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Tag: Leadership

Being a visible leader with an invisible disability.

Hi, I’m Zoe and I’m a NeuroDiverse Senior Civil Servant.

This is me! (Photo curtesy of @RachelleMoose)

Last week I attended Civil Service Live, it was an interesting day, with sessions on everything from AI and keeping abreast of new technologies, to Transformation to resilience and personal wellbeing. The session that stood out most for me was the “Making Government an event greater place to work” which was an interesting session featuring several people talking about their own mental health, and colleagues from DWP’s Diversity and Inclusion Team talking about the work they have been doing to make invisible disabilities more visible.

The team has been working with neurodiverse colleagues to make short videos to help neurotypical colleagues understand their disabilities. This included a video on sensory processing disorder, and how many colleagues with ASD can find what some people might call normal background noise overwhelming; and another video on how some people with Dyslexia can struggle with reading, with text moving around the page.

Exmaple of how someone with Dyslexia can perceive text

I thought these were really useful tools for colleagues to help increase understanding, and to normalise invisible disabilities.

After the session I got talking to one of the speakers and a few other attendees about some of the mentoring and leadership schemes that exist for Disabled people, and that unfortunately these are not widely visible with a lot of people not knowing they exist or how to join them. We also discussed the need for more visible representation of neurodiverse people within senior leadership.

I was diagnosed with Dyspraxia when I was 14, and nowadays I’ve recognised (through parenting my child through the intricate diagnosis process for ASD and ADHD) that I probably have ADHD as well and am now in conversations with my GP to get a referral for an assessment.

Writing ADHD on a blackboard.

When I first joined the Civil Service (technically as a temp back in 2002 before I went to university) I was doing a data entry job, and when I admitted to a senior manager that I had Dypraxia he told me to keep it quiet or everyone would wonder why he’d hired me. Having a learning disability was definitely seen as a barrier to progression.

I remember when I joined the Ministry of Defence as a Fast Streamer back in 2006, I looked at the data for the Senior Civil Service at the time and realised that less than 3% of colleagues in the SCS had a disability, and of those, the number who were declaring a non-physical disability was in single figures (in the MoD at least). At that time, I made the decision that I would do everything I could to reach the SCS, so I could help change those stats.

Until a few years ago I’d never met an SCS person who I knew was neurodiverse. I was talking to a senior leader asking for advice on speaking at conferences as it was something I’ve always struggled with in terms of confidence, and he admitted that he was Dyslexic and couldn’t read of prompts, so would always have to learn his presentations by heart. This was someone I had known for over a year, and it felt like I was being told a secret that they were ashamed of, but it made me feel hope. Here was this person 2 grades above me, who also had a learning disability. It was possible.

Several years ago at a leadership development session designed to help G6 colleagues pass the SCS application tests, one of the senior colleagues stated that “anyone can just learn to do maths with a little bit practice”. I ended up speaking up and saying that “as someone with a learning disability I found that kind of sweeping statement very unhelpful”. After the session I had another colleague approach me and ask if I could provide some mentoring to one of their members of staff who had Dyslexia and wanted to progress in their career but they weren’t sure if that was possible given their disability, and my colleague believed that talking to another neurodiverse person might help their confidence.

Over the years I’ve mentored perhaps a dozen people, some through official schemes, but just as many have approached me and asked whether I would mentor them as they themselves are neurodiverse and there aren’t that many senior leaders out there who own up publicly to having a learning disability or being neurodiverse. As such people feel that there aren’t people in senior leadership positions who have learning disabilities or are not neurotypical.

Within the Civil Service and wider public sector we are doing more now to normalise Disability, there are great leadership and development schemes like the Possetive Action Pathway out there now to help build capability for Disabled colleagues or recruit more neurodiverse people. DWP and HMRC have been running Autism work placement programmes, GCHQ has it’s “Positive About Disabled People” scheme and there’s the Summer Diversity Internship programme; Diversity and Inclusion networks across the Civil Service are working to help support Disabled colleagues, and schemes like the ‘Workplace Adjustment passport’ are a great tool for disabled colleagues and their managers.

A picture of a ‘noise -o-meter sometimes used to help people with Sensory Processing Disorder indicate how they are perceiving the sound around them.

But I still believe we need more visible neurodiverse senior leaders, and leaders with both visible and invisible disabilities. Figures from 2018 show that still only 5.4% of SCS colleagues have a disability. I couldn’t find any data on the percentage of those colleagues whose disability was visible, invisible or both, but it’s safe to say we need to normalise neurodiversity at all levels.

