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

Friday, August 22, 2008
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?”

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