A frosted cupcake topped by a lit sparkler against a blue background

What Does Leading by Example Actually Mean?

By Chally Kacelnik

I meet a lot of leaders who talk about their capacity to lead their teams by example. It’s one of those phrases that just sounds right. “Leading by example” connotes getting amongst it and relating to people in a simple, accountable, down to earth way. However, it can have quite disparate meanings depending on who you ask. Most recently, the answers I’ve heard are that leading by example is about:

  • Being able to build trust and influence with staff as you go about your work
  • Being hands on and helping staff with practical issues
  • Demonstrating respect and otherwise working positively with others
  • Being consistent in what you expect from staff

Trust, practicality, respect, and consistency are all worthy goals for leaders to pursue in their relationships with their staff, their peers, and with everyone they encounter in the workplace (not to mention their broader lives). However, it’s telling that there’s not often a common thread in what leading by example means to people. People tend to be quite confident that leading by example is a thing that they do, and my experience is that there isn’t much of an awareness of different interpretations. The main commonality is that everyone’s quite sure that everyone else understands what they mean by it.

That’s pretty worrying. If we assume that others are not the same page about something as common as this, how can anyone be sure about what example they’re setting, let alone whether they’re leading and communicating with others effectively?

So what should we talking about when we talk about leading by example? Walking your talk sounds like bluster or fluff if you can’t pin down that talk. That’s where the problem lies. For some leaders, saying they lead by example inadvertently becomes a way of not communicating effectively and not operating at the right level of work (see our levels of work article for more information on this).

A hand holds a pen over a marked map, with coffee cups and a water glass sitting on the map at the edges of the frame

Mapping High Level Strategy to Everyday Work with the Travelling Salesman Problem

By Chally Kacelnik

It’s an exciting time when organisations are overhauling their vision and planning: synapses are snapping, there’s energy in the air, and people are engaged with building an exciting, compelling story of how their organisation is going to be in the future. However, when it comes time to turn intention into reality, that’s when things might get a little stuck and start to stagnate.

There will be those in the organisation who nod through the changes, but believe it’ll be another false dawn and that everything will go back to business as usual. Effective leaders will bring the rest of the organisation on the change journey and entrench the new business as usual. However, for many organisations, strategic planning and visioning is sadly just seen as the stuff you have to tick off before getting back to the “real work”. It’s not seen as what should drive that work.  The challenge is not only to develop the new ways of doing things, but to make sure they’re truly reflected in people’s activities and beliefs.

How do you make the new, compelling way of doing business not just something to pin on the wall, but a felt reality in day to day activities? It’s often difficult for individuals to see how the work they do – their activities, the systems they work with, the parts of processes they undertake – relates to the work of people in other parts of the organisation, let alone the overarching vision, strategies, and goals. 

Shelved, lopsided black binders

Managing Customer Data the Right Way: 10 Basic Principles

By Chally Kacelnik

Let’s consider how to manage customer data the right way: ethically, usefully, and achievably. With scandal after scandal about the misuse of customer data making headlines, it’s no longer possible to think of data as something neutral or passive that gets collected and sits out of sight and mind.

We’re seeing rapid changes to how we think about the collection and use of data. One major theme of the day is technological innovation. Traditional boundaries are being tested, with even governments feeling out how public and distributed innovations like blockchain could work for them. Another theme is dread. There’s a distinctly dystopian resurgence of anxiety about surveillance and poor or actively harmful data management, and unfortunately we’re seeing that suspicion justified. It’s vital for organisations – particularly government ones – to understand that data is fraught and to take a thoughtful approach to the ethics, reach, volume, and scale of the data they collect and use.

Within organisations, there tend to be two opposed approaches. There are those who trust in tech to solve data problems, the more innovation and more data collected the better, even if it’s not fully understood. Then there are those who trust their own workarounds more: the people who have their paper folder or their spreadsheet sitting on the side, whether because the system isn’t set up usefully, there isn’t an established way of working that encourages the right kind and quality of data isn’t being entered, or because of habit and comfort.

Increasingly, the uses and abuses of data are so top of mind and so poorly understood by most of us that organisations are tending to throw everything at the wall. It’s all too common for organisations to take the approach of investing big in new systems without understanding how to drive them effectively, ending up with messy data that causes lots of headaches, rework, haphazard ways of working across the organisation, and reinforcement of those two opposed approaches (including workarounds on top of workarounds!).

