Sam Selby

Ukraine Ts and Cs

Ukraine Ts and Cs

I’ve managed to deliberately avoid politics for most of my career taking an uncomfortable position sat firmly on the fence. In one organisation I was a member of the Board and also the general secretary of the employee’s trade union. That was awkward. 

However, what’s been happening in Ukraine over the last 26 days (arguably the last 6+ years) is something that is well beyond politics and goes to the very soul of what is right and what is wrong. I find it rather sad that after 200,000 years of evolution we still find that the best way of solving disagreements is killing each other.  

That the vast majority of the world has recognised that this is wrong and is trying to do something about it, is certainly a positive evolutionary step, if rather too late. I have a great many conflicting thoughts and emotions at the moment. Did I feel ashamed when a politician recently suggested on Question Time that Britain was leading the world in our response? (This was at about the point that Poland had taken in around a million refugees and we had found room for about 104.) Absolutely. I find the whole ‘we are the best in the world’ narrative to be not just implausible, but dangerously Trumpian (more of my personal politics leaking out perhaps). However, I’ve spent many years working on the fringes of both the military and diplomacy and understand the need to be very sure before you act on a global scale, even when you might be pretty sure that not acting quickly will just make matters worse. I’m glad I don’t have to make these decisions. It’s hard enough trying to do the right thing for the right reasons in a £20m company of 200 people, let alone when you are carrying the weight of history on your back. 

In time, I suspect we will find that Volodymyr Zelensky is as flawed as the rest of us, but right now he has given the rest of the world a masterclass in leadership for the internet age. He’s probably ineligible to be Prime Minister of the UK, but I’d vote for him tomorrow anyway. 

How best to support Ukraine is a dilemma faced by everyone, not just company CEOs. We can donate money to one of the hundreds of charities helping the displaced; we can fly a virtual Ukrainian flag on our Teams calls; some of us are even bold enough to take up arms. Having found myself on the pointy end of a gun a couple of times, I know the latter isn’t an option that’s going to help anyone. However, I am a bit of a closet geek AND a closet lawyer and what better way to show my support than to point you to one of, what I expect to be, many new terms and conditions popping up in software code. This one is from the terraform-aws modules (a collection of open-source tools designed to make creating and managing cloud computing resources easier). 

Enjoy. 

599 ## Additional terms of use for users from Russia and Belarus 

600 

601 By using the code provided in this repository you agree with the following: 

602 Russia has illegally annexed Crimea in 2014 and brought the war in Donbas followed by full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022. 

603  Russia has brought sorrow and devastations to millions of Ukrainians, killed hundreds of innocent people, damaged thousands of buildings, and forced several million people to flee. 

604 Putin khuylo! 

For anyone put off because this looks like code it’s just a set of licence terms, written into the code, that say if you come from Russia or Belarus you may only use the software if you agree that Putin is a (rather derogatory term you can Google for yourself). 

I’m faintly ashamed that repeating a Russian obscenity in a blog has made me smile, even while survivors are still being dug out of the theatre in Mauripol. However, for somebody who has made it a rule to never mix politics and business, it’s a small step in my own evolution. 

 

Giles Letheren, Chief Executive Officer

Neil Gater – Chief Technical Officer

Neil Gater – Chief Technical Officer

Originally from Wiltshire, Neil moved to Exmouth in 2021 with his wife and three children (and two dogs) having spent 20 years living and working in Manchester.  The move to Devon was very much a lifestyle decision to allow his family to live, work and study in a greener environment which fits their outdoor lifestyle.  When not supporting his children’s extensive sporting endeavours he enjoys walking, watching rugby and escaping to the garden or his allotment.

Neil’s career has entirely been spent in IT, starting out in sales roles before transitioning over a 10-year period through solution focused roles into leadership positions focused on IT strategy.  He has worked in both the private and public sector over the years working with a wide range of partners and customers.  Neil is focused on really understanding and identifying how technology can be applied to drive transformation.  He joined Delt as it gave the opportunity to join an organisation which is making a tangible difference at a local level, and which cares about and invests in its people.

