Thursday, December 11, 2008

Big Day Ahead!

I've been on the road for the past few weeks - interrupted only by a short holiday in my native land (!).

Last week during the Management Trainee Program (MTP) Annual Conference I gave my "Bottom-Up Change" presentation in both official languages for the first time. Today, I'll be delivering it at the Canada School of Public Service's weekly Armchair Discussion, first in French, then in English. The presentations will also be available in webcast. If you attend the event in person or watch it on the Web, please use my blog to provide feedback. I'm looking forward to reading your comments.

Last week's MTP Conference also featured my new talk: "Living Renewal: How to Turn An Organization Around in 1000 Days". In this presentation, I discuss the drastic shift in morale and employee engagement experienced in my organization over the past 3 years. It is directly in line with the objectives of PS Renewal, and I've been waiting for the opportunity to tell this story for almost a year now. It seemed to be received quite well, despite the fact I had to cut short the last half-hour - which is also my favourite part because I use it to debunk some myths about organizational renewal and change management. This afternoon I am supposed to record the talk in both French and English for a podcast sponsored by CSPS. Hats off to Dean Landry, who is really "taking the bull by the horns" by bringing these concepts to life at the School and making the most of what technology has to offer!

I know I will be drained by the end of the day. Regardless, I think it will be worthwhile!

So PLEASE!!! Share your comments and feedback! :-)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A Glimmer of Hope

In the past few weeks, I have witnessed some meaningful development around the use of social networks in my Department, and the government in general.

It started with my meetings with the people from Values and Ethics - the same people who dealt with the complaint filed against me about a year ago after I released “An Inconvenient Renewal” (if you have missed it, see my postings on the topic: here, here and here). We didn’t get into all the details of the investigation (or “fact-finding exercise” as they call it), but they acknowledged that they were a little overwhelmed and ill-equipped to deal with my case a year ago. A lot has happened since then: some learning has taken place, and the efforts of the government to bring Web 2.0 into the workplace has gotten many people to be a bit more open-minded about it.

The good thing though is that my case kind of set a precedent that was necessary to get senior public servant to a) think about the impact of Web 2.0 on the way we run our organizations and b) ponder the opportunities and risk involved in giving employees a space to voice their ideas and concerns about the public service in general and PS Renewal in particular.

In fact, I was just tasks by my superiors to look into the best practices surrounding the use of discussion boards and other alternatives to allow employees to discuss PS Renewal matters and voice their thoughts on the topic. There seems to be an awareness that there are risks involved, yet the benefits can offset those risks and therefore the initiative is worth pursuing.

I have also been asked to provide some kind of guidance to the employees of my organization with regards to the use of social networks. What could be the most interesting thing about this exercise, is that we do not seek to forbid the use of social networks, but rather educate employees about some of the implications of sharing information about work on sites such as Facebook and others. We have yet to issue the communication to staff, but I find we are taking a very progressive direction. If we go that route, it will strike a nice balance between being cautious and harnessing the power of Web 2.0.

Hopefully, this will serve as an incentive for more public servants to interact on existing websites related to the federal public service and PS Renewal.

On that note, here are three interesting postings about blogging:

Friday, November 21, 2008

On-the-Spot Job Offers: Real Solution or Quick Fix?

There is a fair deal of excitement right now in the federal public service over “on-the-spot job offers” to students in college and university job fairs. Personally, the concept of “on-the-spot job offers” leaves me skeptical at best.

