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Weekly Column: A New Adventure

Friday, May 8, 2009
Sometimes I get so caught up in the speed and utility of social media that I forget the basics.
I’ve been a bit concerned lately, that perhaps the focus of this blog was shifting too far away from its roots. I took some time and flipped back through some of the weekly columns. So far the writings here have run the gamut from recent gems like how to use Twitter to be a better public servant to some more basic reflections about renewal.

I think the reason it is so easy to get swept away in the tide of social media is because the type of communication it facilitates feels so natural (at least for me). Moreover the social media mantra of "share!" is something so simple that, in my opinion, cannot be shouted enough from the soapboxes of "open bureaucrats". Finally, if renewal is truly a conversation, then all these posts, varied in topics as they are, are simply a small part of the renewal conversation.

Unfortunately despite the ease of use and utility of social media, it can't do or be everything. It can't, for example, help me plan my career or advise me on what the best next steps are for me; even when my use of it undoubtedly had something to do with the opportunities before me.

You see, to be perfectly honest, I am facing a bit of a dilemma and I don't know what to do.


Pen and Paper


I guess step one is to, as my wife suggested, sit down with a pad and a pencil and write out the dreaded 5 year plan, then the 10 year, 15 year, etc. Yet, despite providing similar advice in my scheming virtuously presentations, I am much more of a create-it–on-the-fly-and-see-what-happens kind of guy. So sitting down to do "the plan" is not really my style. The other piece of advice she offered me, one that I am more likely to heed closely, was to break out my ‘lessons learned the hard way’ file and see if they can help to provide any insight into where I do and don't see myself going in my career.

People often say that being in demand is a good problem to have. While they are probably right, the difficulties in making decisions are heavily nuanced, especially given that the options being considered are similar in some respects but very different in others - like apples and oranges.

Without getting into the details of my particular situation, I do want to share some of the things I am considering in hopes of expanding both that which you consider to be relevant, as well as providing you with an opportunity to alert me to anything I have missed. Note that the order below is not deliberately prioritized but is in the order I originally wrote them out, which may in fact say something about how I prioritize them.)


Considerations


  • tasks, responsibilities and opportunity to lead
  • trust/freedom to create my own space
  • prospects for making an impact
  • manager and direct colleagues
  • work-life integration
  • classification (and thus salary)
  • layers of approval
  • location (geographic, proximity to home and commute time in relation to current)

All of the above peppered with ongoing advice and experience of others (in no particular order) including @dbhume, @pcollin, @mcmphotography, @ContrarilyYours, @dbast to name but a small few...

So what did I miss?

After writing this, I feel like I should write down a pros and cons list to help me through my decision…oh wait I did; and technically I didn’t use a pad and a paper, but GCPEDIA.


Conclusion


Mike told me that he felt this column was incomplete, and you know what? I agree.

This week has been mentally exhausting. Personal circumstances and juggling career decisions has taken its toll.

But I think it is important that I am willing to admit it.

In essence, I wanted to do three things. The first was to take a step back from all the social media talk; the second was to show how difficult it can be to make career choices in the public service. The third was to try to learn something from all of your experiences.

So in closing, while I may have already made my decision to embark on the next challenge (I started this column unsure and finished it having confirmed my intent to move on), I would encourage you all to leave me a comment, or drop me a line and let me know what you think.

What are some of your biggest considerations when considering your next steps?

I think that it is an important conversation for public servants.

Thanks for reading.



4 Leave a comment on this post to Weekly Column: A New Adventure:

MarthaMcLean said...

Nick,
Congratulations. Gov't jobs/careers, while often mocked, can provide wonerful opportunities for those of us who want to "renew" or bring about change and improvement. They also provide a comfort zone that can sometimes become too comfortable.
Your list of considerations is almost identical to mine save some reordering and knowing what's most important for you, beyond the tasks, is something not enough people take into account. That in itself is sage advice you've passed on.

All the best - I hope you'll continue on in your spirit of openness and renewal.

Cheers
@mjmclean

Catherine Betz said...

Nick,

I discovered your blog only a few weeks ago after launching my own (internal to my department). I have really appreciated your thoughtful approach, and clear commitment to public service.

I'm not entirely sure what your choices are based on your pro/con list -- I hesitate to advise on something so personal. I will just say that following your positive instincts, going toward something, not running from something, is the right mode to be in. And I agree that you have to live your whole life in every context. The idea of work-life balance as an issue of strict boundaries between entirely separate worlds is inherently unbalanced, forcing people to teeter-totter back and forth.

