Technology Won’t Kill Meetings – But We Can

untitled-presentation

Technology failed us.

We thought the world of work was to be reimagined. The death of the office. The end of email. A utopia of work/life integration fueled by work-where-you-want technology.

It hasn’t happened.

Six years ago 2.8 million people made daily commutes of two hours or more. In 2016 that’s risen to 3.7 million.

People report attending an average of five meetings a week with over one third saying they are unproductive, admitting to checking emails, Twitter and even Tinder.

And despite unprecedented access to virtual tools – our actual productivity has slumped to the worst level since records began.

Is it possible to spend a whole year in meetings?

In 2014, a research team from Bain and Company used data mining tools to analyse the Outlook schedules in a large company. It concluded that in one calendar year the organisation spent 300,000 hours in meetings.

Given there are only 8,760 hours in a year that’s quite some feat.

It’s because of what they termed the Ripple Effect:

  • The weekly Executive Meeting – essentially a status meeting – accounted for 7,000 hours.
  • 11 Unit Heads met with their senior team to prepare for that meeting – another 20,000 hours.
  • The 21 divisions racked up 63,000 hours in the subsequent team briefings.
  • 210,000 hours were “sub-meetings”. Literally – meetings about the other meetings

Very few of us do the meeting maths. As Jason Fried has written – the time blocked off doesn’t equal actual time spent. A one hour meeting with 6 people is a six hour meeting. A 15 minute meeting with 9 people is a two-and-a-quarter-hour meeting.

What if every meeting we had kept a real time counter of the salaries in the room, increasing minute by minute?

If you’re brave – try running this meeting calculator at your next one. Even if you run it based on the average UK wage the results are eye watering.

We all know we can be better than this.

Work can be better than this.

We can make it more collaborative, more efficient, more connected, more transparent, more elegant, more fun. 

In the current incarnation of Bromford Lab we’ve abandoned meetings altogether, even weekly planning. We run our work through Basecamp which prompts us to answer “What do you plan on working on this week?”.

We get a daily prompt to ask what we’ve completed and can answer it at our convenience.  The productivity , or sometimes lack of it, is visible for us all to see.

Technology is not to blame. It’s our failure to adapt our leadership for the digital age.

We still have a tiny percentage of leaders who are really living a digital lifestyle. There are still relatively few having open debates , showing transparency in public discourse , answering questions online and sharing progress.

Until there is a monumental shift in the leadership dynamic from the old fashioned command and control to a collaborative, status free, matrix way of working, then we will still have all those meetings.

The challenge is spotting the friction and noise that is dragging us back to 20th Century management behaviours – and then personally doing something about it.

Technology didn’t fail us. We failed technology. And it’s our job to fix it.

 

Moving Away From The Reactive Organisation

Our job is to the mind the gap between the bureaucracy of our systems and the opportunities in our communities – Cormac Russell

festival-of-strengths-paul-taylor

The first step is realisation. Accepting that most of us in the social sector are employed because of failure.

As Matthew Manos has written – it’s a field of business that profits from past societal failure – rather than the contemplation of the signals of failures that have yet to exist.

The entire premise relies on reaction.

The challenge – as we discussed this week at the Festival of Strengths – is how to switch your organisation to be pre-emptive. And that requires a whole system change.

A move from telling to listening.

A move from managing to coaching.

A move from filling the gaps with services to closing the gaps through connections.

festival-of-strengths-paul-taylor-1

It also means taking a position. Believing in what people can do rather than what they can’t. That’s a philosophy that doesn’t sit easily on a business plan. Predicting what your services look like when the ultimate aim could be less service is difficult.

However running a business where you admit you don’t have the answers boosts your capacity for innovation. It immediately places  you in a collaborative state. Willing to seek advice from others , open to new partnerships.

festival-of-strengths-paul-taylor-2

The bureaucracy of our systems would be solved if we stepped back and only did what we can do best. At Bromford we are focussing on the ‘irreducible core’ of service that our communities must receive from us.

