Friday, August 29, 2008

CPSRENEWAL.CA Weekly: Speaking Notes on Leadership as Governance

As you may or may not know I was a discussant at an HRDSC Knowledge Talk yesterday on the subject of Leadership as Governance.

Here are some excerpts from the event poster:


Dr. Gilles Paquet, Professor Emeritus at the Telfer School of Management and Senior Research fellow at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, University of Ottawa


Based on his recent research, Dr. Paquet will challenge traditional notions of leadership and governance. He will ask us to explore how the decision making process is affected by increasingly large and complex network based organizations.


Bart Bakker, Executive Director, Leadership Ottawa

Leadership Ottawa works to broaden leadership skills and expertise of committed action-oriented individuals by connecting them with the knowledge, tools, experiences and networks they need to strengthen their communities and organizations.

Nicholas Charney, Program Analyst, Assistant Deputy Minister’s Office, Labour Program and Executive Member of YMAGIN – Labour

I think the event went well and I hope to follow up later with my reflections on Dr. Paquet's awesome presentation. Since I didn't get an advanced copy of his presentation I based my comments largely on his publication, Cats Eyes: Intelligent Work versus Perverse Incentives.

FYI there were 194 Public Servants registered from across the country (all within HRSDC), and my actual speaking notes are attached here below:


[Ask by show of hands how many people consider themselves to be new Public Servants]

I left probably the coolest job in the world to be a public servant – I worked for the Ottawa Senators Hockey Club. Interestingly I resigned my position with the Sens just prior to being flown out to Anaheim for the game 5 Stanley Cup final.

Understandably, when I tell people that, they always ask me why I left. Well, actually, it’s usually more of a statement about the kind of idiot I am.

But the reason I signed my letter of offer is simple, it’s the same reason that we all signed our letters: the opportunity appealed to us.

My career in Public Service started as most do – which is to say not according to plan. I went through the same on-boarding process that many of you have. I had the same conversations you are having with your friends, and I faced the decisions you are facing. I got to the point where I needed to make a decision about my future.

At around the same time, I had a friend leave her organization for greener pastures. But before she left she brought her concerns about her unit up with her manager. On one hand I was amazed by her courage, on the other hand I couldn’t understand why she would even bother.

She told me that she felt obligated to at least try. She explained that if she didn’t step up and take responsibility someone else would just inherit her problems. We both knew that that wouldn’t solve anything. Her simple explanation, and the fact that she took ownership, made my decision an easy one.

I engaged myself in public service renewal because I want to be able to look back on my career in the public service – the one that will make up the most of my working life – as the coolest job I ever had. I don’t want to look back 28 years from now and feel as if the best time of my professional life was a single year of working for the Sens back when I was 25.

Initially you may not see the connections between my story and Dr. Paquet’s work, but I ask that you keep it in mind as I go through the rest of my presentation. Hopefully they will become clear as we proceed. There are two main linkages between my story and Dr. Paquet’s work that I would like to draw.

1st Link: Designing a Living Organization

The first link is to ‘designing a living organization’. Dr. Paquet has written that the role of the designer is to intervene in real time in an existing organization in order to improve the four dimensional PARC configuration (People, Architecture, Routines and Culture) in a manner that generates better performance. (p7 Cats Eyes)

However, this role is not just the role of some abstract designer. This is our role as Public Servants. Understanding that our organization is made up of People, Architecture, Routines and Culture, and that changing any one of these causes the others to realign, is understanding that we each have a degree of influence over our organization.

Public Servants actively looking to design a living organization should naturally welcome the perspective of new hires because they are less prone to accepting the established order and more likely to be able to identify red flags. Therefore youth groups such as YMAGIN are particularly important because they focus individual influence by collecting people who generate ideas and question existing architectures, routines and culture. Moreover, as Dr. Paquet has written, young people are more willing to engage in experimentalism then are their older colleagues.

Our willingness to experiment may have something to do with the fact that older colleagues are generally in positions of greater responsibility and are busy dealing with the day to day administration of the government. However, the opportunity cost here is clear: we are losing the capacity to engage new ideas to the necessity of the day. Often new recruits have less on their plate in terms of the day to day and have more time to engage in creative thinking. Unfortunately busy managers are not only too busy to engage in serious play, but are too busy to encourage it in their new hires. This leaves new hires frustrated and idling, when they could be finding solutions that free up time for their managers.

For this reason, I think one of the core ingredients of designing a living organization should be incorporating new outlooks and creating safe spaces, particularly for new recruits, to generate ideas. I think that, much like APEX, youth groups constitute a safe space and a powerful tool to accelerate transition. Youth groups provide opportunities to deal with difficult issues, and generate better understanding and closer collaboration. (p21 Cats Eyes)

They facilitate the exchange of perspectives and advice from among people facing similar issues. Sometimes the net gain is small: a single issue, resolved on a personal level. Sometimes the net gain is much larger. While both are important, when something larger takes root within the youth group the group is well-positioned to develop it, generate interest in it, and find the resources to champion it.

