Week beginning 11 October
It’s hard not to view this week entirely through the prism of Friday. That’s not what I expected. But before I get too self-indulgent, whilst Friday was personally challenging, the tragic and foul news of David Ames’ murder was a reminder that what I faced wasn’t that difficult.
I’d ended Thursday so well. I felt productive and full of energy to such an extent that I had to make an effort to actually stop working. That had all disappeared by Friday morning. And by the afternoon the thought of looking at my inbox was intimidating.
There are two things that I’ve found harder in my current role than I expected: the realtime pressure of customer services is different even compared to when I was responsible for running our (then not particularly robust) business applications. And even for a gadfly like me, one way I manage the breadth of my responsibilities is to try and reduce my focus. So when it feels like I’m fighting on multiple fronts in realtime, I’m still adapting.
Friday began when a technology options paper that we’d invested a lot of time and care to in preparation for senior leaders, didn’t land well. We had limited time so had to move beyond how we felt about that towards what we’d do about it. The commute into the office was really helpful for me, because I used it to try and separate my investment in the work to date in order to view the feedback we’d received differently. Whilst we were writing it, my inbox started to fill up with another concern from a tenant whose home needed repairs work. I immediately thought back to the fortnight last winter when we had no heating – but also knew how privileged I was by comparison. And then in the afternoon, some difficult news about one of our buildings and how people reacted to that, created a different flurry of activity and concern.
Early in the week I felt as though I was making good progress. I wasn’t exactly ticking this off a task list but a startling number were moving forward. I even had a chance on Wednesday to check against the goals that I’d set and recalibrate what I was doing on Thursday to manage the gap between my tasks and the goals. It hasn’t stopped me having a few chunky reports and proposals to work through over the next couple of days, but there’s something about that feeling when you’re getting things done on your own terms which is satisfying.
As part of my theme of leaning in to complex challenges, I ran a short session to learn from a recent application outage. We’re exploring how product teams could give clearer responsibility and skills for tackling these sort of challenges and I wanted to learn what the experience meant for those proposals. The answer, interestingly, was less than I assumed. But it also identified two specific things we can improve around our processes. Because they’re important but no longer urgent, I’ll need to try particularly hard to find time to move these forward next week.
I also presented work to our Cyber GOLD command on recovery from the cyberattack. We’ve always known that there will be differences between the points at which software will be available, data will be recovered and the service that residents receive will be efficient. The challenge I heard wasn’t unique to recovery but can be found in any transformation initiative: How do you make a clear commitment to residents about the future which will not only be reflected in their own experience of a service but also amplified by staff?
Next week I’m most looking forward to taking part in a Forward Institute event on engaging responsibly with consumers and citizens. I’ll get to learn from some peers in easyJet and the Department for Education whilst reflecting on where the relationships between citizens, residents and customers (the same people, where the language implies different values) can both improve and inhibit public service delivery. My particular challenge for the event is how to balance between provocative and interesting whilst remaining considered and thoughtful. But I’ll be taking the words of the Resident Liaison Group into the session: ‘don’t call us customers – we don’t have a choice’.