By Jonathan Flowers, Capita
Earlier this month I facilitated a session at Public Service Launchpad around a theme of “making it happen”, the process of going from having a good idea to making it a reality. There was a lot of energy in the room and some tweeting afterwards from people who were sorry to miss it. This blog is designed to capture some of the core learnings.
A Model of Influencing Styles
We started with “an icebreaker with a purpose” which introduced a model of influencing styles that I have used for years. A quick bit of Googling suggests that it’s in the public domain, so I will share it here. Basically the notion is that there are four core influencing styles.
Questions for the reader (and for the people in the room on the night) were:
- Which of these styles is your most natural one when you are influencing other people?
- Discussion about whether some of these are possible given the time pressure we’re under
- Which is the style that you prefer being used on you when someone is influencing you.
- Aha! Sometimes it’s different. Quite a few people might naturally seek to use “Assertive Persuasion” when influencing other people but would prefer a participation and trust approach themselves. Learning: the way someone influences isn’t necessarily the way to influence them (though it can be).
- What is the dominant influencing style of the organisation you are trying to change? (This is the killer question).
- In the room we got people to move and stand in corners of the room corresponding to the answers to the questions, and this one saw quite a lot of movement from how they wanted to be influenced to what the style of the organisation is – we finally got a group of people in the “Rewards and Punishment” corner, for example.
The application of all this is pretty obvious; consciously think about the influencing approach that will work, and practice unfamiliar styles for situations where you need them.
We reflected briefly on something that I find interesting in the context of launchpad and similar spinout and new “business” activity. In 1984 four people were working for a small traded services part of Cipfa called Cipfa Computer Services. They were confident that what they were doing added value to their local government customers, felt they would be able to grow it successfully, but needed more investment in order to grow, so they spun out the company, buying the business from Cipfa for £330,000. That public sector spinout was eventually called Capita – and today it employs 62,000 people and has a market capitalization value of just under £7bn, within one “organisational generation”.
During the time that we have been involved with launchpad I have found it interesting to reflect on the ways in which the “public sector spinout” parts of Capita are still present in the organisation today, and how we can utilise some of that to help launchpad and similar schemes.
The Birth of AXELOS
Next we had a case study of an idea being brought to fruition – specifically AXELOS (www.axelos.com) , which is now a joint venture between the Cabinet Office and Capita, whose aim is internationally to commercialise the intellectual property in ITIL and Prince2. Martyn Taylor from the Cabinet Office and Chris Dobson from Capita did a double act explaining how the Cabinet Office had initially thought to bring it to market through getting a JV partner via a formal OJEU process, and Chris describing the process which had taken place within Capita to develop the idea – to test it with user constituencies, changing it in the process, then to formulating and agreeing a business plan which was acceptable within Capita and (obviously) to the Cabinet Office.
For me, some of the key transferable learnings related to the process of user testing. By engaging a whole range of potential user constituencies in codesign type activity, the assumptions about likely takeup, target markets etc could be validated to convince the “client” (ie the cabinet office in this case) but also (as Chris reported, the harder constituency) of the Capita board. Another element to this was the process used to win support internally within Capita, such that the final decision – at which the board decided to put significant investment into AXELOS – was essentially on the back of a 10 slide deck.
The next major theme of the evening involved understanding the nature of work in politically-accountable organisations. Without going into great detail about this, I laid down a challenge to the group to form a “political party” dedicated to public sector reform – to elect a leader, and determine a manifesto. To my complete lack of surprise the group failed to do this (and got excoriated in the press as a result). Learning points are that:
- Where groups of people come together to achieve an overall objective this does not imply that they will all agree on everything and compromises need to take place – this takes a lot of time
- Moreover that process of compromise has to happen in private – on the evening we had a mischief-making journalist stirring things up while the deliberation was taking place; which was quite disruptive to the process
- Once a compromise has been “baked in” then members of the group have to hold fast to the chosen line whether they initially agreed with each specific point or not
- Additionally, since the compromise consists of an interlocking set of agreements, bringing a new idea to bear which changes one part of the mix potentially risks destabilising the whole thing.
Overall this means that innovation is likely to be best received during the time when a new set of agreements is being formed (often during the annual budget process, recognizing that the broad shape of the decisions will often be happening many months before the actual budget setting process). Furthermore innovation which goes with the flow, and gives least resistance to the settled agreement, will be much more easily incorporated into the group view.
This was taken further by the opportunity to hear from a real elected member – Jonathan McShane, a Cabinet member from Hackney Council. Jonathan shared some specific examples, and advised that external approaches of new ideas to a council needed to be tailored to the particular circumstances of the council. So, an idea which clearly reflects the interests of the officer (staff member) or councillor (elected member), and which includes some evidence linking the idea to the current situation for the authority, is far more likely to win an audience than a generic “spam” mailshot. Researching the current situation of the authority can be difficult, although it’s worth noting that a lot of key council documents are online, many members blog or use other means to communicate, and that council meetings are open to the public (except under certain very specific circumstances) – so it is possible to do that research, and get under the skin of a particular council.
So… food for thought. It was obvious on the night that different people took different things from the discussion. I’m looking forward to supporting some of the Accelerator ideas, and am planning giving a talk to the Accelerator folk about engaging with/selling to the public sector on 4th March.