For example, within the last two months, YMAGIN-Labour successfully held an Informal Discussion with our ADM for our new recruits, a Lunch and Learn for Students on staffing; and a fundraiser for Child and Youth Friendly Ottawa’s Tools 4 Schools Program. All of which were responses to needs that the group perceived, not tasks that were handed down from on high.

I also mentioned that youth groups foster closer collaboration. The truth of government is that while everyone wants to accomplish their own successes on their own merits, relationships matter, and they matter a lot. New public servants should seek out people with whom they share an affinity and similar ideas and interests. Some of your best resources in the future may be the people moving up the ranks with you right now. Youth groups are a convenient way to meet other people within your organization and start to build those connections.

Personally, some of my best resources are people I have never formally worked with but have developed professional relationships with. These are people that I have chosen to work and they are as important to my career as those people whom I am required to work with.

2nd Link: Perverse Incentives

The second link I want to make is to ‘perverse incentives’. In Cats Eyes Dr. Paquet wrote that poor performers are rarely dealt with by managers and that the tendency is to off-load problem cases rather then to confront them. He went on to say that the capacity to confront is a fundamental requirement for any leader and is a burden of their office. He attributes the failure to confront to a sense of disengagement, strategic silence and learned helplessness. Finally, he exposes the fact that the EX community is permeated by latent fear – that there is this survival instinct that manifests as self-censorship.

The truth is that these things extend well beyond the senior management cadre. The lack of capacity or willingness to look a person in the eye and say “this will not do” in the public service is a particularly powerful example. How many unhappy, confused or underutilized new recruits are willing to look their manager in the eye and say, “With all do respect, this will not do.” My wager is not many.

Furthermore, I would argue that the capacity to confront is a fundamental requirement of any Public Servant, and a burden of anyone holding public office, not just senior managers. Similarly, disengagement, strategic silence, and learned helplessness are manifest across the ranks of the Public Service. This includes new recruits, where it is perhaps the most dangerous. Latent fear is also easily discernable in new hires. Again, how many new hires would confront their manager even if that was truly what was required? From my experience the majority of people simply choose to self-censor and start applying elsewhere. Perverse incentives are leading us to the path of least resistance.

According to Dr. Paquet, if this fear is to be attenuated, new structures and rules based on trust must be put into place. I think that new hires would tend to agree – they want to trust and be trusted.

Yet, in my experience, there is an implicit level of trust among new hires that has yet to develop between managers and new hires. This is not surprising given generational differences and power dynamics between new hires and managers.

In some cases new employees, especially contract or term employees seeking permanency, avoid the risk of alienating their managers because they fear repercussions. Things like further reduced workloads, withholding references or giving poor references, un-renewed contracts, and negative feedback spread by word of mouth, could all be detrimental to a new recruit, especially one straight out of Post-Secondary.


If you recall when I mentioned that youth organizations are a good way to alter the PARC configuration of our organization I failed to mention the People aspect. My conclusion is largely centered on People and what Dr. Paquet has referred to as ‘somebody is in charge and it’s not me’.

I will simply call it ownership.

I agree with Dr. Paquet’s observation that it is naïve to expect change until executives accept responsibility for addressing problems. However, I would like to again go one step further by saying that this requires not only educating people upward but in all directions that part of being a Public Servant is to refuse to indulge in strategic silence, acting to reinforce that commitment, and providing all the necessary support to others who deal with these problems (p11 Cats Eyes).

We need people at all levels to accept responsibility for both their successes and their failures. I have already said that I think it is the responsibility of every Public Servant to hold their colleagues accountable, and when appropriate, to let them know that certain levels of performance are simply unacceptable. But holding others to account is pointless if you fail to hold yourself to that same standard.

As Public Servants we all need to take ownership over everything that falls within our purview. Ownership can mean a lot of different things to different people, to some it might mean getting up here and making an honest appeal to others, for some it might mean climbing that career ladder and championing something at a high level, or for others it simply means finding a job they love and doing it effectively. The truth is that all of these contributions are equally important. All of these things make it easier for us to be effective owners in our own spheres.

Working in an organization that rewards people for taking ownership, is one of the first steps towards me being able to look back 28 years from now and say that my career in public service was the coolest job I ever had.

In this sense, leadership is about enabling others by helping them find the courage to take ownership, to play an active role in designing our living organization, and to overcome perverse incentives.

Thank you.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Round-Up: August 27


Mike Kujawski over at Public Sector Marketing has posted some great info on some upcoming social media events that may be of interest, including the Barcamp here in Ottawa.

He also posted this wicked social media diagram that I don't recall linking to previously but I remember thinking I should have.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Round-Up: August 26th


FYI the BC public service is on a recruiting drive if anyone is looking for a change of venue on the west coast.