Rather than launching into all the reasons why I feel that way, let me start be enunciating the conditions to which I agree with the idea of “on-the-spot job offers”:
  1. The hiring manager himself is on-the-spot to hire the employees (as opposed to a delegated report or an HR advisor);
  2. The Statement of Merit Criteria is well suited for on-the-spot assessment of the candidates by the manager.
  3. The manager is able to overcome any personal bias (positive or negative) with regards to gender, ethnicity, and other employment-equity-like characteristics.
  4. The manager is able to resist the temptation to hire a clone (i.e. someone who studied in the same institution, shares similar interests, has the same kind of personality, roots for the same hockey team, etc.).
  5. Whenever appropriate (read: most of the time!), the job offer is conditional to further background or reference check.
That is just the first half of the work, i.e. the portion that happens at the recruitment event or immediately after. But for an on-the-spot hire to be successful in the long-term, the following criteria must also be met:
  1. There are very strict conditions of probation attached to the job offer and the organization has a solid probationary process in place with clear accountability for managers.
  2. Managers set up the new hire for success by providing him or her all the necessary orientation, training and support during the first days, weeks or months on the job.
  3. There are regular formal performance appraisals during the first year (ideally every three months at least) during which the new hire is assessed thoroughly against objectives and expectations.
  4. There is ongoing and immediate feedback between the manager and the new hire to correct any behaviour that is not in line with expectations.
  5. The hiring manager is held fully accountable for the hiring decision and managing the performance of the employee.
Those conditions are necessary to highlight the fact that “on-the-spot job offers” don’t simply result in the hiring of a person for a job, but the hiring of a public servant for what could be an entire career. In other words: “Are you ready to be held accountable for hiring this employee in the public service for the next 30 years?


Assuming all the conditions are met, and assuming the manager feels confident about the whole “on-the-spot job offer” thing, then we must ask ourselves the $1,000,000 question:

"If we feel fine about hiring a total stranger after a 15 minutes assessment in a college gymnasium, why do we still resort to iron-clad processes that take months or years to administer to assess career public servants we often know (such as our own staff!)? Why can’t we use the same type of “on-the-spot” assessment to appoint internally?"

Some may argue that the jobs we staff with university grads don’t require the same level of expertise than the jobs we staff internally. I don’t buy it for a second. I just look at all the steps, tests, interviews and reference checks involved in the creation of CR-4 and AS-1 internal pools and I see major inconsistencies with the argument.

Others will argue that we need to make “on-the-spot job offers” to people in highly specialized fields where expertise is rare or unique, otherwise they will choose another employer. That makes sense, but then I wonder how we can assess highly specialized workers in 15 minutes when we take months and months to hire people for generic clerical jobs…

The real answer for the difference of treatment between external candidates to who we are ready to make an “on-the-spot job offer” after a 15 minutes assessment, and the internal employees who are qualified, experienced and who we know intimately is the following: fear.

We are afraid of confronting unsuccessful employees, especially when we know them. We dread a complaint to the Public Service Staffing Tribunal, not simply because of the extra work it might require on our part, but because it could make the Deputy Minister look bad (or, alternatively, make the senior HR advisors look bad to the eyes of the DM for allowing such a thing to happen!).

Consequently, many managers would rather leave appointment decisions in the hands of a tool (preferably a standardized test that can’t be challenged) than come up with a few simple questions that would suffice to assess the applicants fairly accurately in a matter of hours, use their judgment and demonstrate courage in making the appointment decision based on this assessment.

The perverse effect of leaving appointment decisions in the hands of tools such as written tests rather than exercising our judgment is that many applicants who are successful in staffing processes are just that: people who do well on tests.

At the risk of bringing discredit upon myself, I will acknowledge in public what I have often confided in private: I have been lucky to get a job in the public service. I was hired not so much for my competence or talent, but mostly because I did well on a series of tests (IQ, written communication, situational judgment), in-baskets, simulations, and interviews. In all fairness, the process I originally went through was very rigorous, and I do take pride in having made it through. But I know many people who would have made just as good (or better!) public servants, employees, or managers. But they’ve never really done well on tests, or at least couldn’t do well enough to go past this early screening stage. (Fortunately, in all of these cases, the public service’s loss was another employer’s win!)

So back to “on-the-spot job offers”. I don’t want to condemn these so-called “innovative” hiring methods. But when I look at the gap between this and the staffing methods we used internally, I shake my head. Couldn’t we have come up with some sort of middle ground?

