a short post about death

Even during the most pivotal moments of our lives we are only a few minutes away from being digitally distracted.

Twelve to be precise.

We check our phones for new messages every 12 minutes

Four weeks ago today we were just arriving in Ubud, Bali on day six of a planned 3 week trip.

Within a minute of framing a perfect shot for Instagram I got a text from Karen’s sister asking me to call her immediately.

You know it will be bad news.

Her mum had passed away suddenly, only a few hours after we last spoke.

When you get news like that your immediate response is one of confusion.

You can’t become numb as you need to take control.

Your mind cycles through thoughts ranging from the profound to the prosaic – and even to the selfish.

“How do you tell someone their mum is dead and that they are never going to see them again?”

“We’re 8000 miles from home. What do I actually need to do?”

“This trip is really over, right?”

“On the positive side, thank god we haven’t unpacked yet.

In these intensely human moments of crisis you realise how much technology is ever present.

  • Insurance companies offer to organise a flight for you ‘if you can wait 24 hours’,  when you can organise one yourself in just minutes.
  • Websites continually push barely literate chatbots at you when you just need a bloody phone number.

And as always it’s the people who really make the difference. You can go digital by default all you like but you can’t digitise human kindness.

  • The Indonesian Airbnb host who stops eating his dinner to drive you immediately to the airport.
  • The flight attendant who bravely attempts to ‘override the system’ to try to get you a couple of seats next to one another.

8000 miles feels a very long time when you’re just trying to hold things together.


Death is in our faces almost everyday – we hear about it on the news, we watch TV shows and movies featuring loads of it. But when it comes to the ‘everydayness’ of death, the sheer normality of it, we’d rather not talk about it.

We are obsessed with prolonging life and looking good. Society is urging us to eat healthier, exercise harder, buy more things – anything to put off the inevitability of death or even thinking about it.

Western culture keeps death at a distance. It’s just not for everyday conversation.

12 months earlier I’d been in a very different community in Sulawesi, Indonesia. In Tana Toraja, death is life and part of a longer spiritual journey. Families keep the mummified remains of their deceased relatives in their homes for years – and traditionally invite them to lunch on a daily basis – before they are eventually buried in ceremonies that go on for days.

The funeral we were invited to in Sulawesi was a great celebration of life, much like a going-away party.

It was an occasion in which the entire family of the deceased, and all the members of the village take part. During their lives, they all work extremely hard to accumulate wealth. But unlike in the West, they don’t save their money to buy consumer goods.

They save for a good send-off in death.


The funeral of Karen’s mum, Anita, on Wednesday was very different from the one in Tana Toraja. They don’t tend to make animal sacrifices in Stoke-On-Trent. And the funerals last for mere hours.

It was a beautiful send off though. A wonderful celebration of life and family.

Unlike a Torajan funeral where you’re literally invited to take selfies with strangers, everybody politely kept their phones away. Protocol meant we had to resist that 12 minute temptation to check.

Technology does have an important part to play though in how we grieve in a digital age.

We share our memories on Facebook and swap stories and recollections of our loved ones. We even share recollections with the profiles of our loved ones. Researchers say before the end of the century there could be as many as 4.9 billion deceased users floating around the internet. Our virtual selves and their associated memories will become as numerous as our real bodies.

That said, I made a commitment this morning to spend a little less time on my phone. Karen nearly fell out of bed in shock. I’ll repeat that commitment here as a public statement of intent.

We have an endless gift for caring if we allow time for it.

Sometimes we really need to disconnect in order to reconnect with what matters.

What Digital Transformation Is Not About

#WAODigital18
I’m hearing a lot about testing multiple small things and spreading what works – rather than investing in single Big Bang solutions. The world is moving too fast…

— Chris Bolton (@whatsthepont) June 14, 2018

“How ambitious can organisations be in using digital technology?” was the theme of two recent events I contributed to for the Wales Audit Office Good Practice Team. 

It served as both a reminder of the issues our organisations are grappling with – as well as unearthing some opportunities we are yet to exploit.

Here’s a round-up of my post-match thoughts:

Success in digital transformation depends on mindset, not technology

The problem is that digital change requires a completely different mindset, not just skill-set. The consumerisation of IT means we are forever playing catch-up.  Employees are using popular tech and devices at home and then introducing them in the workplace, whilst customers are using better tech than most of our organisations can hope to provide.

Redesigning our services around this is cultural rather than technological. It means we need to adopt very different organisational behaviours.

Stop talking, start experimenting

Organisations are still over-thinking digital and being cautious – waiting for the landscape to settle before they decide what they do. Arguably this ‘wait and see’ option is more ‘wait and die’.

When you don’t really know the way forward the best strategy is to spread your bets with small experiments. It’s these low-cost practical tests that show whether the fundamental assumptions are correct and what they mean for your business.