Etienne has posted his 'Personal' PS Renewal Vision, here's a taste:

One inherent danger of setting specific priorities and objectives for PS Renewal, is that we may pursue them at the expense of equally important factors that might impact the end results or even cancel off all our efforts. Such is the case with recruitment. There’s no question that shorter delays in external recruitment campaigns are critical in order to get the “best and the brightest”. But assuming we can get them in, how long will they stay? If the public service keeps welcoming new hires the way it currently does, maybe not that long… If you think the public service does rather poorly when it comes to recruitment, here’s a news for you: it’s generally downright awful when it comes to the on-boarding process, i.e. the first few days, few weeks, few months they experience inside the public service. If we want to have the slightest chance of retaining the recruits we relentlessly worked to get through the door, we better take them seriously once they are in.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Round-Up August 25


I came across an article entitled, Stop Blaming Your Blackberry and this follow up response to it; both address the issue of Blackberries and their impact on work-life balance.

Here is another letter responding to the Kathryn May's article last week (PS ordered to hire more minorities).

There is still a lot of (negative) buzz around the raises for Senior Public Servants in BC. Here is one letter in particular that I found interesting.

A PS worker pleaded no contest in a 2.4 million dollar fraud case.

Kathryn May is usually a good read but this isn't even newsworthy.

'Strengthening' the Act respecting the Public Service of Saskatchewan has become the subject of a news article. I am not fully in tune with Saskatchewan's provincial politics but I think it has something to do with the firing (and subsequent successful litigation) of a senior provincial official.

News on Blogs/Blogging

Here are a couple of interesting tidbits on blogging and journalism and blogging in the Public Service (sort of).


The CSPS is rebroadcasting (still waiting for podcasts ...) an armchair discussion on Public Service Renewal done by Nicole Jauvin, President president of the Canada Public Service Agency on August 28th from 1:00 to 2:15 pm.

[ncharney]: FYI - I will be a discussant at an HRSDC Knowledge Talks event also being held on August 28th, the topic of discussion is Governance as Leadership. Unfortunately the event is only open to HRSDC staff, but don't worry I am looking to blog on the experience the following week.

Friday, August 22, 2008

CPSRENEWAL.CA Weekly: Follow up - Development Programs and the Culture of Entitlement

Our latest weekly earned us 3 comments, which have cumulatively sparked this follow up.

Thank you MC, Patrice Collin and Etienne Laliberté.

Over-promise, Under-deliver

[MC]: I never would have felt entitled to anything, had a development program not been heavily advertised and repeatedly used as a selling point during a post-secondary recruitement[sic] (PSR) campaign that I was a part of.

[ncharney]: Agreed, hiring managers should not using the bait and switch on new PSRs. It obviously leaves them frustrated and has implications regarding their future in the Public Service. This was one of the underlying points of my column, hence my statement: "Can we honestly blame new hires for focusing on exactly what they were told to focus on during the on-boarding process?" I tend to echo Etienne's point about the problematic nature of recruitment campaigns that over-promise and under-deliver:

[Etienne Laliberté]: One key point MC makes is the issue of promises made during recruitment campaigns and what is actually delivered. MC hits it right on the nail. I would only remark that the problem is not false promises per say[sic] as much as the overselling of the public service and the creation of false expectations that are never actually met. There’s a nuance. I have seen very few cases of people in development programs who were actually “promised” anything. What typically happens though is that the recruiters or managers present a one-sided view of the development program and the prospect of a career in the public service – the idealistic view!

[ncharney]: Both Etienne and I think that MC's closing comment is 'key'.

[MC]: If they are using these programs to lure people in. It's false advertisement, and since retention is such a big part of renewal, departments should make sure that what they promise during recruitement [sic] campaigns is what they actually deliver.

[ncharney]: Few departments outside the Privy Council Office are thinking about the ramifications of failed recruitment efforts from the perspective of the entire public service. Given that the government is generally considered an amorphous blob governed by the same overarching rules, the implications of a new hires negative experience with one department are grave. New recruits are more likely to consider moving outside the Public Service rather than change jobs within it. To make it explicit, if you fool a new hire once, well shame on you, if you fool them twice by offering what you can't deliver well shame on them. Furthermore, given that this generation of new recruits is more connected then any previous one, we should expect there to be less opportunity to "fool them once" as they pass along the negative review to all 315 of their closest Facebook friends.

[mmangulabnan] I think it’s worth mentioning that the government is generally considered an amorphous blob precisely because that is one of the central tenets of their branding policy. (Last I checked) individual departments are free to advertise themselves in recruitment campaigns, but you will rarely (if ever) see an advertisement for anything outside of recruitment from a specific department (i.e. it’s always “a message from the government of Canada” as opposed to “a message from Health Canada” in anti-smoking ads for example). Since the federal government chooses to brand itself as a single entity, the challenge for individual departments then becomes how to differentiate themselves in the face of potential recruits looking for a government job. Since pay and benefits are all universal across government, that’s where development programs come in.

Further, I don’t think I’m crossing any lines when I say that I think departments outside PCO don’t think about the ramifications of failed recruitment efforts from the whole public service perspective, because departments aren’t recruiting for the public service – they’re recruiting for their department. Why do you think that, with very few exceptions, development programs don’t cut across different departments?