The services we currently have that replace, control or overwhelm the power of community will become obsolete. The second of our organisational design principles is that we should think community first, services last.

festival-of-strengths-paul-taylor-3

It’s not easy to change people’s mindsets from doing to connecting. It’s not easy to remove the scripts, policies and rules we have built around our institutions that suffocate creativity.

As Philippa Jones writes here, Bromford have been exploring this way of working for nearly five years. The launch of our new localities approach will see Neighbourhood Coaches with patches of around 175 households replacing traditional Housing Managers who each look after 500 households. Last year we invested £1.1m in testing it, and following successful pilots we’re rolling it out at a cost of £3.5m.

festival-of-strengths-paul-taylor-4

At the Festival of Strengths I was lucky enough to share a platform with the people from Wigan Council. Their work shows that Adult Social Care doesn’t need to be in a permanent state of crisis.

There is an approach that both Wigan and Bromford share:

  • They refused the urge to panic when their environment changed – instead investing in people and giving them the space to think differently.
  • They gave people permission to challenge preconceived practices and ‘rules’.
  • They refused the rush to technology as a solution, recognising the vital role of people as a differentiator of service.
  • They took a different attitude to risk and learning from failure

And both are at the early stages of seeing the rewards from their investment.

Seemingly – what’s good for communities is also good for business.


The full slide deck from the talk is available here

Building Trust and Standing Out in the Digital Age

commshero-paul-taylor

In many ways the events of 2016 are less a surprise and more the logical outcome of what we already knew.

As I wrote early last year – we are in an era of ‘trust deficit’ – where more people distrust institutions than believe in them.

When belief in government, business, media and nonprofits dips below 50%, you are bound to see mavericks emerge to challenge the incumbents.

At opposing ends of the spectrum Farage, Trump and Corbyn have used digital and physical networks to leverage the untapped potential in these communities.

Question is – will this mood of anti-establishment dissent sweep across the social sector?

Let’s be challenging:

  • Housing talks to housing.
  • Care talks to care.
  • Health talks to health

I could go on. It’s not so much an echo chamber as an entire galaxy of echo chambers – each their own solar system of professional bodies, conferences and award ceremonies.

If a malcontented public has taken a swipe at the political establishment for being out of touch and bureaucratic – we surely have to consider ourselves fair game too.

The only difference being we can’t be voted out.

But what if Uber really did do health, housing and social care? It seems impossible to imagine our failure to adapt and change is not being carefully watched by leaner, smarter start-ups.

As consumers we are well-informed and volatile as never before. Through pervasive social media and connectivity we are inundated with information which magnifies any grievance – real or imagined.

At Comms Hero this week Grant Leboff pointed out that we’re now so inundated with noise even Coca Cola are marketing as one brand in an effort to stand out.

The point Grant made was clear – in an age of storytelling you need to take a position. If you have no position you won’t keep attention. And most communications fail as we don’t have the balls to take a position.

Conversely there’s huge opportunity here for organisations:

  • Mediocrity doesn’t happen by accident. It’s a choice you get to make everyday. You can take a position tomorrow.
  • Trust is built through engagement and integrity -we can consider whether every action we take is a trust builder or trust killer.
  • We can enshrine transparency as part of our values – with less talk of innovation and more demonstration of our impact.

In the US election only one voter in 50 viewed both candidates as trustworthy; nearly one in three voters said neither was.

Without trust, institutions just stop working. The incumbents get disrupted. 

Many organisations have chosen to ignore the warnings about public expectations of more openness, transparency & accountability.

Any leadership team or board who are not actively building trust right now are in peril.

 

Is the social sector really getting better at learning from failure?

101122-failed

Guest post with Shirley Ayres , Chris Bolton and Roxanne Persaud

Innovation in the digital sphere can be complex and risky and there are not sufficient opportunities to share learning from failure. One year on from the Practical Strategies For Learning From Failure Workshops we asked the organising team:

Is the social sector getting better at learning from failure?