A focus on cost-cutting is a danger in transformation plans

Focusing everything on cost savings is outdated and will ultimately have longer-term implications for business in the digital era. There’s a huge opportunity for companies to broaden the lens and widen their ambition:

  • Rebuilding organisation’s as a platform – enabling people to select the suppliers and services they themselves want
  • Rewiring your organisation for the network era – stripping out hierarchy and management and making a transition to decentralised decision making
  • Automating everything that can be automated. But not before stripping out legacy protocols and systems.  Decommissioning old world services as you launch new ones, reserving your people for worthwhile jobs that add value to their lives and those of others.

In reality, many of us are delivering the same services as we did in 1970,  just with shiny websites and ‘customer portals’. That’s not transformation, that’s stagnation.

Technology cannot solve your organisation’s deep problems

If someone gives you the digital sales pitch as a golden bullet for systems that are fundamentally broken my advice is, don’t believe themShirley Ayres

The problem I have with digital cheerleading is two-fold:

  • The implication that all our problems are easily ‘solvable’ 
  • The subsequent rush towards technology – as if digital is the only solution.

The evidence that technology makes us more productive is weak at best. There’s an ever-increasing gap between technological sophistication and work actually being performed.

This is because we are simply taking existing ways of working and digitising them – effectively just transferring today’s problems to another platform.

‘Digital transformation’ is rarely about digital, or transformation.

It’s actually about the processes by which you change your business model or approach. Some of which will have digital elements.

We need to talk about leadership in a digital age

Digital illiteracy will get you fired long before a robot does. Digital is now not just part of the economy — it is the economy. Rather than it being the responsibility of an elite few surely anyone in a publicly funded role must be digitally literate?

Perhaps leadership in the digital age is less a set of skills and more a set of behaviours.

The challenge for current leaders and public sector organisations is the legacy thinking and a business model disconnected from citizens living digital lifestyles.

What is digital transformation anyway?

If your transformation doesn’t significantly change the customer experience of interacting with you, then it is not a transformation.

Indeed, the first rule of digital transformation is not to talk about digital transformation.

As Tony Colon writes – most employees wouldn’t be confident and nearly a third would be “extremely uncomfortable” in explaining what this concept actually is:

Let’s think about that for a second. The concept that businesses are betting on is something that the general population just doesn’t understand – even though they need to play a part in that transformation at work – and the entire premise of digital transformation relies on people.

Making the opportunities of digital real for people is becoming one of the most pressing priorities for our organisations.

Our biggest challenges are dealing with people’s belief systems, addiction to legacy processes and cognitive biases.

Digital transformation is not a ‘thing’.

It’s a race you can’t win with no end destination.

 


Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels

 

 

Redefining Trust In A Digital Age

Trust is not coming back. Scepticism reigns, as it should. – Gerry McGovern

Since the industrial revolution,  a trusting relationship between individuals and organisations has been the norm.

This has shaped the way we communicate – both internally and externally. It has resulted in the issuing of corporate annual reports, press releases , customer satisfaction scores and benchmarking results. All designed to tell a positive, on-message story.

Those days have gone.

As Gerry McGovern writes – the game has profoundly changed. “Many organisations are still deluding themselves into thinking that if they can just get their marketing and PR right, they can control the message, control the future.”

I’m not a smoker, but I’m told that if you really want to get a view of what’s happening in an organisation you don’t look at the intranet. You go to the smoking shelter.  There hierarchy has no place. You get the real story behind the corporate version, and you get the stories that the corporate machine hasn’t yet realised are happening.

In 2017 we all have our version of the smoking shelter. Our news and gossip travels through the likes of Twitter and the backchannels of its direct messaging system. It thrives through end-to-end encrypted chats on WhatsApp and in peer-to-peer customer exchanges on our Facebook pages.

Institutional trust isn’t designed for the digital age. No government , never mind a single organisation, can control it. The official source is now secondary.

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Over the past 17 years the Edelman Trust Barometer has surveyed tens of thousands of people about their level of trust in the sectors of business, media, government, and non-profits. This year was the first time the study found a decline in trust across all four.

It comes at a time of staggering lack of confidence in leadership: 71% of respondents said government officials are not at all or somewhat credible. 63% said the same about CEOs.

In a world where 76% of people trust leaked information over a press release, we have to rethink what trust means in a digital age.

As part of design work we are doing at Bromford – we’re beginning to redefine what we mean by organisational trust in both a colleague and customer context.

It’s easiest to think about trust in a personal relationship like marriage or a partnership. It’s built through four things:

  • A shared agreement on values, goals or ambitions
  • The behaviour that supports that agreement
  • An understanding of the implications and consequences of breaking it
  • Continued openness and honesty

Applying this to our relationship with organisations is subtly different.

