Weeknotes S01 Ep06

Which is mostly about inspirational people.

I’ve hit my 6th weeknote, the point at which I said I would review whether to keep pressing ahead to 10.

The Sesame Street number song

When I caveated that I would review at 6, I honestly thought that getting here would be a massive slog and that I would struggle to get my thoughts to paper, or that I would run out of interesting things to say [1]. I didn’t want this to become a weight around my neck.

In actual fact I’ve found it the opposite. Writing weeknotes has been energising, I look forward to doing it, to the conversations I know I will have afterwards, and gifs, I always look forward to gifs.

Its helping me to gather my thoughts and have better conversations about things (as you’ll see on Wednesday). So I’ll definitely be pushing to 10 episodes.

On Monday, we completed the second section of our epic journey from Cornwall with a toddler; Bristol to Letchworth. 6 hours is far too long a journey for a toddler so we had to do it over two days, three hours is the absolute maximum you can keep a toddler happy in a confined space.

In the afternoon while the husband napped and aforementioned toddler watched The Secret Life of Pets for the 400 millionth time [2], I caught up on my emails and planned my week.

The best bit in The Secret Life of Pets

Tuesday I worked from home, and it was slightly frustrating because I felt like I spent an inordinate amount of time waiting for people to send me stuff so that I could get on with my bit of it. One of those things didn’t get to me until 10pm…

Either way I reviewed some accessibility audit proposals and sent them to a stakeholder with my thoughts, and managed to draft a procurement proposal.

I also added some new links to the Learning Library including some great stuff from Leisa Reichelt’s Tiny Letter, which I wholly recommend you sign up for here: https://tinyletter.com/leisa

I really liked that there seemed to be a theme this week, which was the fact that completing transactions with Government online is stressful. I think sometimes we forget just how stressful it can be for people. And that’s not linked to Digital Literacy, it’s linked to the activity being important, people worry about important stuff.

I’m currently applying for 30 hours free childcare, and it has not been a frictionless experience. I work in this area (so you would hope my digital literacy would be high) and I’m actually considering giving up because I can’t be bothered with the fuss.

Wednesday I was back in the office. My day started with news that Ally, our Engagement Analyst will be leaving us. Ally is an incredibly quick, organised and proactive B1 who joined our team from outside the Civil Service, but I know she has an amazing career ahead of her. She will be going to the private office of one of our Ministers, which is exciting and crazy and will be an immense opportunity for her, but I will definitely feel her loss.

I am also now able to acknowledge the enigmatic something which I’ve been talking my way around for two episodes. My manager, Olivia is leaving. Olivia is Head of Engagement and has been a massive influence on, and help to me since she started.

Please see the “Stuff I’m thinking about this week” section below for more thoughts on this.

You can get lost now, terrible 90s wordArt

Olivia and Ally will both be leaving on the 4th August. So soon. There will be a big gap.

After that I headed over to Caxton House to meet with Stefan. Stefan was my mentor when I was working on the Accelerator (which you can read more about here).

I’ve been really lucky that he is one of those “generous” leaders who has always made time for me when I’ve needed to talk something through, helping me prepare for the Future Leaders Scheme, and being an amazing sounding board. You might remember that in Ep01 I raised something I’ve been trying to work through in my own head, namely, can you be a leader who never delivers? Stefan raised this on Twitter.:

I’ve been meaning to pick Stefan’s brains about it since then and it’s taken me to now to actually get around to doing so. The fact that Stefan immediately understood what I was talking about, and had a number of really useful stories to tell about his own experiences (Stefan always has the most perfectly chosen stories) made me wish I’d done it much sooner because I came away feeling about 10x lighter.

Some key take aways:

  • There is a direct line between the engagement, assurance and influencing work that I do to the Government Transformation Strategy. But, this work doesn’t sit within a named and understood programme or project which I can call out and use to add weight to my work.
  • Working at the strategic end of things often means that the value I deliver is less tangible, but influencing change is important and it needs to be done.
  • If I’m able to influence a team, that is my influence amplified, and I should be able to take some credit for that, even if I can’t take credit for the work they deliver (which I wouldn’t want to do anyway).
  • I need to become more comfortable about celebrating small achievements and “banging on about” how they add up to or link to something much bigger; if that’s not understood I need to make it understood. This means I will be telling my own stories much more frequently.
You again, dancing parrot? Don’t you have any other gifs, Sam?

We also talked a bit about doing this intangible thing in precisely the place where it is hard, where other people don’t necessarily believe the same thing, and how that makes those successes even more valuable and important to talk about. This is something I need to remember.

Then I had 1:1’s with Luke and then Olivia. Olivia is handing over a piece of work to me so we spoke a bit about that and met the stakeholder. I also had a call with another stakeholder group about a solution we will be implementing for them; nobody from the apps team was available to join which I was worried about, but it turned out fine.

On Thursday I spent the day at GDS’ new offices in Whitechapel. They are very swanky and envy-inducing. Good coffee, lots of space, good views. As soon as the day-pass situation gets sorted I expect to spend more time there as actually, just a change of scene helped me to get stuff done and clear my head a bit.

GDS office views

In the morning I sat next to, and chatted with, Evans who manages domain exemptions. It was serendipitous because he can help me with something I’m currently working on and we hadn’t met in person before.

I replied to some emails, started reviewing a privacy impact assessment for a team, had a chat with Simon and Adele, and then headed to some user research/testing.

The team have just completed their first Private Beta, and I’ve been to a few lab sessions for the work since it started. It’s been so good to see the service evolve and grow.

After that I met with Chad and Adele, we talked about something they are working on which they have asked me to become involved with, and even though the phrase “eating our own dog food” makes me feel vaguely sick I am looking forward to it.

You what, mate?

After that I met Leema to talk about a possible World Mental Health Day / Black History Month crossover, that was good, they have so many amazing plans already that I think BHM will be exceptional.

Then I headed down to the lobby for a drink and a chat with Simon, Luke, Adele and Sam [3] — that was really nice. I’ve never socialised with these guys before but I would like to do that more.

And that’s it, week over. See you next week.

Stuff I’m thinking about this week…

With Olivia leaving I’ve been feeling slightly bereft in a way I don’t think I have with a line-manager before, because Olivia hasn’t just been a line-manager but an ally and a sponsor and a friend.

So, in the spirit of “be more generous” I thought I’d try and outline why she’s been such a good leader and such an influence on me:

  • Ambition. Olivia is unashamedly ambitious, not in a horrible cut throat way, but in a way which inspires her team to set their bar high.

  • Generosity. Weekly catch ups and monthly development meetings shouldn’t be a rarity, but they are, Olivia always makes time.
  • Sponsorship. Olivia found opportunities for everyone in our team, in training, leadership schemes, corporate contributions or in work opportunities. She pushed us forward when we were worried about doing it ourselves, she bigged us up and stretched us without overselling us.

Defra will be really lucky to have her.

Oh, and I cannot express enough how much you should listen to this episode of the Infinite Monkey Cage, because it is brilliant and Rufus Hound is brilliant in and I didn’t know he was brilliant and now I love him.


[1] Assuming that any of this is really interesting to anybody, but some people are reading it either way…

[2] Not an exaggeration.

[3] Not talking about myself in the third person, this is another Sam.

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