Commercialism – TINA for Public Services?

Posted: January 30, 2016 by Matthew Hanwell in Change, OD, Organization, Uncategorized

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By Ian Gee – cross posted from: Albany OD

Perma-austerity’, is what some are calling the new world the public sector finds itself in. Budget reductions and the need to reshape services has led to many public sector organisations exploring how they can operate in a more commercial way. Being more commercial appears to holds out the possibility of generating additional income, raising levels of efficiency and effectiveness, securing inward investment and creating a thriving local economy. It also offers the possibility of keeping services, often in a reshaped form, that would otherwise be lost as part of a package of cuts.

During my consultancy assignments at Albany OD it is very common to hear leaders say “We want our managers to be more commercial, entrepreneurial and business-like”. However as they talk, it becomes clear that no one should underestimate the challenge becoming more commercial, in a public sector context, presents to organisations and those that work in them.

Whatever it means in theory, in practice it means a massive, step change in the way public services think about themselves and how they do business. It also changes the way in which we, as consumers, are likely to experience the services they provide. Commercialism challenges current models of leadership, management and employment. Ultimately, for good or ill, it is likely lead to new types of organisations delivering reshaped and transformed public services.

I have heard of some interesting commercial experiments. I know of local authorities that are trading most of their services. So for example; the local dog wardens will provide, for a fee, advice on dog nutrition or safety around dangerous dogs, an authorities secretariat, for a fee, will provide services such as agenda setting, minute taking etc. for your AGM and revenue services providing a ‘no win no fee’ debt collection service for individuals and businesses. I know of cases where a local authority maintenance service has raised income by offering its service, for a fee, to employees for home repairs and an authority that as well as carrying out road maintenance will also tarmac your drive for a fee. Other authorities are ‘land banking’ outside of their area and in one case an English local authority is buying and letting industrial units in Wales.

Many people find the idea of commercialism threatening. It raises concerns about cuts, organisational change and job losses. Some fear it will challenge their personal values and commitment, others fear it will devalue their professional ethos and status. It also raises questions about the way services are organised and delivered and the people who are leading and delivering them. Do the organisations have the kind of culture, values and beliefs that will allow them to operate successfully in the commercial world? Do public sector employees have the skills, capacity and capability to work in this new way? Previously I have written about the challenges of bringing entrepreneurialism into organisations and I think this applies equally to commercialism in the public sector. If you want to read more about this you can find my latest writing here.

From an OD point of view it is not just a case of ‘lets close down the organisation and reopen, in a more commercial way, in 3 months time’! This is a change that has to happen whilst continuing to deliver excellence to local communities. I would describe it as like retooling a space rocket whilst on the way to Mars! Another way in which some organisations are approaching this issue is to recruit staff from the private sector, in the hope that they will somehow shift the culture and bring about the change. Whilst bringing in skills may be a good idea, the risk here is that you are working on an assumption that your current staff don’t have any of the skills needed and also you run the danger of ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’. That is those people brought in are considered special and treated as such and this breeds resentment across the rest of the organisation.

At Albany OD we have been giving this a lot of thought. We believe that getting the right kind of OD plans and actions in place is absolutely critical if public services are to reap the rewards of greater commercialism and at the same time avoid the pitfalls. OD has a part to play in the work needed both before commercialism decisions are made as well as in supporting successful implementation once plans are in place. To find out more about our thinking you can look here.

You will no doubt have noticed that I have not taken a stance on whether or not I think public services being more commercial is a good idea or not. I do believe that were it not for the current economic climate, the idea of a more commercial public sector would be seen as a distraction from the organisations core mission. However I do believe that the current move towards a more commercial public sector, if it is managed in the right way, can be seen as an exciting way of renewing the public sector and potentially lead to both exciting career opportunities and a much more engaged way of working with the public these organisations are designed to serve.

It would be great to hear what you think about this and any examples you have of where a more commercial approach is paying dividends as well as where it has gone wrong. This will help us to learn from each other and develop new ideas as to how OD might help move the agenda forward and increase the chances of success.

 

 

 

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Guest Post by: Carole Grimwood

Let me start with an immediate reassurance that this isn’t a political blog. I don’t want to disengage readers straight away! I do however want to talk about last month’s Labour leadership election. Whatever my views about the outcome I have found the way the Corbyn campaign engaged a previously disaffected group of people has been both interesting and instructive and I think there are is some interesting learning here for OD and HR colleagues.  I wonder whether others agree?

