleased with how they structured the choice architecture – meaty food before the veggie stuff, so that the carnivores have full plates before they get to the only stuff I can eat!

7.  Then have the afternoon sessions, just like now.  So it’s mostly still an unconference really, for most of the time.

What do you think?

Observations of a World-Class Team Leader

Recently I went to a musical performance by the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra conducted by Gustavo Dudamel.  My seat was in the choir seats behind the orchestra and I was right in the middle so I was directly opposite the conductor and therefore able to see exactly what he was doing in leading the team that is his orchestra.  Dudamel is lauded as an inspirational conductor, though there are some who prefer their conductors grey and more mannered.  I hugely enjoyed the concert, and I hugely enjoyed watching closely as Dudamel did his thing.  It really was a masterclass in team leadership.

When I watch a concert from behind the conductor (as is usual) or on TV, it sometimes feels as though the conductor can’t possibly be leading the orchestra – or not that much anyway, perhaps just giving the beat and key stop and start signals – to some extent it feels as though they are dancing along to the music rather than shaping it.  Watching as closely as I was able to this week, there was a tiny but perceptible gap between an instruction from the conductor and the relevant thing happening – I became more aware than ever before of the rich extent to which conductors (or, this one at least) has a profound and direct effect on the orchestra, on the split second behaviour of 100 skilled and attentive people.

It is a bit of cliche in the management literature to study orchestras as teams, usually in contrast to the style of say a jazz combo.  But I am going to add some observations of this specific conductor, on this particular day, that felt interesting – some of them may have wider relevance, in certain circumstances.  Some of the leadership points are very obvious!

Expressive, modulated, leadership using every tool available.  Dudamel used the whole of his body and an extraordinary array of facial expressions to communicate.  He missed no opportunity to convey his intention.  At times his movement was huge, his facial expression massively contorted, but at no point did it feel over the top, partly because the extent was always directly linked to the need.  For one really quiet passage he – quite literally – conducted the beat with the smallest movement he could do – he conducted the orchestra with his eyebrows

Conducting as though nobody is watching(!).  As a result of this massive expressiveness there were times when he looked really very stupid and undignified indeed!  A freeze frame shot could have been entered into a caption competition.  At one moment his bottom half was doing something like a “Frank Spencer ‘Ooh Betty'” while his top half was going three different ways at once and his eyes were popping out.  And of course nobody did laugh because the results he was producing were extraordinarily good.  A great leader, he only gained credibility from taking a personal presentational risk.

Knowing when not to lead.  There is a short, lovely and important oboe solo in the first movement of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony.  Uniquely during the performance, for this section, Dudamel did nothing.  He stood, smiling respectfully, poised and waiting for the oboeist to finish before bringing everyone else in.

Stopping, waiting, and starting.  In between movements at a concert there is silence.  On this day I was able to detect three distinct silences, one after the other.  There was the silence that is necessary for a couple of beats once a piece has ended, there was the restful silence that was between pieces, and there was the preparatory silence just before things got going again.  These stages were signalled by Dudamel’s body language, and holding the baton straight up against his chest during the middle silence.  This made me wonder whether we do enough to allow that pause for reflection once something has finished, a moment of rest, and then a reflective pause before starting again.  In a concert the total length of the silences is about ten seconds, and I don’t think it need take much longer than that in a work context.  I think some meetings would be greatly enhanced by these three pauses between agenda items!

Individual attention in a crowd.  There were probably about 100 people in the orchestra, yet there were times when Dudamel gave very specific individual attention to one of the players.  Never for more than a few seconds at a time, he gave undiluted attention at particular key points.  His arms kept things going for the rest of the orchestra but his face – and you felt, his attention – were utterly focused on making eye contact with one person.  He would smile, or widen his eyes, or do something, which conveyed a sense to the player concerned – you could read it “now then, like that time at rehearsal that I was happy with” – a quick smile of thanks when the performance was delivered and then on to the next.  Do we give 100% focus to individuals when they need it, even fleetingly, or do we get distracted by the wider task?

Credit.  Dudamel was very generous with credit to the players.  He did the usual conductorly thing of inviting soloists or groups of players to stand and take an individual bow and receive specific audience applause.  But more than others he went to them where they were sitting and he BEAMED at them, shook their hand or patted them on the back.  Apart from the initial applause when the conductor turns round to take a bow, whenever he came back to take more applause he invariably did so from within the body of the orchestra, with his arms around some of the players.

In some of the social media traffic around this concert a friend mused about how Dudamel gets such extraordinary performances.  This is how.

(The specific concert I listened to is/was broadcast on Wednesday 14th January 2015 at 9pm.)

Deja Vu All Over Again

I am personally inspired by the folk who are driving forward the LG “”Digital”” agenda in multiple ways, through events, blogs, tireless work and at significant personal cost in terms of time, and, um … cost.

From several local gov camps and similar, and much tweetage there seem to be a whole set of recurring themes around getting this stuff to break through into action. Again.

There is an emerging realisation that something higher-order than good work in one or more authority is needed. And various attempts to create organisational forms that will take things to the next level. Again.

All of this dialogue, though eerily familiar, is actually incrementally useful in trying to put our fingers on the question of why this isn’t yet breaking through the way we’d like.

I don’t know the answer to that, but here are some thought pebbles to set spinning across the pond of “”digital”” discontent.