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The Busy Ants

The Busy Ants

If you search on the internet for “Busy Ants” you’ll find lots of content relating to Primary School mathematics. There’s even a book called “The Busy Ants” by Karin Clafford.

Ants can be a pain, especially if, like me you’re always the one who ends up with “ants in your pants”.  I do however admire them for being busy, focusing on what’s important such as, finding food and defending their colony. I always love a quote and thought this one by Henry David Thoreau was quite relevant, “It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?”. What a great point for thought – “What are we busy about?” 

As a CIO, it’s a key part of my job to think big picture and spend time looking at what’s ahead (strategic) as well as what’s right in front of me (tactical). We’ve been busy over the last few weeks with annual budget reviews, business plan reviews and of course the other important things such as customers, the health & wellbeing of my team and family. I am not alone in finding it difficult to do everything and if I was honest with myself, I’d recognise that on some occasions I don’t get the work/life balance right. It’s natural sometimes to have too many conflicting priorities and end up feeling that you’re “too busy” to deliver everything. Long term it isn’t a healthy place to be in and can lead to burn out. There are common strategies to help, for example delegating to someone or prioritising your time on the things that are truly important.  

But surely everything is important, right? I would argue it is not. For example, is catching up on work at weekends more important than spending quality time with the family? Is checking email every 10 minutes more important than finishing off that important task at work? It’s not a test and in my opinion the answer is rarely yes, unless of course checking email every 10 minutes is a critical element of your role. 

Focusing on what’s important can have significant benefits such as improved productivity and improvements in business and personal results. I am often asked for advice on how I prioritise and always refer people to Stephen Covey’s “The 7 habits of highly effective people”. If you haven’t heard of this, then I recommend you read it. All of the habits are relevant to this blog, however Habit 3 “Put first things first” is the most relevant. Habit 3 is about focusing on the “Big Rocks”, what is most important and how to prioritise the important vs the less important. I would recommend watching his Big Rocks – YouTube, as a great way of explaining the “Big Rocks” concept. We are using the “Big Rocks” as part of the annual business planning with our Continuous Improvement team this year and it’s working well. 

Being able to manage time and prioritise is a key skill and many techniques exist around doing just this. My favourite is Stephen Covey’s time management quadrant which is something I use all the time. It helps me plan and prioritise my week to make sure I am focused on the “Big Rocks” first. Another good video on how to do this is Stephen Covey’s 4 Quadrants Time Management Strategies | Time Management Matrix | Ep 9/13 – YouTube 

Why not set yourself and your teams a challenge and ask what are your “Big Rocks”.  

If Ant’s can get it right, surely, we can as well? 

 

Paul Jones, Chief Information Officer

 

Photo by MD_JERRY on Unsplash

The Great Resignation – Is it all bad?

The Great Resignation – Is it all bad? 

This is an interesting article by Brian Hartzer.  He raises some very valid points on the “Great Resignation” and how important it is to treat employees well. But! And there had to be a but, I don’t think culture is the only driving force at play here. I’m a glass half full kind of person, so I’m also not convinced it’s all bad for employees or Companies. 

There is no doubt that the pandemic changed us all. It gave us all a kick up the backside. Time in isolation, fearing for the safety of our friends and family and, in the worst cases, mourning the loss of them from the most horrendous circumstances. It made us realise how precious life is. It made us all question in one way or another what we are doing with our time. 

So, is it really a surprise that as we come out of the other side that peoples’ priorities have changed? We have survived! We feel strong, brave, and determined to make the best of this thing called Life. For many, making the most of it means a change to their career. Taking on a new challenge, taking a step up (or in some cases down) the ladder, leaving a job they don’t really enjoy but has felt comfortable, following their dreams to be a dog walker or an astronaut or whatever else is their passion.  