Values – The campaign awakened the interest of a group of people who previously felt disenfranchised because they considered their situation was not being addressed and perhaps most importantly their values were not previously represented in the political system.

Voice – It underscores the importance that people place on being listened to; having a voice, and being ‘done with’ rather that done to’. The notion of crowd sourcing questions for Prime Minister’s Questions is an extension of this.

Authenticity – Corbyn’s victory also exemplifies the importance that people are placing on what they perceive to be openness, integrity, straight talking and the absence of spin. This is perhaps about more authentic and empathetic leadership. We’re reading a good deal about at the moment about a shift away from heroic leadership in favour of more collaborative models. I particularly like what ‘The 21st Century Public Servant’ the recently published by the University of Birmingham has to say about this https://goo.gl/gcjxjU

Social Media – By August this year The Guardian was reporting a significantly higher use of all the key social media platforms by the Corbyn campaign. The #jezwecan was being shared once every 25 seconds at that point. Remember that this was also acknowledged to be a significant factor in Obama’s victory. Its remarkable though that when we talk to clients about using social media as part of their internal communications strategy for engagement and to support transformation programmes, there is still, more often than not, a notable reluctance. Is this because decisions are being made by people who are not using social media themselves and who lack confidence in it and don’t understand of its potential.

It seems to me that there is much transferable learning here for the world of employee engagement particularly in terms of switching on the disaffected:

  • Understanding why people are not engaged at the fundamental level of their personal values;
  • Listening to people and encouraging them to have a voice
  • Enabling people to actively participate;
  • Providing a different kind of leadership that is seen as authentic and worthy of trust
  • Communicating with them (not to them) using the media that that they use which means exploiting social media.

With these points in mind there is an outstanding issue to be considered and addressed. In engaging the disaffected – has this leadership election process created a whole new group of disaffected people? And if so can they be re-engaged? In the employee engagement arena it has to be about raising the total level of engagement and this will inevitable require flexibility of approach.

I’m interested to know whether you see the same or different lessons?

digitalcommunity

Cross posted from personneltoday.co.uk

We continue to use the same structures and organize work in the same way as we have for decades, but is there a more effective way to benefit from our collective intelligence?

The way in which we organize work has pretty much remained unchanged for more than 100 years, despite the transformation that we are all experiencing and the fact that we are now in a knowledge-based digital age.

Work is still organized largely by hierarchy and department, much as it was in the early industrial era. Employers continue to use these structures automatically by default, without thinking or considering what other options might be available.

What if we stop and think, pause to consider how we might accomplish our objectives in another way, and think about how we might be able to tap into more of the collective intelligence available both inside and outside of our organizations?

Working without limits

It makes sense to use hierarchy to organize repeatable work, such as payroll or compliance services, because these are areas of business that rely on certainty and predictability. They are also typically repetitive activities where any variation needs to be carefully planned, tightly controlled, monitored and recorded.

However, organizing work in hierarchy limits creativity, innovation and the opportunity for the unexpected, and more than 75% of the work of most organizations does not require hierarchy as the dominant organization form.

Hierarchy may be sufficient to get the job done, but it may not be necessary. By making hierarchy our “default choice”, intentionally or otherwise, we limit the possibility of achieving better outcomes and results, and raising the engagement of employees.

Seeking alternatives

Many academics, management gurus and operational development practitioners have, in the last few years, been calling for a review of how we organize the way we work.

They have been looking for alternative ways of organizing that will unleash the holy grail of employee engagement, increase discretionary effort and create organizations where people feel able to work to the best of their capabilities.

This has included exploring how to make project management more agile and lean, introducing ideas about matrix organizations and even exploring “intrapreneurship”, which aims to bring into the workplace the kind of culture and work practices that are present in start-ups.

One way of working that is under-explored and underused is that of the workplace community.

Workplace communities

By workplace communities, we mean a structured and planned way by which people have the opportunity to contribute and work outside of the traditional hierarchy, silos and matrices that exist within the organization. Engaging with each other in very different ways can create extraordinary results for the business.

In our experience, most organizations are laced with communities, however, these mainly remain small, often invisible and hampered by a lack of explicit support and license.

In the increasingly knowledge-based economy, our knowledge, thoughts, ideas, creativity, innovation and our willingness to share and collaborate are critical for creating value for organizations and the individuals who work for them.

Workplace communities provide a way to tap into this collective intelligence, engage people in a common sense of purpose and provide the opportunity for unleashing intrapreneurship across the organization.

