The 3 Cs: Capability, culture and communication

A few years ago now I started to use this idea of the 4Ps to define my approach to my work — it looked something like this →

People — Upper management buy-in, digital residents (not natives), critical friends, (access to) multi-disciplinary teams.

Processes — agile with a small ‘a’, lean minus the sleaze, access to decision makers.

Platforms — flexible infrastructure, a technical foundation that can be built on.

Products — discrete, definable, ‘shippable’ products not never-ending projects. Small things loosely joined.

Now in the four years since I wrote that my thinking moved on somewhat and the detail under each ‘P’ has evolved a little but it pretty much reflects my approach during that period of time and especially a big chunk of how I’ve worked at ONS.

For a while now though my focus has been changing and my priorities have started to shift. Increasingly I now find myself thinking in terms of 3 Cs — capability, culture and communications.

I love being a product manager in the mix with a team working to get something out there to improve the user experience but more and more it has been the challenge of creating an environment that supports that work that has consumed me. I’ve realised that an awful lot of what I write about these days falls into these Cs — as do a lot of my talks. It is all a bit rough and ready at the moment but open means open so →

the power or ability to do something.

I have a pretty broad definition of capability where it relates to my work. Basically it is anything we have to do to make sure we have the skills in place to do the work. This can mean improving hiring, understanding how to get the best out of suppliers/contractors or giving existing staff the opportunities and support to make a place for themselves in any new ways of working. Everywhere I have ever worked there have been people who had under appreciated skills or experience who just needed somebody to trust them and give them a chance.

I say it time and time again — digital transformation (and honestly I don’t care if you don’t like the term — it works fine for me until someone suggests something better) is a people business. Get the right people and the technology aspects will get handled. Get the wrong people and know.

the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society.

I firmly believe you cannot impose culture — it emerges. You can however encourage and nurture the behaviours you want to be prominent. Providing a ping-pong table does not a positive culture make. Leaders need to walk the walk if they are going to talk the talk — if you want a culture that is open, willing to take risks and collaborative? Well you have to lead by example and be the shit umbrella to provide cover. These things are rarely without bumps in the road in the early days and reverting to old habits at the first sign of trouble is not evidence of a positive culture! Trust people. Really.

I’m not sure it really fits here but this is also where I tend to stick all my thoughts about the physical environment and tools the team use. The space is important — if you have any control over it take the time to get it right. Again don’t impose — collaborate. Hardware and software? Give people what they need to do their jobs — don’t expect them to compromise to meet some local generic approach — specialists need what they need.

As Peter Drucker might have said, maybe..

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

..and you can spend all the time you like building capability but without the right culture those people just won’t sell. It is a sellers market out there these days.

the imparting or exchanging of information by speaking, writing, or using some other medium

I see communications in this kind of work as the actions that relate to working openly and in public.

I feel so strongly about the idea of working in the open that it is almost a duty for me. To not do it would be letting down myself and the wider network.

Matt Thompson from Mozilla wrote (for me) the definitive blogpost about open working back in 2011 and so much of this still holds. To work openly is to invite participation, feedback, comment and criticism. It builds a community and lessens the risk of going down blind alleys. It keeps everybody honest.

Like Laura Hilliger from Greenpeace (another Mozilla alumnus) has been demonstrating with her Planet 4 work people respond to being given the opportunity to be part of the journey — rather than be handed a fait accompli that was maybe shared with a privileged few.

The other big benefit of encouraging openness and engagement (beyond just product propaganda) is what Melinda Seckington eloquently spoke about at the Lead Developer conference and later blogged about. Her idea of Employee Evangelism — of communicating openly as a way of encouraging people to come and work with you. Basically it is a way of acting on the 1st C by selling the benefits of the 2nd C using the tools of the 3rd C 🙂

As she puts it →

“..we should be thinking about how we expose and promote our teams as places where people want to work.”

She even has created a handy graphic that sums up this entire blogpost in nine words and three arrows!

OK that is it for now — I’ll hopefully start to expand on some of these ideas in the weeks/months to come and have an opportunity in my next role to turn some of these thoughts in to actions. Fingers crossed.

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