What we're really hoping for, I believe, is wholeness.

Wishing you well.

Catherine Betz

kathoco said...

Goodness, gracious Nick: I can’t wait to finally make your acquaintance! Yet another EXCELLENT—because it is so very thought provoking—column. Here’s my best kick at a reply; I do hope what follows provides useful grist for your mill. This time around, I’ll be quoting from snipits of your column to help focus my remarks.

1. “… sit down with a pad and a pencil and write out the dreaded 5 year plan, then the 10 year, 15 year, etc. …”

KO’s reply: a plan is just a plan, right? … not cast in stone, nor a hard and fast “rule”. The benefits of planning are that it provides an opportunity to scope out what things will look like, in an IDEAL world. We all know, of course, that the world is not ideal … not by a long shot. Things keep changing around us … as things change around us, the way we feel changes, too and appropriately so.

The benefits of having a plan are that you’ve already figured out what you think—at a given snapshot-in-time—you’d like your future to look like. Why is this “clarity of intent” a good thing? So that when the wheels start to fall off—and THEY WILL … count on it!—you’ll see it happening. You can only make conscious choices about whether you care and whether you care enough to do something to get the wheels back on IF you have a pretty good vision of where you’d like to be 5 years out and what steps you’ll take to get there!

2. “… I am much more of a create-it–on-the-fly-and-see-what-happens kind of guy. So sitting down to do "the plan" is not really my style. …”

KO’s reply: funny you should say this … I’m the same way … very “organic”. In my experience, this ‘way of being’ can present challenges … especially these days in a public service that seems at times (to me anyways :)) to be a bit on the schizophrenic side … looking for both innovation and free-spirited thinking AND for all folks to pick (make rigid?) career choices … pick a specific specialty/stream, as it were. What if you like pretty much everything … can see opportunities in pretty much anything? What if, you bore easily … need a straight up learning curve to keep you engaged by what you’re doing? What if you’re not keen on the pigeons and crumbs of detail but really like to work with others who are good at the details to help with figuring out how all the pieces fit together to form one coherent and cohesive whole? Is that not what Modern Management and Comptrollership is all about … integrating various streams and specialties toward on cohesive vision? Finally, and perhaps most distressing if your mind works the way mine does, what if you’re more “organic” than “mechanistic”? Is there still room for you in an increasingly rules-based, mechanistic, culture?

KO's thoughts: If we DO truly want innovation in the Public Service, then I believe there is room for organic and innovative thinkers. I also believe wholeheartedly that we DO truly want innovation in the Public Service (phewf! That’s a HUGE relief!). Where the disconnect might be is a lack of awareness for the fact that “organic” thinkers have different thinking patterns and value different things than those who are quite comfortable picking one specialty/stream and sticking with it for their whole career. Is being different a bad thing? Nah! As I say to my kids, different is neither bad nor good … different is just different … what’s most important—at all times—is behaving respectfully and being open to listening to the perspectives of others. Where there’s an unwavering commitment to respect, there will be understanding. In an organizational context, understanding brings critical synergies between innovators and “stream/specialists” so that whatever emerges out the back end of their combined efforts is truly amazing: new and leading-edge, yes, but also grounded in sound knowledge and expertise.

In sum, a plan is just a plan … it doesn’t become reality until you action it. Having a plan does not mean that you’re stuck with it exactly as is for ever and ever … rather, you should “plan” to deviate from it as the world changes and you, yourself, change too. What I like to call “sound planning and flexible management”.

3. Considerations
“Without getting into the details of my particular situation, I do want to share some of the things I am considering in hopes of expanding both that which you consider to be relevant, as well as providing you with an opportunity to alert me to anything I have missed. Note that the order below is not deliberately prioritized but is in the order I originally wrote them out, which may in fact say something about how I prioritize them.)
o tasks, responsibilities and opportunity to lead
o trust/freedom to create my own space
o prospects for making an impact
o manager and direct colleagues
o work-life integration
o classification (and thus salary)
o layers of approval
o location (geographic, proximity to home and commute time in relation to current) …”

KO’s reply: In a nutshell, I think your considerations are brilliant and can’t but lead you in the right direction … you’ve hit on everything I look and hope for in a career choice. The first 5 resonate with me deeply, as is. With respect to the sixth (Classification) what I look for is to be paid fairly for the value that I produce for my organization … this, of course, is subject to interpretation and to what you qualify, personally, for. In my case, I have no university degree and, as such, have little opportunity to “fit” anywhere classification-wise except PM and/or AS categories. Even promotion to EX is pretty much out of the question cuz most EX jobs that interest me require university education to even get out of the starting gate. Enough about me …

What’s most important is what YOU think; this is your decision and rightfully so given that you will be the one to live with the consequences every day. Good on ya for putting so much thought in to “how to” make the decision … t’will serve you well, there can be no doubt.

