Wednesday, December 3, 2014

On Prescriptions for the Public Service

by Kent Aitken RSS / cpsrenewalFacebook / cpsrenewalLinkedIn / Kent Aitkentwitter / kentdaitkengovloop / KentAitken

I'd like to propose a new litmus test for how we consider changes. I hinted at it last week (see: Influence, Organizations, and Team Players), when I said that there could be a divide between the advice I'd give the public service writ large and the advice I'd give an individual that I care about.

But that divide has been on my mind for a while, in the context of this blog as well as the general advice public servants have been getting from many sources:

Consider, for example, this graphic from Destination 2020:


Which lays out the "work from anywhere at anytime" and "more flexible" public service envisioned for 2020.

From the external Public Policy Forum (albeit with much input from public servants), we hear that public service leaders must be persuasive entrepreneurs:

"...leaders need to be able to break down complex ideas and convince others of the best course of action, especially when unpopular policies are being proposed."

Shrewd diplomats:

"...leaders need to work with elected officials and their own teams to ensure that accountability measures do not undermine innovation, productivity, or talent management. They must respect the pressures facing government, but also focus on building a high-performing public service."

And fearless advisors:

"[Leaders need to do] the right thing, regardless of the consequences..."

And generally speaking, I'd agree with all of this advice. But I have to admit that the rubric changes when I shift from thinking the public service should do X, Y, and Z to imagining giving advice to a close friend, a sibling, or a child who has just joined the public service.

Would I tell them to push for flexible work arrangements or leeway to collaborate with stakeholders and colleagues? To push back on senior leaders, whether political or public servant, to do the right thing? Or, to be a team player, to bide their time, to not rock the boat?

I suspect we'd all find instances of advice that we'd offer to crowds, but not to close relations. Which is not to say that we're hypocrites or liars. Rather, that culture is a lumbering beast to turn; and that we're not done yet.

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