For instance, managers could do an early screening of university applicants based on a 15 minutes interview during which we assessed a limited number of well-defined merit criteria (i.e. education, experience, etc.), and reserve a more thorough assessment (i.e. skills, background and reference check) for later, thus cutting by many months the recruitment process, narrowing the pool to a smaller number of high profile candidates, and remain a competitive employer.

Only time will tell if those “on-the-spot job offers” really work, or if we are simply solving a recruitment issue by creating a performance management problem elsewhere.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

What's the Fuss Over Leadership?

As I wrote in "An Inconvenient Renewal", I am growing tired of hearing the words leaders and leadership everywhere, especially when it is used in reference to managers.

The whole issue of "Management vs. Leadership" will be the topic of my next paper, which I intend to release sometime next spring.

In the meantime, I invite you to watch this short interview with my favourite management guru (and a Canadian too!), Henry Mintzberg. (Note: The juicy stuff begins at the 2:50 mark.)

If you are not familiar with the work of Mintzberg, I would recommend the following readings:

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

In Hindsight: Links

"Like a pot of water brought to a boil, it all looks pretty messy and bubbly right before the system changes state and reaches new order. Of course, putting a lid on the pot and weighting it down doesn't prevent any disorder; it only prevents the new, higher level of organization from emerging."
- Douglas Rushkoff. Get Back in the Box: How Being Great at What You Do Is Great for Business. 2005.

For the longest time, it seemed that talking about the public service was something reserved exclusively for senior leaders, journalists, university professors and external consultants. But thanks to some courageous leadership (and a little help from Web 2.0!), a wind of renewal is blowing through the public service. Employees are taking matters into their own hands and sharing their thoughts on how to improve the institution.

In a very unscientific survey I administered on my blog, I asked visitors: “How do you feel about discussing the public service of Canada and/or PS Renewal on websites, blogs, discussion forums, Facebook, etc.?” The responses were as follows:
  • 51% - I'm totally comfortable doing it. What needs to be said needs to be said!
  • 23% - I'm a bit hesitant but I (would) do it anyway. Better to ask for forgiveness than permission!
  • 20% - I'm not comfortable doing it. I would need some assurance that it won't come back to haunt me or be held against me.
  • 5 % Are you kidding!?! We live in a culture of blamability. Big Brother is watching you!
(Total number response: 39)

The results seem encouraging, but then it begs a question: if 75% of (this small sample of) respondents claim to be comfortable discussing PS Renewal on the Web, why are there so few discussions and feedback on the current sites dedicated to PS Renewal matters? The issue is not unique to the Public Service of Canada; some public service bloggers in other countries have raised similar concerns before (here and here). Studies have identified some organizational barriers, and individuals have taken upon themselves to educate public servants about the appropriate use of Web 2.0, even going as far as providing guidelines for doing it appropriately (similar to what the UK Civil Service has done). But there is still a long way to go.

I released my paper roughly a month after the CBSA employees’ Facebook scandal hit the news, and many managers were initially very concerned that my paper was on Facebook. This showed a lack of understanding of the technology. To start with, you can’t really post a paper on Facebook; you can merely promote it, which I did on the Facebook group on PS Renewal (incidentally, this group was “created following a discussion with James Lahey - how to harness an internet discussion on public service renewal”). Lastly, the concerns over Facebook are somewhat misplaced because, as Mike Kujawski points out on his blog, Facebook is just one out of a few hundreds social networking sites available! Singling out Facebook is futile, because in the world of Web 2.0, chances are everyone will simply converge to another site and do what they wanted to do all along.

Shortly after releasing "An Inconvenient Renewal" on my blog, two public servants launched a blog of their own: Their site has become for many the single best resource of news on PS Renewal matters. Feeding on this energy (and taking the Clerk's invitation to get involved to the letter), I have created a site called Bottom-Up Renewal. I hope to make it a hub for sharing tips and practices on how to renew the public service when you are on the front-line. Please take a moment to visit the site and contribute to it. Thanks!