As the article makes clear we should all be looking after our people, they are after all our greatest assets, and we should be treating them accordingly. That’s not news, even the most frugal of CFOs has long since recognised that investing in the health, wellbeing and development of the workforce is money well spent. However, the harsh reality for most companies is that when we’ve nurtured, grown and developed our people we just don’t have the scale of operation, or the budget (especially in the current race to the top salaries being offered), to offer them the opportunity that they are looking for. Cue resignation… 

Anybody that has the privilege of managing people will know that sinking feeling when one of your best comes to you and says the dreaded “I’m resigning”.  Selfishly our first thoughts go to…. the timing couldn’t be worse, how will I manage? Who will fill the gap? Recruitment is a nightmare.  Good leaders, though, only need a moment or two to get a grip and turn their thoughts back to the person that they have mentored, trained, and challenged to come out of their comfort zone. The real life human that they have worked alongside through good times and bad. They have a new and exciting opportunity, isn’t that great? Isn’t that something to be happy about, maybe just a little bit proud of or even celebrate?  

From a company view, of course it’s very disappointing and there will undoubtedly be disruption in the short term but isn’t there also an opportunity?  We now have a vacancy that could give one of our other bright stars a great opportunity and prevent them from leaving. If the worst happens and external recruitment is required maybe there is opportunity within that too. Won’t that become somebody else’s reason to resign? Tempting in somebody new who’s excited and full of bright ideas provides boundless possibilities. 

“The Great Resignation” won’t last forever, in time things will settle down again.  As leaders and as organisations our employees are only ever really on loan to us. If we really want to get it right then we should treat them well, train and develop them and give them all the tools they need to succeed. Make the absolute most of them whilst we can. Then, when the time comes that they must go, we thank them for everything they have done, wish them well, be genuinely pleased for them and be proud of the part we played in their journey. 

Karen Morris, Interim Chief Financial Officer

 

Photo by Junseong Lee on Unsplash

A Partnership for Better Mental Health

A Partnership for Better Mental Health

I made a conscious choice 7 years ago to return to working directly in the public interest. That’s not to say that working for private organisations is bad, but I wanted to do more with my small contribution to humanity than simply enrich remote city shareholders. Although the work we do at Delt is not world changing, the work our customers and shareholders do is simply amazing. 

The 17th edition of the Global Risks Report from the World Economic Forum looks at what people see as the biggest risks to health, happiness and our future as well as the rate of change in some of those risk areas.  

When I was a child, well before the Good Friday agreement, the threat of terrorism was a constant, if slightly remote concern. Having lived through 9/11 in the US, being in the air at the time of the World Trade Centre attacks, terrorism and its consequences became very much front and centre. Working for the government, at the time, my car got searched for bombs every day as I went into the office. My team were responsible for opening all incoming mail in an airtight room to intercept any anthrax that had been mailed to us. Terrorism hasn’t gone away and the perception of its risk hasn’t changed all that much either. Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the level of concern about terrorism has risen by 1.6%. 

Compare that to risk concern increasing around IT Infrastructure Breakdown at 2.4%, Technology Governance Failure at 4.5% or Adverse Tech Advances at 5.3% and I find surprisingly that being CEO for a Tech Company carries a greater weight of responsibility for perceived societal risks than domestic terrorism. Fortunately, any consideration of needing to change jobs is moderated by finding Mental Health Deterioration near the top of the list at a 23% increase. That’s really something to be worried about. I suspect everyone has seen evidence of this over Covid. Certainly, every employer has.  

As a company we are investing even more than before in employee wellness, in mental health first aid and providing support wherever and however we can. In collaboration with Devon MIND we are hosting a series of lunchtime talks to help broaden awareness. However, the magic in Delt lies not so much in what we do, but in what our customers do. It is for this reason that I am so inspired by the work we are doing with Devon Partnership NHS Trust who deliver services that really matter to people with mental health and learning disability needs – in Devon, the wider South West region and nationally. Their 10 year plan and our ability to materially contribute to it, gives me confidence that whilst we might be small, our goals and impact have always been rightly big.  

Giles Letheren, Chief Executive Officer

Are awards worth the effort?

Are awards worth the effort?