What do I use when making a career choice? In fact, I have three considerations that have served me quite well for some years now. By way of background, I adhere to these to both guide my choices in to the future AND measure my level of success in the past (as I roll forward from one career choice to the next). They are:

1. Make positive contribution to the greater good (i.e. results)
o Why? Duh :) … cuz that’s why I became a public servant in the first place … to make a difference … for Canada and individual clients.

2. Learning and Growth: Personal and Professional
o Why? Cuz I like to learn and get bored easily … sigh. I have two speeds: 150 miles/hour and dead stop. I try really hard to avoid the latter … not much fun and, well, a complete and total waste of the taxpayer money that goes in to paying my salary! I also believe that an organization is the sum total of its individual parts … thus, if I cease to learn and grow, learning and growth of my organization would also be stunted. Not a good thing … I think anyways.

3. Avoid harm to others … out of malice or personal ego
o Why? Because this is “who I am” as a person. I know that how I behave, every day, matters a lot. I also know that what would matter most to me, rearview mirror-wise, is not my level of success in achieving results in the eyes of others but whether during tough and challenging times I behaved in a manner that was fair, open and transparent vis-à-vis myself AND others. If I can look back on how I’ve behaved with pride, I know I’ll be o.k. no matter what happens, results-wise. Leading change (which is what I do) is dynamic, stressful and scary. Important, I think, for change leaders to have a means of clearly distinguishing the quality of their performance from results achieved. Sometimes, despite best efforts, things don’t quite work out the way envisioned in “the original plan”. Having a means of separating the external stuff (i.e. what happens in one’s environment/outside one’s control and, at times, influence even) from the internal stuff (i.e. one’s personal behaviours in response to the environment) goes a long way to helping one get back up on the horse! Courage to keep trying is critical during times of transformational change.

So there you have my considerations. One final note while on this topic: find it intriguing that your considerations are in no particular order of priority. Same is true, for me. In fact, over the years my three considerations have evolved in terms of both content and how I “use” them. I’ve always regarded them as “fundamental truisms” … clear and categorical expressions of “who I am”. Over time, though, they’ve also morphed into a sort of moral compass … in essence they form a triangle, with each consideration representing one point on the triangle. The challenge, I find, is managing my day-to-day life in such a way as to stay as close as possible to the centre of the triangle … so that all three considerations are in balance (i.e. that no one point receives more weight, through my behaviours, than the others). A challenge, for sure, but one I’ve found to be worth the effort, rearview mirror-wise :).

Finally, I frequently find that music helps me to understand things on a deeper level. A few songs popped in to my mind as I read your column … I share them, here, in case they are of interest/you like music too:
1) Jim Cuddy — Too many hands
2) Nathalie Imbrulia – Pigeons and crumbs
3) Jewel — Intuition
4) Nellie Furtado – Promiscuous Girl

I fear I’ve ranted on, yet again. I apologize for this and for the somewhat stream of consciousness style. My personal musings are just that … musings … they’re neither “truths” nor “rules”. I share them because they’ve served me very well. I hope you’ll find some nugget of interest and, of course, that you’ll feel free to regard or disregard any or all as you see fit.

Thanks, again, for yet ANOTHER stimulating column. Look forward to meeting you and others next week.

Have a great weekend.

Jf Anonna said...

Nick,

I discovered your blog only a few weeks ago after launching my own (internal to my department). I have really appreciated your thoughtful approach, and clear commitment to public service.

I'm not entirely sure what your choices are based on your pro/con list -- I hesitate to advise on something so personal. I will just say that following your positive instincts, going toward something, not running from something, is the right mode to be in. And I agree that you have to live your whole life in every context. The idea of work-life balance as an issue of strict boundaries between entirely separate worlds is inherently unbalanced, forcing people to teeter-totter back and forth.

What we're really hoping for, I believe, is wholeness.

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