Digital Transformation & Culture Fog

I’ve been thinking about Martin Couzin’s blog on his take-aways from Learning Live

I’m working with a client on a large-scale Digital Transformation programme at the moment. The organisation is taking time and real care to look at both the technology and integration of the technology to the organisation, with the intention to fundamentally shift/ modernise how the business operates.

The part fuchsia blue is involved in is inquiring into and articulating the cultural/ people readiness part of receiving & working with the technology….. and then showing the fundamental operational shift being discussed …then working to map/ articulate how digital working might actually work for the organisation…including plans, experiences, staff development and so forth.

As is so often the case with anything Cultural, it’s not straightforward to describe or codify. Organisational cultures are experienced, lived, created – they are based on stories and symbols, permissions and preferences. Whilst Project Plans & Operating Models are tidy and contained, typically drawn in neat lines and circles, with linear timelines and milestones, and held in diagrams and semi-permanent drawings, it is rarely possible to capture or represent culture in that way.
Try it. Try to represent your Organisational Culture in a linear fashion.
See how you go.

Operating Models are often complex, but they are rational and explainable – arguably why they can be drawn more neatly.
Culture is deliciously, annoyingly fog-like. Ungraspable. Fuzzy. But undeniably THERE and can REALLY mess up a Programme Boards ability to see, to deliver, to move quickly.
Culture eats strategy for breakfast?
Maybe, but I see it as less aggressive and obvious than that.
Fog clouds clarity.
Culture wraps and curls itself into everything – it permeates hard logic and befuddles clear lines. It is unquestionably present in pretty much every aspect of organisational life… so it kind of tickles me when it’s pinned in as a workstream to be managed. Manage fog, please & then tell me how you did it. (For the record, this client isn’t approaching culture as a workstream – it’s becoming a core part of the design and thinking behind the integration of the tech and it is still taking us some time to figure out how to knit successful delivery of the tech with the cultural information and behaviours identified. It’s not straightforward.)

Ok. So what?

Well, if you are looking to actually transform any part of your culture (digital or otherwise)It’s pretty much essential to understand and work with where you are at now. If you don’t get the real picture of the density of the fog (including inconvenient truths about politics, leadership capability and willingness to give a damn about the future) you are opening yourself up to risks, unseen resistance and lost opportunities/ ideas.
Successfully navigating digital transformation requires the ability to work both with clear structure AND the capacity to work with foggy wooliness/ ambiguity. Sometimes the former is favoured over the latter because the latter is, frankly, a pain in the arse to articulate.
I get that…and it’s wise to get over it.

Operating Model/ Visioning type conversations are an essential part of any process of digital / cultural transformation, however, they tend to be concept heavy, hypothetical, maybe even altruistic & don’t really relate to folks’ day to day experiences of the job they do. (To be clear, an operating model might relate to WHAT folk do, but rarely covers how or why they do it that way).

“Visioning exercises” are great as a means to show where to & how we might get to a transformative point, but it’s folly (in my view) to believe these will somehow “transform” behaviour. Explaining future-states is not how we adapt. If anything it can freak folk out and encourage them to double-down on what they know. Explanation isn’t how we shift folk. Experience is.

We need to bring Operating Models & Visions to life – let staff experience them, talk about them, create them, build stories around them. We have to give staff experiences of what they will use and a say in what they are unlikely to welcome (and they may need to be challenged on this, because often we will claim we don’t need/won’t use/ can’t imagine a thing which actually, given a wee nudge is exactly what’s useful).

If you are seeking digital transformation, the success is boringly analogue. Bring your people in to be part of the design, and not in a tokenistic way… start booking rooms and getting facilitators trained at the procurement stage. Start thinking about how you will use audio, video, the physical spaces in your organisation, to encourage and support folk to interact with what is going on. How will you connect your people to the concept?