  1. Maybe it is breaking through but we’re just not seeing it! Maybe what’s coming through is the result of the sheer grind of compromise and risk aversion that is almost inevitable in organisations which are (think about this) – local monopoly providers of essential services which are publicly funded, which are democratically accountable, and politically rationed in a hostile scrutiny (small or big s) environment.  Tough context!  Those things are like the weather – we can’t change them, we have to wear appropriate clothing. So maybe the progress we are seeing is brilliant, maybe it’s as good as it gets, maybe it’s going to take a shed load longer than we think, and maybe we don’t have to beat ourselves up so much. Maybe. I think it’s worth considering.
  1. Councils are different and becoming more different all the time. Localism rocks! But it works against standardisation, and it means that partnerships for eg joint development need to be chosen with care. The innovation need, capacity, capability, leadership of councils varies considerably, even if in other respects they seem pretty similar, or are conveniently close. In some of the recent tweetage I pointed people at slides 6-13 of this. I think we need to have language for understanding the differences between authorities and their contexts. I think we also need to accept that the best thing might be to give up on 95% of councils and work with the smaller number who want to innovate, and currently have the capacity and capability to do so. Let’s beam a small group “coalition of the willing” down onto this new planet, and hope that our council isn’t the one wearing the red shirt. (Note to self, do I need to explain Trekkie references to this audience …)
  1. Controversial one this. Perhaps we need to think about going where we can do most good. This might mean taking a super-honest look at one’s current authority and acknowledging that you could do more good somewhere else, somewhere that’s playing with a better hand of cards. Or somewhere that demonstrably gives an actual stuff. That might not be practical for some people given family circumstances or bonds of loyalty. But it’s a thought. What if we could get all the localgovcamp people working for the same council! Well actually it would be an unmitigated disaster but you get the underlying point, I hope. To add extra controversy to this point I will take my life in my hands and say that a lot of people I talk to decided to stop working for a council but stay passionately involved in local government by stepping out as freelancers, establishing or working for companies, and found they could do more good that way (despite enduring the ever so funny jokes about the dark side, and not getting invited to things any more – or asked to pay – but let’s not go there).
  1. Do we care about it enough to get our hands dirty to make change happen? I did some sessions at PS Launchpad about this sort of stuff for example this and this. One of the reported reasons why corporate services professionals in local government (eg IT, HR, Finance) often don’t want to get promoted to Corporate Director roles is that they will no longer be able to represent the interests of their tribe – they may have to make decisions which compromise the purity of the vision. I’d love to see some of the LG “”digital”” folk say “right, I need to get to be a chief executive ASAP, then I can sort it”. That wouldn’t actually work as a strategy but the people trying it would learn so much in the process. Many years ago I was a manager of analytics consultancy types in a discipline called operational research and I wrote this paper called “wearing your clients’ shoes” – anyone fancy working with me to update it for “”digital”” in local government?

(Note: In this blog I have put “”digital”” in double quotes to signify that I am loosely referring to people and concepts which are currently aligning themselves with the word “digital” but which in my mind have very little to do with technology (either digital or analogue) and which therefore risks massively confusing means with ends, but happens to be the only flipping label we have currently.)

What became of the broken hearted?

There was a really good session at the Public Sector Launchpad (#pslaunchpad) last night (5th November 2013) and this blog is about one tiny offshoot of one of the conversations.

The conversation was about resistance to change in organisations.  A young and enthusiastic local government worker was discussing the difficulties of getting a long-term workforce to change.  It reminded me of a situation earlier on in my career when I encountered a similar situation, and the comments I made last night seemed to strike a chord so I thought I’d write a short blog to share it.

As a starting point in analysis I find it helps to accept that everyone is always rational all of the time.  Therefore if someone is resisting a change which is pretty demonstrably good, not only for them and their working practice but also for the service user, then it can be baffling as to why they’re not whole-heartedly engaged.  Some conversations I had helped me to realise that these people were basically “broken-hearted”.

As some point, perhaps early on in their career, they had been engaged in a change process which offered similar benefits and they’d gone for it – full throttle – sacrificed (temporarily) family considerations and worked their socks off to make the change happen, but for whatever reason (change of management, change of political administration, poor implementation) the change hadn’t actually happened, or hadn’t delivered the desired benefit.  This was a real disappointment to them (they were gutted), but when the next such change came along they thought “this time – let’s make that last wasted effort worthwhile after all…” but sadly, and perhaps for a different reason, that intiative failed too.  They lived through a third and fourth, and possibly even more change intiatives and became, basically, broken-hearted – they have been “jilted” by the organisation so many times that there is real pain in committing themselves to another programme which, of course, to the initiator, is perfectly logical and consistent and how could anyone not…

So I thought I’d share that thought.

Obviously, not everyone who is resistant to change is “broken-hearted” in the way I’ve described.  Some of the most change resistant people can be young people who are experiencing a change that is happening to them rather than led by them and for whom this is suddenly the biggest thing in their world.  And in some cases people have other motives for resisting change – but I think that “broken heartedness” can be a useful explanation for some.

What’s the solution?  That depends massively on the specific case and the specific individual.  Talking to people about their past experiences of change can often be really insightful – you may even learn from things that have gone badly (or well) in the past, and you may be able to help people realise that something really has changed or is different this time.  In some cases it may take a couple of years of actual delivery of change to convince people that this time it’s really going to happen.  Sometimes people are so totally jaded that they need a change of scenery and a new role, possibly in another organisation – I am conscious that that sounds like a threat and no doubt it would be perceived that way, but sometimes it’s true.  The solution may be about involving them in a co-designed process (though I suspect that they’ll also have had that before too).  The last category of solution if you have a whole organisaiton like this to deal with is to introduce an external change so significant that people have to react – a merger of authorities, a full-throated implementation of a Commissioning approach, a TUPE transfer to another entity (not necessarily private sector) – may be the kind of intervention that will help lift them to a new stage of change – it depends.