You work in local government and your chief exec and leader have made a vlog about the new corporate strategy and vision for your borough. There is a glossy booklet, web pages and social media is doing its thing spreading the word about the future for your area.
'Welcome to Wooly Borough Council: the place to work, rest and play. Our corporate vision: brighter futures, connectiveness, environments and happy streets. We aim to do better, be more and digitize everything. Over the next three years, we are going to build business resilience, supply sustainable solutions, net zero services and support vulnerable communities'.
This is awesome. It’s why you got into public services, what a visionary vision, a futuristic future, service-centric services! Finally!
Then you stop and ask, “that’s great, but, what do you mean?”
Our research into change during the COVID pandemic
Since March 2020 we’ve been conducting industry research into how local government reacted to the pandemic, which processes were enhanced, and which ways of working went out the window. We interviewed leaders, directors and chief executives and held panel discussions online examining how, exactly, local government handled change during the pandemic.
As a result of this work, we started working directly with local councils to evaluate their responses which led to opportunities for further research.
So what did we find
We found that there are six ingredients needed for effective change. Coming in at numbers one and two are purpose and clarity.
Purpose and clarity are like crackers and cheese. Sure, have them separately if you want, be a foolish snacker. But put them together and you have a winning formula for communicating change/eating snacks, whichever metaphor you’re managing to follow here.
Clarifying our purpose
Cheese aside, our research told us that people need a mission to get behind. And at every level, people need clear expectations, instructions and targets in order to achieve that mission. There are dozens of management models proving exactly this (SMART goals, Johari windows, SWOTs, ADKARs, PESTLEs), and yet we found that pre-pandemic, clarity was a little muddy.
Then the pandemic hit, and our purpose was suddenly crystal clear:
Health: Protect our vulnerable residents keeping them indoors. How? by providing them with weekly food, medication and someone to chat to.
Education: Reduce inequality in education. How? by supplying access to devices such as laptops, routers and data for households that cannot get online.
Workforce: Reduce the spread of the virus. How? by implementing remote working at once and protecting our front-line staff with PPE, dynamic risk assessments and social distancing.
Suddenly it all became clear.
Building clarity into projects
Right now we are, rightfully, emboldened by our awesome pandemic performance in local government. How do we ensure we continue our mission to ensure purpose is clear as we move forward into post-pandemic projects?
We go back to basics.
Decide what you mean (this really is back to basics)
You’ve delivered your mission, great. Then you find yourself frustrated two weeks later when what’s been done so far is not remotely what you had in mind. As a leader, in any role, you need to decide ahead of communicating with your team what you actually mean. To prevent a team of ten coming away with ten different ideas on what you told them, it’s down to you to set the scope, what’s in, what’s not – the how, the when, the gaps, the outcomes. You don’t need to pander, or do the work for other people, but if you want effective change, you must be clear.
Before you launch your change, take time to work on clarity. Start with the end product, if you know it, or the problem you want to solve. And work back, map the loose process, think of timescales, resources, risk. You’ve more than likely worked your way up to leading change, think about what you wanted when you were implementing rather than leading and be the leader you needed then.
Decide what you mean.
Communicating with clarity provides assurance and confidence that your mission is aligned with your communities’ needs. Let’s say your purpose is “to improve public health” – your residents already know they need to put in the hard work, but it’s all a bit vague and parental. If we change that purpose to “we want our residents to live longer”, this communicates care, it highlights the issue without patronizing residents about their health and it shows your priorities and crucially, that you are people-focused. It is clear.
You could of course stick to management buzzword bingo, you could “adopt transparent interconnected holistic agile solutions to key public transition zones”, Or, you could put your money where your mouth is and “increase public safety by installing new streetlamps on well-known walking and cycling routes”.
Instead of this...
|“Be more sustainable”||” We want to make our community healthier by extending our cycle lane network to reduce our carbon footprint”|
|“Be more agile”||“We want a healthier workforce and aim to reduce absence by offering flexible working”|
At every stage, clarity adds meaning, increases precision, and moves us along faster – especially in change management. Free up all that time you lose to misunderstandings and going down project rabbit holes. Will there still be misunderstandings? YES! But will your team thank you, and follow you, if you are straight with them and say what you mean, if you clarify what you need from them? Absolutely.
And if you do this at every stage, if you clarify what actions need to happen, what roles everyone has and why you are working towards your goal, you will achieve much more effective change.
If you’re on the receiving end of communication and you’re not clear, ASK! Change leaders who need to work on clarity should welcome opportunities to clarify if that’s what’s needed.
Bring clarity into each stage with key action sentences:
- “To be clear, this project will deliver cheese and crackers to each blog writer…”
- “What this looks like in reality is….”
- “In practical terms, this includes these tasks, in this order…”
- “This is what the end result should look like…”
- “Can I ask for clarity in the project roles, which tasks are assigned to…”
- “Please can you clarify what you mean by agile performance? Is that yoga?”
- “Can I check in with you on my takeaways from the meeting, I need to clarify a few actions”
Learn more about clarity
We’ve continued our research and are building a change community through online workshops – for free. This means that you can join us on 3rd December 2021 and listen to our panel talk, with clarity, about clarity. You can ask questions and join the conversation too.
Download our first white paper, sign up to hear about the next White Paper and join our free change chats.