In July last year I was delighted to hear that the Delt Project Management Office (PMO) had been selected as a finalist for the Association of Project Management annual awards. We had entered the category contribution to project management small to medium enterprise and were now down to the last 4. Our small PMO delivering a wide range of project work predominately for Plymouth City Council and Devon NHS Clinical Care Commissioning Group was sat alongside some heavyweight project management consultancies; it was good just to be in their company!  

The first stage of the selection process was a written one. Using no more than 3000 words we had to answer a range of demanding questions on our training and development, culture, change management, innovation, career development, project governance, performance management regime and several other important factors. Having committed a considerable amount of effort compiling our submission I was delighted to make the final 4, but was it really worth the effort? The APM is a globally recognised advocate of the project profession and to have our Delt way of working audited by them and seen in a very favourable light was a clear benefit of submitting an entry for the awards. 

The second stage was to present to an APM judging panel. The presentation should explain the context of our portfolio, its vision, timeline, deliverables and benefits. The output of this second stage of assessment will determine whether we win the crown. The written submission gets us to the starting gate, but all the finalists start from scratch on presentation day and have 20 mins to convey their message. Involvement in this stage was limited to me and my 2 Lead Project Managers, but it is a busy time in the business and prepping for this presentation isn’t our highest priority. We do OK but not our best effort. I don’t think we have learned much from the presentation stage, but it was fun to meet the judges, answer their questions and tell them about all the amazing work Delt does. 

What came next was the excitement of attending a glitzy awards ceremony in London; visions of me and my team all dressed up in black tie or evening dresses sounded like a lot of fun. Even if we didn’t win, we would have a great team building and networking opportunity. What I hadn’t expected was how much it would cost to attend the ceremony but on reflection a central London location, superb menu, unlimited bar, after party and celebrity compare don’t come cheap. The cost was restrictive and as a result this would not be an event for me and my team, perhaps 1 or 2 people could attend. Once the cost benefit analysis was complete, I chose the more sedate, but I believe sensible option. The budget we had for 1 or 2 to attend the ceremony covered the cost of our whole PMO to have a celebration dinner in one of Plymouth’s best restaurants. We watched the event via a live stream, sadly we did not get our hands on the trophy and missed a networking opportunity, but we were able to celebrate our achievement as one team. 

The complete process has left me conflicted. I found the glitzy awards ceremony an unnecessary extravagance but the self-critical examination of my PMO that was required to write the submission and deliver the presentation was thought provoking and extremely beneficial. Afterwards some particularly useful feedback was received, and this will help us develop, deliver change, and get better at what we already do well. 

Was it worth the effort? If you want some of the country’s top project professionals to pass judgement on your project management capability and give some advice that will help you get better, then yes. Would I do it again? Maybe but not for a while, I need time to save some money for the awards ceremony! 

Gary Pettitt, Chief Projects Officer

 

Photo by Giorgio Trovato on Unsplash

Is the growth in Chatbots signalling the end for humans?

Is the growth in Chatbots signalling the end for humans? 

Customer preference will always play a role in the customer service experience. The nuances of that will make the future of Chatbots versus humans a difficult outcome to predict. So, before I even jump into this blog, I am already presenting a muddled view on whether advancing technologies can truly replace the role of a human being.  

I have been in Information Technology for over 30 years and continuously find myself amazed at the pace of Digital Transformation and even more so since the Pandemic. According to a McKinsey Global Survey of executives, “companies have accelerated the digitisation of their internal operations by three to four years” as a result.  

The benefits that Digital Technology have brought to our everyday lives are extraordinary. Thanks to technology I no longer need to make my way into town to solve my banking problems as I can simply engage in a conversation with a Chatbot from the comfort of my sofa. 

My experience and interactions with Chatbots have been mixed but, at the same time they have been a lot more convenient than visiting town; or being held in a queue waiting to talk to someone. So maybe the answer to my question is, yes? 

The growth in the use of Chatbots has been increasing in recent years and will continue to displace the need for human interaction in many situations. Chatbots are becoming more intelligent with developments in Artificial Intelligence and Natural Language Processing making interactions as good, if not better, than similar interactions with a human. But will they replace the need for quality, human interaction in the foreseeable future?  

