Green shoots

This is the first of what I hope will be more regular updates about things that are happening in Leeds that ‘organisations’ are doing to understand what being more sociable might be and then being it. Both in how they work with people they serve and also in how staff work together. Initially it will be about what is going on at the council, but hopefully from other organisations and include anyone with a view who wants to respond or contribute.

And it might not all be about good progress, because sometimes trying to do the right thing takes a long time to do and a few attempts to do it. Some things don’t always work, some things work really well but not everyone knows about it so that they can benefit or work the same way. And let’s be honest, some good news is trumpet blowing and back slapping and some bad news is not communicated when people should know. But that’s not always the case either. People generally just want to know what’s happening, what things mean and how it affects them, whether good or bad news.

This is not just a PR stunt to get people to like us as organisations either, or self promotion for any of the people who post. So here’s a bit of a disclaimer from me; the PR guy at the council, the guy who would say that wouldn’t he 😉 Is there a bigger agenda? Actually no, the purpose is to see where the discussion takes us. We (organisations, the city, individuals) are always looking at how we do things, so why not talk about it, and invite comment. And on that note we have some guest posts lined up, from people who you might not…….well you will just have to wait and see.

Who is us?

Anyone who wants to comment or provide guest posts but which are focussed on being sociable or being helpful, providing something to consider or a challenge or a progress update on something that is being done to improve how people get on or how they do things. And let’s be real; organisations are people and they work for people. People going about their daily duties and tasks because they have been asked to do them or because they are people whose job it is to decide what should be done and this is how we will do it. Some of those tasks can be done better, some might not need doing and some of the decisions take a while to trickle down through an organisation so that everyone receives them and understands it in a way that means something to them and sees the logic behind it….and then acts on it. And people who are being served by organisations need to understand and have a say too.

And all these people have an opinion on things. Some will share them, some won’t. I hope this will be a place for constructive conversation and encouragement and for ideas to be developed and views to be shared and respected.

Background

I sowed this ‘let’s get sociable’ seed back in November 2012. The first person I mentioned it to just looked at me and said two words; “that’s big”. I thanked him for his vision and then responded to his next three words which were “tell me more”. His final two words were “You’re bonkers”. I thanked him for his extensive support and suggested he “watch this space”. Short sentences can be good.

So what has happened in “this space” that might be of interest or of progress?

I thought I better run it by more than that first bloke for a start. So I did. I blogged about it and it was distributed via the council staff e-newsletter. I might have tentatively suggested that council staff might not quite understand some of the initiatives that were being explained to us and that we maybe had our heads in the sand when it came to embracing tools like social media to help us be better at our jobs. (And I know that’s partly my job to translate corporate jargon, or even squash it at the thought stage, but maybe that is one of the things we need to look at in being more sociable; actually understanding what we are talking about).

I asked for thoughts and for volunteers to help me develop what a ‘sociable organisation’ concept might be, even if the term was helpful or not. Fortunately (or unfortunately for my email inbox) the response was overwhelming, I’m still catching up and responding to the offers and suggestions from people wanting to volunteer time, from managers wanting to know more, from project managers suggesting how their project would help people to work smarter; more sociably even.

I did get requests to attend some HR and senior management teams to ‘explain myself’. I anticipated getting my collar felt a bit for being a tad vocally disruptive, but actually came out of those meetings with a ‘carry on and if there’s anything we can do to help, let us know’ message which was the support and encouragement I wanted and needed. I’ll probably be going back to get some funding for it shortly. (That’s my intent of funding application sorted then!) And all the above has led to some big staff events being planned to get us talking about becoming more social and use new tools and methods to do something to make it happen. And I’m hoping those events include councillors and others who we are working with; that would be getting truly social.

Maybe not so bonkers now !

 What else?

I’ve encouraged a few people to consider doing a post on this blog to tell how things feel to them, on their thoughts about being more sociable, and their experience of their job or what it feels like in being on the receiving end, the customer or service user. For instance can you imagine what it must be like making the figures add up and doing the budget at the council? I bet people in that team swear a bit. Can you imagine what a day on the IT helpdesk would be like? or the questions that staff in our call centre get asked and how they help or what a typical day in the life of a social worker is like? and how what they do, just talking to people, will make a big difference. It would be great if we could get them telling their stories; the conversations that the street cleaner has while doing his job (maybe that’s not the official job term, but then maybe that is something that isn’t helpful either if job or service names don’t make sense).

So there are some blog posts in the pipeline. Some staff want to tell their stories but want to do it with their teams first, then wider within the council and are not ready or don’t wish to do it publicly, which is fine. And all this is part of starting to talk with each other which is such a good thing to see.

