What is digital capability?

It’s now week five of my working for Auckland Museum and I’ve spent much of that time talking to people around the Museum and researching digital capability in the GLAM (galleries, libraries, archives and museums) sector. My first big task is to assess digital capability via a quantitative (that’s a survey) and qualitative (that’s talking to more people) methodology. So that we know what specific areas we need to target to increase said capability.

But the first place to start with this is to articulate what digital capability actually is. It’s by no means straight forward. Chicken and egg is a fitting description. ‘Digital’ means different things to different people. Some will say that it’s digital apps, tools, technology. Others will say it’s a different way of interacting with audiences.

So how do you measure something that people define differently?

I’ve started with some models for the effective implementation of people initiatives and learning and have used them to focus my initial, informal, discussions. These conversations have given me a bit more context to the museum and all the overlapping and moving parts that have an impact on digital capability, I’m then overlaying these insights with the research into digital capability (including some very useful resources from the Education sector) to frame my research/survey questions. I’m hoping this will give me a better picture of what digital capability actually is, how we measure it and the road map to enhance it.

There are two main models that are informing my thinking around digital capability. The first is probably the most pressing in my consciousness. It’s something I’ve used for years, heavily influenced by doing my Masters thesis with Peter Boxall (Professor of HRM at Auckland University), and seeing the implications of these three elements play out in the workplace time and time again. The model is the Ability, Motivation, Opportunity framework.

  • Ability is the skills and capabilities people need to complete tasks. In a digital sense, this is the knowing how to use the technology.
  • Motivation is the ‘what’s in it for me’. It doesn’t need to be transactional though. Simply, the reason we get out of bed in the morning is intrinsically connected to what you’re asking people to do, or change.
  • Opportunity refers to resources and scope to use technology. For example, the technology works like it’s supposed to, we’re allowed to use it (i.e. Twitter isn’t blocked), and we’ve got adequate information about what you can and can’t do – giving us the freedom to make adult decisions.


All three of these factors are a tripod. If one is missing then the others are going to fall down. You can’t tell people what to do (funny that!). You can train them until the cows come home, but if their hearts (their motivation) are not in it then they’re not going to do anything differently. Likewise, if you teach people how to use Twitter but there is no clear message about what the organisation voice is vs. the individual’s voice then people are going to be uncertain about using that tool – limiting their opportunity to participate.

If you’ve read my book you may have picked up on my belief that these three factors are even more fundamental when looking at the uptake of technology and adapting to increasing change. It’s complex, uncertain and, because it’s harder to see, measure, and ‘control’ outcomes, you’re much more reliant on individual motivation.

The second model I’m layering in here is the 70:20:10 framework made popular by Charles Jennings. This is the philosophy that 70% of learning should come through on the job experience, 20% through learning through others and 10% through structured courses and programmes. There has been some debate about the relevance of this model in recent years. But, I believe that’s because those 70% and 20% elements sit outside the realm of traditional instructional design and more in the sphere of organisational learning capability, workplace design and work systems. Practices that are impacted by other areas of the organisation including, from my observations over the years, ICT, Operations, and Marketing (not exclusively though). These are areas where the connection to learning and development strategy development and execution are not traditionally that strong.


There is a risk with the development of digital capability that the focus sits on that workshop space. ‘Let’s train people how to use digital tools and that will fix the challenges that we have’. We risk unbalancing the tripod and causing more frustration as people have the skills to use technology but not the capacity to do so. That development of skills  should be part of digital capability development but only one piece in a bigger jigsaw puzzle.

