Posted tagged ‘advice’

So you’re having a project?

June 8, 2012

So you’ve found out you are expecting your first project – congratulations!

Bringing a new project into the world is not something that everyone gets the chance to do, and most who do have fears and worries about how it will turn out. Will I make a mistake? What will others think of it? And how will it affect my relationships with others?

All of this is entirely natural and to be expected. Initiating, developing, delivering and evaluating a project is a complex process, although if you spend some time thinking it through in advance and reacting as it grows you will find that complex needn’t mean it becomes complicated.

There are a thousand books out there advising how you should go about nurturing and growing your project to ensure it is all it can be, and that you too have grown as a result of your experiences. Rather than repeat this advice in its entirety, here are some of the things any project parent should consider.

Project conception

Here’s a fact that few talk about: Conception is not always straightforward. You might look around you at others who seemingly show off their bouncing new project ideas every other week, appearing to have no difficulties whilst you struggle and over think your way to a stand still.

Project ideas sometimes appear out of thin air, but more often than not they are the result of serious preparation and planning. Bringing the right people into the room is the first place to start, as it often takes more than one person to conceive.

These groups should plan out how they can take the tiny sparks of projects which exist in every one of us, bring them all out and stir them around a bit before seeing which (if any) will take hold and grow into an embryonic project. At this point more is better, as there will be a significant rate of non-growth for reasons outside of your control: if you are hoping to conceive then keep throwing your sparks out there and mixing them up as often as possible with as many other people as you can and sooner or later one of them will bear fruit.

Incubation (more…)

The Devil’s Guide to Getting Ahead

April 17, 2012

Who needs hard work when you can cheat?

Today we’re going to take a trip into the minds of some of those who think that the only way to the top is on the bodies of those around them and share with you the Devil’s guide to getting ahead in local government.

If you are a hard-working, diligent, nice, supportive, positive, honest, reliable, knowledgeable, experienced, trust worthy member of staff then you need read no further; you’re beyond help. If however you simply want to get ahead as quickly as possible with little fuss and don’t worry yourself about the nagging voice on your other shoulder, then read on and revel in these secret methods of success.

1. Stab, stab, stab.

You know those people who say that they ‘have your back’? Well, they’ve only got it because it’s always good to have a few backs handy when you need to stab someone in one. No matter what they profess to believe, no-one really would protect you no matter what you did; when the proverbial faeces starts flying they will happily use you as a human shield.

Get in first by finding those people who either would probably bounce back from any set-back or who actually wouldn’t be missed. It’s character building after all, they’d probably thank you for the development opportunity. And if you can combine it with number two on this list, you’re in for a rapid rise.

2. Know thy enemy (more…)

Game of Localgov

April 10, 2012

Lessons fit for a king

The last few weeks has seen the return of the simply excellent Game of Thrones to British screens. If you have yet to watch it we urge you to crawl out from under the rock you have been hiding and get hold of season one so you are up to speed with the cut-throat, back stabbing, vicious, brilliant world the show depicts.

Watching Game of Thrones last week I found myself with a notebook in hand, frantically writing down quotes uttered by one or other of the excellent cast at regular intervals. My other half thought this was strange behaviour, but I knew that littered throughout the episode were gems which related directly to life in local government, and lessons which I would do well to remember and learn from. So here are my favourite few so far, along with a quick note for the lesson it may impart.

Robb: If we do it your way kingslayer, you’d win. We’re not doing it your way.

When preparing for a negotiation or a difficult discussion, be sure to know what you want out of it, what the other party want out of it and the most likely route you can take to achieve your goals. Put simply, know your enemy and prepare.

Bronn: Stay low.
Tyrion: Stay low?
Bronn: If you’re lucky, no one will notice you.

Understand areas in which you are weaker; everyone has strengths and weaknesses. When you find something you are not as good at others at, make sure they do what they do best and save your effort for times when your contributions will be more useful and significant. (more…)

Spring cleaning

March 21, 2012

Time for a tidy up in the office?

Today is big day for us, and a big day for everyone.  The budget announcement, which may just be the last big hurrah for the coalition government, will affect every person in the country and have a direct and indirect affect on the work of local government.  As all this is such a big deal we won’t be attempting to cover it ourselves yet or sharing our thoughts on the blog until we’ve had the chance to digest it a little (although I’m sure we won’t be able to resist spurting out a few thoughts via Twitter – @welovelocalgov).

