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Weekly Column: The Opportunity for Enterprise

Friday, May 22, 2009
I was fortunate enough to have been invited to participate on a "one person task team" run by the President of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, Mme Monique Collette (who btw is an absolutely wonderful woman). Essentially, Mme Collette was asked by the soon to retire Clerk of the Privy Council, Kevin Lynch, to travel across the country collecting best practices in three areas: diversity, official languages, and communication.

As you might expect, I was invited to participate explicitly because of this blog. The session was very well run, with some pleasant surprises, unexpected fun, and most importantly, great ideas being exchanged.

Early in our conversation, someone raised a fair point: the conversations we were having about fostering bilingualism, capturing diversity, and opening up communications had already happened, a number of times, in a number of places. So how do we move beyond them? Ironically, her point was one that had also been raised repeatedly.

Being the “blogger/social media evangelist/new collaboration preacher” in the room, I’m not sure if Mme Collette was just keenly aware of who was in the room, or if it was just ridiculously apparent by my face that I wanted to jump into the conversation. Either way (though it was probably a bit of both), she quickly gave me the floor.

Naturally, I brought up GCPEDIA and its enormous collaborative potential, and made a couple of points worth sharing.

First, I pleaded (begged really) for Mme Collette to make the findings of her task team available in GCPEDIA, and even volunteered to put them there myself (to which they were quick to oblige).

Second, I drew attention to a statement made by the Clerk in his latest report. Specifically, when he states that:

The business of government has become markedly more complex than in the past. Today, almost every department and agency must deal with global challenges, using new tools and asking people to work in new ways - in integrated teams, often across organizational boundaries.


Great statement, right? Anyone looking to build a business case for the adoption of new tools (e.g. social media tools) should be quoting the Clerk on the first page. That being said, I think the Clerk could have been a bit more specific, something like this perhaps:

The business of government has become markedly more complex than in the past. Today, almost every department and agency must deal with global challenges, using new tools and asking people to work in new ways - in integrated teams, often across organizational boundaries. That is why a tool like GCPEDIA is so important. GCPEDIA is the first of a series of small but deliberate steps to address enterprise-wide problems in a more systematic way.


Those extra two sentences would have been a boon to the project; I need not even explain why. The more I reflect on public service renewal the more I feel like enterprise-wide (i.e. federal government-wide) technical solutions are necessary. They are important because they do something that has thus far seemed to elude the public service for too long: they show us the need to think about our business as an integrated whole, and more importantly, give us a proven and tangible means to act as an integrated whole.

Quite often I run into people who say they are frustrated by “the bureaucracy”, but what they are really frustrated by is people’s unwillingness to share, their unwillingness to adapt or embrace change, and their unwillingness to let go of what they think is theirs. They are not frustrated by some abstract or amorphous entity, but by a lack of vision around what it means to be, and act as a single enterprise, while creating tremendous value by sharing, trusting and challenging within it.

I will be honest, I have a whole lot more to say about this and leadership under these circumstances(things that I have been reflecting on a lot lately), but for now I bite my tongue.

Maybe next time, but until then your thoughts?


6 Leave a comment on this post to Weekly Column: The Opportunity for Enterprise:

Craig Sellars said...

Great post Nich,

The amazing opportunity for digital natives (raised in/on 2.0) is to take the first step and guide digital colonists (adopting 2.0) and digital old worlders (fear/suspect 2.0) onto the glistening shores of the "New World" of Government 2.0.

The first radio would be still in Marconi’s (or Tesla’s) workshop if it was not presented to the world utilizing the medium of the day. (i.e. newspaper)

Early adopters need to make the "New World" accessible and safe by utilizing present day media. If we do not engage the old worlders then we must outlast them until we assume their position ourselves and desperately cling to our own security blanket of dated, but familiar technology.

Thanks again for the blog and support Nich.

Craig Sellars

The Snarky Optimist said...

It sounds like your task team was a lot of fun. People need to be having these types of conversations more often.

It's excellent to hear that you were invited largely due to your blog - just look at the great opportunities your openness has generated! It gives me the warm fuzzies.

