Week beginning 1 February

Focus for the week

I set 3×3 areas of focus for the week: the big three were council tax, social care and civil enforcement recovery. The mid-tier were things that should be simpler but risk drifting: legal case work, repairs scheduling and regeneration software. The other three were earlier stage projects that we need to start well: noise, public protection and tenants’ services. 

The upside to defining my week like this, was that it made sure I was able to give some attention to a broader range of challenges. The cost was that, without clearly defined goals I don’t know whether we can judge the week as a success. And sometimes it was just ‘management by progress updates’ which is a particularly expensive way of doing reporting, and isn’t really management either. 

The other challenge I need to keep in mind is how to get the right relationship with key projects. The risk with important projects is holding too tightly onto something for too long and then, when it starts to go well – and the detail means the contribution I can make is less obvious, stepping too far away.  

Ones to watch  

Cloud infrastructure – the team is responsible for creating and supporting the infrastructure to recover our data and applications. They’re tasked with delivering value to users whilst creating the patterns, tooling, skills and culture so that we can continue to do this well. So, with that tightly defined brief in mind (!) this week they battled with competing priorities and overcoming a networking issue. And the weeknotes were another good example of working in the open – they were honest about the challenges and how we need to improve orchestration between teams. 

Blue badges – Another year in local government, another project to improve the blue badge process. It’s no less important or valuable because it’s well-trodden ground. Last year, customer services took responsibility for the first point of contact with adult social care. Within a few weeks we were able to support more residents, whilst referring fewer calls to social care specialists. But nearly half of what remains are related to blue badges – typically progress updates. So Sam and team are building on the work from central government, and colleagues across the country to find out how best to make things easier for customers. And of course we’ll share what we learn in the user research library to make things simpler still for the next council to revisit its processes. 

Find Support Services – We’ve delivered the latest improvement to Find Support Services. The team has invested a significant amount of energy and shown incredible commitment. The new features include the ability to share listings and search for services that are particularly well suited to residents with particular characteristics, whilst the API-based approach remains important for our ambitions to provide a consistent experience for providing early help to vulnerable residents. 

What I’m learning

Using goals, not just setting them – I read back my goals for the year this week to try and assess whether we were on track. One of them has already proved impossible. But I asked ‘do these still make sense, am I still committed to them and what needs to happen now to ensure they can still succeed?’ It was a useful framework to note that whilst no plan survives first contact, without one we’re just prisoners of events.

Small steps – after a few weeks of frustration that I hadn’t done anything to realise some of my bolder ambitions for customer services, I started taking small steps. At my best, I’m good at doing just enough to make something happen. So on three occasions I eeked out just enough time to start thinking about how we can get a fresh perspective on what it means to truly put customers first; about how we can be open about our performance and what we’re learning and what more we can do to provide a consistent experience for residents accessing different services. 

Retaining a habit – It’s taken me 20 years to retain a habitual fitness regime. On at least five occasions between the age of 19 and 35 I joined a gym with a target of going 10 times in four weeks and never made it to the 10th session. Once this week I went for a run that was significantly shorter than normal because I knew that it was better to do something than nothing at all. Similarly, I’ve done a couple of things over the last fortnight which would make a great habit. But I’m yet to retain them.

Next week

We’ve got an emerging challenge: there are three things I’m responsible for that we need to get right before the end of March. None of them will represent ‘job done’ but each will realise significant benefits for residents and staff. But we can’t afford only to do those three things. I want to make sure I get my focus right: providing full support for the most important things and just enough encouragement for other areas of our work that other colleagues and services don’t feel neglected.  

There’s not one way to do that: it’s a combination of setting the right goals, spending my time deliberately and aligning teams.