[ncharney]: Finally, Etienne raises an incredible (and oft overlooked) counterpoint:

[Etienne Laliberté]: The other side of the coin is rarely discussed. Although recruiters and managers are largely responsible for creating these high expectations that are rarely met, part of the burden also falls on the shoulders of the recruits who don’t know how to interview an organization and don’t ask the right questions to the managers and the recruiters. In fact, the recruits “wants to believe” that the organization he or she will join is great and it will be the beginning of a super-fantastic career; they’d rather not know too much about the dark side of the organization, its culture and the reality of being in a development program… at least not now. Welcome to La-La-Land!!

[mmangulabnan]: I do agree with this point, and agree that it is often completely overlooked. Recruits should always have questions at the ready about how well an organization will fit their needs. But when the promises of a development program are all laid out on the table, how should one approach the question of, say, funds available for formal training without being handed a vague statement about budgeting? Etienne’s experience with CCRA speaks precisely to the fact that I doubt any organization will explicitly lay out any of the shortcomings of their programs, even when asked directly. Even then, getting the foot in the door is a pretty attractive option for most people since the ease of which one can move between departments is one of the commonly cited ‘perks’ of working in the public service.

Additionally, I think an optimistic view of a potential employer is warranted – just as the organization should have an optimistic view of the potential employee at the outset. The interview is certainly one of the means to ground that optimism, some things will only be brought to light once you get into the thick of things. Essentially though, we should consider the equation from two sides: either a development program that doesn’t live up to expectations, or an employee that doesn’t live up to expectations. In either case, don’t both parties have some justified sense of entitlement to what (or at least what they thought) they were being promised? The potential for disappointment is of course ever-present, but even I would prefer to be optimistic about this sort of thing.

Hard Work vs Easy Ride

[ncharney]: Etienne's last comment segues nicely into the issue of hard work versus an easy ride. First here is MC's comment:

[MC]: I don't understand why "rolling your sleeves up and working" and development programs are presented as two opposing and mutually exclusive ideas. Although I thought I would be in a development program, I was 100% ready and excited to work hard and learn a LOT and I never expected this be an easy way to cruise to the top ... Being in a development program does not make you a free-rider.

[ncharney]: It was not my intention to position development programs and hard work as mutually exclusive. My argument was that hiring managers should position a career in public service as an opportunity to roll up your sleeves and do good and challenging work (in a positive work environment) rather then dangling the carrot of a development program. As a manager they are more empowered to provide you with the challenging work and a positive work environment, while development programs are generally out of their control. In fact in many cases hiring managers are simply offering what they believe to be available to new hires, the alternative, which I choose not to believe, is that they are outright lying to new recruits in order to bring them on board. What I would rather see is managers leveraging the possibilities that the job offers in terms of its work and having people come into a culture where the predominant feeling of entitlement is directed toward good work not career advancement/development. It comes back to statements I made in an earlier column about the need for new hires to be humble.

The experience of our third commenter, patricecollin, bolsters my position:

[patricecollin]: I do agree with Nicholas that many of my good friends who are in the Public Service don't take their development in hand enough. Sadly if you don't push hard for it and keep you manager honest and make it clear that this is crucial for you to stick around...then it probably won't happen no matter the amount of ressources[sic] available.

[ncharney]: Taking ownership over your own career development is crucial, if you don't like what you see, then act to change it. Furthermore, I personally wouldn't consider advocating for a development program as taking action. I am of the firm opinion that everything that can be accomplished through a development program can be achieved on your own -- create and maintain a Personal Learning Plan, or Personal Learning Agreement (or whatever your department calls them). Use your learning plans to leverage training, and build on your skills and competencies. Once you have achieved them, start applying for competitions that would entail a promotion. Then compete for it. Essentially the point I want to get across is that the absence of a development program does not preclude you from developing along the same trajectory. In fact many of departmental development programs publish their documentation on their intranet sites, if you need a guide to help you plan, consult the documents. Conversely if your department doesn't have one at all, consult a friend or colleague in another department to acquire the necessary documentation. Hopefully at this point the difference between being passive and active with regard to one's development is clear.

[mmangulabnan]: If you’re willing to really self-direct your career development, it may in fact be the better route. Development programs, in my experience, require quite a rigorous accounting and documentation of work experience and credentials far beyond what’s required of your average employee performance/learning agreement, making career progression a more work intensive, if not more arduous, process.

[ncharney]: Mike makes two good points. First, development programs can actually be burdensome and slow down your career advancement. As someone who works on creating and implementing development programs I know first hand that the target for promotion is anywhere from 12-24 months depending on the position. Moreover, promotions only advance candidates a single level within their group. I personally have benefited from a promotion within my first 12 months in government, and have friends who spent 24 months at their previous level before jumping two levels. Both are examples of promotions that are on the ‘fast’ end of the development program timeline and both occurred outside of development programs (i.e. through fully competitive processes). Meanwhile, people ‘in’ development programs are left in the lurch because the program has been ‘frozen’. Second, Mike’s point about self-direction raises the underlying question, would new hires be so interested in development programs if they focused on providing new hires the tools they needed to self-direct their career and build their skill sets while omitting the promotional aspect? In short, would people care about a development program that did not include provisions for promotion?

