Archive for January 2012

Ten things great facilitators need to know

January 17, 2012

Facilitation; not as easy as it looks

Last week I had the pleasure of seeing an expert in action.  During a rather large meeting involving 20 or 30 representatives from as many local authorities, our facilitator showed that the skill of facilitation is alive and kicking, as well as demonstrating just how important and often undervalued it is.

In my experience, a good facilitator can be very much like engine oil – many don’t think it’s a vital component and believe they can get by without it, but all that happens is things grind through and eventually grind to a halt.  Having had the pleasure to see more than my fair share of expert facilitators over the course of my career, I thought it may be worth sharing some of the things which I think make a real difference during any meeting, workshop or event.

1.  Trust yourself

To begin with, you will need to know and trust in your own skills.  Understanding your own strengths and weaknesses will pay dividends when you begin to formulate strategies to get the group from a to b, and will remind you in a tough spot that you are able to cope and keep things positive. (more…)

Don’t forget who you are working for

January 16, 2012

Keeping CD sales high

I recently read an article about CD sales in 2011 which, whilst obviously praising Adele for her near domination of the music market, shared the fascinating insight that roughly three quarters of all music sales in 2011 (82.2 million to 26.6 million) were made on CDs and not from online music stores.

This reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend who works in the world of internet television. Despite me arguing that I wanted some form of pay per view TV (mainly because I don’t have Sky but would like to buy the odd football match to watch) he pointed out that the great majority of the population can’t think of anything worse and much prefer the subscription model.

Indeed, I believe this was the motivation for Lovefilm to shift across to that model for their online service.

Why do I mention this? Well, in both cases the assumptions I made, as a fairly IT literate individual was that a) people would share my belief that digital is better and that b) people’s spending habits would reflect this.

In fact I was wrong.


That was the local government week that was

January 13, 2012

A few things to read

It’s the second week back at work after Christmas that is a killer; the workload has slowly ramped up and now it’s full pedal to the metal.

Similarly, it has been a busy week in the world of local government links so without further ado:

Whilst the good people at WLLG towers all make use of our twitter account we’re not all fully paid up social media devotees. For this reason this post by Sarah Lay asking the question: “what would your organisation do if one of the free social media platforms they’ve invested in suddenly required you to pay to use?”

Discussing this in more detail she puts the question as such:

But, my mind idly wondered, would councils be so keen to pursue the channel if they had to pay? Indeed, would they be able to pursue it, regardless of desire, in these cash-strapped times? Although we’re all thinking of digital by default (aren’t we?), would a fairly new online channel such as this win out against a traditional channel if there’s only so much money to go around.

It’s a good debate and one that is definitely worth considering, if only so we will properly consider the costs and considerable benefits of these social media platforms.

We’ve become large fans of the excellent Comms2point0 blog in recent weeks and although I think I’ve read it before somewhere this piece from Adrian Short is rather excellent.


Mentally coming out

January 12, 2012

Last night I found myself writing a blog post ready for today on facilitation techniques, which will now probably go up early next week.  However, as I got on with it, I started to listen to a simply brilliant programme on the BBC in the background, in which cricketer Freddie Flintoff spent some time talking to other sporting greats of recent years (and Vinnie Jones) about depression and mental health.

As it wound on I had to leave the relative safety of the keyboard and sit on the sofa as I found myself captivated by it all.  On screen were icons and heroes; people I had read about in the papers for years and who seemingly had the world at their feet – Flintoff, Hatton, Harmison and more – yet all found themselves suffering from mental health issues.  These issues had been hidden at the time they surfaced, covered up with reports of injuries or simply shoved firmly into the background when the white line on the side of the pitch was crossed.  However, all of these people eventually accepted they had an issue and began to find ways of dealing with it.

Mental health is something we have covered on this blog before, and I urge you to take a quick diversion to read a piece from last year which  detailed one officer’s angle on their own mental health struggles.  But have things changed since then?  Have we all come to understand mental health and appreciate the impact it has in the workplace and things we can all do to help others?

In my experience, not yet.  Cultural change on this level will take a long time to bear fruit, but now is a more than opportune time to think about how local government deals with mental health issues affecting its staff, and whether we really are on the road to better places organisationally. (more…)

Racism and the council

January 11, 2012

No to racismThe conviction of the killers of Stephen Lawrence was big news last week and yet for some reason I could not get excited by it. I was happy for the family but just did not feel particularly connected to the story. Institutional racism and the 1990s seemed like a long time ago and not especially relevant to my consistently multi-cultural here and now.

I mentioned this to a few people at work, including some who, unlike me, are not middle aged white men and the response was quite surprising.

Comments such as this were not uncommon (and apologies for the fact that these are not proper quotes… I didn’t always have my pen with me!):

“Despite all the progress made it is sad but true that even if you (me, white man) and I (in this case a talented woman from an ethnic background) have exactly the same qualifications, skills and experience for a job; if we both applied you would get it.”

“Do you think it is a coincidence that the only ethnic female senior manager in the Authority is the one who receives the greatest stick?”

“You know, in my last role there was a guy in my team who refused to be managed by me simply because I wasn’t white.”

Geez, that made me think.


Double Yellow Lies?

January 10, 2012

Double yellow row is driving me up the wall

Over the Christmas break I spent some time visiting the in-laws in London, and in doing so learnt three things. Always lock the door when you have a shower; try not to freak out when you find your clothes put away for you from your suitcase – including your underwear; and apparently there’s a bit of a row going on in Westminster about parking.