Paul:

I see few examples of organisations openly sharing where things haven’t gone as planned.

There’s a fascinating contradiction in behaviour. Whilst there are virtually no leaders who would argue against the importance of failure as a source of learning, our actions show a preoccupation with sharing success.

This cultural bias towards success runs deep. Projects are largely funded on the basis that they will all work – something that we all know to be entirely false.

Within organisations we still reward and promote based on results and past performance targets- not experimentation and deviation.

Destigmatising failure and capturing the learning will happen by organisations taking overt action rather than through inspirational leadership quotes shared happily on Twitter.

It will take establishing new teams and protocols – breaking the chains of targets with perverse incentives to guarantee “success”.

If the social sector is getting better at learning from failure – it’s doing so behind closed doors.

Roxanne:

Acknowledging failure is a risky endeavour which has been unhelpfully constrained by risk management processes.  

The formula used by public sector and business leaders is simple: admit what went wrong, apologise and move on with a promise to learn lessons.  Unfortunately this usually happens in the face of mistakes which are too obvious to ignore.  Dealing with this kind of crisis in public is more likely to traumatise a team than support the kind of reflective learning we introduced in #LFFdigital.

Another failure management process which seems easier to learn from is low risk – ‘fail fast, cheap, small’.  The uncomfortable implication is that we can never get things right enough in the first place. Failing fast requires a shift in the way we do things, threatens our credibility and our own sense of ever being able to do a really good job.

Perhaps we are not seeing an open culture of learning from failure when this is a frightening prospect for even the best social sector organisations.  

Shirley:

What is changing are public expectations of more openness, transparency and accountability in the social sector. What may have been hidden in a report a few years ago is much more likely to be subject to scrutiny and comment through  social media. Trust in organisations whose stated mission is social good can be seriously damaged when there is a reluctance to admit they have not achieved what they set out to do.       

Whilst there seems to be consensus about the need to share learning from failure many organisations are working in a competitive funding environment which does not encourage this to happen.

Funders and commissioners have an important role in sharing the learning and also quantifying the real costs of failure in terms of missed opportunities, bad investments and continuing to make the same mistakes.  

It is time to use the digital tools now available to provide real time data and analysis about whether projects have achieved their anticipated and desired outcomes and impact.

Chris:

Moving from a long standing public service culture of not dealing failure as an inevitable consequence of working in complex situations, is a huge shift in human behaviour.

Pervasive ‘social practice’ is generally one of; minimise the risk and ‘don’t talk about it’.

We behave to fit in with social practices in an unconscious, automatic manner. Shifting the burden of dealing with failure off the individual and making it part of the social practice is something you could argue the aircraft industry has achieved.

Over the last 18 months however, I’ve observed more people talking about failure as something we should recognise and work with. While this is a long way of a large scale behaviour change it is helpful in changing the ‘meaning’ around failure. If the ‘meaning’ (the unwritten rules, social taboos etc) start to shift, there is a chance we can start to change the ‘social practice’ around failure.


Are we getting better at learning from failure?

Please add your comments

Using Design Principles to Describe What Transformation Means

lessons-in-rapid-experiments-and-learning-from-failure

Digital transformation to me is about the transformation of organisations from silos, outsourced capability and murky strategic goals, to being an organisation that understands the vision, that knows where it delivers the most value and how to focus on it – Michael Brunton-Spall

Right now – if my backchannel Twitter conversations are to be believed – there are more people working on transformation programmes than doing any actual work.

Transformation is a nebulous term that no normal person would ever use in conversation.

I have a mistrust of anything claiming to be transformational for a few reasons:

Simply put – are we clear what the drivers of transformation are and what it is we are trying to transform into?

I’ve found it useful to create design principles for us to adopt as we think about or implement change.

There are eight principles in all and they underpin how we intend to exist – a demarcation between managing the present and inventing the future.