[mmangulabnan]: In a word, no – and they shouldn’t. An organization shouldn’t need a program to help their employees develop. Providing employees with tools and opportunities for improvement should be an implicit part of any job. I mean, even retail electronics stores hold technical and practical training sessions periodically. Wrapping that up and calling it a development program is window dressing at best, and misleading at worst.

Perhaps the more pertinent question is, “what are development programs if not vehicles to fast track promotions?”

[]: We are interested in your thoughts and experiences with development programs. Please contribute to the conversation by adding your comments.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Weekend Round-Up August 18th

Last week's column apparently turned some heads. Please check the comments (Thanks MC, patricecollin and Etienne Laliberté for your contributions).

FYI we are currently working on pulling together elements of the column and the comments in order to post a follow up weekly on Friday. If you have anything to contribute to that discussion please place a comment on the article and we will try to integrate it into our response.


Kathryn May penned an article entitled, PS ordered to hire more minorities. Here is an excerpt:

Each of the new 4,000 recruits must have a personal learning plan, including what training they need to master English or French early in their careers. Mr. Lynch's commitments revolve around planning, recruitment, employee development and enabling infrastructure, the centerpieces of his renewal strategy to ready the public service for the future.
[Update August 19: You can find letters responding to the above article, here, here, and here.]

Canadian Public Service Agency

Window on Values and Ethics is apparently back... and I didn't know they existed.

Friday, August 15, 2008

CPSRENEWAL.CA Weekly: Development Programs and the Culture of Entitlement

When I first started in the public service, one of the first things I noticed was the need for greater performance management. It wasn’t until I read Etienne Laliberté’s An Inconvenient Renewal that I truly understood why:

[Etienne’s] favourite illustration of the challenges of managing performance comes from Tim Brennan of HiringSmart Canada. Brennan explains that any group within an organization is composed of three types of workers who collectively produce 100% of the output of the organization:

1. The superior producers who constitute 16% of the workforce and produce 60% of the total output the organization;
2. The average producers who form 68% of the workforce and account for 60% of the total output;
3. The poor performers who make up 16% of the workforce and who are responsible for a 20% deficit in the total output of the organization.

Despite having two groups of workers who collectively could generate 120% of output, the organization’s productivity is hurt by the poor performers: “Not only do they not directly produce anything of value, they demoralize everyone around them.” (Etienne Laliberté, An Inconvenient Renewal)

There are numerous ways to more actively manage performance within the workplace: establishing performance goals; documenting performance plans; observing and providing feedback; evaluating performance; rewarding good performance; and addressing poor performance. Development programs are becoming an increasingly popular tool because they wrap all of these activities up into a single coherent package. As someone who provides input into development programs, I understand that they address the need to develop and retain talent, to promote a learning environment, and ensure that there are resources available to step up as people leave the organization.

The Link to Entitlement

I think that the importance and availability of development programs is consistently overstated, especially by hiring mangers during the intake process. The hype of development programs is creating a new breed of entitlement in the public service:

The culture of entitlement in the public service is probably one of the behavioural norms newcomers in the organization first notice. Not only is entitlement pervasive and acceptable, it is even encouraged. Therefore it is not surprising to see that although many newcomers are initially turned off by this aspect of the culture, it is probably the one they assimilate the most quickly. (Etienne Laliberté, An Inconvenient Renewal)

The appropriation by new hires of the culture of entitlement is an extremely disheartening reality. I have seen many new hires speak so vehemently about development programs that you would think they consider it their absolute right. Again while this may be the case sometimes (i.e. check your letters of offer my friends) more often then not it is mere window dressing. Moreover, development programs are also too often described by hiring managers as vehicles of promotion. They emphasize the career progression and promotional aspects of the program rather then the opportunities the programs present in terms of professional and skills development. The result is that new hires ignore the training options available to them (say by writing and holding your manager to account via a Personal Learning Plan) and focus on the absence of a formal program.

Can we honestly blame new hires for focusing on exactly what they were told to focus on during the on-boarding process?

Hiring managers are deploying everything they can in order to pique the interests of an increasingly mobile knowledge workforce that is smart enough to take full advantage of supply shortages. Sadly, I know a handful of recent Post Secondary Recruits, all of whom were (falsely) under the impression that they were going to be parachuted into a development program immediately upon entering the public service and that they wouldn’t have to juggle career choices for the next 3-4 years while they were learning the ropes in the development program.

Now they are faced with the absence of the program and the reality that they now need to make choices about their careers, while their experience in the public service makes them fear the possibility of the false promises of others (fool me once…).

[Afterthought by ncharney: What ever happened to rolling up your sleeves and doing it yourself? Why not hype that opportunity in the on-boarding process, maybe it will breed that type of work culture...]

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Something Strange ...

Hey All - we are having some sort of problem with our hosting domain (hopefully our feedburner still works).