If the message is: “We are going to Transform” then work with the reality that new habits take 21 days to form – how much time do we need to allocate to staff to get using this new stuff well, accurately etc? Almost certainly more than you have built in (unless your culture is good at this stuff, in which case, work with that) –

We equally need to do some sort of opposite thing with Culture. Make it less internally experienced, more externally tangible and clear. In this particular piece of work, we are developing a number of areas where we can “benchmark” culture. I get that benchmarking culture is broadly an impossibility, but what we are trying to do is codify & articulate parts of the current behaviours / attitudes, the actions or skills that are more likely to help successfully shift people’s actions and willingness to work with the digital solutions they are being asked to take on.
It gives us points of focus in the fog.
It takes time.
It takes explanation and constantly asking folk who like clarity to have patience with fog.
It’s worth it, if you can make the case to stick with it.

The question that arises, for me, from all of this is perhaps age-old:
How much time have you allocated to the people-part of the transformation and, knowing what we know about the time and effort it takes to create behavioural shift, is it enough?

About me:

Julie Drybrough is a Organisational Consultant, facilitator, executive coach, blogger & dialogue guide. Working with people & orgs to improve conversations, relationships & learning – Doing stuff with love.

Find me on Twitter @fuchsia_blue

What Matters – The Garden Centre Lesson


So after yesterday’s blog,  I start thinking about What Matters in my work. The things I value…The things that serve me well… I haven’t thought much about these in a while… I have an urge to properly pause for a bit and not do anything much other than stay with the question for a while – What Matters?

I give myself the gift of a few hours. I’m easing into the week from the Easter weekend and nothing is pressing too hard. There are other things I could be doing, of course, and I could allow myself to feel guilty for “wasting time” etc – but I’m over that stuff…. This is a lively, active pause, not a vegging-out, mindless one…. Good stuff will come from this…I’m encouraging myself to do as I said I was going to and stop for a while. No sudden moves. What Matters?

I sit on the floor of the office with a cup of tea in hand. The Dog is delighted I’m at her level and wags over to my side, dumping herself unceremoniously beside me….I cuddle her and stare at the spines of books, wondering which one sort of “speaks” to me – where to begin, where to begin? What follows is a period of picking books up, raffling through pages. Noticing what resonates. Noticing where I shudder…. I give myself freedom to just go with whatever. I notice myself fretting about what’s not on my shelves..is my library good enough?… I manage to laugh at myself a little…good enough for who? Who the hell is watching right now? I figure what is there got me this far & I haven’t read half of it cover to cover – there’s enough here, for today.

Through this process, I reach back to points in my learning and my development as a Practitioner where light dawned on previously dark spaces…. I find myself seeking to return to what I have been shown… Revisiting my training: how to reflect and put that reflection into new action. How to take a thing – a moment, a regular occurrence, a block, a belief, a question-  and look at it through different lenses and positions and therefore work with it differently. What Matters?

Turns out that experience matters – I don’t mean Years-Served-Endless-Hamster-Wheel-Clocking-up-Time experience, I mean the lived experience of being in the world. Of being a fully living, sensing, thinking, learning being operating in a fully living, sensing shifting world. It matters to me and for my work… my lived experience impacts me, influences me, changes me.

When I started an MSc in Org Change in 2012, I was horrified – and I mean properly Are. You. Kidding. WTF horrified – that it began with Philosophy. One of the first sessions was on Phenomenology (cue about 3 months of me having the muppets’ M-numm-M-nunnh song in my head, only with the lyrics as “phenonmenon doo-doo-do-doo-doooo” – very very bad – if you want a different experience from this explanation, view here)

Phenomenologists argue that there is no one hard and fast, objective reality, that there is simply experience, followed by the interpretation we put on that experience.  So when we were sent off to visit places near Ashridge and a bunch of us went to the same Garden Centre what we found was: We went to the same place but Oh MAN did we have different experiences. For some of us, it was all about the lovely flora & fauna – spring, colours, growth – for others, flowers signified hayfever. For others it was about security cameras, warning signs and signs saying: do this/ don’t do that – human rules on nature. For others it was about the quality of cake and coffee – the welcome and offering. The Garden Centre Lesson: Bottom line? We were physically in the same space but emotionally, mentally and experientially worlds apart.

