The Manual

Short blog post this time, just to introduce The Redbridge Manual to the world.

Over the last two years we’ve replaced all of our most senior managers and set a new direction for the council. Staff know things are different, but they haven’t always been sure exactly what that means.

I’m familiar with this problem — when I started at NLGN back in 2010 I would occasionally demand things like ‘awesomeness’ from my team, to be met with justifiable questions about what precisely that involved.

I think our organisational strategy comes in two deeply intertwined segments. The ‘what’ part is about the future we’ll try to help build for the borough. If you want to know more about that, you can check out our scenarios for the future of Redbridge. The Manual is all about the ‘how’ — it talks about the kind of organisation we’ll have to be to deliver on our hopes for the borough.

The challenge we’ve faced is, as always, about the balance between bottom-up and top-down strategy. The Manual is a slightly paradoxical document; a top down intervention aimed at building bottom-up capacity for change.

The whole goal of our organisational change work is to build a digital organisation (don’t worry, we don’t use this language internally). What I mean by that is a place that puts customers first and puts power, information and responsibility as close to the frontline as possible. Do this in the context of a strong, participative corporate strategy and great enabling technology and you’re on the way to creating the Fully Automated Luxury Council.

But in the hierarchical world of local government, you can’t empower the frontline without first changing the upper tiers of the organisation. So the Manual is based on lots of conversations with lots of staff, but it’s essentially an intervention led by senior managers to explain our direction. My hope is that we’ve provided just enough structure for our staff to think about what this all means for them and to bring it to life in their services. The idea is to offer basic underlying principles but not to mandate what those look like in practice. As long as you can tell me how you think your service reflects the Manual, I’m happy.

The document lands through our staff forums, where we discuss the future of the council with hundreds of our people. The first one was yesterday and so far we’re getting a really warm reception. We’re training the people who work on front-of-house and on the Redbridge tea trolley to explain the manual and I’ve started a deeply irritating Yammer tag called #meandmymanual, complete with images of confused-looking staff holding the thing.

But yeah, it’s a piece of paper and so what? We have a couple of answers. The first is that I’m currently investing in an organisational development programme for the council, to build capacity across the piece but with a particular focus on middle managers. The Manual is the primary input to that. There are specific things here which we’re already making happen — a new business intelligence function, transforming our customer services, taking apart and rebuilding our corporate transformation team.

Our approach to organisational change has exploded over the past year. Each directorate now has a substantial internal programme which my team has helped to set up (see previous posts about my team’s MASSIVE kanban). Those programmes are the result of a load of sensible but not especially strategic proposals. That’s inevitable — a lot of what we needed to do in areas like housing was pretty obvious and just needed executing, and of course we have a budget to balance.

What does success look like for the Manual? In a year’s time, our ideas for change should clearly be taking us towards something approximating the council of the future.