Break down barriers

Imagine a workplace where people are not bound by departmental barriers, a place where employees feel a commitment to the whole organization and not just their department.

Here, we have employees who see the organization “in the round” and feel that their contribution makes a difference, despite this not being part of their job description, or annual tasks and targets.

This is the kind of workplace where people feel such a strong sense of community that being a partisan is not an option.

We believe that workplace communities, if implemented with diligence and care, can unleash latent talent, capability and capacity in the organization, and in doing so have a positive affect on business results and employee engagement.

We are increasingly living and working in a multi-generational, digital, knowledge-based, global workplace, enabled by the internet and social media.

Not only do we believe that the current workforce is looking for new ways of working and achieving, but we also know, from our research, that the generations entering the workplace, Gen Y or the Net Gen (“Gen Z”), are looking for a different relationship between them and their work, one that is not bound by the traditions of those that have gone before them.

They have grown up with the web and associated technology and are expecting to experience the kind of freedoms, connections and opportunities for both business and personal achievement that is available in all other aspects of their lives.

Strike a bargain

Workplace communities do not come about by accident, they require intentionality.

You need to establish a clear understanding of what you are aiming to do, developing both a “plausible promise” and what the “bargain” is for both employees and the organization as a whole.

You need to develop an initiation plan, as well as review what current communication and collaboration tools and technology you have available.

You also need to understand the stages that a workplace community goes through, what to do if it gets stuck and how to measure its effectiveness.

Workplace communities are not the “holy grail” of work organization, but we believe that by starting to utilize them you will shift your thinking and that of your employees.

In doing so, this will provide you with the opportunity to take a fresh look at how work is undertaken and the opportunity to create the “future of work” in your own organization

 

Ian Gee and Matthew Hanwell are the co-authors of “The workplace community: A guide to releasing human potential and engaging employees   Find out more about the book here.

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Have you ever seen the Canadian TV programme “Saving Hope”?  The main character is Dr Charlie Harris, Chief Surgeon of Hope Zion Hospital in Toronto.  He is in a coma following a car crash.  Whilst unconscious his spirit walks the halls of the hospital and helps the spirits of others who are also in comas or have recently died.  You are probably wondering what on earth the connection is between disembodied spirits and intrapreneurship?  Read on and you will see!

I have met and worked with a number of intrapreneurs during my 30 plus years working as an Organisation Development practitioner.  My experience is that many of them are like the poor souls Dr Charlie tries to help!  The halls of the organisations seem to be full of the spirits of intrapreneurs, walking round trying to influence things, but finding it incredibly difficult to be heard and to do the job they were brought in to do.

I have recently co-authored a book titled The Workplace Community  “A guide to releasing human potential and engaging employees.” Central to the book is an exploration of how we choose to organise the way we work.  In the book my co-author and I examine 4 different ways of working; hierarchy, project or programme management, workplace communities and intrapreneurial ways of working.  We believe hierarchy is a ‘default position’ for most people and organisations.  By default position, we mean most people choose to work hierarchically without even considering other options, a bit like computers in the ‘olden days’ that defaulted to the ‘c’ drive as soon as you turned them on.

There is nothing wrong with hierarchy per se and certainly for some activities it is the best way of working.  However I believe that about 75% of the work we do could be organised more effectively using one of the other modes mentioned above. The problem with hierarchy is that it tends to drive out innovation and creativity and I believe is particularly incompatible with intrapreneurial activities.  Successful hierarchy rests upon predictable behaviour, people knowing their place, decisions moving up and down the line, risk aversion and change being planned and programmed. Intrapreneurialism is more chaotic, opportunistic and risk driven. It relies on what a hierarchy is likely to consider unusual and unnecessary connections, making links and forming networks across silos and lines.  All of this is an anathema in a hierarchical organisation.

Intrapreneurship offers organisations the opportunity to raise the level of innovation and bring fresh new thinking that has the possibility of leading to new ideas, opportunities and innovations.  However when initiated in organisations wedded to hierarchy, as their dominant way of working, it is far too easy for the corporate antibodies to emerge, hunt down, attack and kill intrapreneurship stone dead and lead to the syndrome of ghosts in the hall I mentioned above.  Hierarchy finds it difficult to tolerate difference.

It is very easy for organisations to jump on the intrapreneurship bandwagon without thinking through how they need to shift their culture and ways of working in order to maximise the benefit that it offers and not kill it stone dead before it has a chance to deliver.  To do this they need an OD plan that will help them make appropriate shifts and changes to their organisation that will allow intrapreneurship to flourish and deliver.