Monday, November 17, 2008

In Hindsight: A Conscious Choice with Moral Overtones

"Your management is perfectly designed to produce the results that you’re currently experiencing."
- Mike Chitty

In lieu of a conclusion to the conclusion, here's a story that could well have been used as a prologue to "An Inconvenient Renewal". It is my story, and I hope it will help you: 1) put the paper in context; 2) understand why I feel so strongly about these ideas, and; 3) realize that the ideas are more down-to-earth than what many would like to believe.

I was a manager in the private sector for a few years before joining the public service. It was during some very exciting but challenging times (i.e. the Internet bubble). On my very first project, I had 20 staff, a 3 million dollars budget, cutting-edge technology, and insane deadlines to meet. In my first six months on the job, I probably made all the mistakes a manager could possibly make in an entire career, but I learned tremendously and soon developed a good reputation as a manager. I joined the public service expecting to follow a similar path (i.e. steep learning curve, quick career progression, more challenge than I could ever dream of, etc.), but unfortunately I ended up in what looked more like a cul-de-sac!

My first two years in the public service were characterized by great relationships with my supervisors and terrific colleagues, but there was one small problem: I wasn't used at half of my potential. Actually, if scientists claim we use 10% of our brain, I can probably say that I was using 10% of my talent. I felt I was being held back by the organizational culture. It seemed that in order to "fit in", I had to suppress so much of who I was and what I could become. The pressure to conform with the implicit norms of the organization (i.e. the culture) was beginning to have a toxic effect on my health. I was miserable because I couldn't be true to myself. I knew I had to escape the situation so I was actively looking for work outside the public service.

It was therefore with a “nothing to lose” attitude that I responded to one of the strangest job poster I had ever seen. It was extremely short and it said: “I’m looking for my alter ego" (I'm not making this up, this was the actual quote from the job poster!). I met with the manager and accepted the job based solely on a gut feeling I had about her. As it turned out, she did things very differently than any other manager I had ever encountered.

On my first day on the job, she told me: “At the present time I have no specific work for you, no projects, no files. In fact, for the first three months of your assignment, I don’t expect you to do any work. But I will drag you to all of my meetings, and you will follow all my direct reports to all of their meetings, and in three months from now, you will know pretty much everything there is to know about this unit and what we do. Along the way will come a project. I don’t know what that will be yet, but I will expect you to take it and deliver on it. In the meantime, sit back and learn as much as you can.” For the next three months almost all I did was attend meetings and read my manager's emails. Sure enough, a project eventually landed on my desk. Although I was by far the most junior person on the team and had no credentials in my résumé to do this project, my manager put her trust in me and I was confident I could do it. And I did.

One morning I asked her for feedback about my performance and how I could improve. She explained: “Etienne, you are in a development program, and therefore you are expected to develop. You have a job to do and a project to deliver, and that's fine. But you need more. When your regular work is done, I expect you to use the remainder of your 7,5 hours day to explore what’s out there, learn about the public service and what it has to offer, discover something that interest you and immerse yourself in it. It can be anything. But I expect you to do that, and I am willing to help you if you need it.”

I therefore became actively involved in communities of practice (managers’ network at the departmental, regional and national level) and young public servants networks. I even developed some sort of "expertise" on the topic and I seized all the opportunities I could to show some leadership. I was “in the zone” and it showed through my performance. I was more focused than ever in my “regular” job, because I knew that around three or four o’clock, I would get to work on the pet projects that fueled me. I totally poured my soul into this assignment.

I eventually discovered that for a large portion of her career, my manager had made a point of surrounding herself with people in development programs and people who came in her unit on assignments. In an institution that struggles to retain talent, this manager did just the opposite with her unit: she would give herself one year to bring the new employee up to the next level and get him or her ready to leave for the next assignment, the next promotion, the next job. What she did for me, she probably did for dozens of people before.