For now you can (try to) get to the site here:

Round-Up: August 14th

Not much to say today, other then watch out our friend Etienne, he's angry! (You know what I am angry about? Not being able to stream the video he posted a link to from my work terminal!)

BTW tomorrow's column is on Development Programs and the Culture of Entitlement.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Round-Up: August 13th

There has been a lot of press lately on the large pay raises for provincial public servants in British Columbia. Most of it talks about how it shows a deep disconnect between the taxpayers and their government. However I came across this piece written by Keith Baldrey that presented some good points about raising pay for senior civil servants. Here is my favorite excerpt:

Now, I don't have any problem with paying our senior civil servants big bucks. I know a lot of them - some of them for more than 10 years - and I have to say I have enormous respect for their talents and abilities.

I have little time for those who whine and complain and compare the wages of, say, cafeteria workers or taxi drivers with those in charge of managing a $30 billion-plus corporation as if they are on some sort of equal playing field.

And I think people who subscribe to the lame view that civil servants are by nature lazy, useless or obstructionist can more accurately apply those terms to themselves.

As always I encourage you to check out the whole article.


Tuesday, August 12, 2008 Email Rant: 'Distributed Work'

Not sure if this will become a regular feature of the blog or not but sometimes you just need to share things. Rather then simply post a round-up or a full blown column here is an interesting email exchange that Mike and I had today (Note I inverted the order of the email string so you chronologically it reads it top to bottom):

-----Original Message-----
To: mmangulabnan
Subject: Why not do this with gov offices?

FYI more info on 'distributed work'

-----Original Message-----
From: mmangulabnan
To: ncharney
Subject: RE: Why not do this with gov offices?

because that would be smart...

baha: "[The US] recognize the many benefits and advantages and strongly support it," Mr. Fortier says. "Here, we don't use the carrot and we don't use the stick. There's not even a donkey."

There's tons of commercial space (and vacant commercial space) 2 blocks from my house. I'm not even gonna add up how much I could save in doing away with my bus pass, not having to buy extra groceries for lunches, not to mention buying lunches. (That's over $800 a year for the bus pass alone, for those counting - anyone paying more than that for parking/gas?). There's even a small fitness benefit attached in that I would be much more inclined to walk or bike to and from work every day. I might even be more inclined to work later because it wouldn't take me 40 minutes to get home. Set up an IM and I don't need to be here 85-90% of the time.

It's funny how we can work almost seamlessly with people in the regions (remember, even Guelph, Montreal, and Toronto are considered 'regions') but it's somehow impossible to work as effectively with someone who's 20 minutes down the road. The mentality seems to be, if you can be in the office, you should be in the office.

If someone can telecommute from Nunavut, surely I can telecommute from Hunt Club...

It seems the only people who are able/allowed to telecommute in the same area are people who have retired and returned to the workforce. I know, and have worked with people who have retired and returned who live in the area and telecommute the majority of their time. The opposite mentality seems to exist for these employees: if you don't need to be in the office, then you don't have to be in the office.

oh to dream.

-----Original Message-----
To: mmangulabnan
Subject: Why not do this with gov offices?

can i post your mini rant /this email exchange on the blog with links to the article and the background paper I am reading now, after I finish reading it? if you want to make any edits do so in red below, but i think it is gold as is.

-----Original Message-----
From: mmangulabnan
To: ncharney
Subject: RE: Why not do this with gov offices?

[done] - I'm tempted to add something additional about the clothes I have to buy in order to 'look presentable' for my no-clients, but I won't


I don't think Mike wanted me to include that last one but, oh well. Happy Tuesday everyone.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Weekend Round-Up August 11th

Developments @

We may be doing our first podcast in the near future, we have an interview lined up and have been graciously offered the technical support to do it.

We would most likely be interviewing a recent hire to discuss his/her experience with the on-boarding (hiring) process.

Any thoughts?


I just want to draw your attention to barcampOttawaGov. It is:

A chance for Government of Canada employees to get together and talk about what they're doing with social media and new technologies. A chance to meet others in communications, marketing, web development, design (and any other job description) to find some inspiration, some motivation and help build a community.

if you haven't seen it yet, check out the wiki here. Remember that this is not an official Government of Canada event - see you there.


Chamika sent in an interesting article in BusinessWeek entitled Six Reasons to Run from a Job Interview, and apparently Canadians are working less?

Friday, August 8, 2008 Weekly Column: Technology in the Workplace

I recently had the opportunity to collaborate with a technical advisor in order to give input into an Information Management/Information Technology (IM/IT) environmental scan that is being done by my departmental IT services group. This was a difficult undertaking because we had to concretely qualify driving forces and challenges to IM/IT without over-generalizing the need for ‘web 2.0’ because, for some reason, web 2.0 has become slang for ‘put up a wiki and problem solved’. However the IM/IT challenges faced by Government are significantly larger than any wiki can solve.

Gen Y has grown alongside information technology. We remember when the web was entirely text based, what it was like to wait more than a few seconds to download a single still image, and a when ‘Google’ wasn’t a verb. We have seen the exponentially increasing rate at which information can be found, managed, packaged and shared. We have also seen the similar growth in the breadth and depth of the tools and services with which we manipulate this information. Ubiquitous access to information is now the norm.