The rest doesn’t just happen on its own though, and the development of this ‘culture’ requires a mix of different interventions with different areas of the organisation. Yes, some of them workshop based but with the specific intentions, and embedded design, to impact past the workshop environment. These initiatives include:

  • The evolution of work practices that enable the flexibility to be innovative, creative and responsive to changing environmental demands. Think Design Thinking, Agile, and Lean. Re-thinking the way we run meetings and manage projects.
  • Tools and systems that support communication across the organisation. How does the Intranet, document storage and sharing system, and chat platforms intersect and support each other to achieve an overall goal of collaboration and information management, within and across teams.
  • Leadership development that supports the transition from privacy to transparency, planning to experimentation, controlling to empowering and hierarchies to networks. As well as the necessarily mindfulness/wellness techniques needed to survive and thrive in a fast changing and hyper-connected world. This has flow on implications for who we hire and how we hire them.
  • A digital vision that clearly articulates the expectations placed on people to be digital. Translating the overall organisation strategy into ‘what does this mean for the way we work together and learn?’ Clearing up confusion about what ‘digital thinking’ means and setting the expectation for the culture ‘the way we do around here’. Delving deeper also means helping people make the connection between ‘me’, ‘my team’ and ‘the organisation’.

Digital cap

In my thinking, and discussions, about digital, and indeed digital thinking, I keep revisiting the distinction between modernisation and transformation I borrow from my friend Heather, a teacher in a progressive school in East Auckland. Without sounding like a stuck record, modernisation is doing the same way we’ve always done things but with whiz bang features. Tranformation is looking at fundamentally changing the way we do things. Let me give you some examples:

  • In the school sector, this means teachers moving from the holders of knowledge standing at the front of the classroom, imparting information to kids sitting in rows taking down notes, to being facilitators, coaches and mentors as kids search out information themselves, using technology, and discuss it with their peers.
  • In retail, this means moving from the marketing message being the selling point for goods and services, to consumers telling their own stories about their purchases and people making decisions based on recommendations of people they know, or are connected to (this is why Instagram is diabolical for my credit card!).


I’m new to museology so I don’t feel comfortable commenting on this in respect to how the museum interacts with its audience. I do see the opportunities for internal practice though. Are we using digital technology to do the same thing we’ve always done but with new gadgets? Or do we want to create greater agility, innovation, creativity, openness, transparency? If the answer to this is yes, then there are implications for our leaders, systems, work practices and communication of vision (the stuff I mentioned above). Future Museum is pointing us in this direction, and I believe that our internal culture should be a mirror of what we project externally.

So, what does this mean for the capability assessment that I’m developing? Well I seem to have pullled together the ICT capability element of it quite easily (I found some great questions online). But I still need to explore this ‘digital thinking culture’ (for want of better words) that make up digital capability. I’m still working on something that captures that crucial synergy between training and application.

And I’m now faced with the challenge of simultaneously birthing the egg and growing the chicken at the same time as I start to plan how we’re going to define, lead and develop digital capability in an environment where we don’t have a clear idea what it is. It sounds like some word of weird sociological and biological experiment and it is. But that seems to be the thing with digital anyway, it’s all new ground. We’re all just trying to work out what we’re doing. And that’s a mind-set in itself isn’t it?

This thinking is by no means complete but, hopefully, by sharing, I can further develop the finesse of my delivery. I’d love to know what you think about this.


What it’s like writing a book

Humane-Workplace-cover ebookA few people have asked me recently what it’s like writing a book. I usually tell them to go and read Andy Headworth’s eloquent summary of his book writing experience.

And now I also get the “I’d like to write a book someday” statements. My advice to you, unless you LOVE writing, then don’t write a book.

Thankfully I love writing and relished the hermit like existence that has been my life for the past six months.

I’m also conscious that only crazy nut jobs write a book in six months!

BUT, if you are a crazy nut job as well, and you LOVE writing, then here is how I did it.

Draft One – one month

I took part in an event called National Novel Writers Month (#Nanowrimo). It’s basically an event whereby writers from all around the world spend a whole month writing 50,000 words of a novel or book. It gave me the motivation to just write words, and keep writing words, because I knew I had to have a certain amount of words each day, week and at the end of the month. So, I worked out how many writing days I had that month (taking out weekends and client days) and divided 50,000 by that number. What I ended up with was a target of at least 2,500 words on days I was writing.