Having a clearly articulated and understood set of principles should help us do the following:

  • Get us all on the same page – or surface principles that we are unclear on and need further debate.
  • Avoid silos – as everyone is working to the same set of overarching principles.
  • Help us evaluate proposed work – as deviating from the principles is not acceptable, although they might develop over time.
  • Establish the use of the principles as “business as usual” for the way we deliver change.

Here they are:

bromford-design-principles-reworked-1bromford-design-principles-reworked-2bromford-design-principles-reworked-3bromford-design-principles-reworked-4bromford-design-principles-reworked-5bromford-design-principles-reworked-6bromford-design-principles-reworked-7bromford-design-principles-reworked-8

By embedding design principles we hope to better articulate what transformation could and should feel like.  Turning it from organisational junk language into something that people can apply to their everyday work.

We’ll let you know how we get on and how the principles develop.


 

Credit where it’s due: The principles are not original and have been heavily influenced and in part directly lifted from GDS team, Carl Haggarty, Vijay Govindarajan and many others. If I’ve failed to credit you and you spot a phrase I swiped, let me know!

Five Ways Social Media Can Inspire Creativity

untitled-presentation-1

Can Twitter make employees more innovative? In our study, Twitter users and non-users generally submitted the same number of ideas at work. However the ideas of Twitter users were rated significantly more positively by other employees and experts than the ideas of non-users. – Salvatore Parise, Eoin Whelan and Steve Todd 

Last week I was speaking to one of those people we rarely hear from anymore: someone working for an employer that still blocks social media at work.

In 2016 it’s difficult to accept these companies still exist. As if anyone can control people’s access to information as we all walk around with powerful computers in our pockets.

They asked me whether I would send them a few words in an email that they could distribute to their management team. Happy to help – I agreed.

Here’s what I wrote:

Hi, 

There are probably many reasons why you are blocking social media – and it could be for perfectly legitimate reasons. What I want to share is what your company could be missing out on.

Firstly, I think blocking is an ineffective approach,  77% of people use social media at work regardless of company policy.  Rather than blocking,  I think enlightened organisations should be encouraging all employees to use social media as part of their personal development.

Basically – your future could depend on it.

We live in a networked age – and having people who can put their network to work will be a differentiator for organisations.  

I think social media could be one of the best – and cheapest – ways to prepare people for that world.  

Social media gives you access to people who behave and think differently.  Use it wisely -encourage people to break out of your sector.  Actively follow people you don’t agree with. Your people will become less prone to groupthink. If you’re only surrounding your people with those who think like them – you are limiting your companies capacity and capability for innovation.  

The more diverse a person’s social network, the more likely that person is to be innovative. One study has even found that having a greater diversity of virtual Twitter connections means that good ideas are more likely to surface in the workplace. Get your people to make 50 new connections and ask them to submit an idea based on what they learned. 

Social media will help your people crowdsource opinion from others. I often find myself thinking out loud- my blog is essentially a brain diary to see if what I’m thinking connects with others. Learning out loud in our networks helps to seek new opinions and share our own with a wider group. It allows us to take half-baked ideas and test them out in public, with low risk.

You can make contacts without permission. I follow thousands of accounts on Twitter and use lists to organise them into themes. Some of these are private and some public. Twitter is chaotic but you can easily navigate away from the more toxic accounts. In fact I’d encourage people to embrace the chaos. 

You can turn weak online relationships into stronger ones in real life. I’d say you can pick up better ideas and insight in two hours on Twitter than you can during a full day conference. Increasingly people are using conferences as ways to enhance their online relationships – with attendees networking before and after the event. If your colleagues are not being exposed to that they are at a serious disadvantage. 

Far from being a way to share what you’ve had for breakfast,  social media has made it easier for people to meet and collaborate than ever before in human history.

How could you let your staff miss out on that?

Regards

Paul

______________________________________________________________

I haven’t had a response yet – but if they give me permission I’ll share it!