Herein lies the problem: the IM/IT infrastructure of the workplace simply cannot satiate our technological desires customs. Outside of the workplace, we continue to live our entire lives being able to appropriate new technologies as they emerge. We organize our lives in such a way that technology blends seamlessly into it. Yet, at work we are asked forced to do things the way we used to do them 5 to 10 years ago.

We are stuck using outdated operating systems (OS); we are relegated to using antiquated tailor-made applications with unintuitive interfaces written by companies that no longer exist; we can’t install our own software applications; we lack the physical capacity to view streaming media; and we are routinely frustrated by filters that limit our access to legitimate information. In short, our use of technology at work is completely counter-intuitive to our use of it everywhere else. I can’t help but wonder how much of the problem stems from an inability to provide the capacity and how much of it stems from an inability to trust the end user to act responsibly with their IT resources. Capacity is a matter of resource allocation, responsible use of IT resources should be standard practice. Does your boss really need to tell you what not to look at at work, or that you shouldn’t be on youtube or facebook all day?

Speaking from personal experience, I left a private sector job where I had uninhibited access to information, remote access, an internal instant messenger service, a client relations management software, an inventory system, and the latest OS – all of which interfaced seamlessly with one another – to take a job in government only to find myself working (at the time) in an information environment riddled with filter issues, on a bulky and antiquated OS, and hosting a bunch of different applications that didn’t speak to one another. It was like stepping into a time warp that immediately reinforced all of the negative stereotypes I had heard about the pace at which the bureaucracy moves.

I don’t know what the solutions are to the government’s IM/IT woes, but maybe there comes a time when we need to concede that we can’t catch up, and that we should stop duplicating our efforts. Perhaps we should wipe the slate clean, align ourselves with some of the big IM/IT players, sign the requisite non-disclosure agreements and pay them to administer it.

Though, in many cases, I suspect solutions don’t even have to be that grandiose. Work in a busy office and need to keep tabs on people for approvals etc but not sure where everyone is? Why not just set up twitter accounts (and hook them into Firefox and your mobile devices):

  • Nick is on lunch 12pm-1pm
  • Mike is in a meeting 10am-2pm @ TBS
  • Etienne is in his office, drop in if needed
  • David is busy with a firm 3pm deadline for PCO
  • Liz is working on end of fiscal, please have everything in by 2pm today
Or take the ongoing issues with the speed and physical capacity of government email servers. A widespread reluctance to delete email has lead departments to institute automatic email archiving policies and/or practices. Archiving has become increasingly frequent because email servers just can’t keep up, yet employees refuse to self-regulate while complaining about how slow the email servers are. How many of your daily email exchanges are purely perfunctory?

  • Thanks for sending me the document.
  • Got it.
  • See you then.
  • No problem.
  • Okay thanks.
  • Oops, I forgot to send the attachment.
  • What’s the number?
  • Drop in to discuss.

Over half of my daily email could be replaced with simple Instant Messenger (IM). So why not deploy an existing IM with file transfer capabilities (eg. MSN Messenger) to take the weight off of our email servers? Just think about all of the email space you could free up with an IM service, not to mention avoiding the duplication involved in managing documents via email:

  • The message in your email folder (when you received it),
  • The attachment in your temporary files folder (for when you need to download it)
  • The attachment in your download folder (when you downloaded it)
  • The file on your desktop (when you worked on it and saved it)
  • The file on your shared drive (if you aren’t around and someone needs it)
  • The file back in your temporary files folder (for the email attachment)
  • The new message in your sent box (when you send your revisions back)

Unfortunately for some reason, IM programs are widely seen as a bane of productivity, right up there with social networking and streaming video sites, when in all honesty smoke and coffee breaks probably take up way more time. I understand that an increasingly mobile and knowledge based workforce makes it challenging to provide secure, reliable and remote access. I know that access to corporate networks and to information management tools that meet the expanding needs of an organization is difficult.

The kicker is that everyone else knows it too, talking about the need to move and moving are two very different things. Too much of the former drives new Gen Y hires away from Public Service, following through on the latter is what will keep them engaged in it.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Round-Up August 7th

There is a great news article on innovation in the Montreal Gazette that I want to draw your attention to, I was going to try to work it into tomorrow's weekly but haven't been able to. Here is an excerpt:

"You'd think the popularity of the [application] would get bureaucrats to say: 'Hey, people want this. And we don't have to make it ourselves,' " Poncsak said.

Poncsak learned he has to start small before going big.

He's now in Regina, developing a similar system for that city's transit system. Smaller cities and companies, he says, are more open to outside technology.

"The big ones want to be innovative, but they're too conservative to be innovative."
And just for some comic relief Lifehacker has a link to the Cubicle Warrior's Guide to Office Jargon.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Round-Up August 6

Kathryn May has a great article in the Ottawa Citizen where she reports on an Angus Reid poll that indicates that fewer Canadians think that the Public Service is an 'honourable' place to work.

