Ok – so back at the desk and trying to find my blogging rhythm post PHD submission. I need to get into some kind of discipline with this I think. So – to do that I can tell you that coming up are posts on the network of networks as we have got some RSA catalyst funding for that which I need to get moving on and also something on democratic/digital identity which feeds into another research project. Also have some book reviews to come from the “Box of Dangerous Ideas” – everything that should have been in the thesis if it had been published earlier. But enough warm up – here’s the post!
I have spoken at a lot of events recently and by accident or design I keep coming back to the theme of digital leadership skills and I wanted to unpack this a bit here. Part of my preoccupation with the topic is a personal need to reconnect with my own leadership practice – in the finish frenzy with the PHD I don’t think I have been as communicative or as open with my thinking as I could be with my own team (sorry folks – and thank you again) and I think focusing on it again makes me realise its importance. But enough about me….
But the main reason is a logical extension of the kind of conversation that I facilitated at Comms Camp which explored the real blocks in social media use within organisations – we need leaders who ‘get’ this stuff if we are going to move forward. It also links to the discussion at UKGovcamp about ‘what next’ which turned into a discussion about leadership.
I would also argue that we need to audit relevant skills throughout the whole organisation – but I have framed this post in terms of what resources leaders need access to to lead in a digital and networked context. Leadership is a topic which I think risks being more talked about that actually practiced and this is not intended as a wider debate of the literature around this. My own view is that we need to be developing relevant skills to lead through networked rather than hierarchal power and I’ve written about that elsewhere.
I have spent the last few years (at least at weekends!) immersed in ideas about Digital Civic Space – the online equivalent of our offline public realm. I’ve been thinking about the gap between the commercial spaces that ‘the market’ builds and the needs of civic and democratic society. Having emerged from this I am now looking for the people who are going to build it (this research is ALL about the action) and as I start to talk about these themes more widely I have started to come up against a skills gap. The first part of addressing this is in getting people to discuss that gap.
I use the term ‘Digital’ to refer to a set of behaviours as well as technologies and if this were a more academic article I would probably be talking about the shift to the network society and a participatory culture – both of which are enabled but not defined by the technology. However – in a less academic way this is about the ability of digital tools and behaviours to be a major driver of organisational and process change.
This is increasingly understood by Government (just look at what Carl Haggerty is cooking up in Devon) but this post is specifically aimed at people (elected or un-elected) in leadership positions. How many times have you heard someone senior claiming not to understand technology? The passive put down in terms of referring to twitter in terms of ‘twittering’? Or simply referring the whole digital ‘thing’ to someone else, more junior, in the organisation? My point, frequently stated to a sharp intake of breath, is that if you are not expecting to retire in the next 12 months then this kind of disconnection from such a significant subject area is not only poor judgement but also irresponsible. I believe that every senior team needs at least one person who understands the potential of digital networked technologies to transform their organisational model and practice and this person may or may not also be the person responsible for ICT.
This is a presentation I have been using recently (or variants of) to describe what I mean by digital civic space:
This presentation tends to trigger a variety of responses (including the need for a cup of tea and a lie down) but it does tend to connect the aspiration to create digital civic spaces with a discussion about the skills needed to do this.
The list below outlines some of the areas where I think we should be developing in future (and current leaders), based on the earlier definition of digital. Not all of these are needed directly – I am not an accountant but that doesn’t mean I can’t work fluently with my Financial Director. We need the skills to lead/manage these new areas of expertise not necessarily adopt them all ourselves.
- An understanding of networked power: One of the defining features of a changing workplace, and society, is the erosion of hierarchical power. Understanding how networked power operates in your own environment will be essential
- Collaboration skills: This is a natural corollary to networked power, while government has been taking about partnership and collaboration for a long time it has been against a backdrop of hierarchical power. Real collaboration requires a different set of skills.
- Co-design skills: In the networked councillor work (and other places) I have talked about the need for a more co-productive relationship with the public but to realise this we need to see more co-design skills, applied internally and externally, within organisations.
- Social media ‘social’ skills: This is not a matter of telling everyone to start tweeting but instead an acknowledgment of the fact that the way in which we create and consume information has changed and leaders need to have a contemporary view of what this change means.
- An adequate understanding of the basic lexicon of digital: Somewhere in your head is a fuzzy picture of how the Internet works, or your own organisational network, or the cloud, how accurate is that mental model? You will inevitably be managing people with this kind of lexicon and you may be spending millions of pounds of this technology. In the same way I need to be able to talk balance sheets with my FD, leaders will need to be able to relate to discussions about technology.
- Horizon scanning and research: The wonder, and concern, of technology is its rate of change. Who is horizon scanning for you not in terms of what’s shiny but in terms of what’s useful? Don’t you need domain specialists who are able to do this?
- Data skills: Data is the byproduct of digitisation as well as the main ‘fuel’ for our online lives. Open data is a central part of any agenda of open government and something which is an established element of any discussion of ‘future government’. Organisations should benefit from the data that they are creating and in the case of open data be exploring ways in which local data could not only inform better decision making but also be driving local economic growth. Data and data sharing is also an important underpinning to any form of organisational collaboration. Do you have someone in your organisation who is thinking about how your data can work more effectively to meet your strategic objectives?
- Digital commissioning: Government has been very poor at procuring ICT solutions – we have to get better at this. Enough said.
- Agile project management: I have written about this elsewhere – but the ability to plan and manage projects in a more agile way is important both in terms of technological ‘fit’ but also with respect to working within complex and chaotic environments.
Many of these may, in the future, be embedded within the standard skill-set of different professions in the way that communications specialists are considering how to integrate social media into their practice. One question to ask of all of the professions is how they are managing their own skills renewal as this is not a technologists manifesto – organisational leadership may come from a variety of professional backgrounds but my point is that that team, however its made up will need access to these skills.
There is of course a link to the work on the Networked Councillor here as in a democratic leadership is also needed – but until our town planners are thinking about the augmented reality embedded in the high street and the senior team is able to reference technologies which barely exist today and might be transformative in 2 years time then there is a lot of work still to do.
As ever – comments and challenge are very welcome.