Thankfully I wasn’t short on content. The idea behind my book was to take all the #NZLEAD tweet chats and conversations and thread them together. So the logical place to start was with the content on www.nzlead.com. I wrote down a list of all the topics we’d covered and roughly grouped them together under headings (e.g. recruitment, learning etc.). I then methodically worked my way through the topics, capturing and writing down notes on refill paper. Yes, that was my method – old school paper and pen. I ended up with piles and piles of paper. I split up my days by handwriting in the morning and typing up all my notes in the afternoon (after my fingers started to cramp from the pen). If a subject sparked a thought, I didn’t censor it, I just wrote it all down. If a topic linked to more information, or needed further explanation, I followed the links and wrote down the key points from all of that too.

I reached the 50,000 word mark. I ended up with a whole lot of words of nonsense. Truth be told, I had no idea what I was getting myself in for and naively thought I could write a whole, finished, book in a month.

Lesson one: only crazier nut jobs can write a whole book in one month.

Draft Two to Six – One Month (although this was Xmas so I did take some time off!)

November finished – I had a lot of words. 50,665 to be exact. I started hacking at it. I grouped together themes that were related. I didn’t think about it too much. It was more an “oh, this idea is sort of similar to this idea” so I dumped them into the same area. I deleted stuff – duplications, nonsensical ramblings. Towards draft Six I had whittled the whole thing down to about 38,000 words. Each pass through of the document I saved a new version.

Lesson two: be ruthless with cutting. As long as you ‘Save As’ different versions you can still add stuff back in if you change your mind.

Draft Seven to Nine – Two Months

I had been adding some of my own stories throughout some of the writing process. But this was when I really amped them up. I added detail, I moved them around. By writing my own stories, that personal connection helped me get clear about what I was trying to say in each section of the book. They gave clarity to the key themes and that helped me streamline the content further.

It was about this point that I gave it to Richard Westney to have a look at. His feedback changed the layout of some of the chapters and clarified the theme of the book.

I say this part took me two months but I did start taking chunks of time doing non-book related stuff between edits so that I could go back to it with a fresh perspective.

Lesson Three: Take time off between edits otherwise it all makes sense to you – and making sense doesn’t help you edit.

Draft Ten to Thirteen – one month

It was about at this point that I stopped seeing any inconsistencies and the whole thing made sense to me. Which isn’t good because I’d looked at it for too long and couldn’t really see it anymore.

It was time to pass it on to some more critical eyes.

This is where I enlisted the help of my editor friend Tanja and her trusty sidekick Tamara. Tamara started with editing the whole thing for structure and flow. Tanja then delved into more of the detail and picking up on things didn’t make sense. The last edit here was spelling and grammar. I’d worked with Tanja on my masters thesis and she’s just awesome. Tamara and Tanja made a brilliant tag team (in case you need someone to edit your book).

Lesson Four: don’t edit it yourself, get someone else to do it. For the reasons I gave in lesson three.

 Draft Thirteen – Two Months … ish

Lucky draft number thirteen was the one sent to PressGang to do all the final layout for the book. I self-published this book so I didn’t / don’t have a slick machine to do all this for me and had to foot the bill myself. I ran a pledgeme campaign to cover all the printing costs – with the added benefit of pre-selling about 80 books!

I found PressGang quite good to deal with once we got the timelines pinned down (which took a little bit of doing) – expect about six weeks from almost final draft to print.

Simon Heath did my cover art and I had asked Perry Timms to do my foreword some months prior. So the document I sent to PressGang was pretty much a complete word doc. There was a bit more going back and forth point though. Once they laid out the cover, I had to redo my authors bio. I also picked up things I wanted to tweak – it’s amazing what the extra pressure of getting it printed does to your attention to detail.

Lesson Five: Editing actually takes more time than writing a book – just FYI.

I then had to then edit the files that PressGang had developed for the print version into a Kindle version. Thankfully it’s really easy to load a book for Kindle (thank you Tim Scott for the pointers). Unfortunately the print publication was in InDesign and transferring the document back to Word was painful and included re-adding the 163 references!

Lesson Six: If you’re going to do print and Kindle, get it perfect in word first then have it laid out for print.

And here it is, available for pre-order and ready to launch on the 9th July….

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 12.35.03 pmThe book is being printed and will be available as a Kindle E-Book. You can pre-order the e-book here.

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 12.37.50 pm



You can also preorder a hard copy of the book here. 