But what she did with me can't be overstated. I was just about to become a statistic: I was so disengaged, so fed up with my career progression in the public service, that I was ready to leave. Fast-forward a year later, and I was the most committed public servant you could come across. Working for this manager was a transforming experience, a turning point in my career (and by extension, in my personal life too). She got me back on the hook just before it was too late. More importantly, she tapped in my potential, pushed me to make the best use of my talent. She gave me a taste of what it was like to be unleashed rather than held back. Ultimately, she proved to me that I was right to think I could make a difference.

The whole episode taught me what being a good manager was all about. And the best thing of all: this living example came from a public service manager!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

In Hindsight: There Are No Leaders, Only Good Managers

"Your worth is in their eyes."
- Author unknown

For many managers and senior executives, the two most challenging ideas contained in my paper came from the sections "Moving from manageability to management" and "There are no leaders, only good managers". These two sections above all challenged widely accepted beliefs about management in general, but especially in the public service. Consequently, more than a few made a point of telling me that they disagreed with many of my ideas.

On one hand, this form of denial from managers and senior executive is to be expected, because some of the ideas question their existence as managers as well as their success in the "system". For that reason, it is probably easier for them to state they disagree with many of my ideas than look into a mirror and rethink their most fundamental beliefs about management.

On the other hand, I am not (currently) a manager and I definitely do not have the perspective of senior executives in the public service. Therefore, I don't hold the truth and I have to acknowledge that if I had their perspective, my own ideas could very well be somewhat different than what they are now.

Regardless, my perspective is probably shared by a good portion of the 80% of public servants who are not managers and the 95% who are not senior executives. In that sense, even if my thinking is wrong, I know a few hundred thousands other public servants are likely to be wrong with me!

The question then is not whether we are right or wrong, but rather:
  • Is it a valid perspective?
  • Where are managers and executives failing to explain their perspective to employees? How could employees communicate their perspective differently so they can be heard by management?
  • How can we educate people to see things differently?
For these reasons, I will leave it up to people - but especially managers and senior executives - to figure out for themselves what administration, management and leadership mean to them. I will however recommend three books which should be mandatory for all senior executives:
(You can also find out more about my favourite management books here.)

As a side note, I recently came across this blog posting by Dave Crisp who shared his thoughts on "followership" and offered a solution to something that had been bugging me for quite a while:

"Personally I prefer to use the term “supporters” rather than “followers.” The days of blind following are grinding slowly, but surely to an end. People think for themselves and are finding ways to act on those thoughts more than in the past. “Supporters” implies a leaders needs to nurture support, that it can be withdrawn at any sign of inconsistency or personal agenda and that the entire process is very much a two-way street. Leaders need supporters and supporters need leaders."

Enjoy your reading!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

In Hindsight: Levers of Renewal

"The real heroism of leadership involves having the courage to face reality - and helping the people around you to face reality."
- Ronald Heifetz

The most positive message to come out of my talk on bottom-up change is undoubtedly the need for courage. Without courage, all the ideas I discuss in my presentation and in my paper are just wishful thinking. Courage is the difference between having principles and living by these principles. Courage comes to life when outward acts are aligned with inner principles. Courage can make or break a leader.

Interestingly, the most frequent comment I have received from readers after I released “An Inconvenient Renewal” was that writing this paper must have required courage, and that it was a courageous act to release it. At first, that comment left me perplexed, because I didn't see what I had done as courageous. I felt compelled to write it, and I knew there could be negative consequences if I released it. But I didn't think of it as courageous. I just felt it was the right thing to do. But it definitely was not courage – at least not for me. And that’s when I realized that whether or not I felt it was courageous was absolutely irrelevant! "Perception is reality", and if readers thought it was courageous, then it was! Most importantly, the fact that some many people said it was courageous speaks volume as to what is missing from our public service culture: courage!