For those of us who are neurodiverse in the Senior Civil Service, we need to speak up and say to our colleagues that we are here. It is possible. We bring something to the table, and so do you.

What does good Leadership look like to me?

Over the last 6 months or so I’ve been percolating on what good leadership looks like, at least to me, and how I can make sure I am acting like the good leader I would want to see.

There’s been lots of good thought pieces and conversations happening about good leadership over the last year or so. Kit Collingwood’s blog on Empathetic Leadership in the civil service being one, and there was a #OneTeamGov workshop a few months ago where we discussed what makes a good leader, so I know I’m not alone in considering the subject.

For me there are a number of traits I look for when I consider whether someone is a good leader, and on a personal level, could I work for them?

Empathy is the fist, given the field I work in, empathy is key. We have to try and understand the experiences of the users of our services, be able to recognise our privilege and still empathise with people who’s experiences are different than our own.

Active Listening is the second, I’ve encountered a number of leaders over the years who do a good job of acting like they are listening, but as soon as they have left the room that conversation is forgotten. Their opinions seem to change with the wind depending on who they have talked to last. The ability as a leader to actively listen, to try and understand what is being said and why, is fundamental in being a good leader.

Approachable, for me Leaders have to be approachable, I have to be able to discuss things with them, come to them with concerns and ideas.

Authentic, I find it much easier to respect people when I can trust that they mean what they say, that they are being themselves.

Personable. A lot of things discussing leadership talk about charisma, charismatic leaders etc. The cult of personality. I’d rather work for a decent human that I can relate to or get along with rather than a charismatic figure.

Encouraging. They empower those around them. They encourage them to try things. The support them to develop and grow. They trust their people. They make them feel valued.

And on a personal level, what does good leadership mean for me?

It means I can be myself.

It means I feel empowered and trusted

It means I feel listened to and heard

It means I’m more able to just get on and deliver, rather than cover my back in paper trails.

It means I’m more likely to actively enjoy my job and deliver good things.

It means I understand my value, and feel appreciated, I understand my purpose and what I can deliver.

It means I feel safe to innovate and take risks

So how do I try to model those behaviours?

I don’t ask for more from anyone than I’m willing to give, I try to set a good example, whether that’s working the right hours, recognising when people have gone above and beyond and celebrating not only success but effort.

I encourage those around me to get on and do things without waiting for my sign off, as long as they have the data or evidence to back up their decisions I make sure they know I will back them. We are all on a journey to discover and grow; it’s important to take risks sometimes when there are things we can learn.

I try to be approachable and human. I talk about my mental health. My family. I may not share with my work colleagues everything, but nor do I put up a wall or plaster on false face. I talk to people. I value the people around me and try to recognise that everyone can have bad days as well as good ones. Equally I recognise that sometimes my role as a leader is to shoulder more of that burden, to protect my teams; but rarely is that any one persons alone; knowing who you can call on for support is an essential part of being human.

I try to be transparent and honest. I admit when I know things I’m not yet able to share. I admit when things are hard. I appreciate that we all have to sometimes do things we don’t want to, that is life, and sometimes we struggle with things, we are all human.

I try to be adaptable. I accept that not everyone is the same and try to understand the needs of those around me, my staff and my teams.

I am always trying to learn from my experiences and my mistakes and perhaps most importantly I admit when I’ve got things wrong and apologise. I am always learning and growing as a leader and a person.

Scrum Master or Delivery Manager – what’s in a name?

Are the roles of Scrum Master and Delivery manager the same?

Continuing on my recent musings on the different roles within Agile multidisciplinary teams, today’s blog focuses on the role of the Delivery Manager, or the Scrum Master, and whether these roles are really the same thing.

This is a conversation that came up a few weeks ago at the #ProductPeople community meetup in Birmingham, and something that causes quite a bit of frustration from those people I’ve talked to in the Delivery Manager community.

The role of the Scrum Master is that of facilitator within the multidisciplinary team, it is a role particular to Scrum, and they are the ‘expert’ on how to make Scrum work, often described as a ‘Servant leader’ they help everyone in the team understand the theory and practices of Scrum as a way of working together.

Within digital government the role has been widened out to include other responsibilities, and often mixed with the role of the Delivery Manager. Emily Webber did a fantastic blog a few years ago on the role of the Delivery Manger, and as she put’s it, while the roles are often used interchangeably, they really shouldn’t be.