I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!

Book launch

Thank you again to all the awesome people who contributed to my Pledgeme campaign to get my book published and have a launch party. I can confirm that the launch will be on the 9th June at the Ponsonby Cruising Club. If you’ve pledged then you just need to rock along. If you haven’t then you can still come along by grabbing a ticket over on eventbrite here.

I’ve also re-written the blurb that goes with the book. What do you think?

Without a doubt, technology is changing the way we work and learn. In this environment, it’s easy to think that social technologies are removing human to human interactions. Yet it’s the behaviours that underpin the use of these technologies that really counts. Social technologies can open up greater opportunities for communication, collaboration and thriving communities. It can transform our workplaces. But only if we put people first, if we make our workplaces more humane. 

In this environment, those of us within the people and culture professions; Human Resources, Learning and Development, and Recruitment; have an opportunity to truly shine. But to do this we need to re-evaluate what we traditionally think of as our roles, to change our approach, to step up and be brave. 

This book is a guide for a transformed and people-oriented world of work. It’s the collective wisdom of over three hundred NZLEAD community participants from all around the world. These are people who have people at the heart and soul of their professions and are passionate about creating a better world of work. Their conversations and actions have been captured in over one hundred NZLEAD tweet chats and woven into this book.

It’s about people, community, technology and the humane workplace. 


Feedback would happen all the time if… we had trust

A couple of weeks back a guy knocked on my door and asked if he could have a look at some of the noxious weeds on our property. He explained that the Council had just implemented a new policy where they eradicated weeds on properties bordering native bush. He was there to do an assessment. I got quite excited. Creating a beautiful garden is my fun project and I lept at the prospect of some help transforming my jungle into an oasis. So I keenly showed him around.

It wasn’t until afterwards that I realised my naeivity. He hadn’t shown me any ID (I hadn’t asked) and, as Gareth pointed out, it could have been just as likely he was casing the place for a future robery. I’m still waiting to hear back from the council about whether he was legit.

But here’s the thing. I implicitly trust that people have the best intentions. I assume that they are looking out for my best interests and are open and honest people. Unless someone is being an obvious arsehole then, this level of trust is my first and natural response. I apply this same approach to giving and receiving feedback.

I’m naturally inclined to tell people what I think. I usually beat myself up about how to do this in the best possible way – although sometimes it still doesn’t go so well. I am that person who told her friend that her boyfriend was a douchebag and wasn’t treating her right. Unfortunately we are no longer friends but she did go on to marry someone lovely. I’d like to think I’m pretty open about receiving feedback (please tell me if I’m not), and I try my best to not talk about people behind their back without telling them personally what I think (I think I inherited that from my Aunt!).

This doesn’t make me particularly politically savvy. But I am getting better, I think, at recognising when I need to keep my mouth shut and when my values compel me to say something. I have to ask, do these people trust that I have their best interests at heart? Maybe, maybe not. Do I genuinely have their best interests at heart? Maybe, maybe not. Feedback would happen all the time if we just let it – it’s not as simple as that.

Continual feedback doesn’t happen without trust. Trust doesn’t happen without vulnerability. Vulnerability doesn’t happen without safety.

Can I trust that the feedback I give will not be used against me? That I won’t be blacklisted or shunned for saying what I think? Sometimes no. That’s a hard lesson to learn I tell you! I told this story recently. My feedback made the situation worse. It was a lesson that keeping my mouth shut, and moving on to bigger and better things, can be the best course of action.

People can be blind to other perspectives, closed, walled, invulnerable. Trust diminishes, safety evaporates, feedback dissipates.

Trust is humanly chaotic. Feedback is a degree between rawness and political manoeuvring.

But if you never speak up when behaviour clashes with your values, stand up for what you believe in, tell people what is on your mind, even if it’s not popular, then behaviour will not change. Should you override concerns about trust to get rid of noxious weeds?

Or does that mean you just get robbed?