So today is something of a holding day, and we thought we’d take the chance to look at something a little lighter.  This weekend sees us all losing a precious hour of our days with the coming of British Summer Time, and along with this will be the inevitable demand for a spring clean around the house.  Dusters will be pressed into action, those jobs which have been put off will be tackled and old junk will be thrown out, leaving us feeling (in theory) happier, leaner and ready to face the summer.

It’s not only home that can benefit from this approach of course, so here is the WLLG guide to performing your very own workplace spring clean.

1.  Dig out your budgets

It is surprising how few people actually get to see the budgets for their own areas of work.  Some managers guard these spreadsheets and figures jealously, permitting nothing more than glimpses of the overall numbers and no more.  Some staff see this as more than enough and trust others to see them through.

Take the opportunity to have a look at your budget and get to know it a little.  If you are a manager take a closer look at it, perhaps blocking out some time to do so with a friendly finance officer (they are friendlier than you think, even if they often spiral into technical detail).  Ask them to explain all those acronyms, ins and outs and idiosyncrasies that have been confusing you, on however small a level, for years, and ask them to do so without making it all sound like gobbledygook.  And take the time to go through every line to look at what it actually means for you and your team; does it all add up. (more…)


March 12, 2012

Whether it's your parents or your boss, sometimes you just have to say 'no'.

Last week I stood up to my father.  Perhaps not in an I’ll-never-join-you, Star Wars kind of way, but on its own level and in its own galaxy it was every bit as important.  Bear with me as I briefly explain this tale, and the lesson I am taking from it which will impact upon potentially the day to day business I carry out (or perhaps don’t).

It’s not often that I receive any e-mails from my dad; despite being pretty well regarded in his own profession, he got to his position before the advent and widespread take-up of electronic mail so isn’t as au-fait with it as his offspring are.  It was therefore with some surprise then that I began getting his name popping up in my inbox.  Were these family secrets he was choosing to convey to me?  Perhaps he had decided that e-mail was the correct medium to impart some pearls of wisdom with which I would be able to make my work better and therefore lead a happier life. With a mixture of interest and fear I opened the latest e-mail which I, along with others, had been copied into.

Without regurgitating it word for word, I’ll say simply that the first line could have been rewritten to open with ‘I’m not racist, but…’.  What followed was the usual chain e-mail which started off with some valid and real concerns about society and that something needed to be done to help people be proud of being British.  So far so normal, if a little right wing in language.  Of course, what followed was an inexplicable and random leap to somehow bringing immigrants into the arguement, and blaming all of society’s ills upon them.

Normally when these missives arrive from whatever source I simply hit the shift-delete combo.  I know that my dad isn’t a racist, even if he does have some strange aversion to most continental food, and that this was probably just an e-mail he’d given a quick skim read through and decided to send on as proof that he ‘gets the internet’.  However, this time it felt a litle bit different.  I’d been sent something which I didn’t agree with by someone who’s opinion I value and which contained a message which, in its own small way, was part of the underlying problems which divide groups of people on arbitrary or seemingly random lines. So this time I drew my fingers away from the total delete keys, took the bait and hit reply instead.  I didn’t get abusive, patronising or evangelical in my response, simply pointing out that whilst I understood his sentiment, the arguments the e-mail he put forward to support them detracted significantly from his meaning, and in essence did more harm than good.  It was with no small amount of trepidation and a twinge of fear that I hit the send button and sat back to await my reply.

Would he be angry, and fly off the handle at me for having the cheek to not only disagree with him but to tell him he was part of the problem and to copy others (siblings in the main) into the reply?  Would he refuse to copy me in to future such e-mails, considering it not worth the hassle of trying to convince me that he was right, cutting me out of the loop entirely?  Would he ‘take it offline’ and speak to me in person to tell me that I shouldn’t have shown other people that I disagreed?

Actually, in the end none of that happened.  He made a few jokes on a bit of a tangent, and after a few more light-hearted back and forths which included others I felt I’d managed to get my opinion across, said in clear terms that I didn’t agree with that message and that I wouldn’t be willing to stand by and be party to something which – however benign in intent – actually made me uncomfortable.  No-one got hurt, and I honestly believe that we both learned a little more about each other and have a greater understanding and level of respect for the others views and attitudes.