On subject of comms and innovation I’m out on the road in November on the Comms Hero tour. You can book here for:

8th November – Cardiff

16th November – London

29th November – Manchester

Hope to see you there!

Lessons in Rapid Experiments and Learning from Failure

In 1943, the U.S. Airforce met with Lockheed Aircraft Corporation to express their need for a fighter plane to counter a rapidly growing Nazi jet threat. Because of the need for secrecy “Skunk Works”, as it became known, was allowed to operate undercover. No rules and no bureaucracy that could stifle innovation and hinder progress.

It built the XP-80 in only 143 days, seven less than was required, and was given a full time remit to “break the rules in a safe environment”. 

I’ve given three talks this week to very different audiences – but they shared strong themes:

  • How can you kickstart different behaviours within the confines of an organisational structure?
  • How can we do experiments in public without falling flat on our face?
  • How do we make a business case for bright ideas in cash conscious times?

My simplistic advice is Think Big, Start Small.

The evolution of the Bromford Deal, featured in the slide deck above – began with just four people in a room talking about creating a new ‘deal’. We soon took three colleagues out of their operational roles and gave them a special remit – “what would we do if we started again?”

They operated in complete isolation for 12 weeks with a couple of ‘mentors’ dropping in occasionally. It was our own Skunk Works and a forerunner of what evolved into Bromford Lab.

After a raft of tests, pilots and detailed evaluation , Bromford has scaled the proposal, changed strategy, mobilised 130 new roles and is launching a transformed service.

Small empowered teams, bold tests, pilots demonstrating increased value to customers and improved cashflows have given us persuasive data to inform the business case.

More important than that is a culture that values the lessons learned when you are bold enough to attempt something that hasn’t been done before.

This week I spent a lot of time talking about rapid experiments.

Sometimes we need to scrap the comforting safety of product planning and project management. Instead, we should learn to practice high‐speed experimentation. 

The examples I give in the slides of frugal experiments are deliberately frivolous.

What happens if:

  • You stick Amazon Alexa in the office?
  • You put Google Glass on customers for home viewings?
  • You give people access to 3D Printing?
  • You install home sensors that can track the occupancy of homes?
  • You make video gaming available at work?
  • You get kids to redesign communities with Minecraft?
  • You use Whatsapp in place of team email?
  • You let your development team use drones to photograph land?

As I said to one of the groups I spoke to. We know the answer to all of these things. That puts us ahead on the learning and adoption curve of new technologies at work.

It’s these practical experiments that show whether the fundamental assumptions about radical innovation are correct and what they mean for your business.

The challenge? Shifting our learning from slow and expensive to fast and cheap.

How can you get your team to learn 10x  faster than everyone else?

Designing Out Problems Through Networks

img_5010

On Monday I attempted my swiftest ever return to work after a trip.

My plane from Zanzibar via Kilimanjaro and Doha landed at 6am. I was home by 8:30am, online by 9 and in work by 11.30am.

I felt like The Man Who Fell To Earth. I’d had 16 days without any problems. Now – they were back.

  • It started on the M6 – with our taxi driver talking of ‘six months of hell’ as new roadworks attempt to solve a perennially unsolvable problem.
  • It continued in work  as we talked of problems too big to take on at once – and the amount of resource needed to tackle them.
  • The media and the Twitter chat was all about big intractable social problems – health, housing and social care. The same big intractable problems we were talking about 5, 10, 15 years ago.

Here’s the interesting thing. In the 16 days previously I hadn’t encountered a problem – in circumstances where you absolutely might expect to find one.

  • My malaria meds arrived in time from an online retailer – supplied faster and more cheaply than the NHS could manage.
  • I took four flights that all took off on time and arrived ahead of schedule. The baggage, tracked digitally, arrived safely – as it always has with that carrier.
  • I stayed in four places booked online by Booking.com and Airbnb. Each one was expecting me, required no paperwork and I got exactly what I ordered.
  • I used about 10 taxi journeys and all of them arrived early – pre booked online or negotiated with local drivers who confirmed bookings through WhatsApp.