When we got back together to talk about what we heard/saw/ noticed/ experience it was like we had been to different places. Who was right? What was important? Whose experience was more valid? Powerful stuff.

So experience matters – my experience is just a valid and useful as yours. What I see and experience counts. Even if it’s inconvenient to you.  (actually, as a Consultant…arguably especially if it’s inconvenient to you) If we want to understand the whole garden centre, we can’t just see the roses. If we want to understand the internal Culture, we can’t just data-gather from one source  – (ie Leadership, or Frontline, or Customers, or coachee etc) I mean we CAN… but if we do, we need to be clear on the limitations of that view/ experience.. and not arrange the whole world/ training budget around a single view… ( And yes, we need to layer context on to experience eventually, or no-one gets anywhere… there needs to be a value judgement in there someplace or we won’t make decisions.. but later.)

My training: Notice the phenomena. Drop the shoulds and oughts and coulds. Have the experience. Notice the data (all of it – what you think, feel, sense – bring your whole self in) Sense-make and hypothesize. Create meaning. Reflect on it (either in the moment or after the effect – or, if you are me, probably both)…Notice your bias, your Bubble & blindspots if you can…and from there, can I play with that meaning in order to move on?  Can I offer myself choices: go deeper into the issue, or widen it out or just shift it elsewhere… momentum, progress, perhaps? I’m seeking difference, insight, learning.

I go back because it’s a thing that has served me well – reflective practice – an iterative process that moves me from Here to There – wherever There might be. I know there are good models for reflective practice – interested in hearing from others what they use or value

For me? this is What Matters. Taking my experience seriously.  Taking others’ experience seriously. Data gathering from different sources. Discussion. Iteration. And time for reflection whilst cuddling the dog & perusing books that fire my synapses.

Why You Should Mentor

The word Mentor in magazine letters on a notice board

Today I’m running a Workshop on Mentoring Skills at the CIPD Regional Steps Ahead Summit in Manchester. With over 4,000 mentees already in the programme, 7 out of 10 young people find employment after engaging with Steps Ahead and the CIPD credit local mentors with this success.

It’s got me thinking about Mentoring again, and why it is one of the most important roles anyone can play, personally, professionally and socially. My first deep-dive into mentoring started in 2008, project managing the internal Mentoring scheme for the Scottish Government. When I first took over, it was a small and fairly exclusive affair, designed for the those who showed high potential to be introduced and mentored by Senior Leaders they might not otherwise get access to. It was an excellent scheme, with good training and careful matching… and it had the potential to be so much more…

By the time we handed the Mentoring Scheme over in 2012, we were working with over 400 matched pairs internally and had established other mentoring relationships across the Public Sector in Scotland. The scope of the Scheme had grown to enable specialist mentoring groups to access and use both the scheme and the training content, from LGBT groups to the General Legal Council.
We achieved this by talking to people and finding out what was needed. To encourage interest & also self-selection, I was running 1 hour briefing sessions, 4 times a day, one day a month. This meant potential Mentors and Mentees could hear what it was all about and meet other mentors and mentees, at a time that suited them, and decide for themselves if this was something useful.
Mentors were trained – full day covering skills, ethics, role of mentor and peer support networks
Mentees were trained – 3 hours on what to expect, what to bring, role of the mentee.
If I had my time again, I’d use video footage, podcasts and other things to get the message out, but it was 8 years ago and we are in a different time….

It was an astonishing thing to watch as it grew. The skill and the will of the Mentors, the questions and hunger of the mentees. The tricky issues they faced together, the championing of mentees, the respect for mentors… not all the relationships worked. We put guidance and clarity in for what happens if you are stuck, or it’s done… and sometimes the issues weren’t mentoring ones and these needed to be worked through by mentors and mentees

And as ever, when I became aware I was espousing the good stuff about mentoring, but wasn’t ACTUALLY doing it myself, I started looking at where I could Mentor.

Napier University runs a Mentoring programme for students from Non-traditional background who are about to Graduate. They researched the correlation between successful Graduate Employability and if, for instance, you are the first in your family to go to University, or in a minority group.