In short, if you throw everything at the wall, you’re going to find cracks. Technology isn’t a wilful force in and of itself (at least not yet!) and should be a facilitator rather than a driver. Positive, active human behaviour should drive how we interact with data and how we use technology to facilitate that interaction. Let’s get back to the very basics of what organisations need to do with data: serve their customers.

Here are seven principles for achieving that aim by managing customer data well at the ground level:

A laptop, screen, keyboard, mouse, paper, and office accessories sit on a desk in a close up image.

Local Government ICT Systems and Amalgamations: Doing it Once and Doing it Right

By Chally Kacelnik and Ludwig Kraayenbrink

ICT: everyone in a contemporary organisation relies on it, everyone wants it to solve their problems, and not a whole lot of people understand it in technical detail. ICT business units are traditionally overburdened and often struggle to focus on strategic issues in the midst of reactive work. How on earth are local government ICT staff meant to be responsible for the huge burden of integrating distinct business systems for an amalgamation or shared services arrangement? Here are our principles for doing it once and doing it right.

A diligent, structured, and strategic approach to ICT will be crucial to the success of newly amalgamated Councils as it is integral to everything from customer relationship management to information management.

The local government ICT environment is growing ever more complicated, with increasing technical complexity, commodification of ICT infrastructure, and communications and information centricity. The ICT needs for a successful amalgamation are also substantial, including everything from the big picture (eg integrating different infrastructure) to the fine detail (eg cleansing, formatting, and transferring data). The amalgamation, then, is both a huge challenge and an opportunity to start off right. Investment in previous systems should not be considered a waste: rather, this is an opportunity to harvest the ICT best practice for the future.

Here are six main ICT areas to consider while amalgamating:

An example of a process map, using a swimlane structure

How Process Mapping Can Add Value to Your Organisation

By Chally Kacelnik

If you want to understand how your organisation works or the impact of change in a concrete, clear, detailed way, process mapping is an essential tool.

First things first: what is process mapping?

Well, a process is a series of connected activities conducted in order to achieve a particular aim, like procurement or making a customer enquiry. A process map illustrates that process from start to finish (see the header image for an example). It clearly sets out a common understanding of what happens, when it happens, why it happens, and who is involved.

A current state process map illustrates processes as they are. People in different parts of an organisation tend to have differing ideas of how a process works, either based on a theoretical idea of how it should work or based on their perspective from one slice of the process. Capturing the true current state in one place allows you to see how the process works in practice, not in theory.

The vast majority of the time, there’s something that can be improved – usually lots of somethings. Perhaps the process:

  • Has excessive hand offs, repetitions, or bottlenecks
  • Doesn’t fit the organisational operating model or principles
  • Doesn’t take advantage of technological capabilities
  • Is convoluted
  • Places a lot of stress on one or two employees
  • Doesn’t take account of external customer or community perspectives

A future state process map brings together organisational principles, technological capabilities, known data (particularly volumetric data), and learnings from what does and doesn’t work in the current state in order to produce the best possible future state process.

A silhouetted group gather around an outcrop, the sun low in a yellow sky.

From Narrow to Innovative Leadership and Diverse Organisations

By Chally Kacelnik

At LKS Quaero’s Meeting the Challenge of Amalgamation forum in Sydney in February this year, speaker Jeff Tate shared insights from his extensive experience as a local government expert and former CEO of two South Australian Councils. Listening to Jeff, I was interested in how he tackled gender imbalance in leadership roles when he was a CEO.

I caught up with Jeff after his talk and asked how he found a solution for something so pervasive and that affects people’s whole career paths.

The answer was really simple: you choose candidates based on their skills and capabilities, not a narrow range of previous job titles. You pick the person who’s best for the job, who is not always the person who has had the most normative career path.

This means that you get the right people in the right roles, with a range of life experience and ideas, and you get a more robust, more interesting organisation. In fact, you can apply this sort of thinking to many things in organisational life. If you critically examine your assumptions rather than retreating to the safety of what’s always been done before, you end up with the best possible organisation. This can’t be done by only looking at what’s already been done, but by considering all the possibilities.

So why do we make assumptions about people’s value that limit both people and organisations?