S01E03 Leading a positive change in the world and at work

Boss leading team discussion meeting at modern multiethnic healthy office by KeyStock

Gosh, look, it’s episode 03! Writing weeknotes is a little like therapy — A chance to make sense of what I’ve accomplished and learned this week. So let’s recap.

A quick recap

We started in S01E01: Thank you COVID for my weeknote! by laying out my arc — the change I want to make in the world this season. Last week, in S01E02: Learning to learn and other future-proof organisation designs, I learned I could easily get derailed if I didn’t reign in the scope. So I refined the list I’d already defined and confined it to a limited scope. I also listed all the other things I’m juggling so I could keep track separately. This week, I’ve been joining the dots.

Joining the dots

Here’s that arc again, even more refined:

  • How might we keep pace with the world as a ‘designed organisation’ that learns together?
  • How might we improve our approach to data governance so we can more effectively use data to achieve our goals?
  • How might we use patterns to improve how we deliver value through data more quickly and effectively?

So what connects these threads? Two things: Leadership and managing change. These are the common themes that run through my arc. In fact, you could summarise it like this:

How might we lead positive change in our organisation so we can more easily lead change in data management and make use of patterns to improve how quickly we deliver value the organisation needs?

That’s it in a nutshell. The threads are my scope for that question, because it’s a big, all-encompassing one that leaders in progressive organisations have been tackling. Not just in the digital age but through this global pandemic.

Why data? It’s what I’ve loved for 25 years. I’ve always worked in data. Despite data being deeply tied to digital and technology, the reality is data is quite a bit different. Data existed and continues to exist on paper. It was on clay tablets, papyrus and any surface humans could write on for as long as we could make marks about the things we care about.

Even in today’s age of artificial intelligence and machine learning, data used in organisations is still very much about people. And that’s why leadership and managing change can help — if we can change how people behave towards data, give them the tools to deliver faster, more effective products, and create ‘designed organisations’ that encourage learning, we can get the value we desire.

Making progress

This and last week brought new connections, new realisations and helped me refine my thinking. Here’s how I did it.

How to sell data governance to diplomats?

You may know that the Prime Minister announced the merger of Department for International Development and Foreign Office about three weeks ago. This means a broader audience for the Data Service I run. I caught up with Shaymoly Mukherjee of The Guardian and Data Governance Know How London to ask just this. We concluded I needed to know what keeps them up at night. This led to learning.

What do diplomats do?

The Introduction to British Diplomacy course from FutureLearn has been a treasure trove of jargon-busting and fact-finding. Two things stood out :

  1. The jargon buster to understand and model the words people in diplomacy use;
  2. The day-in-the-life-of featuring the High Commissioner to Kenya and the Ambassador to Ireland — both the same role with intriguingly different titles.

Next week, I’m on week two of the course and connecting with colleagues at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as we forge a new organisation together.

What challenges do design systems face?

I caught up with Tim Paul, Head of Interaction Design at GDS to learn more about the gov.uk design system. I found the challenges very similar to those faced by data standards. This bodes well for designing a design system for data. On reflection, data standards don’t go as far right now as design systems, though I’ve been informed HXL a standard for sharing humanitarian data just might! Sadly, I can’t access the link.

More learning needed here to properly articulate what I think a design system for data could do and how it could deliver value.

What are my challenges as a leader?

I mentioned that leadership is needed to manage the positive change in the world and at work. I’m learning all the time about my approach to leadership, what works and what doesn’t. As a reformed developer, putting myself in other people’s shoes is critical to understanding what they need and reflecting that back.

To help me get my message across better, I’m acting on making my communication memorable and learning compelling and confident communication with Matt Abrahams of Stanford Graduate School of Business.

On my mind is how I can support my colleagues during this pandemic as well as taking care of myself and my family. It’s tough out there for everyone — the pandemic, losing your daily rhythm, the pressure of living at work. I’m taking time next week to give great feedback with How To Give Great Feedback In A Virtual (And Uncertain) World by Lisa Earle McLeod, author of Leading with Noble Purpose: How to Create a Tribe of True Believers.

And finally, acknowledging what I need to understand better. As a service owner , how might I improve how I understand & communicate the benefits and performance of my service? I asked on Twitter and I’ve been ruminating on this today.

Twitter: I have an ask! As a service owner, I want to improve how I understand & communicate benefits of my service

How am I feeling, really?

A little unmoored to be completely honest. I recognise this is the dip where the energy of excitement has transmuted into the simmering frustration of your initial clarity becoming a little muddled. Experience tells me this too will change with time, progress and most importantly action.

Losing my confidence here would be the only real waste — even if nothing comes of my arc in terms of outputs, I’ve learned and connected with so many people. It’s a no regrets strategy.

See you next week — keep safe.

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