But why not? What makes them different?

As said above, the Scrum Master focuses on the ‘how’ of Scrum as a methodology. The are the expert in the room on how best to utilise Scrum to deliver. They are more akin to an agile coach, guiding the team, and often the person best versed on the most up to date practices and ways of working.

But for me, the Delivery Manager focuses more on the ‘What’ and ‘When’. While the Product Manager (or Owner) focuses on ‘Why’ the team are doing what they are doing, the problems they are trying to solve, the vision they are trying to deliver. The Delivery Manager is looking at what could block the team from being able to deliver; what the right make up of the team needs to be in terms of roles and capabilities, what governance processes does the team have to meet in order to stay on track to deliver, and when delivery will happen.

As the Digital Data and Technology capability framework says, at the most basic level the delivery manager is accountable for the delivery of products and services. They are very much a doer paired with the Product Managers visionary thinker. They make sure things actually happen. They hold the Product Manager and the team to account and keep them on track.

They are the heart of the team, responsible for maintaining the health and happiness of the team; they understand who from the team will be available and when, making sure people are able to work well together, identifying conflicts and ensuring the team stay motivated and happy in order to enable delivery.

When you look at the role as explained in the capability framework it looks very straight forward, build and motivate teams, manage risk s and issues, ensure delivery, ok great. But then you get to the bit that merges the scrum master tole and the delivery manager role, and this is where a lot of individuals I know within the team struggle, “coach team members and others, facilitate continuous improvement and apply the most appropriate agile and lean tools and techniques for their environment”.

This is actually quite a big task, to stay on top of the most appropriate agile and lean tools and techniques requires a lot of self learning; which is fantastic, but also requires quite a bit of time away form the team you are meant to be supporting.

Most Delivery Managers that I know (certainly within CQC, and others I have talked to across Government) are involved with (if not directly responsible for) the business cases for their Products and Services. Unblocking issues, ensuring funding requests, requesting resources, etc. this all takes up a lot of a Delivery Managers time. When you are also meant to be running the daily stand-ups, managing team retrospectives, monitoring team velocity and organising show and tells you can find your days are very full.

More and more delivery managers that I know are finding they just don’t have time for the ‘people centric’ part that is meant to be at the heart of their role, as Projects and Programmes utilise them more and more as project Managers who are also scrum masters, and so our Delivery managers feel pulled in two directions, and our teams suffer because of it.

When organisations so often find they are struggling to deliver, often at the heart of that is the issue that they have not properly recognised the role of the Delivery Manager. This is a fundamental issues, especially when organisations are new to agile ways of working. Embedding ‘how’ to be agile, takes up just as much time as understanding ‘what’ you can deliver and ‘when’.

Perhaps in mature agile organisations bringing those roles together makes more sense, but for now I think we need to go back to letting our Delivery Managers focus on making sure we can deliver, and our scrum masters helping us use the right techniques to be able to delivery well.

Why focusing on productivity isn’t productive.

One thing that comes up time and again from senior managers is “My focus or priority is improving Productivity”.

Early on in my career I worked on a number of ‘productivity improvement inniatives’ and sometimes they would seem to make some improvments, sometimes they wouldn’t, but they never really solved the issues and there always seemed to be more to do to ‘improve productivity’, so I began to wonder whether these projects were ready adding any value.

Nowadays when I talk to a manager to understand why they are prioritising any productivity initative, the answer is usually something like, “we can be more productive, it’ll help us cut costs and deliver a better service.” If I then ask how they plan to do this, the answer is generally “by improving our processes/ transforming our service/ getting more staff”.

Anyone who has ever been responsible for transforming processes or services acknowledges that when you introduce a change or a new way of working productivity drops, at least for a short time. This is a truth pretty much universally acknowledged. In fact lets repeat that, just to be clear, when you introduce any new change to processes, technology or ways of working productivity will drop. This can be as much as 30% while people learn the new processes, or get up to speed with any changes. This drop generally doesn’t last for too long, but it will happen.

Next, when you hire more staff, your existing high performing staff are often the ones tasked with training them and building capability. So, for those staff at least, productivity will drop while they help support and build the capability of your new staff. There’s evidence that it can take new staff 6-12 months to fully get to the same capability and productivity levels as existing staff, and that the productivity of the staff responsible for training and coaching them will be impacted as well.

