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You're working on something important - it needs buy-in from the top. You know the routine.Present your case to the board, answer a few questions, they think it's great, you get the go ahead.
You start. Things go well. Then you hit an obstacle, so you ask for some decisions and support.
What you get in return is a mish-mash of opinions, questions and lot of dithering. The decision-making silence is deafening. Tumbleweeds. Leaving you no further forward and nowhere else to turn.
Not quite what you had in mind? It’s all too common, it happens a lot. You, I and many others have been there. The very structure that is meant to clear the way for you, be bold and decisive instead becomes one of your biggest blockers. Why?
Well the words ‘agreed’, ‘approved’, ‘proceed’, ‘support’ can give you the illusion of a decision being made. They send you a positive message but mean nothing if they’re just another product of another agenda point at yet another board meeting - discussed, half-heartedly agreed and recorded to be filed and forgotten.
Bringing them to life and giving them real meaning has a lot to do with clear, individual consequences.
You see a senior 'owner' on paper means nothing without them having some real skin in the game. People will take action if it’s in their interest to do so. If it’s not important enough to their agenda (yes, they will undoubtedly have one), they won't. If it's not a priority for them, if getting it done doesn’t elevate their standing or if there's no individual pain from failure, you may find yourself on your own. Position wisely if you want real backing.
I once worked with a consultancy who wanted all their new starters to meet a director within 3 months of joining. The new person would get a feel for expectations, the opportunity to ask questions and an assurance that they were valued.
Everyone thought it was a great idea, lots of nodding agreement at the board meeting, a CEO happy that his senior team were backing this and even some actions recorded on that minute document. It was on.
Except it wasn't.
Everything continued as before. Regardless of the senior support.
Only when feedback from new starters became part of the directors’ performance evaluation did things change. Suddenly it meant enough to be carried out in a way the organisation wanted. Funny that.
So, if your initiative is important enough, make it highly visible, ensure the right senior people own it and are very clear of the rewards and consequences – for them. Measure progress, remind them of their obligations – then it'll get the attention it needs, you'll get the support you deserve and the board will do the job they're supposed to.
About the author.
Surj Bami is the director of Blue Harper, a consultancy specialising in the Financial and Public sectors. He is also a director of LGimprove, a consultancy specifically focussed on Local Government excellence.
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The UK Department of Culture, Media and Sport has a bunch of facts and figures relating to 'creative industries' on their web site. Can you guess what sort of industries this description refers to? [Hint: The title of the department itself should give you more than a clue].
A government body promoting specific industries over others as 'creative' is puzzling. In fact the label itself is puzzling. I've lost count of the seminars, presentations, keynote speeches, workshops or business meetings where 'creatives' are mentioned as if they're some exclusive section of society. I've lost count of the Linkedin posts that mention 'creatives' as a set of people requiring their own unique label. Time and again I've heard presenters cosily mention 'ohh...us creatives..' or refer to '...the more creative amongst us' as if this tribe of wonder beings knows something we don't.
On the other hand, we're told that ALL children are creative, that creativity is to be encouraged and it lives in all of us (though one of the most popular TED talks in history states it can be killed). So if that's the case, it must follow that whatever industry we're in, whatever walk of life we take - in some shape or form, it's a creative one, right? Well you'd think so (this guy certainly did) - but no. Government administrations, social groups and entire conferences/webinars continue to dedicate themselves to 'the creatives' as a select group, in selected industries.
Let's say for a moment they're right. OK, well in that case, for the sake of balance, where are the "non-creative" industries? I don't see any. I don't see a department set up to promote industries that are 'creatively challenged'. I can't say I've had a flyer inviting me to seminar to celebrate the "non-creatively industry sector" to shoot the breeze with my fellow creatively-devoid attendees.
I get the fact that there's a distinction between fine arts and accounting, between literary theory and business management, between humanities and chemistry - I get that.
But one being specifically referred to creative over the other? Come on.
Claiming that word to define subsets has set a dangerous precedent. We've got to the stage where creative accounting has entered common parlance a murky euphemism as if the two words shouldn't even be seen together. Even among the so-called creatives themselves we see division (like 42 seconds into this classic Apple baiting Samsung ad :'...I'm creative..' - '..Dude, you're a Barista'). However that joke loses something when you see the impressive concept of Latte art.
So yes. Baristas are creative. Scientists are creative. Consultants are creative. Writers are creative. Your industry is creative. Whatever some people (or whole Government departments) think.
Creativity is not exclusive nor is it more attuned to any one profession over another.
Now go and be creative, because you are, regardless of the labels others give you. Am I right?
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Local authorities, already under pressure before COVID-19 will be under even greater pressure after it. As well as coming to terms with the operational impact of the virus, councils are at the forefront of protecting the vulnerable, providing support and leading any future recovery. They will be the ones building community resilience, revitalising the local economy and softening the impact for the affected. All of this within an already fragile budgetary landscape, which continues to shift under them towards an increasingly uncertain future.
Following media reports that Wales will be the most economically impacted region by COVID-19, the clever people at the Centre for Progressive Policy have taken figures released by the OBR and dug further into their meaning. By applying a calculation for GVA (Gross Value Added – the value added by a sector or organisation taking into account costs incurred) they have been able to compare the economic impact of COVID-19 on every local authority in the UK.
Extrapolating the figures for Wales reveals some stark messages:
From a 29% reduction in GVA to a massive 43% it’s clear that Wales faces some tough challenges ahead. Combine this with the assumption that the UK economy will shrink by 35%, that Wales shores up the lower levels of economic well-being indices and that 43% of towns in Wales are in the worst affected tenth overall, it could see itself in the eye of a perfect storm.
While the debates about central government provision will continue (an excellent article by my colleague Dan Bates here), what can councils practically do to position themselves for the future?
An immediate focus is the robustness of income analysis. Sources of true income, projected losses and the impact on the ability to deliver services are all areas worthy of almost forensic attention. In the authority I’ve been working with in England, the government has asked for high level estimates on potential income loss, providing an opportunity to build a rudimentary economic case. This is a good first step but over and above the government return, there is an internal need for the analysis to be granular, building in ‘what-if’ scenarios and in the absence of any ‘end date’ showing multiple timelines built around local recovery knowledge, not predefined time scales.
Secondly, understanding that recovery may not be linear, uniform or even comparable between councils adds a further need for individual clarity. For Wales, place-based variations such as rurality, agriculture, tourism, hospitality etc. will highlight significant economic recovery differences. One possible approach is to give the sectors that supply the local economy a weighting that reflects their true contribution. Factors such as income generation, employees, wages and ‘knock on’ impacts across the locality are all useful inputs. Taking this weighting and then applying the most up to date analysis on sector impact (there are many sources, the ONS analysis is here) can build an evidence-based local picture. As the impact projections change, so will the picture.
Finally – ensuring that the organisation is fit enough for the challenge ahead may be the hardest part of all. It will mean implementing changes at pace, with focus and clear accountability. The issues here will be unique to each council. For some they will be cultural, for others it may be procedural inertia, technology dis-enablement, convoluted governance or even senior leadership capability. For many it will be a combination of these factors and more. Whatever they are, however long they’ve been there, the current situation will bring them out. It will highlight that while they may have been talked about and written down in best laid plans, any practical execution failings will be exposed. An honest, dispassionate assessment (no matter how uncomfortable) is a must for the well prepared.
Councils across Wales and the UK may now be the key to recover from the biggest challenge many of us have ever known. The times may be ‘unprecedented’ as everyone likes to tell us – but so is the opportunity. It is now about which councils will be ready to grasp it.