 I’m about to do the research a horrible disservice and I can’t find it on Google – so if anyone knows better, please comment below- but broadly the research said: Students from non-traditional backgrounds often see their degree as the goal and stumble slightly at the Employability stage – in other words, if you come from a family who have already done the degree thing, your parents, siblings etc are already pushing you think about the job-at-the-end.. whereas if you are the first ever to go to uni, that alone can be seen as the pinnacle for a while… add on to that if you are from a minority group, all the known barriers to entry and the current difficulties around social mobility in the UK… and these Graduates need a helping hand.

I had the privilege of working with two young women. Each for a year. Each with very different needs and backgrounds. My mentorship involved many coffees, working through application forms, challenging lots of “no. I can’t. that is too audacious” type thinking. I set up a mock panel interview. I help organise a visit to local businesses and got them talking to other Graduates. It was tough at times, figuring out what the right thing to do might be and not getting involved in some of the family dramas that played out in these young womens’ lives… I’m eternally thankful to Claire Bee at Napier University, who was boundlessly positive and supportive in times of doubt.

What I brought was experience, a different perspective, a belief in my mentees, the willingness to listen and offer thoughts and views…. I brought action-orientation, I pushed them to go explore.. Practical stuff like the interview was great… the fall-out learning from it was harder than expected for the mentee and there was a lot of work around confidence and determination….but that’s part of any journey.

What I learned was probably as much as I offered. Applying my coaching training… but also bringing myself in a different way. The actual difficulty of getting a job at the start was brought back home to me, and then add the barriers they faced and I have nothing nothing nothing but respect and awe for these young women. I learned what it’s like to be invested in someone’s future in a different way to friends or family. And how there is nothing quite like the moment your mentee texts you to say: I got it.

Think about what you have to offer someone – someone younger or older, someone in the same field as you or in a different situation… and if you can find a way to offer your time, your skills and your energy? Do it.

More information on the CIPD Steps Ahead programme here:

Introducing….The Facilitation Shindig

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Earlier this year I spent a day in a room with a group of people I respect beyond measure as we walked through the process and methods we were going to use to facilitate teams of leaders in a FTSE 250 over a period of months.

The purpose of these leadership sessions is the good stuff – the simple, yet not easy, good stuff – that thing of getting highly skilled, smart, experienced folk to let down their guards a bit, to know each other and to work together in different ways to their current ways of being. Looking to shift intractable issues through building relationships, by thinking and working together, by equipping these leaders with alternative methods for talking and acting… it’s stuff that takes time and care and tenacity and skill.

Some things struck me on our walk-through day.
I was struck by the sheer pleasure of being in a room with really good facilitators, hearing others’ thought processes and learning from each other. We worked hard. We laughed. We pushed each other. We questioned. We developed the process together. It was like the best rehearsal ever.

I was struck also by how lonely it can be in the work….Sometimes facilitation is you. In a room. With a whole bunch of strangers/ near strangers, trying to achieve a thing – and whilst it’s one of my favourite places, it’s also… kinda nerve wracking (especially if you are doing it properly, I’d argue).

I also was struck by something I’m currently mulling on as “Genuine Practice”– the importance of folk who reflect and learn and experiment and in order to improve their craft. Those who diligently show up in life and in rooms with groups and who work with care and consideration to create outcomes and change. Practitioners who can drop everything planned and knit something utterly unique and needed in the moment, because they have taken the time to build their skill and personal capability – the ones who are doing their 10,000 hours to get to mastery…. And how deeply I value that Genuine Practice.

And how I’m becoming increasingly intolerant of Shiny, Showy Post-Truth Change Gurus taking up airspace without ever proving themselves or their theories. I need my Emperors Clothed these days. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

And I was struck by the increased importance of well designed face-to-face work to generate conversations and change.. that our work future means there are likely to be fewer and fewer chances for folk in organisations to convene.. and when they do, that time is precious….and brilliant facilitators are what will make that time purposeful and useful and productive and thought-provoking and behaviour-shifting….

And so a beginning idea came into being – Rather than being wistful, how about I created time and a place for those of us who facilitate to gather? To celebrate and work on Genuine Practice? And how about it was a joyful thing – something about the love of the work and learning from others?