The only problem I had was that I bust my GoPro camera (human error) – but even this has been resolved and I have a new one just four days after I arrived back.

We can’t compare the problems of the UK and the social sector to a frivolous trip but there are lessons to learn.

  • New entrants are using the opportunities afforded by digital to step into the gaps and solve problems that have plagued people for years.
  • Smart organisations are reimagining their customer experience for a digital era rather than digitising existing services.
  • Platforms are replacing intermediaries – focussing on specialisms and performing the functions that organisations have traditionally found difficult.
  • Savvy entrepreneurs are spotting services ripe for disruption – introducing simple work arounds to turn distrusted services into trusted ones.
  • Communities are using technology to leapfrog the natural adoption cycle. In a village I stayed in most homes had no electricity or running water – and yet WhatsApp and mobile payments were common.
  • Additionally I observed the power of letting people solve their own problems – and shifting from the mindset of institutions as the default.

This is not a post about digital technology.  Although – everything that can be automated will be automated.

This is about networks. 

All of the things I have highlighted above have been improved by bringing in new entrants, building new relationships, forgetting the past and flexing business models.

Our organisations are not best placed to solve their own problems. They need help from a variety of sources – communities, entrepreneurs, technologists.

Any sector that has multiple players performing similar services is ripe for disruption. And right now multiple people are working on the biggest problems your organisation faces.

Organisations who fail to seize the opportunities will see someone else step into the gap and solve the problems for them.

Most of these people don’t work for you – and never want to.

The challenge is to bring these players into our  networks – reshaping our organisations with them.

Sitting around and waiting to see what they come up with is about the riskiest strategy we could adopt right now.

Using Weak Signals To Determine Your Future Organisation

istock_000009210253small

“Weak signals consist of emergent changes to technology, culture, markets, the economy, consumer tastes and behaviour, and demographics.  Weak signals are hard to evaluate because they are incomplete, unsettled and unclear” – Vijay Govindarajan.

Luckily for us the future doesn’t arrive in an instant – but unfolds seconds at a time.

Despite our organisational 2025 strategies, our five year forward views, it’s impossible to predict what our world looks like in the years ahead.

We are making, as Jason Fried has said, business guesses rather than business plans.

Launching a service or developing a new product against this ever shifting background is fraught with difficulty. What’s good for 2016 could be surplus to requirements a year later.

Today all our new services must be iterative and capable of scaling for mergers, growth and indeed for retraction and redundancy.  Designing for obsolescence is more important than ever. 

At Bromford Lab we’ve worked with our Insight team to give a tentative green light to a new service – and I think there are some lessons to learn. Tom Hartland gives an overview of our thinking here with an excellent slide deck showing the design process.

The concept is simple. Switch from being a reactive service (waiting for basic repairs requests) – and move to offering proactive coaching so people can do things for themselves. It’s aiming to tackle exactly the same things as many of our public services are: reducing demand by focusing on prevention rather than cure.

Lesson One: The test has been beset by implementation problems. 

As it should be. 

If you are launching anything new against the background of what could be legacy services and systems – it should be plagued by problems.

Expect lots of tiny failures. The worst thing you can do is to give up. Unfortunately many of our organisations, and certainly most of the media, do not think like this.  This is part of the re-education journey we need to take people on.

Lesson Two: The test hasn’t delivered tangible business benefits. Yet. 

So why are we recommending that it proceeds to pilot?

The answer to that is a mix of art and science. We have some evidence of potential success but we need a more detailed and longer term evaluation.

However not all insight can be gained through evaluation alone – but by picking up what futurists term ‘weak signals’.

Generally organisations are poor at picking up these signals. Arguably the fact that we are still talking about digital transformation demonstrates that the weak signals from the 1990’s onwards were largely unheard.

