Unmentoring: How four simple conversations have changed my year

unmentoringFor the last five months I’ve been taking part in LocalGovDigital’s Unmentoring scheme, which is an unconventional approach to mentoring using Spark Collaboration technology. Every month I’ve been randomly matched to another person taking part and so far I’ve had many valuable conversations with colleagues from across the UK.

I’d like to give a summary of some of the amazing people I have crossed paths with and my key learning from the discussions we’ve had. It’s reminded me that every person – no matter who they are, or where they are from – offers a unique perspective on their area of work.

Carl Haggerty – February 2016
Key learning: Think, Share, Do

My first match was with Carl Haggerty, Digital Communications Manager at Devon County Council. As this was the first time I’d ever taken part in the scheme, I didn’t know what to expect, and what struck me most was Carl’s passion and conviction for using digital technology for the greater good.

Something we both found common ground around was that during periods of massive transformation it’s important to create systems and a culture for engagement to prevail and not be reliant on individuals.

A comment that Carl said that really resonated with me was: “It’s about the sweet spot between humanity, technology and democracy. Which is not being represented in the conversation?”

He also shared with me a campaign around 100 days of change which captured stories from across his organisation. It was incredibly successful as it appreciated change is complex, but can also be good.

Instead of over-thinking, just get stuck in and involved.

Clare Salmon – March 2016
Key learning: Manage expectations through reducing budgets

After a successful first Unmentoring session I was matched with Clare Salmon, Corporate Strategy, Policy and Intelligence Manager from Cornwall Council.

Clare and I were able to draw similarities from our working lives around how we translate often complex and nuanced things in meaningful ways for our publics. I’m sure this is something most communications professionals on some level have to handle – but it was so lovely to hear from Clare this was the case – we are all in the same boat!

We also spoke about how we handle expectations placed on our respective departments and I think bloggers Comms2point0 phrased it nicely in their recent post – “You can’t do more with less. You need to be realistic with the size of the boat you’ve got.

Lucy Knight – April 2016
Key learning: Be empathetic of those who hold back from adopting new technology

My conversation with Lucy Knight, Policy/Strategy Officer at Devon County Council focused on empowering and connecting people through digital.

As Lucy is well versed in the latest technology, I asked her about how she has successfully managed to get people to adopt new systems and ways of working. I took away a good lesson that while some people are ready and willing to adopt, other people may hold it back, but not for reasons you might think. Perhaps it doesn’t fit with their life or work flow – and moreover some people may not want to do digital. We need to have empathy for what it is like for them and offer encouragement on a different level.

I also took away a super idea of a rumour board which I’ve begun thinking how it could be used in my organisation – where people use an open forum to ask questions about anything in the workplace they have heard to get the right information following hearing a rumour. How awesome is that?!

Stewart John – May 2016
Key learning: It’s not what you do, it’s how you’re doing it

John Stewart is a new Communications and Engagement Manager at the DVLA in Wales and I enjoyed our conversation as I felt we were both at similar points in our organisations -relatively new with a passion to make a difference.

I loved John’s approach around getting more things done by focusing on the positives. We spoke a great deal around perception – it’s not what you do, it’s how you’re doing it – and this is something that I personally pride myself on. You choose your attitude, and whilst you often can’t change the circumstances, you can change how you react to them.

I also thought John’s approach to making sure there is an evidence base for change was great. We need to get our communications internal clients to gather the evidence to justify why they need to communicate rather than it just being opinion based.

You can sign up for Unmentoring here.


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