These are my reflections on feedback for the #feedbackcarnival. You can find more information about it here

Why I wrote a book

I’m about to publish a book. It’s a little scary. Will people like it? Will they enjoy it? Am I allowed to be say those things? By the time it’s out there it will be six months of energy and determination in creating those pages. Yet the content took a lot longer. The book captures over two years of NZLEAD tweet chats. But it’s still more than that. Writing it was cathartic. It was a way for me to re-frame a negative experience into hope and purpose, a way to reflect on a personal learning curve.

This story starts many years ago. You see I was probably a bit cocky about my skills and how much I could take on. And take on alot I did. I pushed myself really hard through university and beyond, I worked full time and studied full time. I worked my way up and across the career ladder, I loved my job and took immense pride in it. I did really well at just nailing everything. Get stuff done, make things happen, that was my thing. Then I decided to leave the role I had been in for nearly four years because I felt like I was ready for the next challenge. I didn’t have anything lined up. I had left jobs before and easily stepped into something.

Unfortunately I ended up unemployed for 6 months. I spent every week scouring job ads, talking to recruiters and every other week being rejected. I took temp work to fill the gaps, to get me out of the house, reception and PA work, my sense of self-worth plummeted. I didn’t know what to do when I had nothing to do, nothing to measure my worth against. I didn’t know who I was anymore.

I was finally offered a job that fit my skills. I actually had the choice of two roles. My instincts were screaming at me, but my head prevailed. An awesome culture, a well-known brand, great career prospects, innovation and a great team. That was the package my head told me I was walking in to – that was what my experiences and education had taught me was the right path. I was so pleased to just have something to measure my worth against again, that I ignored the voice inside of me.

It turns out that my manager wasn’t interested in what made me me, and my instincts were entirely correct. It’s much easier to look back on these things in retrospect. I spent 12 months in a situation where I felt like a freak for the way I thought, the way I spoke and the way I worked with my colleagues. I walked in with so much hope that my sense of self worth was to be restored, only to have more of it stripped away. I hated the thought of giving up, I didn’t want to relinquish hope that I could influence my situation and change it. But after trying everything I could, my only option left was to leave. My health was suffering. I was exhausted, crippled with anxiety and depressed.

Yet, for months more I battled on, expecting that the freedom of being on my own, of doing something that I loved, of starting my own business, of going on holiday would cure me. But it didn’t. Funny that!

What it sparked though was a journey of self-care and self-acceptance. A journey I’m still on I might add. I wish I had been treated differently, both as a candidate and an employee. I wish I had treated other people differently, I’m not the best version of myself when I’m under stress. But most of all, I wish I had treated myself differently. Then maybe this lesson wouldn’t have been such a painful one to learn. I feel like I’ve spent the last few years wading through mud and still have more days than I’d like where I feel stuck. Thankfully they’re becoming fewer. I’ve been putting a lot of priority on meditation, mindfulness, self reflection, and self-discovery. I’ve gone from doing it all, to recognising that not doing everything is a good thing. Some things happen for a reason right?

I almost told this story in my book. But I decided that I wanted the book to be about the things we’d talked about and done with NZLEAD – all the positive and awesome stuff – the vision for humane workplaces. Because that has been what has kept me dragging my arse forward. These are workplaces whereby technology can help people be their whole selves and demonstrate their uniqueness. Where our trials are a demonstration of our strength, not our weakness. Where there is a sense of community and purpose. Where our workplaces are more humane.

I know there will be some people who don’t get why I’m sharing this, and might judge me for for my perceived weakness. But I also know that there will be many who find hope and inspiration from my story. My intention, in sharing this with you, is to explain why I wrote this book and break a mould of human silence that is stopping us from being our true selves. My book is not just grandiose ideas of what HR, L&D and Recruitment can do to respond to the changing world of work. But a mirror of my personal reflections on leadership, the expectation and design of work and drawn from my first hand experience of where some of this stuff that we currently let slide, and silently endorse, within the people and culture professions has a very hidden dark side.

Please hit me up for a coffee or a Skype call if you’d like to share your stories with me – I’d love to hear from you.

And please pledge for my book to be printed in hard copy. Particularly if you also believe in better and more humane workplaces.

