Putting “Open” to the test

In my previous blog post I spoke of Open as a “Way of Being” a chronology of the start of the transformation for the IT Branch at the City of Edmonton. If you haven’t read it yet, I suggest you do as it provides much needed context for this post.

After the April Town Hall meetings with the IT staff, and over 5,000 words on what was possible we started to move towards taking those hopes and dreams and making them real.

We planned an all branch meeting for May 6, 2009, you see one of the things we had not done for some time if at all was have everyone in the branch in one meeting at the same time. This was raised as one of the possibilities from the town hall meetings. The IT Leadership team decided that it was possible so ahead we went.

At this meeting we wanted to draw together all of the discussions in the Town Hall meetings and chart a way forward. You will notice that we did not stop and write a project charter, assign a project manager and do a project plan. This change effort had grown from an organic process and organic it would stay. Now we did have plans an structure, but none so rigid that would not allow for a course correction. Prior to the meeting we pulled the extended leadership team together, so this was all IT Directors and their managers to talk about what we were embarking on. We reflected on the past and all the great “World Class” successes that Edmonton IT had. We talked about engaging the managers and staff further in the upcoming changes. We also spoke of our plans to pursue outsourcing for IT at the City of Edmonton. Outsourcing had be hanging around like a dark cloud over the heads of the IT staff for somewhere between 5 and 10 years. We had study it, we had experts consult on it and analyze it, but we had never decided to pursue it or to stop pursuing it. We decided to move forward with it, and if it made business sense to implement it.

I told the managers that I was planning on sharing this with the staff the next day and was giving them a “heads up” so they were not surprised. Well, I did not expect one of the managers to leave the meeting and send out an email in advance of my announcement to all staff. When I discovered that late in the day I was sick, I felt terrible for the people who would go home thinking that this was going to impact them in some significant way. I felt that way because we had not even gone to market yet with an RFP and I wanted to give people the opportunity to be part of the project, so they could be cause in their future.

I spent the night planning what to do, how to both be accountable and transparent and open. Putting open to the test.

So on May 6th I knew what I needed to do, I needed to address the matter of outsourcing first otherwise that moose would be on the table and in our way until I spoke about it. I was not prepared for what happened next. I started by explaining that we would be pursuing and that news of that leaked out the night prior. I said “I take full accountability for that happening” and I apologized to the team. I explained to them how some of them must have felt when they heard the news. I explained how I felt when I found out the news had leaked, then ….. I lost my composure, meaning I started to cry. Why, because I value everyone on the team so much, who they are as people, their contribution and to think that some of them were upset or concerned hit me hard.

Not much you can do when you lose it like that except wait….. and then carry on. This was the first time that this happened to me and I know it will not be the last. Immediately after that we took questions from the floor, and I answered them if I could or said, don’t know yet. We then spent another 30 minutes collecting questions that I answered shortly after the meeting.

Now for some people this created huge angst that to the date of this post has continued, others on the team have embraced our new culture and are being cause in their own future. I am still concerned about those that are not being cause, they are missing a huge opportunity, but I guess for some of them they have yet to decide, that is all it is and it happens in a moment. The fact that they have yet to decide that there are possibilities drives me even more to help them see what their future could be.

Now back to the all branch meeting. After the information on outsourcing and a Q&A we moved into a very exciting time, a process called “Rich Pictures” or “World Café”. It was exciting as I believe that as a group of 300 we made a choice. We choose to move away from how we had been, to where we want to be. With the help of a team of internal and external people we held a 300 person “World Café”. So there we were in our Town Hall groups of 10, flip charts and coloured markers on the table, people were asked to draw, without speaking they way it currently was. Meaning how they felt everything was, from customers to management, from teams to individuals. Over a 30-minute period we ended up with a collection of rich pictures. These pictures tell a story of the way it was, and most importantly became our motivation to change.

My next post will talk more about this change, in particular our new set of values our branch collectively created.