Now I hear you wondering what on earth any of that has to do with local government.  It may have been entirely unrelated to normal work, but in its own way this incident is changing a major part of how I have worked in the past and how I hope to work in the future.

It showed me I can say no to those more senior than I. (more…)

That was the local government week that was

March 2, 2012

While we blow off some steam, here's some great links from this week

Today is a day when a little routine may very well have stopped us saying something which might just have got us in trouble.  After a tip off from some of our tweeting friends (many thanks by the way!) some of the WLLG crew plonked ourselves in front of the telly and watched ITV present what they thought was a balanced assessment of whether it’s better to work for the private or public sector.  Suffice to say that, from our perspective at least, it was a less than neutral affair, and we are working out our response right now!

So in the meantime, here are some of our picks from the blogging week.  As ever, if you’ve seen something great which we’ve missed then tell us in the comments below or tweet us @welovelocalgov.

To start with, Dan Slee has once again mined a rich vein of thought and pointed out something which in hindsight sounds perfectly obvious (a much under-rated skill, we assure you) with a post about Facebook pages.  That’s right, pages rather than page; the premise that having one page to rule them all, one page to bind them may not actually do you much good.

Look at New York City. They have 5,000 people liking their City Council Facebook page and a similar number on Twitter. But they have 400,000 following @metmuseum as well as 1,300 liking an AIDS initiative.

Or look at the Scottish Island of Orkney. On Twitter 2,000 follow the council, 4,000 like their library, 400 the story telling festival and 80 sign-up for the jobs feed. So in other words, twice as many like things the council does rather than the council itself.

It’s that last sentence which rings most true to us, and one which councils would do well to wrap their heads around.

Over at the LGiU came the results of the 2012 Councillor Achievement awards.  To single any of the winners out would do a disservice to the rest, so instead we’ll just provide a link directly to the list and tell you to head on over and check it out.


Munch ado about nothing

February 16, 2012

Eat, don't just meet

When things go wrong I don’t mind being told off.  I don’t like it of course – few people do – but when something I’m working on goes wrong because of me then being told off is one of the things that invariably can happen.

Being told off by your parents and your wife however is rather less comfortable.  Last weekend I had this unfortunate feeling during a quick visit to the parents for a cup of tea and a natter.  After politely asking how work was going and hearing the positive reply, my wife decided the time was right to stir things up and get me into trouble.  Did she tell them that I wasn’t performing in my role adequately, that I had messed up on a major project or that I was working all day everyday and through most nights?  Well, no, as none of those are true, but she told them something that ensured I’d be subjected to 45 minutes which I never want to repeat; she told them that I sometimes skip lunch.

Okay, sometimes actually means at least two or three days a week or perhaps more, but the details matter not; I was in the dog house.  What followed was a detailed explanation of all the problems skipping a sandwich can cause, which ranged from lower concentration levels and decreased productivity right through to death.  The thing is, having looked around the office, I don’t think I’m alone in this. (more…)

Family or Fortune?

February 2, 2012

Things which are mutually compatible: lamb and rosemary, Morecambe and Wise, Tango and Cash.

Things which aren’t: Cesium and water, high heels and a night of dancing, Eric Pickles and a positive story about local government.

I’d like to propose that bringing up a young family and pushing forward in your local government career is moving into the second of these groups.

I can already hear local government press and HR departments up and down the country crying out in opposition, quoting the schemes in place to support working parents such as flexi-time, TOIL, childcare vouchers and more.  Outwardly we may protest otherwise but, drawing on personal experience, over the past few years I have found it increasingly difficult to reconcile my day job with my more important evening and weekend job of being a parent.

Looking around the office seems to back up my concerns.  Those who are young and successful are invariably those without children.  Those who have children and are successful usually are older, with children at least in their early teens.  Those who – like me – are young and have children are finding it tough at best to squeeze as much success out of their careers as they might otherwise like.

I want to be clear of course that in no way, shape or form do I blame my children for these challenges, they are the best thing I have and ever will do, regardless of whatever else happens in my life and career.  However, I’m keen to explore what exactly is the problem, and whether it is in any way controllable.  Why do those of us with young children find the balance so tough?  Is it as simple as people think, is it in any way particular to local government, or is it something that simply has to be accepted and worked through? (more…)

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…)

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