Update on the book project: The Foreword

I am really truly honored to have the awesome Perry Timms do the foreword for my book. I couldn’t help but share some of it. Actually I wanted to share the whole thing but it seemed too special for that. You might just have to wait for the book (or pledge if you havn’t yet).

But here is a little excerpt from it which tells you a bit about what the book is about. My favorite is this quote: “Consider it your chart of the uncharted waters. The shield from the elements and the playbook for the forthcoming big game.” Because that’s really it, it’s a guidebook for other people and culture practioners told with the voices of fabulous and talented people from all around the world.

“The Humane Workplace – a field guide to making sense of the world of work and its intertwining relationship with social technologies is how to describe (very basically) the book that Amanda Sterling has written and crafted.


So should you copy and follow everything Amanda has done?

You could; but likelihood is, you’ll take a drop of Gemma Reucroft, a slice of Neil Usher and a dash of Harold Jarche and mix it all up with Amanda Sterling. Names you might not know but should look up on Twitter and on other blogging platforms. Heroes. Practitioners. Consultants. It matters not what we call them. They’re part of our destiny, designed world and denoters of great content.

It’s this excitement about the social world and the practice of being a people and organisation development professional that I share with Amanda. This coming together is like a perfect storm for us. It’s an unnerving world for others mind. This is where this book comes into play. Consider it your chart of the uncharted waters. The shield from the elements and the playbook for the forthcoming big game.”

Please pledge here to make printing my book a reality.

Outside the echo chamber

Yeah, echo chamber. It’s a term I picked up at KiwiFoo to label the internal circle we surround ourselves with, the people who are like us, the people who re-affirm us. KiwiFoo: an invite only unconference event for interesting people that I attended this past weekend. A place I met Kiwis, Aussies, and Californians. I can safely say that I was way way way out of my echo chamber at KiwiFoo.

I’m still confused by the experience. It was confronting, overwhelming, not something I enjoyed; yet inspiring, challenging and rewarding. Alone in a crowd of almost 200 people. Artists, musicians, activists, politicians, scientists, engineers, soft-ware developers, I could go on. Everyone on the innovative fringes of their profession. It felt like I was on the fringe of the fringes. A collection of people with people at the heart and soul of their professions, yet few from the people professions. Conversations where humane work was critical; yet ‘human’ resources doesn’t feature. Interactions where I was uncomfortably stripped of what I stand for, yet built my confidence in the simplicity of what I do. Experiences which took away what I thought I was good at, to leave behind greater confidence.

I think I still need more time to process. Kiwifoo kicked a whole load of dust up for me and I still can’t see through it. Personally I don’t understand how any of the stuff I experienced happens all at the same time! On an intellectual level, let me try and articulate some of the things that KiwiFoo made me think about from a professional stand point.

We think that this concept of the organic workforce is relatively new when actually it’s been around a while, in academia and in the movie industry. It’s not the structure that makes the difference, it’s the underlying culture. That much I think we know. Toxic cultures are toxic, whether they are traditional organisations or in flexible and contractual arrangements. Are flexible structures more relevant now or is it that culture is? Or are they both intertwined?

We think that money is not the be all and end all, yet it’s what makes the world go around. There’s this inherent tension between money and meaning and there probably always will be. There are different ways of navigating and balancing the value of each. Those balancing points are where disruption will happen in organisational culture. But where does the balance become tipped in favour of one over the other?

We think that organisational design is about structure, and yet it’s all about people. Connecting over a common purpose, leadership role modelling behaviours, values, ethics. It’s about relationships, not rules. I think we know this too. In trying to simplify it into something we can understand we remove what makes it truly work. So how can we approach this?

We think that human related practices in organisations are the domain of human resources. But they’re not. People within organisations are taking charge and creating the businesses they want to work for, that are highly productive, making a positive impact on the world and they’re telling their friends about it. HR is not part of this conversation. I wrote a blog a while back about how HR won’t change the world of work. I’m starting to believe the title of that post. So what role do those who are passionate about these things, and not traditional HR, have?

I’d like to go back next year to try again. Because I think outside the echo chamber is the best place to find your voice… or get confused about what you think you know about the world.

Thank you to Nat and Jenine for organising this awesome event!