Magic, Murder & the Weather
Two weeks under my belt and the first thing I need to say is a very big thank you for the extensive, warm and genuine welcome I have been given on my arrival. Councillors, officers, partners, peers, members of the public, the Twitterati, bloggers, etc – all have conspired to make my first fortnight the best start possible and I am grateful. As David Gedge once said “I’d walk a million miles for one of your smiles”: your encouragement is having the same effect on me.
And why this pretentious blog title (other than, of course, to show off my pseudo-muso credentials)? Well I needed a framework that would help me build on the messages in my first outing – as well as give a much more obvious musical reference point than last week’s title.
It was a fabulous piece of luck that the Friday of my first week coincided with two Managers Voice events at which I was invited to share some of my thinking with City Council colleagues about the collective and ongoing challenge we face to make a difference to people’s lives in rapidly changing policy and financial environments. These sessions provided me with the perfect platform to argue, face-to-face, for the importance of showing empathy in all that we do, using this very humble, but also very powerful human behaviour, to build the respect and trust that should be expected of us as public servants.
The exchanges, along with other meetings, briefings and encounters, also reminded me of my promise that I wouldn’t presume to work from a blank canvass – continuity and progression being the watchwords. Let’s make sure we keep what’s already good, great and relevant for the future – and then build on them. So, I am already building my appreciation and understanding of existing values of commitment to excellence, respect and trust – with the customer at the heart of all that we do – and I am determined to take these and run with them, as well as future proof them and see them in evidence universally across the council. This will help take us from good to great.
As well as this attention to what the jargon might call “emotional intelligence” (read Daniel Goleman if you’re interested in this stuff), I also wanted to get across a clear message about the importance of having clarity of purpose in all that we do so that the priorities that we then select (which should be few in number), the strategies we write (which should have brevity in mind), and the delivery plans we put into action (which should be based on evidence of what works) are all underpinned by a consensus about our common purpose. I promised more dialogue about this, but also made it clear – I hope – that at the highest level it is still the gaps of inequality that must be the target of our efforts: eliminating unacceptable differences in key outcomes and in the opportunities to fulfill potential are, ultimately, our top line mission.
And I believe I left everyone with two very clear statements of intent: firstly, that we all have a leadership role to play in this. It is my view that if you can influence someone about values and common purpose then you are de facto a leader; and secondly, that the starting point for our endeavours must be the pursuit of improving lives – all lives, but especially those of the most disadvantaged in our communities.
The rapidly reducing money with which we have to do this is a massive ongoing headache, but we can avoid succumbing to a corporate migraine if we remember why we are here in the first place.
For me, this is the magic we must weave. And I believe we can and we will because, through all my contacts over the last two weeks, everything I have heard, heard about, or seen makes me believe that there will be more than enough of us who want to carry on with a values-based and people-focused approach to our work.
Excuse the somewhat dramatic element now introduced, but I also want to kill some things off.
Number one: money talks, but values and common purpose talk louder.
Number two: our mission is just that – our mission. Not somebody else’s. Tune in or join a different radio station. (Sorry to be so blunt so early on but in our future world there can only be drivers; due respect to Iggy Pop, but there is no longer a place for passengers.)
Number three: there is no monopoly on good ideas – we need to ensure that there is a culture in which creativity is a dominant characteristic and valued highly.
Who makes the weather? We do.
Sure, we cannot kid ourselves that there aren’t powerful external forces that are shaping our future. But only we can authentically stand up for Birmingham – the City and its City Council. And whilst Westminster’s actions are impacting severely on that future, nonetheless the more important matter of determining our ultimate destiny is in our hands!
Oh, and some other stuff
If you haven’t seen the YouTube clip of the moment (event though it’s not actually new at all), then here it is for your convenience:
It could be our BCC leadership manual set out in 2 minutes and 57 seconds.
And then to restate my commitment to doing things with you, I have also been sent the following link which describes the “4 enablers of engagement” in a far more succinct and cogent way than I could.
In summary, an effective, functional organisation is characterised by:
- Having a clear story (a “strategic narrative” no less)
- Ensuring effective leadership by: being clear about what success looks like; treating people like human beings; constantly coaching for success
- Being in listening mode and seeing its people as part of the solution
- Demonstrating a genuine sense of integrity and “keeping it real”
Our own organisational development principles set out in 4minutes and 36 seconds perhaps?
And why do I have this interest in engagement? Why not just issue orders and be done with it?
Well, I don’t know about you, but I always perform better when I have a say in what I’m doing and why. I feel that I have ownership because I’ve been listened to and, more importantly, heard. In terms of our communities, we agree that “doing with” is so much better than “doing to”; so we are entitled to the same acknowledgement within the council for ourselves. This way, I believe, lies good morale, a healthy working environment, a greater willingness and ability to effect change, and an environment where innovation and leadership can flourish.
This must be good for the people of Birmingham and ourselves.
I make no apology for going over ground I covered in my inaugural blog. I am, deliberately, addressing with you the critical pre-requisites for future success – and, at this stage of my tenure, I need to focus on creating our story, one that is driven by shared values and a common purpose.
Here’s to thinking in public.