And so after much doodling and deliberating and asking folk stuff, the Facilitation Shindig has arrived.

The first gathering was on 19th January 2017 in Manchester….
Beyond this there will be 5 more in Manchester throughout 2017. In March, May, July, September and November… With a bonus social Winter gathering in December or beyond.
The intention is to run more, in other cities or internally in businesses…but one step at a time.

Each Shindig this year will be themed around a word.
The words for Manchester 2017 are: Writing, Movement, Outside Emotion and Closing.
What we do together within those words will depend on who attends the Shindig and how they interpret that word.

You can buy Season tickets for all 5 events, or Pay-as-you-go single event tickets here

Find out more here: www.facilitationShindig.com

The intention is to work with care and challenge, to practice and experiment and learn from each other. If you are interested in the Shindig in any way shape or form, please do get in touch – I’d love for this grow and to have a thriving community of practice.

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Organisational Structures & Leading through Relationships

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I’m thinking about structures. Organisational structures and restructures and the way we organise ourselves at work – how we plan, decide, action… you know, that configuration-y stuff. Partly, this has been sparked by recent work around matrix stuctures, and partly by reading this article on how to build a self-managed organisation.

Top down, hierarchy? Matrix working? Self-organised systems? Which is best?

It kind of strikes me that they all survive or fail through relationships..and how we get information to each other effectively (aka that illusive catch-all “communication”)

Mostly, I suspect, if a group of folk get together and are unable, unwilling or ill-equipped to have the types of discussions, the information sharing, the good will and trust that generates good outcomes and understanding… it sort of doesn’t matter how the hell you organise them.

I have some sympathy with top-down hierarchical structures, at times. There is an apparent simplicity and obviousness to the process- I tell: you do – which is tidy and neat. Only… it never really works that way. Not properly and consistently…but I still like the story on occasion – the illusion of control and orderly lines…..

Then I remember the start of my leadership journey, back when my top-down authority extended precisely to the lines in my team….on paper. Off paper, my team did what was needed, irrespective (at times) of my decisions. I’d have been annoyed, but often what they ended up doing was better than anything I was coming up with – that’s when I started to let go a bit, listening properly and asking them stuff… Potentially, I grew up a bit.

My reality? Of a role in HR, then L&D/ change? I never had one of those jobs that demanded instant respect… whatever they may be…. If I wanted my authority or opinion to matter beyond my direct reports, I needed to actively build my network, my credibility and my usefulness. Frustrating as this has been, at times, that reality has been.. well, kind of character building.

Now I work in a world where any “leadership” I take or show has to be negotiated through others. There is no top-down hierarchy here…and that comes with its own set of stuff. Credibility and respect have to be earned. Collective models for leading and decision making can be bloody time consuming – building relationships, developing the ability to gather views and hold everyone to a core intent; whilst acknowledging that, actually, at some point there will be a series of corridor conversations, email, DM’s etc that support or detract from that core intent… and working to do whatever is required to make the thing happen anyway, surfacing the gnarly bits where you can either through direct action or subtle means….

If you are in a self organising team, or working in a matrix structure, your capacity to lead and influence is awarded or denied by those around you – a constantly shifting morass of opinions and relationships.. no-one is in charge so everyone is in charge, but the authority to be in charge might well depend on your confidence and capacity to talk a good game….that can feel or stressful and actually a little thankless – where do you get recognition if you lead in this model? To “take the lead” or be awarded it through circumstance of expertise, or opinion or function necessitates  you are slightly “out there” – apart from others…. yet in a collective structure – you can’t be “out there”leading  and also “in here” with everyone… it’s paradoxical and not for the faint hearted. How do we help folk hold that paradox?

Being held up as leader, or actively taking the lead and being “out there” means a risk of being misunderstood or maligned – beyond your immediate team or the folk who really know what you are up to. Some times it’s worse…. Sometimes you are venerated and revered… pedestals are, I suspect, precarious. For me, this is the stuff we need to think about and design learning interventions for – how to work with uncertainty and hold your authority in a unstable operating environment.