One way of achieving this is through experimenting with workplace communities and using these experiments as a way of preparing the organisation for intrapreneurship.  By a workplace community I don’t mean people sitting round waiting for their turn with the talking stick!  What I mean is a structured and planned way by which people have the opportunity to work outside of traditional hierarchies and silos. Engaging with each other in new and different ways and as a consequence creating extraordinary results.  In our increasingly knowledge based economy, what we all know, our thoughts, ideas, creativity, innovation and willingness to share and collaborate, are critical for creating value for organisations and the individuals who work for them.

Community ways of working provide organisations with a way to tap into collective intelligence, engage people in a common sense of direction and in doing so provide the opportunity for unleashing individual and collective innovation. As such they are a good way of preparing the organisation for intrapreneurship.  Readying the ground and acting as a form of organisational interferon, stopping the corporate antibodies from killing intrapreneurship and leading to less ghost walking the corporate halls!

Innovate and Die?

Posted: September 26, 2014 by Ian Gee in Incentives, Leadership, Learning

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I guess we have all heard the saying “innovate or die!” but I am wondering if there are times when the maxim should become ‘innovate and die’? My thinking about this topic came about as a result of a really interesting chat the other day with Adriana Ramos Hernandez, an MSC student at UCL. She wanted to explore innovation in management and ways of working.   We talked about how the workplace is changing and the challenges this presents for both organisations and the people who work in them. Towards the end of our chat, Adriana suddenly said, “Well, I guess it is a case of “innovate or die?”   Out of nowhere I thought about how innovation may not be the “Holy Grail” and has the potential to either severely wound you and your organisation or may, in some circumstances, even kill your organisation stone dead and lead to you losing your job! In essence, a passion for innovation rather than taking your organisation to the next stage of its evolution becomes something that stops it dead in the water.

 

Anybody who has been reading the papers in the last couple of years will have seen what appears to be a tsunami of stories detailing corporate bad behaviour and business scandals. Here is one recent example; a UK pay day loan company c, has had to pay out over £2 million in compensation for sending out letters to people, who were defaulting on their payments, from a fake solicitors firm. A firm they had in essence ‘made up’. The letters threatened legal action if people did not pay back their loans. They were charging people £40 for these letters; adding the charge to their ever growing debt.  You can read more about it here. Another good example would be the Libor scandals, have a look here for more details. Basically a number of national and international banks and other financial institutions were caught rigging the interbank lending rate and have been fined by regulators sums that run into the hundreds of millions of pounds.

I started to wonder if, before they were found out, did the individuals and companies concerned consider these to be wonderful corporate innovations? Ideas that would have a direct and positive impact on the bottom line and give the company a ‘leading edge’ over the competition? The kinds of innovations people get lovely bonuses and recognition at appraisal time for? The kinds of innovations that other people look jealously on and wish they had come up with?

But what happens when the innovation turns out to be unethical? It is very interesting to read the reactions of the senior leaders to being found out. In the cases mentioned here CEO’s and senior leaders lost their jobs, the chairs of a number of boards lost their jobs and millions of pounds were wiped off the value of the companies involved. In addition and much harder to measure is the impact and damage the scandals have had on their brands. These innovations could literally have killed the companies.

If you do a web search for ethics and innovation what you will find is mostly linked to technological, medical and scientific innovation with very little about the relationship of ethics to organisational or managerial innovation. Of course from an OD point of view we would be looking at issues of culture and values. But I am wondering if in the arena of ethics and innovation there is a gap that we in OD should start to explore and fill and if so how? What do you think?

 

 

The OD Geek?

Posted: June 5, 2014 by Ian Gee in Human Resources, OD, Organization, Technology, Uncategorized

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After reading an intriguing and slightly disturbing article, Silicon Valley an army of geeks and ‘coders’ shaping our future in the Observer a couple of weeks ago I was left wondering if there is such a thing as an OD Geek?  By Geek I mean someone who is inspired to work, often on their own, for long hours, with great intensity, working out solutions to organisation problems and making money along the way?

