What do you need to know when you start a new job?

I joined Camden in September 2018 and I’m still loving every minute of it. Its creative energy, vision and its drive to work with everyone that cares about the borough to help people live together.

Camden has a proud, rebellious spirit that throughout its history has seen communities come together to tackle problems, and bring about real social change. In a previous post, I shared the takeaways I had got from a leadership programme. One in particular stood out, how you can lead from the start when you arrive into a new organisation. These are the lessons I’ve learnt in starting my new job as Head of Strategy.

1. Start with the context

Understand the challenges & opportunities that the organisation and the place it serves faces. While councils often face similar issues, what are those that are specific to the place they serve?

  • How do we influence growth in a way that creates social value?
  • How do we prioritise support while making the borough liveable for everyone?
  • How do we adapt our capabilities to respond to the challenges we face?
  • How do we help people take advantage of the borough’s assets?

My new context — Camden — is very urbanised. This will be attractive to people with the high turnover that creates. It will be attractive to business with the investment that generates. It will be attractive to the state too, where building infrastructure in high density areas is more cost effective than elsewhere.

  • Understand the environment and culture of the organisation. In many ways, this is even more important than its challenges. What are the keywords that capture the essence of its spirit?

For example, in Camden it’s all about how everyone can make the borough. In Waltham Forest, they want to build a movement of “makers & creators”. While, in Lambeth, they want to develop a “cooperative” borough. What keywords would define the organisation you work for or even the place you live in?

2. Start with relationships

Recruiting people reminded me of the lessons I’ve learnt on what to do in the first few months. What would you do?

By the first month, focus on understanding the priorities, relationships and impact your service needs to achieve for the council and the borough. Build relationships with the people that can help make this happen.

By the first three months, focus on improving the way the service works to meet people’s expectations. Create spaces & resources to mobilise decision makers around the current & future strategic challenges.

By the first six months, focus on developing the service’s capabilities to create spaces for change across the borough. Embed these improvements into wider frameworks.

What does this mean for how you develop yourself and your team?

3. Clarify objectives to prioritise what matters

We all know that cliche about the dustbin working on NASA saying he was helping put a man on the moon, but mobilising people around a mission is critical.

  • Prioritise work by the team by what matters most and adds most value
  • Agree how best the organisation can help embed change
  • Align ways of working & balance of work to meet expectations
  • Identify what functions can be grown or shared with partners
  • Review your impact on shaping strategic change
  • Align your team’s capabilities to meet future needs

4. Build support to create opportunities for change

We have strategic priorities that we worked with different communities to develop, which we call Camden 2025, but how does that match up with the culture of the borough and how people want to make their neighbourhoods better as the illustration above shows?

  • Assess how well the organisation’s culture aligns with strategic priorities
  • Meet people that influence the organisation to understand their context, influence & appetite for change
  • Provide resources to mobilise them around current & future challenges
  • Help them identify intervention points where they can influence change
  • Deliver quick wins that will help embed strategic change
  • Use learning from quick wins to improve mechanisms for collaboration

5. Develop the performance of your service

Different people in your team will have different motivations for why they’re working in the service, they will also have different skills that may or may not have been used in the work of your team. They may also have different levels of confidence and need different types of support.

  • Assess the motivations, skills & performance of your new team and set expectations with them
  • Coach the team to develop their skills to meet performance targets
  • Work with the team to test out improved ways of working
  • Assess the capabilities & governance required to meet future needs
  • Show & review impact of the team and agree actions for improvement
  • Integrate new ways of working with wider organisational frameworks

6. Drive & embed change internally and externally

You may have developed a good understanding of what makes the organisation tick, what are the top priorities and how your team can work with you to make the place thrive, but how do you actually make it happen.

  • Collaborate to develop solutions that deliver impact & influence wider change
  • Review the impact of solutions on achieving intended objectives
  • Integrate new solutions into strategic functions and organisational frameworks
  • Review the impact of embedding change and further change needed
  • Work with stakeholders to embed change externally

How would you measure success for how you’re progressing over these six months? What indicators would you use to give yourself a temperature check?

Here are mine:

  • Understanding of context
  • Readiness for change
  • Ability to influence
  • Commitment to vision
  • Capability to deliver
  • Energy to sustain momentum

What would be yours?

Head of Policy & Research @newhamlondon #localgov Co-founder of #systemschange & #servicedesign progs. inspired by @cescaalbanese