I personally do not think so and believe, like me, customers will continue to value the importance of human based channels such as the telephone for the foreseeable future. According to a Gartner report from November 2020, “Over 90% of business consumers avoid engaging with virtual support agents, leaving the investment largely unused” (2), which seems to back this up.  

So, like they say in the Dragon’s Den,” it’s for that reason I am out,” I will not be investing in replacing all human based channels for digital ones right now here at Delt. 

Instead, maybe the answer is that there is room for both. Continuing to augment our talent with digital technology such as Chatbots seems like the right thing to do, for us, and therefore in conclusion, the answer is no, the human at Delt is still very much alive.  

Humans are our greatest asset at Delt, and we will continue to invest in Digital and Humans to deliver the optimal “Better, Faster, Cheaper” outcomes for our customers for the foreseeable future.  

Paul Jones, Chief Information Officer

 

Note: Link (2) below is for Gartner Clients only.  

  1. COVID-19 digital transformation & technology | McKinsey 
  1. Innovation Insight for Virtual Support Agents (gartner.com) 

Trust

Trust

Trust is a funny old thing. It seems to be evaporating faster than spilt wine at a summer barbeque.  

On the current trajectory, soon nobody will trust anyone. There’s a fairly strong argument to say that some of us are already there. This strikes me as a fairly major societal issue. Trust only requires a firm belief in the reliability, truth or ability of someone or something. It doesn’t require agreement. Yet trust in our leaders, institutions and providers of information is at an all-time low. Does this mean, as suggested in the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer that we have reached the point of Information bankruptcy?  

Trust, at least as far as the Trust Barometer goes, is a function of both competence and ethics. This seems entirely reasonable. If I am going to trust somebody, I want them to be both competent at what they do and well-meaning. A well-meaning idiot is probably not to be trusted and a clever crook who makes me feel confident, as they steal my money, doesn’t do much for my feelings of trust either. 

In fairness, pretty much everybody comes out of the study pretty badly: 

NGOs are seen as ethical but not that competent; 

The media are seen as less competent than NGOs but also unethical; 

Government is viewed as both unethical and incompetent; and  

Only business is viewed as both somewhat ethical and marginally competent. 

Business was also viewed as more trustworthy than government and the media back in 2007/2008. Probably a mistake. At this point, business ethics, at least in financial institutions didn’t seem to be an especially high priority with lending being based not on the borrower’s ability to pay, but the lenders ability to palm the debt off onto somebody else quickly and profitably. The creation of increasingly complex financial derivatives like naked credit default swaps certainly suggested great competence on the part of somebody, but the ethics of seeking to profit from others misfortune?  As an aside, if you haven’t heard or read The Great Hargeisa Goat Bubble, the only short story ever to have been published in the Financial Times, it is a brilliant description of the perils of modern economics, told in goats and I highly recommend it. 

But of course, at the end of 2008 came the reckoning and alongside Lehman’s, trust in business was vapourised and everyone trusted government again. From 2012 to 2019 we had a period of relative trust stability with people largely trusting traditional media at least, if not their leaders. It is something of a welcome revelation that the majority have never trusted social media. 

Come the end of 2019 and Covid, government had another opportunity to regain the trust of people and by May 2020, they were more trusted than anyone else. The British Government found itself leading the table with a 24% increase in perceived trustworthiness. I imagine that would sit well with those of our national politicians who seem to consider everything a global game of ‘we did better than them’. This of course didn’t last long and between May 2020 and January 2021 our government lost more trust than anyone else except the South Koreans. Our leaders would probably be less keen to share that statistic, especially as France bucked the trend of all other big governments losing trust and managed to continue to gain it. But that’s the inexplicable French for you.  

As of right now, business is the most trusted intuition with ‘My Employer CEO’ being nearly the most trusted of those in leadership roles (we are trumped by Scientists to the top slot). To my amusement, everyone else’s CEO is significantly less trusted than your own, which is a delightful conundrum. I had to stop and think about it for a bit. 

