Guest blog: putting the dream team together

23 Nov 2015, 1:09 pm

Getting the right team together will awaken “a massive pent-up demand for change” says Denise McDonagh, who describes how to make your organisation an attractive, stimulating place to work and in doing so, create an IT department that saves the whole organisation money. If you are not having some ugly battles, you haven’t gone far enough.

Denise-McDonagh2Key to achieving your vision of digital transformation is having the right team to support you. The minute you do, you will have awakened a massive pent-up demand for change and often, simultaneously, a huge resistance to it too.

Either way, there are going to be a lot of different resources needed, and soon. You won’t be able to do it all yourself.

Currently, nobody is sympathetic to requests for funding. I’m generally disappointed about the lack of understanding by funding departments of the potential for savings through digital transformation.

On the other hand, IT departments have been promising Finance Directors gold for years but rarely deliver it.

That’s all a bit tricky when trying to build your organisation’s capability for this huge challenge. But there’s good news. Firstly, if you get your design right, the ‘new world’ will likely be dramatically cheaper – it’s not unrealistic to budget for savings of 50%. IT has been falling dramatically in price and your organisation has likely been equally dramatically over-paying for poor service.

Secondly, there is almost always free, untapped resource in your organisation. Public sector technology departments can be your greatest allies because they contain many people driven to deliver great service, but frustrated by the organisation’s failure to let them do so. ‘The business’ also holds a ton of tech-savvy individuals who are well aware of untapped digital potential.

Lastly, your organisation will have its quota of graduates and apprentices. Whether or not these are technology-specific fast-streamers, they are very capable and almost always come, simply because of their age, equipped with an understanding and expectation of user-centric, quality digital services.

Loosen purse strings

But I know what you’re thinking. You still have a massive funding gap for new staff and that new kit that is desperately needed on people’s desks.

Have a first-cut design of what’s needed over the next year to highlight the new roles for which you do not have the relevant skills and existing roles which will become defunct. The result will be some folk will need to go, either redeployed or on exit schemes. This is a key piece of work and must be handled very carefully and, importantly, in a way that demonstrates that under the new way of working people are treated as a high priority, even those who are leaving.

If you fail to do this, the remaining teams will not feel this is the great place to work that you promised. Remember that your people are your greatest asset.

Pace is everything here. Dragging this out will be to the detriment of those staying and those going and staff remain on your head count for funding until they leave.

Another way to loosen the purse strings is to challenge existing contracts and stop anything that is not going to be needed in the new world. In some cases, people, including senior folk, will have invested  years of work and credibility. Cancelling these projects won’t be easy. You will have needed to get people on side with this new vision (read my colleague Chris Chant’s last blog for more on this) and warned them that this was coming.

Expect resistance – if you are not having some ugly battles, you haven’t gone far enough. Demonstrate any dramatically lower cost replacement products to keep the Finance Director happy.

Probably the largest and most rapidly available source of cash will be found by forensically examining large long-term contracts. If you have been dealing with one of the large System Integrators, chances are that there will be oodles. There’s more than enough money here to cover what you will need in the short term. But you will need great folk to handle this, whether temporary or permanent staff.

Avoid Stockholm Syndrome

It’s unlikely your existing team will be able to manage this. By now they will almost certainly be suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. Finding new staff is not easy – they must come with a bunch of examples of where they’ve done it before and an enthusiasm for what you are trying to achieve.

Your success will introduce your Finance Director to a whole new experience, an IT organisation that delivers and saves money. Imagine! Identify early wins to your Human Resources and Finance departments – important early allies – showing them that ‘the strategy is delivery‘ works. If you have problems, talk to GDS who will likely be able to point you towards teams who have done it before.

You will have concluded by now that the make up of your ideal team is very different to the one in place. To handle that initial explosion of activity, you will use temporary external teams, although this will reduce over time as in-house capability grows. The transfer of skills you gain is critical though and the majority of your time must be spent on building your permanent team.

Above all, offer an attractive place to work. Most public sector organisations are unlikely to offer winning salary packages (arguably that rarely delivers the best candidates anyhow). Potential employees need to be excited by the prospect of working with you and they should share your principles of user centricity, be emotionally resilient and have exceptional communication skills.

Much has been written about the bottom line impact of a diverse workforce, and IT and the digital space is no exception. Ignore it at your peril.

Finally, don’t take your foot off the recruitment pedal. As organisations take an increasingly iterative approach, your resource needs will change, so it’s important to focus on your staff’s ‘user needs’ too. Monitor and refresh in line with changing needs. And don’t forget:  individual progression and success needs to be celebrated.

Rainmaker_solutions_400x266Denise McDonagh CBE has been cited as one of the most influential people in IT across the UK public sector, with a 25-year career in several government departments. Until early this year, Denise was Chief Technology Officer in the Home Office, and was previously Programme Director for the UK Government’s cloud computing initiative. Now she helps organisations to build skills and capability, and embrace the flexibility and agility that technology enables.