You can find her article here, the summary of the Angus Reid poll here, and the full report from Angus Reid here.

Happy reading!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Round Up July 26 - August 5th

Here we go ... time to hit the ground running post vacation.

First of all we got a response from Philip Lillies, a union activist and president of a union local out in Moncton, to our second column on the role of unions. We would like to thank Philip for his contribution and encourage you all to check it out.

Barring some unfortunate incident, weekly columns will resume this Friday, with an editorial on the use of technology in the workplace.

In the News

Senator Hugh Segal, a member if the standing committee on agriculture and forestry wrote a special to the Sun on the Senate report, Beyond Freefall: Halting Rural Poverty. Among the report's recommendations is moving federal government jobs to rural areas. The National Post subsequently published this letter from a reader.

David Zussman published this piece on public service delivery and innovation.

While the E.X. files shared a story called Seeking Guidance.

The July 28th edition of the Hill Times has two articles in it that are of interest. The first is by Jack Cole, entitled Want to know the best place to work in Canada’s federal public service? Here is an excerpt:

"Do you know someone looking for a career in Canada’s federal public service? Do you want to know which agency is the best one to work for? Or are you a public servant already working in Canada’s public service? Are you looking for a change, perhaps to a better place within the federal public service? Do you just want to know the best place to work there, where the employees are the most engaged? These are good questions and with a little research, you might find answers, at least partial answers. You can readily find the best companies to work for in Canada through a few different sources as the private sector gives up its “who is best” secrets rather easily. But the public sector seems to want to keep this information hidden away, even though it’s publicly available with a little digging. That digging is what I did a few years ago along with a few other colleagues, when I worked in the federal public service."

While Cythnia Munster's column contains some great quotations from James Lahey (PCO) on renewal:

"[G]iven that it takes ten years or so, even in the most ambitious cases, for people to become executives, and longer than that to become deputy ministers, we can reasonable expect that virtually all of the people who will be executives and deputy ministers of the federal government in 2015 and beyond are already here, which says to me that the most important thing to do with renewal is how do we deal with the people who are already here? How do we challenge them, how do we develop them, what kind of workplaces, what kind of work do we have? Do they feel inspired and challenged and eager to come to work in the morning? Or do they feel frustrated, suppressed, unable to act on their best ideas?”

Remember - you can probably find a copy of the Hill Times in any senior office.

In the Blogs

The New Zealand Minister of Labour, Hon Trevor Mallard, gave this speech on improving workplace productivity (thanks Etienne for the link).

Colin McKay asked the question, Is a Bad Blog Better than No Blog?

Jim Mintz posted a guide to Common Sense Communications.

Peter Smith wrote on the calamity of old versus new technologies in a post on RSS Feeds vs. Email Updates.

Conference Board of Canada

The CBoC dropped two reports that may be on interest:

1. Bridging the Gaps: How to Transfer Knowledge in Today's Multigenerational Workplace
2. Workforce Renewal: New Opportunities to Transform Health and Safety Culture

You will need to register in order to access these documents but registration is free for employees of most government departments.

Canada School of Public Service

Armchair Discussion – National Capital Region
Ottawa - Wednesday, August 6, 2008
1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. (ET)

National Managers Community Focus Group

Bilingual Presentation

The National Managers Community (NMC) would like to hear from you!

As a follow up to the electronic polling (e-polling) survey conducted at the National Managers’ Community Professional Development Forum held from April 20-23, 2008 in Vancouver, the NMC are conducting focus group sessions with Managers throughout the country to get their thoughts on the results captured from this survey. This will be an opportunity for Managers to provide feedback and suggestions for action.

You are invited to attend one of three focus group sessions taking place in the National Capital Region (August 6, 13 and 20, 2008).

We hope you will take the opportunity to participate and have your voices heard.

You are invited to attend this Armchair Discussion on-site at 65 Guigues Street (Ottawa).

To register, please visit the School’s Web site:

Discussion informelle – Région de la Capitale nationale
Ottawa – Mercredi 6 août 2008
13 h 00 à 16 h 00 (HE)

Séance de discussion de la Communauté national des gestionnaires

Présentation bilingue

La Communauté nationale des gestionnaires (CNG) veut connaître votre opinion!

Un sondage électronique a été effectué lors du Forum de développement professionnel de la communauté nationale des gestionnaires, qui a lieu du 20 au 23 avril 2008, à Vancouver. Pour y donner suite, la CNG organise des séances de discussion avec des gestionnaires de tout le pays en vue d’obtenir leurs opinions sur les résultats du sondage. Les gestionnaires auront alors l’occasion de fournir de la rétroaction ainsi que de faire des suggestions quant aux mesures à prendre.

Nous vous invitons donc à assister à l’une des trois séances de discussion qui auront lieu dans la région de la capitale nationale (6, 13 et 20 août 2008).

Vous êtes invités à assister à cette Discussion informelle en personne au 65, rue Guigues (Ottawa).

Pour vous inscrire, veuillez consulter le site Web de l’École :