We need to feel that organisations are competent and have the ability to fulfill their commitments. We need to believe they have the right motives, are benevolent, act fairly and honestly. We need to see they are transparent, that they are learning from mistakes and failure.

However, the digital age is disrupting the accepted rules of trust. No longer is a relationship solely between citizen and institution. What was once a fairly simple one to one relationship – with information limited to them directly – is now placed within a much wider context.

The network effect of technology has created a way for people to share experiences more quickly, and to more people with more detailed information than ever before.

The challenge for organisations is not for them to try to rebuild trust but to leverage the power of these new networks to do it for them. 

It means reducing the gap between organisational rhetoric and the reality.

That means it’s time to do less talking and more listening:

It means stopping saying how great your organisation is.

It means engaging rather than broadcasting.

It means defaulting to transparency.

It means people as your ambassadors rather than just the CEO.

Trust now lies in the hands of individuals, not in our organisations.

 

Resisting the Rush to Technology for Solutions

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Is anyone else getting tired of the talk –  and it is mainly talk – of digital transformation?

The endless rounds of conferences, clubs and lists of so-called digital leaders – all promising a tech utopia.

At a recent event I observed an audience listlessly staring at their iPhones as a speaker described how digital was changing the world.  It certainly has  – no-one was paying him the slightest bit of attention.

The problem I have with digital cheerleading is two fold:

A) The implication that all our problems are ‘solvable’ 

B) The subsequent rush towards technology – as if digital is the only solution.

Organisations are too often focussing on form rather than function , digitising the prosaic and easily achievable (customer portals anyone?) rather than having a fundamental rethink of why they exist. 

As I’ve argued before, transformation is not about the illusion of radical change  – but a reshaping of purpose.

All the work we have been doing at Bromford over the past five years has convinced us of three things:

  1. There are problems in communities but there are even more opportunities. We have learned that our customers and communities have many skills. That even if  they do need ‘help’ they are just as likely to find what they need from a friend or a neighbour as they are from a ‘professional’.
  2. That many of our most challenging issues fall into the category of Wicked Problems like social isolation, health and income inequality. These aren’t amenable to a single organisation, top down instinct to define, analyse, dissect and process.
  3. The challenge is connecting the various players and closing the gaps. Who is connecting the connectors? 

Over the next few months we will be launching a completely re-engineered way of providing our service – an evolution of the Bromford Deal.  

It’s less about Bromford as a single purpose organisation and more of organisation as a platform. Organisation as a super connector.

It’s the result of all the testing , piloting and exploring we’ve been doing over the past few years. The learning from all these pilots has brought us to an overriding conclusion: we can have the most impact with our communities when we truly get to know them and are freed from the shackles of how we used to do things.

Those shackles include silo working, restrictive policies, a reliance on contact centres and customer relationship ‘management’ software. As if customers are there to be ‘managed’ anyway.

Are we just Luddites?  I’d argue not – the principles will be supported by mobile working, collaborative tools and digital networks. However we are resisting putting burdensome technology in the way of relationships.

Digital evangelists too often presume that it will solve all our problems. By doing this we embark on the worst kind of technological solutionism – that risks ignoring the skills, assets and sheer talent that exists in our communities.

Who is connecting the connectors?

Starting now:

We are. 


 

Note: We are recruiting to support this! 

You can see a video of the new approach (perfectly narrated by Lab Manager – Vicky Green). 

Here’s a link to example job profiles of the Head of Locality and Neighbourhood Coach (these are available in different geographical areas – go to main Bromford  recruitment site)

If you’d like any more information or a quick chat, just message me here or via Twitter DM and I’ll connect you to the right people!

Get Social, Embrace Disruption: Serving the Connected Customer

I’m thinking it’s about 6 minutes to midnight on the Digital Doomsday Clock.

Time is running out on the organisations who are yet to board the bus. Yet to start the journey to being different businesses serving changed customers on a multiplicity of screens.

1 in 4 Executives from around the world believe the time has already come to implement digital transformation across their organisations, and that doing so is already a matter of survival. For 63% – the pace of change isn’t happening quickly enough.

I’m in agreement – there are 3 things we need to do , and quickly

1 – Get Social

Having a Twitter account and using a hashtag at a conference doesn’t equate to digital leadership.

The concept is still developing , but the effective digital leader doesn’t say “change takes time” or “there are barriers in the way”. To quote from an excellent article by Mike Clarke:

Digital leaders review and dismantle traditional infrastructures that act as barriers to innovation or which do not add value – they support and champion people that are close to service users and customers – they help people unlearn bad habits & some non-digital skills that impede progress”.

They embrace disruption.

2 – Agree It’s Not So #FutureTech

The future doesn’t arrive next year. It’s here. Now.