As I read the article a couple of things leapt out at me, firstly: “The phrase you hear everywhere is innovate or die.”  I don’t think I have ever heard this kind of imperative within the OD world.  Have you? The second bit that leapt out was:

“…And an army of…   coders…who are progressively recasting the human environment in their own image, forcing the rest of us to adapt to this radically reconfigured landscape in the only way possible: by becoming … more … like … them”

This got me wondering if there are any OD practitioners working in Silicon Valley, or other ‘Silicon’ places around the world, who are supporting and enabling this?    I know that many of the established High Tech organisations mentioned in the article have very good OD teams – during my time with Nokia I met many of these people both in California and elsewhere.  I just wonder if there are any OD people working more generally and probably, as freelance consultants, with the much smaller startups and or helping individual geeks and entrepreneurs with things like business ideation or thinking through how to develop the kind of organisation that will help carry their ideas to fruition?  Again if anyone has any experience of this, it would be great if you could share them with us.  I would be curious to know what it’s like working with them, how did you gain entry and what kinds of issues do you find yourself working on?

I know from my research with Dee Ortner exploring the relationship between Entrepreneurs and HR/OD, that gaining entry in the start up space for OD practitioners is very difficult.  I am assuming this is also true when working with Geeks.  We found that this was for many reasons, that can best be summarised as entrepreneurs not understanding the value add of OD or HR and their being unwilling to spend money on something they believe they can get from friends and family. My guess is this will hold true for geeks as well.  I believe that we OD practitioners have to take some responsibility for this.  I don’t think we have been very good at showing how we can make a difference in this space and developing pricing models that make it a good deal for both the entrepreneur as well as the practitioner.

It would be really good to hear your thoughts an ideas about both working with geeks and what your thoughts are on becoming and OD Geek!

 

Now for bit of news:

As well as continuing to run Edgelands Consultancy I have gone into business with two very good friends and former work colleagues from my time in Local Government, Carole Grimwood and Alan Warner.  We have formed a new business called Albany OD Do take a look at our website.  I will be cross posting my blogs to the website from now on.

 

We, the HR

Posted: May 20, 2014 by Matthew Hanwell in Human Resources, OD, People

Guest post by: Asif Zulfiqar

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I attended the wedding of my sister-in-law a few months ago. Besides attending the festivities, I got to hang out with my wife’s extended family, a family of doctors and educators. This was memorable experience on two accounts. First, this was the first wedding I ever attended where no fights broke out. Second, and more importantly, this was the first time I found myself surrounded by this many medical professionals. I am able to hold decent conversations about variety of topics but that week most of the conversations around me were going way above my head. In the midst of all the technical discussions, I came across something that really struck me. Something that mapped well to my profession and something I’ve been doing without realizing it.

At one of the tea gatherings I asked the group if they ever had to play the “patient” and how they felt about doing it after playing the role of “doctor” for so long. They all had interesting stories to tell from variety of experiences. But the consensus was that doctors are the worst patients – not because they have low tolerance for pain or medical procedures but because they are close to these procedures. They can handle the needle but they can’t deal with someone stabbing them with it due to their incompetency or carelessness. I’m not sure what this condition is called when you closely scrutinize someone doing what you do for living but I realized I’m certainly suffering from it.

Many things make me cringe in my profession. We, the HR, are so proud to have come up with the notion of behavioral interviews because they are claimed to be better predictor of future performance by 60 or 70 percent (one organization even claimed up to 90%). Yet, there’s no research to back these claims up. In fact I came across a research demonstrating quite the contrary. We, the HR, love putting fancy value statements on our corporate office entrances but in reality reward popularity contest winner and the behaviors of corporate ass kissing. We, the HR, proudly pigeonhole our employees into 9 boxes because believe this is the best thing we created for managing performance of our great workforce. Yet, we fight tooth and nail to keep 13th percent out of box number 9 (regardless of their performance) because “the policy” says only 12% are allowed in this box.

I have a reliable car now but one of my old cars had a lot of problems and breakdowns. I’d generally have to go to a different mechanic for service every time. First thing the mechanic would tell me that how terrible of a job previous mechanic did on my car. My wife (who is dentist by education) thinks the dentist who performed RTC on her most likely slept through her tooth drilling class. Someone like me who doesn’t know anything about the art of dentistry or fixing cars wouldn’t have spotted any of that. But after going through some job interviews in my life I can certainly nominate a few interviewers for next episode of Jenny Jones’s “HR Boys and Girls Getting Interview Makeover” show.

So, what is your profession? Have you had to get the service you provide for living? What was your experience? Does this condition (I call it “We, the HR” syndrome, for lack of better term) exist across the board? And someone please tell me if this condition has a name. Curiosity is killing me!