Power to the people

Last year I read a lot more of I guess you’d call ‘business books’. I’ve always bought my share of them but actually getting around to reading them was a whole different thing!

Three of them were offering insights in to some of the most influential companies of the internet age (Pixar, Amazon and Google) and a common theme throughout all of them was the focus on getting the right people and building the right culture. Now I’m not sure I necessarily agree with all of the ins and outs of those particular companies despite their huge success but there is no doubt reading the books has really sparked my interest in learning how to better contribute to that side of things at my organisation and in particular my own division.

Somehow I have ended up being a reasonably senior (middle) manager (within the constrains of the civil service at least) and yet looking back I have never had any real training in what that means. I do recruitment and know about the rules to ensure fairness etc but have never, as far as I can remember, been given any instruction on how to really get the best out of the process.

I manage, and have managed, teams without ever taking a class on the topic. It isn’t that they haven’t been offered but I am always busy doing the work and I bristle at most classroom based learning formats these days. I am lucky that I have had a couple of bosses I learned a lot from just by observing but compared to many of my peers I am working almost entirely on instinct. I don’t think I do a bad job but there is certainly a lack of formality in my approach and in football terms I lean more towards coach than manager I guess.

Reading these books (which led me to buy, if not yet complete,other books like Peopleware and Business Reimagined) has shown me that while I don’t think I have ever taken my responsibilities lightly in these areas I have never made them enough of a priority and this year I need to change that.

The thing is I don’t want generic, HR know-how. I want to understand how to build and maintain really good DIGITAL teams. How to identify and convince talented developers, designers, analysts and product people to come join the digital revolution in Government (and to understand that you don’t have to just join GDS to be a part of it).

Recruitment is never far from my mind and this year it is going to be a major preoccupation – relying on contractors is not a sustainable solution and to really make the most of the whole agile, co-located, multi-disciplinary team thing that GDS preach we need more people in-house.

So I need to grasp how to create a compelling message aimed at the kind of people we want to attract, how to get them to actually apply and then how to identify those that fit best in to the culture we are trying to build. All of this while acknowledging both the geographical, operational, organisational and cultural challenges we face as part of a larger organisation. We didn’t and don’t have a clean sheet of paper like GDS. The local-ish (Cardiff, Bristol, Bath) digital job market is thriving these days and people with the right skills are at a premium so how do we compete?

I also need to ensure that people in post feel valued, have opportunities to stretch themselves and feel some ownership of the work they do. Building a culture where people are empowered to make decisions at the appropriate level without it always becoming a top down is easier to write down than implement.

I’m enjoying the new Digital People blog from GDS which makes me think I am not alone in thinking about these things and I enjoyed a recent posts from Paul Miller about what makes good teams and also introducing me to the RACI concept and what I am looking for is suggestions on what I should be reading and listening to? Who should I be following on Twitter? What do I need to understand to understand?