As a CEO I have no more reason to be trusted than anyone else, except perhaps ‘my cousins’ friend who works in a hospital and has a cure for Covid’ who should never be trusted about anything, ever. I am required by law, as well as personal ethics to make decisions in the best interests of our company, which may not always be the best for you, or even sometimes, for me. I suppose that if you know that this is the basis for my decision making and you believe that I’ll follow it, that might qualify me enough to earn your trust.  

One of the joys of working for Delt is that doing the right thing for the right reasons is more important than making money any way you can. We try and recruit people who are willing to live our values. As a company we don’t always manage to do what we wanted to, in the time we wanted to do it – but we certainly try to. I don’t imagine business will stay in the trust top spot for long and it seems equally clear that unless something significant changes, we’ll continue to trust everyone less. However, for now, CEOs carry an extra burden, beyond worrying about satisfying their shareholders and supporting their staff. Some people still trust us. 

Giles Letheren, Chief Executive Officer

 

Photo by Alex Shute on Unsplash

Manic Monday

Manic Monday

For those of a certain generation the American pop group – the Bangles song ‘Manic Monday’ resonated strongly with workforces throughout the world.  The song was released, on vinyl, in 1986 before the real mass market appeal of CD let alone Spotify, and similar instant music streaming services, existed.  The song described a woman who was waking up on a Monday morning to go to work wishing it was still Sunday so she could continue to relax, but despite the evidence of gender we could all appreciate the sentiment. 

Fast forward 36 years and we find ourselves facing ‘Blue Monday’, identified as being the most depressing day of the year.  The day was born out of research by Sky Travel having considered the normally depressing weather (though as I am writing this there is an unusual sun beaming down and showing off the natural beauty of Plymouth!), the dark evenings, end of fiscal year planning and the inevitable arrival of the credit card statement showing how much we abused it over the festive period! My cynical nature, of course makes me think they created this day to sell more holidays! Despite changes in technology not much has changed since the Bangles song and there remains a gloom about having to get up and face the working week ahead for many. 

Organising the recent mental health wellbeing lunchtime talks, which we are hosting at Delt, has made me reflect on why the world seems intent on labelling another day as being ‘special’ but with a negative connotation. Personally, I do not necessarily see it first-hand, but I do see it in others. I am fortunate that within my role, within Delt, I don’t despair about the forthcoming working week, I have a great supportive team around me and if anything, my blues come about because I did not have enough time to do the things that I wanted to do that weekend rather than what the future week looks like. 

Delt, in my view, is a progressive employer and puts other companies that I have worked for, and those I have knowledge of, to shame. Delt encourages the work-life balance that we all strive for and how to achieve it, it’s not just lip service. Our employees are actively encouraged, through our wellbeing commitments, to spend quality time on …… ourselves. OK… I have immediate access to my HR colleagues which helps of course, but for others there is always someone to reach out to for support, signposting or just lending an ear. As Ant and Dec have said its ‘good to talk’.  

If your organisation has Mental Health First Aiders, then reach out to them. They are trained in offering you a non-judgemental ear and helping you find the next step to getting the support you may need. If your organisation does not have MHFA then try your HR department and see if they can help banish those blues. 

If you don’t feel you want to speak to a work colleague, try an Employee Assistance programme. Many organisations now offer these on a 24/7 basis and have become an invaluable tool for many. Importantly find someone trusted to talk to, such help can be found in the most unexpected places. My ‘go to guy’ is someone who I have only recently met though my university degree course and, despite the 30 years age difference, is the person who keeps me grounded and is there for me when I need. Of course, it is reciprocal, and I am humbled that they allow me in their life (I should note my thanks to his girlfriend for allowing me time with him!) 

So, let us turn the manic and blue Mondays into something that can be looked forward to by reaching out to your colleagues and build those relationships where we can all look out for each other. Consider a health and wellness check in as part of a weekly scrum, create a play list based on team members suggestions and go for a walk whilst listening to it (Don’t include the Bangles manic Monday song though) but most important of all remember ‘it’s good to talk.’ 

Adrian Dinham, HR Advisor

Photo by Jeremy Perkins on Unsplash