Open as a “Way of Being”

When I consider the 88+ definitions of the word “open” at I find it difficult to choose one that captures Open as a “Way of Being”. The open I am speaking about is the one that allows you the freedom to be who you are naturally, to be a generous listener and to always be looking for moments to speak into the lives of the people around you. Being open prepares you for feedback and insights from anyone, and to live life in all its forms, in a full and transparent way.

I would like to introduce you to a group of people who are working everyday to be open. Actually this group of people, the Information Technology branch at the City of Edmonton, are doing more than just being open, they are also being collaborative, knowledgeable, empowered, supportive, flexible, organized, responsible, innovative and trusting. These are the 10 Ways of Being that were both created and adopted by IT at the city in May of 2009.

In October 2008 I relocated to Edmonton from Brampton, Ontario to start as the city’s new Chief Information Officer. With over 26 years of experience in IT, both public and private sector I felt I had lots to offer the city, little did I know I also had lots to learn. Prior to arriving I had mapped out a 30-60-90 day plan and for the most part I was successful in accomplishing my plan. First 30 days get to know the people, next 30 days get to know the business and the last 30 days figure out where we go next.

In January 2009 I started to map out the next steps. I had decided to work with the IT Leadership Team at the city to create a new service delivery model. City staff and business leaders told us in 2008 that we were not meeting their service delivery expectations so I figured the best place to start was to enhance service delivery and to create a sustainable service delivery model, and as such ASD was born, Agile Service Delivery model. This model was presented to staff in the IT Branch in March 2009 as the way forward.

I have to tell you that all of my previous corporate experiences told me that form follows function, meaning before any organizational change you must first figure out what your new functions are and then once you have that you can easily map out the form, meaning “structure”. Well I was about to experience a new way of changing an organization, I didn’t know it at the time, but I was leading all of us into an engagement paradigm.

I can distinctly remember the moment when we made this shift. It was in the evening on April 1st, 2009. I was sitting at home in front of the fireplace reading and doing some work. I came across an email that was sent to me by one of the IT directors. It was a forwarded email from one of the IT staff. In the email the person was expressing their concern that as much as we presented the new model they felt that this “re-org” was going to be like all the others, lots of talk but very little change. This email hit me hard, I wanted the process to be different, I wanted real tangible results for the entire team. This new information definitely required a course correction.

From October to April I had enough insight from staff to know that there were a number of issues to address, not just service delivery but morale. It was and has been the desire to see staff in a better place that has driven me to lead us to that new place. That night in April set a plan into motion that would see 300 IT professionals in groups of 10 meet with me to discuss three things. I called these meeting “Town Halls” and mostly I planned to listen. In planning for these meetings I decided that what was discussed each day at the 5 or 6 meetings we had would be posted each night for ALL to see. That was step one to being transparent. At the start of each meeting I told introduced the discussion then I went on to tell each the group that there were two things I desired for each of them, fulfillment in their work and freedom to do what they knew needed to be done. We then went on to talk about “The Way It Is”, I asked people to describe IT as a person, this provided a great basis for me to capture the total branch feeling of the way it is.

Then we went on to discuss if the way it is continued to be the way it is what was Predictable and Probable.

Then after that we discussed what was possible, the presence of which would make a difference.

At first people were hesitant, but it didn’t take long into the discussion that people knew I was serious and they had freedom to speak. Early in the week when we got to possibilities, people would start with a question like “It should be possible to ….. right” and by the end of the meetings people were much more definitive in their possibilities, “it IS possible…….”. I noticed a trend as the week progressed people wanted to talk about possibilities earlier and earlier in the meetings, I think this was a result of having all of the notes from the meetings open for all to see and the word going around that people were becoming “hopefully optimistic” that this change, this re-org may actually be different.

Even though these meetings were emotionally draining for me, they were also an inspiration. There are so many people within IT that want to continue to make a difference and serve the staff and public of Edmonton. Their commitment and dedication was overwhelming. They truly wanted to be different and as a team of 300 people we were going to make that happen.