So what am I saying? for me, however we structure ourselves to plan, organise or act, it always comes down to the core stuff –, the need to build relationships– to develop and maintain our abilities to listen, to articulate our viewpoint (kindly, if possible), to work to remain open-minded. It’s about striving to develop our maturity, our capacity to work with uncertainty and our commitment to have positive intent to those around us.

This is not about structure, or technology or revolution or disruption.

This is about committing to developing the core skills we already have to relate and committing to designing Learning Interventions in our organisations that deeply support that for the long term.

Organizational Charts drawing by Manu Cornet, http://www.bonkersworld.net

Wild Mind Writing & Doing What I Do

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Of course when Nick talks about “Wild Mind Writing” I become very alert. Everyone in the group seems to have heard of it – a practice, attributed to Natalie Goldberg, by which you write, free-form, without edit, censure or pause for a period of time.
Don’t stop.
Keep writing.
Keep writing.
Even if there is nothing to say – write blah blah blah until the words come.
Don’t worry about spelling or syntax.
Don’t stop.
Keep Writing.
And, Nick invites wryly, go for the jugular with it. Don’t mess about. Write wild.
(I hear this translated into Scots: “gie it some laldy, girl”)

I haven’t heard of Wild Mind Writing before – or maybe I have and haven’t been paying attention – but the practice, this practice, is as familiar to me as drinking tea… it is precious, beloved and necessary.

I write. I write pretty much every day when there is time and if I don’t, after a few days I know about it. I write to make sense of what is. Of what has been.
I write to organise my thoughts.
I write to my future self – capturing the here-and-now – knowing one day, I may want or need to look back and understand how it was for me then.
I write to learn and to show myself that I have learned.
It is, in many ways, an utterly selfish act – for me, for my sanity, for a sense of myself… and sometimes it becomes less-so, when I share it or blog it….
I write as I think. Short sharp sentences. Or longer, more fluid more complex ones. I delight in words. In vocabulary and expression and rhythm.

I’m darkly chuckling at the topic we are asked to Write Wild on.
I have a history of being inarticulate around the business, my practice, my Why.
So when Nick turns the flip over & the words: WHY DO I DO WHAT I DO? pop up, I sort of groan/smile. Of course it would be this.

Before I share what I wrote (and it is personal..and it feels risky to share it…and that’s what happens when you write-and-share yourself.. when you put bits of yourself out into the world for scrutiny, because Lord-only KNOWS what folk will make of it…and I’m still not always OK with that…and I think it’s important to do it anyway) I’m making the invitation to try this out.
Set a clock – 5 mins or 10… we did 7 mins.
Find paper & a nice pen with flowing ink… or fire up your laptop.
And write. To yourself. To anyone. To No-one. And see what comes.
And when the first layer of words are gone?
Go deeper. What next? What more? What else?
See where it takes you.

Feel free to send it to me (julie@fuchsiablue.com or post it below in the comments) …. I’d rather read 5 minutes of someone’s rough and ready genuine inner thoughts than 50 pages of crafted, polished blurb.

So as one who works with folks in transition, as one who wants folk to learn and develop, to grow and be just kind of amazing….. Why do I do what I do?
These are my words:

I do what I do because I get something from it. Personally, Professionally – what is the something? Dunno. Satisfaction, personal progression – a sense of learning and newness – a sense of getting better and wiser and more able.
I do it to push myself. To encourage others by sharing what I learned – and I love it and it scares me and it costs me. I have to show myself everyday. That’s actually hard for me.
This is my practice, my 10,000 hours, the thing I seek as my mastery, my vocation – because there is privilege in passing stuff on. In showing and sharing because through this I am alive – I am in relation to others – connected to different worlds.
I get to travel. To explore. It is anthropological and satisfying. It is terrifying and frustrating. I’m wrong. A lot.
I hear stuff that makes me want to spit. Cockwomblery and W*nkpuffinage… so much BS about organisations and future and disrupt-hack-fecking-VUCA….
For me it’s quieter. It’s about self. It starts and ends with you. With me.
The more I know myself? The more I understand my context and reactions and can articulate these? The more I face into my fears? The bigger I become – more expansive. More generous. Kinder. Wiser. More robust.

