Week beginning 26 April

I always find it hard to say when I’ve had a bad week for fear of the wider impact it could have on other team members. This week I have, and there’s no point in saying otherwise. But here’s why I think it’s interesting. In a way, I got unlucky. A set of things came to pass within the same five days which could have happened over a three weeks and it wouldn’t have felt the same way. Perhaps, with the physical space that travelling to and from work I would have had a bit more perspective on the things. 

But these things (too tedious to mention) all shared three common characteristics. They weren’t quite big enough to be obvious, hadn’t had quite enough attention, and I was too integral to them for there to be either a sufficient safety valve or someone else to sweep up. So, as I was saying last week (ahem), the problem with setting weekly goals is what they don’t cover. The solution isn’t hard – it’s somewhere between a task list and a project plan (a watchlist, if you will). But it requires commitment: to be maintained even when it isn’t useful and to be valued even though its value is what it avoids rather than what it adds. 

Focus for the week

I actually got pretty close to achieving my goals for the week, although none of them can actually be ticked off. Whilst there were three things that were beyond my control I used the goals to make sure that we had done everything possible to make them likely and I’m reasonably confident that they’ll be done within the next few days. For example, we’ve got one remaining blocker to being able to access a central government system but we’ve removed the other three. We’ve got all the documentation ready for a decision on software for two council services, pending answering two outstanding questions. We’ve got a new contract ready, pending some alignment with another team. 

I was also really pleased to see how two other teams were grappling with different issues. I had a couple of really constructive conversations with colleagues in customer services about the restructure proposals. There were two particular tensions that we were wrestling with: the benefits of a flatter structure vs the benefits of being able to offer a clear pathway to leadership roles; and the benefits of having sufficient capacity for hands-on support for agents in realtime vs the capacity for stepping back to tackle the underlying challenges. Whilst it’s tempting to say ‘more people would fix the problem’ I believe it’s as much about orientation and mindset.

And whilst we’re on customer services, in the last week or so we received nominations in three different categories for the Hackney Stars awards including a first ever for ‘team of the year’. And at the Council’s’ AGM the Mayor specifically referred to the team’s work. When we first met, the team told me that they wanted to be more valued by the organisation. And it’s their hard work which has achieved that. 

I also enjoyed dropping into the facilities team meeting this week. The team’s adaptability and impact in the last year has been particularly impressive. After food hubs, test centres, COVID-safe workspaces and vaccinations, it’s now elections. The administration of elections is a team sport, a cup final if you will, but played every few years. And all of that this year, just without people getting too close to each other. 

Ones to watch

Document upload and evidence store – we’re perilously close to being able to release the next version of the reusable components. We’re just building an audit API so that we can better manage our records and retention responsibilities. If we can get it over the line within the next week or so, there are a number of teams that will be able to get benefit from the tool. It’s hard to build reusable components: to identify sufficient commonality but not so much that the component gets too complicated. To align timescales to deliver against the different drivers for different services. To take a minimum viable approach whilst ensuring that problems don’t happen at scale. But this project has worked really hard to navigate those tensions and I’m looking forward to its delivery. 

Out of hours – the transition of our out of hours service to a new provider has almost gone unnoticed. Which is very much what I hoped – but still significantly better than it could have been. Calls are being answered efficiently and I think the handling of requests made at either end of the day (and therefore involving hand-offs between teams) has got better. More work is needed, but it’s good progress. 

What I’m learning

Energy levels – I’ve talked before about energy levels. Strava says that my fitness is about 20% down on the same period last month, which has its own exhausting impact! But it was most obvious on Friday. I began the day with a list of 14 things to be done by the weekend. By lunchtime I’d completed 10. Four are still there. 

Video – I’m a difficult age: not young enough for the YouTube generation, slightly too young for it to be ok to be bad on video. I spent hours last weekend making a 7 minute video. I get so hung up on not slipping-up that it comes across terribly. I did make it better, just by filming whilst sitting down. For some of our presentations, we need the energy that comes with standing. But we also need to convey the assurance and confidence that is often better when you’re sitting comfortably. 

Starting with what – Mostly, it’s better to start with ‘why’, explaining the reason for things, not just the thing. But I saw a TED Talk which advocated starting what what reduces negativity when reflecting. And it’s good advice. “Why did this happen to me” can provoke a negative spiral whereas ‘What conditions brought about this event” is more constructive. 

Next week

I already fear I’ve over-reached. With the bank holiday and polling day responsibilities, I’ve only got three days available. I’ve tried to get the balance right between finishing enough of the threads from the last week whilst pushing ahead with the next set of challenges. So five goals for the week is probably over ambitious. But managing that tension between the immediate and short term feels like a price worth paying for falling short of the goals.