This is all fine, as long as it is acknowledged upfront. If we tell people that we know their productivity will drop while they get up to speed with these new changes, or help train new staff, then we are helping to reassure them, and managing our own expectations.

But the biggest mistake I often see is a reluctance by senior managers to face that truth. We refuse to change people’s targets, we expect them to still meet the previous demands, and what happens?

First morale drops, and then productivity drops, morale drops more because people are struggling to meet unrealistic targets and then they leave or go off sick, and productivity drops further. In the end the change we’ve introduced fails or we have less staff than we did to start with and we’re actually achieving less than we did before not more. It is almost Oedipal in it’s obviousness, you can see it coming a mile off. So why do Managers do it?

For me this conversation comes down to Managers rather than Leaders, and a failure to look at the actual problem we are trying to fix.

When I work with organisations to understand the outcomes they are trying to reach, or the problems they are trying to fix, productivity is often mentioned, especially in operational delivery spaces.

But by working with both the leadership team and the people delivering on the front line, productivity itself is never really the problem. It’s the IT, or the processes, or the checks and balances we’ve put in place creating multiple handoffs, or generally a mixture of all of the above. So, we’re back to changing processes or introducing new tools or ways of working, but we’ve already said that doesn’t help, right? No.

Changing the tools or processes is absolutely the right thing to do, BUT, we have to really understand why we are doing it. Equally investing in people and training them is absolutely the right thing to do, but, we can’t solely make it all about upping productivity, because that forgets the people who are at the heart of getting things done, treating them solely as resources rather than individuals with thoughts and feelings. By telling people we’re trying to improve productivity we make it sound like they are not already being productive. By imposing change on them to simply improve productivity we are treating them like cogs in a factory and demotivating them before we even start.

Instead we need to talk to them to really understand the problems they are facing, and what blockers or issues they are having to work around to do actually their job. We need to consider their views and ideas and involve them in the process of making any changes. By empowering our people to talk to us about the issues they are facing and consulting them we are hopefully getting them motivated and invested in any changes we make, rather than making the change happen to them we are doing it with them.

We also need to look wider than one particular function or area, it’s likely that what looks like a productivity issue in one function, is actually a more systemic issue. By just trying to improve productivity in one area we are not considering the design of the whole service, but instead working ourselves into a silo.

While we may have assumptions about what changes will work, we we have to accept we may need to try out different options to really improve things, and we have to acknowledge this out loud. Again, it’s important to manage everyones expectations so that people don’t feel disempowered and like the change is happening to them.

And finally we have to reassure people that we know that for a short period of time productivity will drop and that is ok. And you know what? It is ok. Yes, we all have targets to hit, but if for 2 or 3 months every case worker out there processes 13 cases rather than 15, that is acceptable, because within 12 months’ time, if we as change leaders have done our job right, they’ll be processing over 20 cases rather than 15. And they’ll feel listened to, they’ll feel supported, and in the end productivity will go up.

But it’ll be a biproduct of successful change. We’ll have taken people with us, we’ll have learned from the work we have done, and probably given ourselves a nice backlog of things we can do to keep improving things, so that productivity can keep improving; but more importantly our organisation will hopefully be a better place for everyone in it.

So please, next time you hear a senior manager say “My focus is improving Productivity” just ask them how? And if you are that Senior Manager, ask yourself, “Why?” What is the problem you are really trying to solve? Is it really just about productivity?

We need to lead people, not simply manage productivity.

Originally posted on Medium

Making a change or making progress.

At a leadership conference recently there was an interesting debate about whether people perceived making a change or making progress to be more important.

Everyone on my table voted for making a change, my vote initially was for making progress, and so we debated what the difference was.

For me, change can be positive or negative. A negative change isn’t necessarily bad, you can learn from it, but it won’t necessarily move you in the right direction. If you don’t know what outcome you’re looking to acheive or how you will measure whether the change has had the effect you want, how do you know if the you have delivered value or not. There is little value in making changes just for the sake of it.

Progress to me means you are moving in the right direction, towards the outcomes you are looking to acheive. It can be slow, or achieved in small increments, but it is always valuable.

But both good changes and delivering progress both depend on you knowing the outcomes you are looking to achieve, and in my experience that is where organisations tend to struggle most.

They can say what they think the problems are, recognise that things are right, and be willing to make changes to help themselves make progress, but a lot of the time the changes are superficial, offering what are thought to be quick solutions to what are actually much deeper problems, and so the progress is slow and painful.