I’m encouraging people to explain how the new technology that we have in our organisation can be used in ways that it might not necessarily be thought of. The new staff phone book is pretty much based on a social media platform, meaning it does not only give you someone’s phone number but you can search by people’s interests – find communities of interest, people who have the skills needed for a particular project, bloggers for instance – the people who can be the storytellers. Obviously that depends on the information that people enter about themselves, but I bet people get to grips with that functionality quicker if they think of it as social media rather than the phone book. The new intranet has blogging as an option too. Exciting times.

And the people who expressed an interest in exploring what a sociable organisation might be, will be getting together to drink tea and eat cake. In council time?, sometimes, but some people are actually happy to meet before or after work too. And if others want to join us, then let me know. Contact details at the end.

So what?

Well, there are some green shoots starting to grow. I know of a service area where the manager took a brave decision to start blogging about things that were happening in their service and the changes that would be happening. The manager opened up, offered a bit of a more human side and asked for comments and views, but more importantly responded to the comments and did something about them. Initially staff were hesitant about responding, some decided they didn’t want to respond ‘in public’ so they emailed responses, but it got people talking. Bottom line, staff morale in that area is better, more social; the way things are communicated and received has changed. In business speak, “the quarter 3 staff engagement levels have risen”. Or…being sociable helps; we used a new piece of kit to talk to each other and it worked. If it makes the figures look good then bonus. I’m hoping that manager will tell their story as they told me.

What next?

This idea ‘is big’. I’ve ‘told you more’ I’ve sowed the seed. This is your space. If you want to post please let me know.

And tell me I’m not still bonkers.

Please also let us have your views on what we are doing or might do, ideally on the blog or

@philjewitt or phil.jewitt@leeds.gov.uk

Thanks

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About Phil Jewitt

Comms guy and meaning maker, living in that place between personal and professional. Home is Leeds, Yorkshire. I work in communications for Leeds City Council, the 2nd largest council - with a lot to talk about and a lot to listen to. http://philjewitt.wordpress.com http://www.linkedin.com/pub/phil-jewitt/19/853/6b7 http://twitter.com/philjewitt
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7 Responses to Green shoots

  1. Claire says:

    Great blog Phil- and great initiative! I don’t work for the Council, but I work with any and all of our organisations in Leeds. There are lots of us trying to get stuff done and be social whilst doing it- I think the culture shift will come!

    I’m happy to help in whatever way I can- could we have a coffee after Monday’s meeting, and chat about it, please?

  2. Nancy Corbin says:

    Hi Phil
    Couldn’t agree more! Yes we need to save money, work smarter, have clear processes, embrace technology but those just help us do what we’re here to do – support people and businesses to achieve. Else why are we here? Staff talking about what they do and the public telling stories in their own way about the difference it makes, brings what we do to life. Happy to be involved in your mission. Especially as we’re neighbours! 😉
    Nancy

  3. tomsprints says:

    Phil,

    Search out others who are on the same journey and steal good ideas from each other!

    One of the game changers, in my view, is an internal communications backbone like Yammer, though there comes a point where to keep it helping the organisation to progress, something radical is needed in addition. That further step is to remove e-mail as a tool for most internal communication. And I do mean “most”.

    Clearly, confidential and personal stuff still needs some kind of concealment, but the majority of what flows around any organisation is not personal or confidential. Therefore, the sociable organisation should take the view that there’s no problem if anyone in the organisation is able to see it. Most who are not directly involved in whatever the topic is won’t bother, but opening it up means that the brains of the whole organisation can, if necessary, be brought to bear on a problem, can suggest different and better ways of doing things, etc. Think about the implications for a moment: they’re potentially vast!

    There have been a few organisations who have taken this step – mostly dismissed by the knockers as having “banned email”, but it’s not about banning. It’s about using your internal social network more or less in the way that an external network like Twitter works. Communication that doesn’t have to be under wraps in some way adopts a new default setting. It stops being 1:1 or even 1:many, it becomes 1:all.

    Up to a point, this approach can even be trialled in a directorate or work team. Give it a go!

    Tom

    • Phil Jewitt says:

      Thanks Tom, plenty of food for thought there. What is interesting and will continue to be for a while yet as council staff get used to it is the use of SharePoint team and project sites and how people use them to work together. I think working in a shared area on a shared project will also be a big help in moving from a silo mentality to working across departments and actually out of the organisation and onto city or regional projects or themes. And perhaps this will be same in other organisations too, look at the previous comment from Nancy, neighbouring councils working together in shared spaces etc – why not?

      Then there is the build it and they will come factor. There has to be a real reason for them to come other than here it is, use it, the old one has been switched off. The extra benefits of the new systems have to be promoted and benefits of smarter working explained in a way that will enthuse and invite people. And learning should be fun, with cake and the odd joke. The council has Yammer – and one of the things this #trulysocial concept is looking at is what is it and why by who etc and the relationship to the team and project sites and intranet, and how can we use it more socially to work together, and how can we use them to connect staff who aren’t yet connected or with residents….ie places of discussion like this one right here.

  4. Pingback: New direction for the sociable organisation | The Sociable Organisation

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