Ten signs your organisation needs to innovate – Part 1


Is it time you innovated a little?

It’s at this time of year that so many good intentions are laid out in the form of New Year’s resolutions. We are all familiar with the standard personal ones (usually including lose some weight, save some money and enjoy life more), but it’s also a time to think professionally. Bad habits are hard to break, but now’s the time to do so.

And it’s not just individuals who should be looking to change their lives for the better. Organisations should be taking the opportunity to sweep out the old and bring in the new; to innovate and develop. That being said, many don’t believe they should have to change at all, as what they are doing is working well enough for the time being. If you think that fits your organisation, why not take a look at our ten signs that you might need to make some resolutions after all. Match more than a handful and you really should get moving…

1.  You live and die by heirarchy

Everyone loves a good structure chart, and none more than local government. No restructure or service can be planned or delivered without first taking a jolly good look at who reports to whom; only once this is clear can thought be given to what they will actually do.

But what if this didn’t need to be the case? What if the core focus of any service team was the service they were delivering, rather than the lines of authority and communication? Yammer founder David Sacks (@davidsacks) uses a brilliant slide to demonstrate the inate problems of communicating through heirarchy to source information, showing the tortuous route a request has to go on the way up before information or authority comes back down. What if this could be bypassed, with staff going directly to the officers at whatever level to discuss things with and progress projects? Radical, perhaps; seemingly undermining to those who don’t trust themselves or their staff, probably; faster and more efficient,certainly.

2.  No-one knows why you do things the way you do

Look at the processes you do every day and you might be surprised at just how many of them are done for little reason other than tradition. Sometimes it may have been founded in good faith and different times (such as keeping paper copies of all documents for ten years in storage, despite having electronic originals on backed up servers), other times it’s due to layers of individuals over years of service adding their own idiosyncratic personality into the mix. Experience shows that it’s usually a combination of the two, but the results are the same; complex and unnecessary processes which add nothing to its succesful completion.

3.  You have 20 different software programmes and 30 different passwords

We’ve blogged before about the proliferation of overengineered and bloated software systems which are incompatible with each other, each requiring a different and constantly changing password, and each deemed by at least on different senior officer to be ‘essential’ and not able to be integrated, replaced or upgraded.

In this day and age of APIs and integrated ICT there is no practical reason why this isn’t addressed in the short to medium term, or that a simple demand for all future ICT purchases to integrate with one core system and to focus on one piece of functionality to be made. Don’t use what’s always been used because no-one took the time to check if there was something better, simpler and/or cheaper out there – ask and innovate.

4.  Those at the top are those who have survived the longest, not had the best ideas

Meritocracy is a wonderful and powerful concept, and in many cases is true in local government; but not always. Generally speaking, those at the top have usually shown abilities and talents required of their senior positions, talents which may be very different to the practical knowledge and expertise of those below them. However, this is not always the case, and sometimes by sheer dint of length of service some senior staff are deemed more appropriate for senior roles than those who actually come up with the best ideas and then turn these into reality.

If those towards the top of the chain are exclusively made up of local government lifers and have moved little barring retirements over the last decade or more, perhaps a little new blood or thinking is needed. This doesn’t mean younger or less experienced of course, simply new and fresh.

5.  You only ever give people a faster horse

As Henry Ford never said, he didn’t believe in market research as if he’d listened to his customers they’d have only ever asked for a faster horse. We are arguably getting more sophisticated all the time in how we communicate and consult with residents about changes to their services, but sometimes even the best service user only ever wants more of the same. In this time of austerity that may not always be possible, so we have to start thinking outside the box* a little and cut back to what people actually need, rather than what we deliver currently which meets this need.

A little vision and a lot of work may reap greater benefits through revolution than any amount of evolution could ever do.

Tomorrow we’ll share part 2, but do feel free to preempt us by leaving a comment below or tweeting us @welovelocalgov

*our apologies for using this cliche, but we struggled to get out the box ourselves and come up with a suitable alternative.

Welovelocalgovernment is a blog written by UK local government officers. If you have a piece you’d like to submit or any comments you’d like to make please drop us a line at: welovelocalgovernment@gmail.com

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5 Comments on “Ten signs your organisation needs to innovate – Part 1”

  1. Tom Phillips Says:

    I like the approach of this.

    My own pet hate is “SMART” targets – y’know “Specific”, “Measurable” etc. These leave no room for concepts like courage, imagination, going against the flow, “what ifs” and so on. They have been a tool that has sucked the lifeblood of creativity from local government for years, a device of control rather than encouragement, and particularly beloved of the most controlling of managers.

    Clearly, therefore, my vote would be for the development of an acronym that really did deliver “smart” ideas in the modern idiom, because “SMART” never has. Look at many of the best and most useful of, say, iPhone apps, and ask yourself whether a “SMART” approach would have achieved any of these?

    Many good things have been achieved by “SMART”, of course. Most of them by the Victorians. The approach leaves little or no room for the 21st Century.

    • Richard May Says:

      ‘Why haven’t you emptied my bin?’ complains Joe Bloggs. ‘Sorry Mr. Bloggs, we’re going against the flow and have halted bin collections whilst we imaginatively develop a pioneering and innovative scheme which, once launched in 2050, will collect and recycle 150% of household waste retrospectively back to 1985.’

      Of course SMART targets are a burden if they stifle creativity, fail to deliver outcomes which improve customers’ quality of life and are measured only because they always have been; however, we are not Honda’s R&D department, we are providing vital real-time services day-by-day, so a balance between showing we are doing the day job well and constantly innovating to survive and improve is required. Success measures can help this process if properly applied.


  2. [...] We Love Local Government A blog looking sideways at life in local government « Ten signs your organisation needs to innovate – Part 1 [...]


  3. [...] been enjoying a little bit of New Years innovation and right on that track is Dan Slee’s ‘EPIC CHANGE: 12 predictions in digital in local [...]


  4. [...] make me seem a little luddite-ish. My co-writer would doubtless have me down as one of the guys who needs to innovate in 2012. However, it does cut both ways; much as an understanding of the people we work for would have me [...]


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