Westminster Council are sparking a bit of a media storm with their decision to replace some of their single yellow lines with their doubled-up counterparts, meaning it will be harder for some to find off-peak parking spaces. The council say that this will mostly be where drop-kerbs are located, and so will make the area much easier to access and use for wheelchair and buggy users.

Of course, this view isn’t supported by local opposition to the scheme, which is claiming that 1191 off-peak spaces will disappear and further complaining that this news was only released on 24 December, when many were packing up for Christmas and not able to respond to this in the news.

Not taking into account the fact that the internet doesn’t close for Christmas (so they were more than able to respond if they felt that strongly), and not taking into account the fact that the two interpretations of the positives and negatives are so far apart that neither is probably truly objective any more, there is something fundamental to this story which is to put it frankly angering me: the supposition that the council is not doing this for the right reasons.

Regardless of ones stand on this particular scheme, the accusations being thrown at Westminster Council are staggering, and occasionally verging on libelous. There are those who truly seem to believe that the council is trying to actively destroy their own area of the capital in any way possible, and is determined to put every small business out of business. (more…)

Do we have a failing social care system or just a failing funding model?

January 9, 2012

Layers of complexity distilled

‘Welcome to the New Year!’ I said to myself washing my face and listening to the early morning news headlines on the 3rd January. That very morning, the first working day of the New Year an open letter from charities, faith-based groups and senior figures in the NHS and local government said that we had a failing social care system that must be reformed.

The letter to the Telegraph argued:

As a society we face a growing care challenge. We should celebrate the fact that we are all living longer lives, particularly disabled people and those with long-term conditions. But the unavoidable challenge we face is how to support the increasing number of people who need care. It is a challenge which we are failing to meet – resulting in terrible examples of abuse and neglect in parts of the care system.

This comes at huge cost to the dignity and independence of older and disabled people, but also to our society, family life and the economy. An estimated 800,000 older people are being left without basic care – lonely, isolated and at risk. Others face losing their homes and savings because of soaring care bills.

Disabled people are unable get the support they need to live their lives independently and be part of society.

Businesses are losing increasing numbers of experienced staff who are forced to give up work to care for older or disabled relatives. These carers can then be pushed to breaking point, providing round-the- clock care. Our NHS is also paying the price, as a lack of support leads to avoidable hospital admissions and then keeps older and disabled in hospital beds because they cannot be cared for at home.

We have a duty as a nation to change this – but it requires political leadership.

I’m no social worker but whenever we look at the council budget it is hard to avoid the feeling that the social care element of the budget is a ticking time bomb that at any time might just blow up a council’s budget; especially when cuts are being made.

However, I don’t think social care is failing; I think the funding of social care within the local government budget is failing.


That was the local government week that was

January 6, 2012

New year and yet the same old picture

As we enter the New Year the people in WLLG towers are filled with optimism. The first week of the New Year has provided it’s usual mixed bunch of headlines and despite everything we are determined not to let it get us down and to follow the lead of the excellent Guardian Local Government Network and be more positive in 2012.

So, starting with the heavy stuff (that we shall not let get us down) the Daily Mail kicked off 2012 with a story about local government pay (quel surprise). This one was about local government pay increments, a topic we have discussed in the past. Here, the Mail ‘discovered’ that:

The survey of 188 councils shows that a shocking 72 per cent use annual increments to reward staff.

It means many Government employees are given more money on the basis of experience rather than performance.

These increments, known as ‘time served’ payments, are usually awarded either in April at the end of the tax year, or on the anniversary of the employee joining their council.

Local authority pay rates published by Unison, the public services union, show there are 49 distinct salary increments for staff earning between £12,145 and £41,616, no matter how well they are doing their job.

It’s hard to get as upset as the Daily Mail did about this but it does raise a pretty serious issue for local government. Are we serious about pay cuts and pay freezes including those for people with less than four years in a particular role with the understanding that this is fairer than just freezing the salary of those with long service?

And secondly do we believe that paying increments based on service time is better than putting in increments based on performance? I favour the latter but I think it is part of a fundamental decision that local government still needs to make.


Ten signs your organisation needs to innovate – Part 2

January 5, 2012

Deliver innovation to deliver anything

Yesterday we posted up the first five of our ten signs that your organisation might need to step back and take a look at itself, before realising that perhaps a little innovative thinking will go a long way.  With no further ado, here is the second half of our top ten signs you should be watching out for – and remember, if you have more than a handful of these then give NESTA a call!

6.  You have people who ‘do’ innovation

This is a little story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody.  There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it.  Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it.  Somebody got angry about that because it was Everybody’s job.  Everybody thought that Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it.  It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.

An old ditty perhaps, but one which makes my point.  If you have somebody or a team of somebodies who ‘do’ innovation then you risk innovation simply being left to them to do, after all they are the ones being paid for it.  If you’re not careful, innovative thinking will become associated with a small number of job descriptions and squeezed out of the lives of those with other priorities.

Innovation shouldn’t be an added-on extra or a bespoke project – it should be part and parcel of every member of staff and the work they do.  Even if not everyone is walking around coming up with ideas for how to do simple things differently or better, every officer needs to feel that if they were to come up with such an idea that they could and should do something about it.  It it’s palmed off on someone else the number of minds coming up with innovative solutions pales into insignificance, no matter how good those innovation people might be.

7.  Silos are seen as a good thing


Ten signs your organisation needs to innovate – Part 1

January 4, 2012

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