Without a doubt, my favourite part of this post is where you identify the root causes of the problems people tend to blame on bureaucracy. You're absolutely right: a bureaucracy is not "some abstract or amorphous entity" - it's people. It is a collection of individuals, each one of whom has the power to embrace change and foster a culture of sharing.

I would like to see the day when the word "bureaucracy" is replaced by the word "community", and the day when everyone acknowledges their own power (to quote Gandhi) to be the change they want to see in the world.

Thanks for the excellent post. Keep it up!

- Chelsea

snarkyoptimist.blogspot.com

KP said...

great post, always insightful. BTW, Monique Collette is a graduate of one of "those" leadership development programs...the AEXDP.

Anonymous said...

Nich! You don't know what you're wishing for (enterprise wide technical solution). Don't even wish for that, never mind waste your time and energy going for it. I was a consultant at the hub of what makes it all happen (or not) for IT projects: What a horrible, dysfunctional, energy sapping, soul destroying place that eats the bright ones alive, leaving the politicos (who trashed the bright ones) to muddle along without any comprehension of what really works. Millions of $'s later, nothing really to show for it when it comes to these big projects. Right now you are free to say and do pretty much as you like -- but if you get sucked into PWGSC's IT tangle, you will sooner or later have lost any enthusiasm or vision you had running up against entrenched vendors and those who want in, small time managers defending their turf, big time bosses waving axes to please political masters, etc. Stay sane, stay small and relevant and respected! :)

Dbast said...

How is it you can write so much about your work and I can't? (/envious)

kathoco said...

Great post, as usual, Nick. Similar to Chelsea, one particular passage resonated with me:

“They are not frustrated by some abstract or amorphous entity, but by a lack of vision around what it means to be, and act as a single enterprise, while creating tremendous value by sharing, trusting and challenging within it.”

Two themes popped in to my head as I read this passage.

1) Can you ‘be’ and ‘act’ as a single enterprise if what you value as individuals is different? In other words, are there core values that each individual must possess in order for the collective to behave in an enterprise way? Whose ‘job’ is it to achieve clarity on one’s personal values and the extent to which they align with those of the enterprise?

2) If everyone does behave in an enterprise way, what is the nature of the ‘tremendous value’ that they are creating? Is it content-related only or more esoteric, for example, the value created through the mere existence of a strong community … one that can be counted on to come together quickly to solve new or emerging problems?

I’ll start with speaking to the second theme because, well, in my mind it’s easier to answer: as the old saying goes, “give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for dinner; teach him how to fish, and he’ll eat for lifetime.” In essence, in my view there is far greater value in creating a strong community … one that can be counted on to come together quickly to solve problems … than there is in achieving some tangible or concrete result IF the strength of the community is lessened by virtue of a less than positive experience by some along the way.

This is not to say that the “change experience” will be pleasant, let alone painless, for all. Quite the contrary—change is painful, no two ways about it. The pain can be lessened, however, through patience, trust, respect and an openness to listening to the perspectives of others. Getting “there” might take longer but in order to be sustainable, the change must gather a great many people along the way. That takes time and patience.

The value that is ultimately created through this type of success is a strong community that is ready and willing to come together to take on future challenges. Next time around would be faster, too, once the strong community is “in place.”

This leads quite nicely to the first series of questions that popped in to my mind upon reading your post—at least with the way my brain works : are there certain core values that each individual must possess in order for the collective to know ‘how to’ behave in an enterprise way? I believe that there are and that you touch on a few in this very same paragraph: ‘sharing,’ ‘trusting,’ ‘challenging.’

Clearly there are others as well and I won’t even attempt to list them. Rather, what’s key in my mind is that “the vision around what it means to be, and act as a single enterprise” is a values- and behaviors-based discussion more than a technical and/or communications-based one. Web 2.0 and related tools facilitate communication in new ways. Their existence does not—nor should it—dictate how folks who are using them ought to feel or behave … that’s a personal journey and choice that everyone makes, regardless of their chosen communications tool. Of course, when enough individuals engage in targeted dialog on their individual values, collective and/or community values begin to emerge. Here’s a thought: perhaps one of these tools would be a useful means of stimulating focused dialog on community values?

Thanks again for yet another stimulating and insightful post and for inviting comments of others.

P.S. –I like the new design … a LOT! Looks great!

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