Archive for April, 2018

On meetings and Elon Musk

Monday, April 23rd, 2018

Elon Musk has made the headlines this week with his thoughts on meetings.  I’m not in any way suggesting that he is stealing my ideas, but some of you will remember my blog entry on the subject in late 2015.  As we move into the next phase of Smart Working, with the introduction of Microsoft Office 365 and other digital and physical innovations, it is timely to remind ourselves.

For my own part, I think that Elon Musk’s ideas are good in part – I like the idea of  cancelling large meetings, or if you have to have them keep them “very short”.  You might remember my advice to do a 30 minute meeting in 20, and a one hour meeting in 45 minutes.  I got some very positive feedback from colleagues at the time, so let’s keep this up.

I’m not so sure that we should walk out of a meeting or end a phone call if it is failing to serve a useful purpose as suggested.  We are a polite and respectful organisation, and I would not like to lose that.  I would, however, suggest that you do not attend the next one, and tell the organiser why.  A good indication of whether you should be there is whether you check your emails during the meeting.  If you do, I’d question whether you should be there.

I’m absolutely with Elon Musk on avoiding acronyms or nonsense words.   Having moved from one sector which lives on TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms) to another, I’m very aware that jargon is a barrier to understanding.  If in doubt, don’t use it.

I’m less inclined to follow his last 2 ideas – sidestepping the “chain of command” to get the job done, or ignoring the rules if following them is ridiculous.  We are a public sector organisation, and we are accountable to the Cabinet, the elected members and the residents of Staffordshire.  Our processes and rules were put in place with good intent and for good reason at the time.  That does not mean that we should not challenge rules and processes that have become outmoded, and there is a polite, constructive way of doing that.  I would ask you to “think to the finish” as a former colleague used to say; come up with solutions rather than problems, and be proactive.

One last thought on meetings, particularly as we embrace Smart Working and the possibilities of Cloud and Office 365. Don’t just ask yourselves the “why”, “what” and “who” of meetings, but also the “how”. For example, does everybody have to be in the room, or can the meeting achieve its aim remotely?  If you’re formulating a document or policy, can you use tools such as Teams in Office 365 to achieve the aim of the meeting but spread over time of your choosing and maintaining control over editing and versions?  There are around 40 Change Champions engaged throughout the organisation for the introduction of Office 365. Find out who they are in your team and ask them how you can be more effective and efficient in the way that you work. I guarantee you that it will be worth the effort.

Learning at Work Week

Monday, April 16th, 2018

We have Learning at Work Week coming up from 14 – 18 May.  You might remember last year’s event, which was hugely popular with colleagues, and introduced us to the idea that SUMO was not only large Japanese gentlemen wearing oversized loincloths, but also a technique for dealing with stress in our lives – Shut Up and Move On.  Catriona Hudson has been continuing the classes throughout the year, and indeed was recognised for her work as Mentor of the Year last November at the West Midlands Employers Awards.

Catriona’s success highlights the 2 aspects that I would like to raise in your minds, namely that of the Learning at Work Week continuing throughout the year, and also having a go at teaching yourself.  For the first part, the theme of this year’s week is Networks, and we will be using this as a handrail for the activities that we are putting on.  I would like you to sign up for at least one activity during the week, and would ask you to try something that you think you might like to continue learning about throughout the rest of the year.   The key here is that this is not the only week during which we learn at work – I like to learn something new every day at work, and usually do.  Rather, it is the week during which we make a special effort to learn.

The second part is that almost all of us have some skill that friends and colleagues would benefit from sharing.  Catriona learned about SUMO through her interest as a mentor and motivational speaker, and it has been hugely successful throughout the organisation.  Last year, we also had yoga classes in SP1, which is an excellent activity for boosting health and wellbeing.  I would ask you to have a think about what you could teach your colleagues and volunteer to give it a go.  From personal experience, the first time that you stand in front of a class is pretty daunting, but the buzz that you get from an appreciative audience is hard to beat.

I look forward to seeing you at this year’s events.


Our Strategy, and good news for Staffordshire families

Monday, April 9th, 2018


I wanted to make sure that you had all had a chance to familiarise yourselves with the Plan on a Page, the short version of the council’s Strategy.  We have now linked this firmly to our Delivery Plan, which many of you have been involved in. I’m enormously grateful to everybody who has made this a reality.

Many of you will hopefully remember our efforts in the past 2 years to link the Delivery Plan to our medium term financial strategy (MTFS), which we have now achieved. This allows us to align responsibility, accountability and authority, a theme that many of you will have heard me banging on about.  This year, the Delivery Plan is more focussed with only 23 activities, covering the major change programmes. I’m now content that we’ve got Business As Usual (BAU) running well, and I’m happy for that to be covered in Directorate and Team Plans.

The reinforced link to the strategy is however new, and this is what I’d like you to take a little bit of time to read and understand if you haven’t already. Look out for a toolkit in the coming weeks that will help managers and teams talk about the strategy in more detail, and what it means for their day to day work. It will include an interactive version of the plan on a page and other information to make sure our strategy is something that continually guides what we are doing, rather than sitting on a shelf gathering dust

There are two pieces of good news which I’d like to share with you. Our Building Resilient Families and Communities has been awarded Earned Autonomy status. What this means is that we get £5m of government funding up front (in the past we have received payment from Government based on results) so we can develop our work further and faster. The feedback on the quality of the application and on the work that we’re doing in Staffordshire has been effusive. Simply put, Mick Harrison, Barbara Hine and the team are achieving great results for the most troubled families in our county, and, with Earned Autonomy, we can do more.

Secondly, the results of the uptake on the Government’s initiative to provide 30 hours of free childcare have been published, showing that more than 6,000 families in Staffordshire are enjoying this excellent opportunity. This is the highest total in the West Midlands, which means that more families are able to access work and study, and enjoy a better quality of life. The innovative approach undertaken by Laura Ballinger, Matt Biggs and our team to include employers as well as families and providers is clearly working, which is great news indeed.