To transform an organisation and the services it delivers requires a massive change in how the organisation is structured, and more importantly how it thinks.

In my experience this change often starts within Digital, because the organisation views its technology or digital teams as not delivering. And yet the teams can not deliver because the organisation can not express the outcomes it is seeking to achieve or understand the wider problems it is seeking to fix.

This is why user research and business analysis are so important. Why we run Discoveries and encourage service design approaches that span the organisation as a whole, rather than remain within the silos the organisation has structured itself into.

These conversations can be uncomfortable, they challenge hierarchies, organisational structures and traditional assumptions, but they are there to help. Service Design and Product Management is about fostering and supporting those people able to lead those critical conversations, creating the environment we need to deliver outcomes for users and value for organisations.

Being transparent about what the real problems are, and open to new ideas and approaches at an organisational level is key if we want to change and adapt in order to make progress.

When looking to make changes its important to consider the environment we are working within. No conversation is best done via board papers or email, it is best done in the room face to face.

If we can’t move to a culture that values the time and commitment it takes to have those conversations then we must acknowledge that any progress we make will be slow and painful and not deliver any real value or acheive the outcomes we were looking for.

But for all that, recognising that change is needed is the best first step. Stepping up and admitting there is a problem that needs fixing in order to allow you to make any progress against the outcomes you want to acheive is not always easy, but it is important and something we should talk about more.

Needing to change doesn’t mean you have failed or not made progress or delivered no value. It just means you have learnt from what you have done, and recognise there is still more to do and we should celebrate that and talk about it more positively.

Originally posted on Medium

Changing perceptions of Women in Leadership

Originally published at digileaders.com on November 3, 2017.

Zoë Gould, Head of Product and Sue Griffin, Head of User Support Services; DWP Digital

Last month we delivered a breakout session at the Women into Leadership conference in Leeds.

The conference is about managing the challenges of modern leadership, recognising and rewarding female leaders, and enhancing leadership opportunities for women so they can build skills to become the leader they aspire to be.

Redressing the gender balance

In DWP Digital we’re changing lives by transforming the services we deliver, using new technologies and modern approaches to improve things for our users. DWP is huge — we’re the biggest government department — we support 22 million customers and release over £168 billion in payments each year. We’re working to solve important issues, supporting people when they are at their most vulnerable; in order to transform our services we currently work on 50 million lines of code and have around ten thousand IT system changes per year.

However, there is gender imbalance in DWP Digital as we have a shortage of female specialists and leaders — a challenge we share with many large digital organisations where less than 25% of digital roles are filled by women.

We want to change this and improve the gender balance.

The size and scale of our work offers up a lot of scope for a career in digital technology — so how can we change perceptions to help women develop in a digital career?

Well, in DWP Digital, we’re making progress.

We have our Women in Technology group, with a pretty active core membership of people who are keen to maximise the value of being part of this community. People who want to improve gender equality and help members reach their full potential by encouraging personal and professional development. We’re working hard to avoid having all male panels at events, and we’ve developed a list of more than 350 women who work within digital and are able to speak at events.

We’re also developing a ‘Digital Voices’ programme initiative to build confidence and engagement skills in women in DWP Digital.

And in June we ran a Women in Digital event, which was open to delegates from across the sector, including cross-government and external private sector representatives.

Normalising, not diversifying

In DWP Digital we’re driving an ethos where a diverse organisation is seen as the norm; where it’s possible for women to be leaders and have our skills valued. One of the biggest hurdles isn’t the technology — its culture.

We’re aspiring to be an inclusive organisation where the outcome is the focus, and to get there we collaborate and develop together regardless of gender, race, sexuality or disability.

Being open and talking about the changes we need to make and why, is the first step, so we’re vocal on social media and through our blogposts. Taking action is the next step, so we’ve set up diversity groups and we have a diversity charter. We’re making sure our recruitment process is fair and that we have mixed panels at interview. We’re engaging our communities by telling our story.

But we know there is still work to do on breaking down the perceptions of digital and technology. We know the words themselves sometimes put women off from considering careers or roles within this area, and now we need to consider what we can do and how we help break down those perceptions. We need to talk more about the non-technology specialist roles, about the skills and characteristics we need within digital. We need to look hard at the language we use and consider how we be more inclusive with the words we use.

Why not check out Digital Leaders’ 2017 Attitudes Survey Results to see the key takeaways about view on Women in Tech.