 

image: Bartek Zyczynski/ Shutterstock

Business Translation & Keeping it Real

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This is inspired by a recent conversation with Carol Read, who is doing some extraordinary, breakthough transformation and innovation stuff in the Horizons Team, within NHS England’s Sustainable Improvement Team. I met her through connections with SeaSalt Learning & I think we have started a conversation that could last for many years…. And as we talked, I was reminiscing….

Back in the day when I was an in-house Change Consultant, working with the slightly alchemical purpose of “changing the culture” at the Postal Authority in Jersey, I had an “ah-ha!” moment.

I’d been invited to present to the Board – what has happened, what we are planning to do next, budget stuff (something along the lines of: can you find us some money to do up the staff canteen to show we mean we are going to change and improve the whole business, inside and out? I’m recommending we don’t go down “fur coat no knickers” change route…etc)

I had the standard 10–15 minutes slot, which inevitably rolled over as questions needed to be asked and answered. Part of the Board’s interest was the future, unsurprisingly. In our world, at the time, one of the best ways we could stay competitive was to innovate. We were a small Postal Service, which meant we were, potentially, more agile and able to trial stuff across the operation than larger set-ups in, say, the UK or Germany.

One way we could innovate was to be a test-bed for new delivery methods or tracking tech; we could look at new ways to produce “direct mail” (you may call it Junk mail. 10 years on and I still feel I have committed a sin calling it Junk Mail); we could look at pick-and-pack fulfilment as an income stream (Amazon was in its infancy – we were looking to learn from their model). All these future possibilities…

And I remember going back to my desk, slightly fuzzy-headed with the whirl of future-promises & tech and experiments…. And looking at the list of stuff I knew we needed to get done now. The canteen upgrade suddenly seemed very….unsexy…. but still deeply necessary… and I found it hard to reconcile.

The Board that day were all future and commerce and budgets and business opportunities (as it should be) and I knew this stuff wouldn’t mean a hill of beans to the day-to-day experience of a Postie or a member of the Counter staff until it arrived (typically in bubble-wrap, with a training course & a lot of head scratching) in front of them.

Not because they were daft, or didn’t have ambition or vision. Not because they were lazy or backward or didn’t care about the job – far from it. They were so focussed on doing the job – getting the mail out getting customers served – that what was important was there here-and-now. That was what was real.The lived experience of the place being too hot or cold. The inconvenience of parking. The canteen ruled with an iron fist by the cook who was resolute about the food offerings available.. with chips….

And so my epiphany was this: the need to Translate.

I had (I believed for a while) invented a notion: Business Translation. I saw the language of the Board – all broad brush & future tech & strategy & hypothetical circumstance vs the language of the Operation – specific & tactical, and day-to-day tangible. Separate languages – or perhaps it was just different patois – but the Change work seemed to be about bringing those two closer together. Working closely to articulate and decode “that future stuff” so we could make the here & now actions more purposeful and (dare I say it) aligned.

It all seemed so simple. Just translate stuff.
Mostly, this thought took the team to good places. At the core of our Change methods was: how do we explain this is in different languages? The way it showed up varied. We paid more attention to our internal comms, we cut back on some actions that seemed overly grounded in future flim-flam or in the compromises that come with “this is how we do it round here”. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes it burned.

Looking back, much of what we did was “push” and direct and broadcast. If I were to have my time again there, I’d have done a lot more of the pull/listen/adapt the big ideas stuff. I’d still have the fights with marketing about too-tight constraints on internal branding, but I’d probably be a little less strident in my confrontation… I’d listen more.

At the core of the change work, I still believe it’s about translation. Creating better conversations, spaces to think together, action that is communicable… that stuff. Too high falutin’ and it’s ethereal & wispy. Too grounded and it is ludding and static.

I’m grateful to Carol for the conversation – about the dreamy innovative cool stuff & the need to work closely with the here and now to deliver it.