169 – A series: Managers as designers in local government. Part 2.

Posted by Lancing Farrell                                                                              800 words

rapid prototyping

This is the second post in a series of four. It discusses the second and third principles of design-thinking.

Models can be used to examine complex problems. In this context, the ‘model’ is an artefact of the design process that is used to ‘explore, define and communicate’. Typically this will include diagrams and sketches instead of (or in addition to) the spreadsheets and specifications usually used to analyse and resolve problems. According to Kolko, they ‘add a fluid dimensions to the exploration of complexity, allowing for non-linear thought when tackling non-linear problems”.

There are a number of local government services that routinely use models or design artefacts in their work. Continue reading

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168 – A series: Managers as designers in local government. Part 1.

Posted by Lancing Farrell                                                                              800 words

empathy hand holding

This is the first in a series of four posts on managers as designers in local government. It might seem like an esoteric topic and hardly relevant, however, every day managers make design decisions, often in ignorance. There is now a body of work on how managers can use design-thinking to improve the customer experience and organisational decision making. I challenge you to say it is irrelevant to your council.

Some years ago I read a book called ‘Managers as Designers in the Public Services’ by David Wastell (Professor of Information Systems at Nottingham University Business School). It made a lasting impression on me. Continue reading

165 – Decision making: How dialogue becomes action

Posted by Lancing Farrell                                                                                             960 words

emperors new clothes

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This last post in the series on decision making discusses the importance of design operating mechanisms that promote free flowing and productive dialogue to enable decision making. The setting in which dialogue occurs is as important as the dialogue itself.

 Ram Charan says this will be evident in the social operating mechanisms if people feel able to speak with ‘openness, candour, informality and closure’. He discusses each in turn:

  • Openness means that the outcome is not predetermined. There is a willingness to hear all sides in a safe atmosphere of ‘spirited discussion, learning and trust’.
  • Candour is willingness for people to speak the unspeakable, to expose unfulfilled commitments, to air the conflicts that undermine apparent consensus. People express their real opinions, not what they think team players are supposed to say. Candour helps eliminate the ‘silent lies and pocket vetos’ that occur when people agree to something that they have no intention of doing. It prevents reworking and revisiting decisions and reducing performance.
  • Informality encourages candour. Formality suppresses it. Informality also reduces defensiveness.
  • Closure imposes discipline. At the end of a meeting people know exactly what they are expected to do. It produces decisiveness by assigning accountability and deadlines to people in an open forum.

In local government there can be a notable lack of candour – speaking up can have consequences. Continue reading

164 – Who should push back with the councillors? The CEO, Directors or Managers?

Posted by Whistler                                                                                          600 words

chess

I think this is a good question and it is one that every manager will ask themselves at some point. It may take a bit of experience to ask it. Individual councillors regularly ask for the organisation to do things that are outside policy or they become conflicted. So who should be saying no?

In many councils there has been an organisational correction about the type of contact councillors can make with staff. Usually this happens after a councillor has attempted to influence a junior staff member to do something outside policy. When councillors complain about the staff member because they won’t do what they asked (or if the officer complains) the organisation reinforces the rule that councillors can only talk to senior officers – i.e. the CEO, Directors or Managers.

This partially solves the problem and often introduces new problems. Continue reading

163 – Decision making: Decision-focussed strategic planning in local government.

Posted by Lancing Farrell

more better faster

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This is the sixth post in a series.  Michael Mankins and Richard Steele propose an alternative model of strategic planning. They believe that strategic planning can’t influence organisation performance if it doesn’t drive decision making. And it can’t drive organisational decision making while it is focussed on individual business units and limited to an annual planning process. They describe some of the changes that organisations can make to their strategic planning to produce more, better and faster decisions.

They separate – but integrate – decision making and planning. Decisions are taken out of the planning process into a parallel process for developing strategy. Executives can identify the decisions that they need to make to create more value over time. The output of this process is a set of decision that management can codify into future business plans through the planning process. Continue reading

161- Decision making: Dealing with indecisiveness.

Posted by Lancing Farrell                                                                                  1100 words

dilbert indecision

This is the fifth post in a series. Some organisations, like some people, just can’t make up their minds. Ram Charan believes that leaders can eradicate indecision by changing the tone and content of the everyday conversations occurring throughout the organisation. This is difficult in local government where CEO’s and top management are often insecure and sensitive to challenge.

Breaking a culture of indecision will require leaders to challenge assumptions, share information, and bring disagreement to the surface. Charan offers the following example to highlight the signs of indecision:

A presentation is made to a meeting about a proposed project. There is silence until the CEO speaks and asks questions that show they have taken a position on the matter and made up their mind. Then others speak up to agree with the CEO, keeping their comments positive.

It appears that everyone supports the project. But, some are concerned and keeping their reservations to themselves. Over the next few months the project is slowly strangled to death.

It is not clear who killed it but it is clear that the true sentiment in the room after the presentation was the opposite of the apparent consensus.

The key issue is that the true sentiment is the opposite of the apparent consensus. Charan says that ‘silent lies and lack of closure’ can lead to a false decision that is undone by unspoken factors and inaction.

How often does this happen in local government? Continue reading

156 – Decision making: The calendar effect and local government planning.

Posted by Lancing Farrell                                                              700 words

calendar

This is the fourth post in a series. Most councils prepare their plans in a very conventional way. All of the councils where I have worked have been the same. The planning process is frequently criticised but seldom challenged. There is a better way.

Despite the effort put into strategic planning by many organisations, it can actually be a barrier to decision making. Michael Mankins and Richard Steele believe that difficulties in strategic planning are attributable to two factors:

  1. The calendar effect – it is usually an annual process.
  2. The business unit effect – it is usually focussed on individual business units.

This is completely at odds with the way executives actually make important strategic decisions. They make the decisions that really shape organisational strategy and determine the future direction of the organisation outside the formal planning process. And they often do it in an ad hoc way without rigorous analysis and debate. Continue reading