John Popham has remarked in a post that there is a  “real divide in our society between those of us who live every day with the possibilities offered by new technologies and those to whom these things are a peripheral interest.”

Having a Customer Services Leader (at any level) with a peripheral interest in social and digital service is no longer fit for purpose – we need to support and re-train people to face up to the connected customer. But we need to balance this with the ticking clock – new skills and thinking may be required.

And don’t make assumptions about your customers. That 75 year old lady you think won’t like the internet is a level 85 Tauren Druid on World of Warcraft.

3 – Reimagine Connected Customer Service 

Let’s not digitise our existing customer service offering . Let’s look at the possibilities and build a new vision. Look at how Amazon have innovated within the digital space. Look at how Wonga have made the user experience really simple and intuitive. Whether you like these brands and what they do is irrelevant. Look and learn.

The steps I would take are these:

  • Align digital with business goals and strategy (If need be , review them)
  • Have a flexible vision. Keep it under review , daily if need be. Don’t try and guess what it’s like in 2020. Nobody knows.
  • Secure buy-in from your Executive team. And continually reinforce it.
  • Develop a project roadmap but make sure this is kept under review too. New tools can emerge very quickly. Agility is key.
  • Develop guidelines for how social and digital tools should be used. Avoid policy as much as you can. Build trust.
  • Agree resources (social and digital are not free). GIve people the tools for the job.
  • Nothing is certain. Accept failure is OK. Just kill things quickly and humanely when they are not working out.

It’s six minutes to midnight on the digital doomsday clock

Better start serving the Connected Customer

The Battle Against Digital Disruption

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A friend of mine – a Housing Association resident – has just received her shiny new smartphone.

  • It’s got a High Definition display more advanced than a TV that just four years would have cost over £1000.

  • It can be controlled without actually touching it. It tracks her eye and wrist movement and stops playing video if she looks away.

  • It automatically scrolls down a document when she has reached the bottom of the page, intuitively following her gaze.

  • It keeps her in touch with news, local information and her community via an ever present blend of her social networks.

She is a digital citizen.

And she is resident of an analogue housing association.

The association has a website – but she says it doesn’t look good on a mobile phone, which is her primary way of dealing with the world.

  • She can interact with the landlord online but it’s essentially an email form. She says it’s quicker just to phone someone.

  • Her landlord sends her post and an occasional newsletter. She finds this both funny and wasteful.

  • The other day she received a paper survey despite giving them her email address three times. The survey asked her if she had a mobile phone, even though she had been using one to deal with her Housing Officer ever since moving in.

Welcome to a new breed of resident. Residents who live digital lifestyles that are completely out of sync with the operating system of the landlord.

This is what Brian Solis has described as “Digital Darwinism” – a time when technology and society are evolving faster than the ability of organisations to adapt. Solis points out that in ten years a failure to adapt to change wiped 40% of the Fortune 500 companies off the map. They vanished.

But that couldn’t happen to a housing association could it? Bricks and mortar are different, surely?

Social Housing is at a pivotal point. It’s fighting on two fronts. The struggle to adapt to a life without subsidy on one hand, the battle against the threat of welfare reform on the other.

But there is a third fight that cannot be ignored: The digital revolution that is transforming the expectations and behaviours of customers.

At the moment many organisations think this is the lesser of the three threats. Some don’t even see it as a threat at all. Many hide behind statistics that show that many social housing users don’t have internet access. But high percentages do have access and have good digital skills. And that figure is growing every day as the cost of mobile devices plummet.

In the meantime:

  • Our customers become ever more digitally adept – overtaking many of our colleagues. (I believe there are as many digital illiterate housing staff as there are tenants)

  • Our Housing IT Systems become old and monolithic. (In this sector it’s not about who has got the best Housing system – it’s who has got the “least worst”)

  • Our Customer Relationship Management systems struggle to adapt to the social media age. (CRM was built in a time when people thought customers could still be managed. Check out your Facebook page – you’ll see that they can’t. They say what they want)

It would be insanity for a Housing Association not to have a plan for how it will survive in a world without subsidy. It would be suicidal for us to not to have a Welfare Reform strategy. But I speak to many people whose organisations have not even considered what digital transformation looks like. Not considered a world where customers will always have better technology and communication abilities than they do.

You need a plan. And it has to be one of your key strategic priorities with the right ownership and the right level of resourcing.

I advised my friend to get in contact with her Housing Association and offer to help them as she would be a great resident contributor.

She went on the website but couldn’t find a social media feed – her preferred way to engage with organisations. So I helped her decipher the housing jargon and suggested she look for a “Get Involved” section.

She eventually found it.  Tucked away at the back end of the web.

It said “Under Construction. Coming Soon”.

 

(This post originally appeared on housingassociations.org. Image and quote via James McQuivey)