There are a number of signals that we are picking up at Bromford that – if correct- means our concept could have a very positive future. With time there’s a possibility of substantial financial returns – alongside fulfilling our strategic objective of growing customer skills and aspirations.

Here are a few of the things that we do, and don’t know about the future:

  • We have an ageing population with more people living on their own. We don’t know if this will have a positive or detrimental effect on future demand.
  • We know that driverless cars will soon be on the roads – drastically reducing transportation costs to get parts to our residents homes. We don’t know the speed of adoption.
  • We know the maker community – people using 3D printing and other self manufacture tools – is growing. We don’t know whether this will ever move beyond a niche and into the mainstream.
  • We know artificial intelligence – think Siri and Amazon Alexa – is rapidly advancing. We don’t know whether AI advice and coaching delivered through technology or a robot will ever be a good enough alternative to physical delivery.
  • We know housing associations are unlikely to be flooded with lots of public money in the future. We don’t know what future welfare reforms look like.

Putting all of these things together alongside the evidence we do have is persuasive enough to take the test to a next level.

None of us can predict the future – but we can attempt to second guess it. And the best way to do that is by low-cost experiments to test the unknowns, before gambling any big money.

Ultimately our organisations will succeed by exploring these weak signals – abandoning them as they fade or focussing investment when they get stronger.

The only choice is whether to be an active participant in what the future looks like or just let it relentlessly unfold around you.

How To Make Complex Things Simple

dt010414

I’ve just had to apply for a new passport.

It’s one of those things that you generally only do every ten years or so. It prompts you to ruminate on a few things.

Ageing: That old passport photo you were embarrassed about now looks like the ideal version of you. You shudder at the thought of what the 2026 edition will look like.

Life: Where have I been in the past decade, what experiences have I had, what have I learned?

And technology and design: Wow – the sheer hell of passport renewal has been replaced by….something quite simple.

Back in 2006 only 3% of us owned a smartphone. Today that figure is 71%. The phone is now the hub of our daily lives – transforming the way we interact with services.

It’s driven us to crave ever greater simplicity. Things we can do on the go. Complex tasks we can perform in minutes rather than hours.

Yet most of our organisations have not adapted to this.

Most of the problems we were set up to solve were relatively simple, but as organisations get larger, there’s more technology, more people, and more regulation. We put together processes, controls, reviews, and structures to deal with all these things. All of these factors together create a great amount of complexity.

For most organisations it’s easier to make a simple thing more complex than it is to make a complex thing more simple.

But our customers’ needs are not so complicated.

Making things simple for them is now a competitive advantage.

Back to the passport.

Mine came back in 8 days – 10 years ago it took about a month.

There are 6.7 million passport transactions in the UK each year – numbers most of our organisations couldn’t dream of handling. To understand how that’s happened it’s useful to look at one of the Government Digital Service (GDS) design principles:

screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-05-23-36GDS have achieved this transformation by doing less not more. They’ve not added new options – or any bells and whistles – they have ruthlessly focused on user need.

The only apparent ‘innovation’ in passport services is that there is now a beta test where you can take your own photo using a smartphone – making the process fully digital. If you’re in the business of manufacturing those little photo booths you get in supermarkets you need to move on. You’re going the way of VHS.

However this simplicity comes at a price – there’s only one way to get a passport. If you want one – you’re going to have learn how. That means acquiring basic digital skills for a start.

This is a world away from how most of our organisations , particularly in the social sector, operate.

  • We bend over backwards to do more things.
  • We create bespoke ways for customers to do business with us – trying to do the right thing but adding layers of complexity and cost into the process.
  • Our websites – often providing an illusion of digital transformation -offer so many services it’s often unclear what organisations actually do.

Doing less not more requires a cultural rather than a digital shift. The lesson from GDS is to find your ‘irreducible core’ – and then constantly refine and innovate against it. Accept we are not always the right people to solve the problem. Do what only you can do. 

How do you make your company’s services simpler? You can start by simplifying your company.

%d bloggers like this: