A Radical Idea for a LEP…

First of all reject the temptation to be entirely strategic.

Don’t try to analyse the economy like it is a game of monopoly where you can understand the roll of the dice, seeing and preparing for an uncertain future.  Don’t pretend that people and their aspirations count for nothing as you ponder the balance between investing in ports, ring-roads, runways or fibre.

Instead learn to compliment strategic development with a responsive approach.  One that engages residents in their hopes and aspirations for a better life and gives them the power and the responsibility to pursue them.  Put your faith and confidence in people.  Provide them with hope, leadership and support.

Dare to be relevant to people and not just ‘the business community’.

A city region of around 3m people like Leeds would require a network of around 75 coaches to provide access to person centred coaching support for everyone that really wanted it.

  • It would engage about 45 000 people in the process of providing direct hands on assistance to their peers.
  • It would provide direct assistance to about 16500 beneficiaries a year, the vast majority of whom would make significant progress in their personal journeys as a result of benefiting from a coaching rather than a coercive approach.
  • I would anticipate at least 750 sustainable business starts from this cohort every year.  I would envisage business survival rates around the 90% rate after 3 years.
  • It would make a very real difference to the perceptions of some 20 000 people a year about the extent to which they feel that they ‘belong to’ and ‘feel supported’ in their community.
  • In addition to traditional ‘enterprise’ outputs I would expect substantial impacts on health and well-being as well as increases in volunteering, cultural productivity, mental health, fitness and so forth.
  • It would help to integrate the dual priorities of economy and community rather than treating them as separate and often incompatible determinants.
  • Within 3-7 years I would expect it to have made a sustained and measurable difference to the enterprise culture in the city region.

And it would cost about £3.75 million a year.

The price of a very rich wo/man’s house.

NB this piece was prompted by reading ‘The Economic Opportunities and Challenges for the emerging Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) in Yorkshire and Humber – Briefing Paper‘.

As far as it goes this is an ok piece of work. Unremittingly strategic, focussing on communications, infrastructure development and targeting support at key industries – all tried, tested and largely at best partially successful ideas for economic development.  One of the ideas challenges it identified is to develop sufficient ‘low skill jobs’ for our low skill economies.   It talks about the structures required to ensure integration of LEP structures across the region.  One can almost here the creaking of bureaucracy…

‘Making sure people are in control’

So says our new PM.

Some questions:

  1. Which people?
  2. In control of what?
  3. Is ‘control’ possible, desirable?

What do you mean by control…

  • power to direct or determine; “under control”
  • a relation of constraint of one entity (thing or person or group) by another; “measures for the control of disease”; “they instituted controls over drinking on campus”
  • exercise authoritative control or power over; “control the budget”; “Command the military forces”
  • lessen the intensity of; temper; hold in restraint; hold or keep within limits; “moderate your alcohol intake”; “hold your tongue”; “hold your temper”; “control your anger”
  • the activity of managing or exerting control over something; “the control of the mob by the police was admirable”
  • operate: handle and cause to function;
  • dominance: the state that exists when one person or group has power over another;
  • manipulate: control (others or oneself) or influence skillfully, usually to one’s advantage;
  • restraint: discipline in personal and social activities; “he was a model of polite restraint”; “she never lost control of herself”

I wonder what exactly Mr Cameron means by ‘Making sure that people are in control’?

Dumb Strategy and State Funding

I am hearing a lot at the moment from people and organisations that face a scary future because at some point in the past they chose (consciously or not) to develop a business model dependent to a very great extent, in some cases entirely, on public funding.

And right now that looks like a dumb strategy, because the development of mission, the pursuit of purpose, is regulated by a bureaucracy that makes political decisions about what to fund and when.  It decides how success will be measured.  In essence they are in control.

They hold the strategic reigns.

The Regeneration Game – Builders, architects and developers

Yesterday I asked the twitterverse:

Why does nearly all regeneration work in Leeds have at its heart buildings, architects and developers?

It produces some interesting, and necessarily brief responses:

Because Leeds is full of banks, and banks only sell money and property guarantees money. making bankers feel safe!


Buildings provide a container for loads of good activity, somebody has to make sure they perform effectively?


People associate regeneration with the fabric of the city, not with people, even when it’s supposedly about making lives better…or maybe it’s because we need a tangible output from the investment rather than seeing regeneration as a process.


Your wrong! Nearly all regeneration work full stop is about buildings and architects – what else could politicians open?


Because that’s where regen grants are targeted? In infrastructure rather than people?


Didn’t you get the memo? Regeneration is a synonym for new building project 😉


because that’s where the cash is?


Definition of regeneration http://tiny.cc/sonul I really like the moral revival or rebirth definition. Real social change…


Your thoughts?


Leeds Loves Shopping…

This is the brand for a 10 day ‘fashion lover’s festival’ to be held in the city in October.

Just think about that as a brand.  Something to be known for.  A perception to be planted in heads around the world….


‘Oh yes, that’s the place that loves shopping

‘Sounds interesting! Why don’t we go there and spend some of our hard earned….’

The fact is that many of us don’t love it.  Hate is probably a more accurate description of our relationship to ‘shopping’.

Some for the mind numbing tedium that it induces.

Others because of its role in driving consumption, environmental degradation and sexualisation of society.

Still more because of debt.

So for a large chunk of Leeds residents this brand leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

It is just not true.

‘We’ are telling a little white lie to help drive our retail economy.

I wonder what else we will tell little white lies about if it delivers the holy grail of economic growth?

And who are the ‘we’ in this case?

As far as I can make out it is a partnership between Leeds City Council’s marketing team and a group of retailers.   I am OK with my relationship with one of these being ‘caveat emptor’….but the other, well, I would quite like to trust them.

Now I suspect we paid a lot for the Leeds Loves… brand and the whole ‘Leeds. Live It. Love It.’ campaign.  But does it give us more than a neat line to attract outsiders to come and throw their money at us?

  • Does it gives a brand that we can rally a diverse community around?
  • Does it open up space for conversation and dialogue?
  • Or does it just provide a set of ready-made assertions that mean we don’t have to work too hard to get our messages out?

Just to be clear, I have no problem with some kind of fashion and retail festival being used to pull in the crowds.  I’d prefer my city to be known for things other than its retail offer, but we are where we are.  Pragmatically, perhaps, it makes sense.

But ‘Leeds Loves Shopping’.  Really?

What Can You Learn from Netflix Culture?

[slideshare id=1798664&doc=culture9-090801103430-phpapp02]

There is some great content here, but then there should be in a 128 slide deck!  This is not to be presented, but read.  And thought about.

Look at how this information is communicated.

Performance on this in the private sector is often poor.

Performance in public and third sectors is usually worse, in my experience, because the disconnect between espoused values and reality is often wider.

In very small businesses it is not a big issue.  But as things scale up, as middle managers and team leaders start to appear this type of issue can become ‘make or break’.

Everyone is clear on what works at Netflix.  Employees, customers and shareholders.

  • How do you communicate about culture?
  • Do words and actions match up in your organisation?
  • What can you do to improve things?

The Challenge of Leadership in Leeds

One of the big challenges of leadership is that, once you assume it, you are there to be shot at.

It is not necessarily that people want to bring you down.  But they do want to know that ‘the leaders’ know their stuff, that they are credible.  That they are worth following on a journey.  That they deserve the commitment of discretionary time and effort too.  That it will all make a positive difference in the end.

In leadership, you have to earn your followers…

The problem is further compounded if:

  • leaders choose to more or less replicate a leadership process that the last time around didn’t pull up any trees
  • there is even a whiff of a suspicion that this is not a genuine attempt at leadership but a bit of a box-ticking exercise undertaken at the behest of ‘head office’
  • there is no clarity about how a vision, once developed will be used to really engage and mobilise the talent, skills and resources of all stakeholders
  • different opinions, instead of being heard, are simply denied and refuted

When some of these conditions are met, then vision based leadership becomes very, very difficult.  Attempts are likely to be met with, at best, ‘passive aggression’.  And I think that this is the situation facing us in Leeds at the moment with the Leeds Vision 2030 process.  It is a situation that faces many leadership teams.

People are giving up time and money to engage in a leadership process that should be a very high stakes game for the city.  Shaping our international profile, providing a platform for a socially just society, rising to an array of carbon and environmental sustainability challenges and delivering an economy that works, are just a few of the opportunities and challenges that the process needs to address.

This is why I think some people, myself included, were disappointed when we first saw the new ‘Leeds Owl‘  and strapline that have been developed to brand the Vision 2030 exercise.  Personally I think that Phil Kirby’s criticisms are justified. So too Lee Hickens.  And I have made some observations about the symbolic meaning of the owl. In what is a multi-cultural and international city we should show some sensitivity and awareness of what our city symbol means in parts of Japanese, Hindu and African history.

There are all sorts of things that the council is now doing that I think show signs of progress.  Setting up facebook pages and twitter feeds for example.  Far more council staff seem to be really engaging, online and off, in some of the stuff that is happening in the city.   But these tools are double edged swords.  Reputations take a long time to build online and can be very quickly lost.  They will certainly surface more and more critical responses (let’s face it few of us find the time to write a response that says ‘Great work, keep it up!’) than more traditional and ‘managed’ consultations


But it seems there is still astro-turfing going on.  It can be tricky to sort out the authentic voices.  And web2.0 savvy folks will forgive many things – but bad design and perceptions of inauthenticity are not amongst them!

I believe the ‘What If Leeds…’ logo debate is only partly about the aesthetics and meaning of the brand.

It is, for me at least, much more importantly a signifier of a very important question.  Can we work with Leeds City Council and its mechanisms for exercising leadership in the city, or should this be a DIY job?  We just keep on organising and doing what we can to shape life in the city by doing our own stuff.

Is the council a credible and trustworthy partner for local people already running themselves into the ground doing what they can.  Or will it just sap our time, energy and morale?

Will the engagement continue once the Vision is developed, bound and on the shelf?

Personally I am very optimistic that the appointment of Tom Riordan shows a real willingness to engage and partner more effectively.  But there is a lot to learn on both sides if we are to make this work.

At the moment I think Leeds is a more exciting City than it has been for a long time.  Interesting things are happening at the grass-roots in business, culture, community development, marketing and technology.   And, if we can get the engagement with the council right, we might be able to pull off something of real importance for the city.   But we must have confidence in those we engage with and their ability to manage effectively the complex process for strategic change that they have chosen to use.  And we must earn their trust too.  This is a two-way process.

It is not just about ‘us’ going on a journey with ‘them’.  It is about all of us journeying together.  Learning has to be done on all sides.

Or should we just go it alone?

Learn the Skills of Community Organising in Leeds

…or if it is good enough for Barack Obama it is good enough for me!

Community organising seems to be all the rage at the moment.

Leeds Community Organising and Bradford Changemakers are jointly hosting  a Community Organiser training weekend in September.

The training is taking place over two days on Saturday 25th and Sunday 26th September 2010 at Leeds Church Institute in Leeds city centre (20 New Market Street, LS1 6DG), and will run from 9.30am to 4.30pm each day.

This is an opportunity to deepen your knowledge of the principles and practice of community organising, extend your own leadership skills, and grow relationships with others involved in the development of Community Organising in Leeds and Bradford.

The full weekend costs £30 per person and includes lunch and refreshments. Further information and booking details are included on the attached flyer – please do tell others in your organisations and communities who may be interested!

I certainly hope to be there!

Download this flyer (pdf) for further details Sept 2010 flyer-1