We want courage. We need courage. We crave for courageous people to step forth, speak up, and do what everyone knows is the right thing to do, but few are actually willing to do. This is why we must recognize that courage can also be manifested by anyone, including non-managers. Actually I would argue that the courage demonstrated by ordinary employees builds pressure for courageous management. It also builds pressure for change. Intuitively, we all know the power of a single right example, because courage is contagious.

In our bureaucratic organizations, we traditionally expect change to come from the top down. The Deputy Minister gives the direction for the change, it filters through the chain of command, and down to the employees. While this is a great way to ensure coordination, alignment, and provide a certain degree of control over the change, it blinds us to another reality: that is one of bottom-up change, it starts with one individual.

Friday, November 14, 2008

In Hindsight: Barriers to Renewal

"Set your limits early and high, because hitchhikers have the uncanny ability to detect just how much they can get away with."
- Rodd Wagner and James K. Harter. 12: The Elements of Great Managing. 2006.

In January 2008 I was asked to deliver a talk to a group of 250 employees from a federal department. I developed a presentation entitled “Bottom-Up Change: It Starts With An Individual”, which was largely based on the concepts I discuss in Part 3 of “An Inconvenient Renewal” (i.e. the barriers and levers). By far, what resonated the most with people was the notion of unmanaged poor performance. In the presentation, I tell a story inspired by two real-life situations that took place in the federal public service. It is truly amazing how much this segment of the presentation gets the attention of everyone in the room. I could only conclude one thing: everyone has had the misfortune of witnessing a case of unmanaged poor performance… and people resent it deeply.

Managing poor performers may very well be the single most difficult thing a supervisor has to do. I would argue that adequately addressing poor performance issues requires to blend all the top interpersonal and communication skills at once.

In my organization, we wanted to improve the quality of people management, and we figured that if we could get our supervisors to be skilled in the single most difficult aspect of their job, the rest should follow naturally and we should notice a major improvement in the quality of supervision. So we did a number of things:
  • We signed-up all our supervisors to a supervisory skills course which focused largely on dealing with poor performers and holding difficult conversations with employees (the course received very positive reviews, thanks to the high calibre of the facilitator).
  • The Director set clear expectations about how he wanted supervisors to do their job, and made that known to all the staff so that everyone in the organization knew that: 1) supervisors had the permission to deal with poor performers; 2) supervisors would be held accountable for managing performance of staff; 3) managing performance is not simply something you do once a year in the annual performance appraisal – it’s a daily thing.
  • With that in mind, we gave every supervisor a book on how to give accurate feedback to employees.
  • Along with the book, we attached a letter in which the Director reiterated his expectations but also acknowledged that managing performance of staff is not always an easy thing to do (see sample letter).
  • The Director included a personal hand-written inscription inside each copy of the book we gave to our 70 supervisors, therefore signalling to individual supervisors that indeed he knows them and would hold them personally accountable for managing the performance of their staff.
  • Each time we hold a staff or conference call, the Director makes a point of reinforcing the message that performance management is one of his top priorities, that poor performance will be addressed, and that unmanaged performance will be not tolerated.
Some of these things may appear mundane, but combined together over a sustained period of time, they form a coherent strategy which suggests that performance management is not just a fad or the new "priority of the day", but rather something we want to build into the organization's culture so that it becomes part of the way we do things. And it looks like we are off to a good start...

Last year our Directorate had a 98% completion rate for the annual performance appraisals - probably the highest in the Department given the fairly large size of the unit. Furthermore, all the annual performance appraisals were done using the "long form" (i.e. no check box, all narrative), which means all employees were also given an opportunity to develop an individual learning plan. Many supervisors have also incorporated the Key Leadership Competencies in the performance appraisals as a means to set clear performance expectations with employees (see posting on the Bottom-Up Renewal site for details).

Please feel free to take a closer look at Bottom-Up Renewal and contribute some of your own organizational practices.

Also please take a moment to take the poll on the top right-hand corner of this page!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

In Hindsight: Not Everything That Counts Can Be Counted

"Managers who don't know how to measure what they want settle for wanting what they can measure."
- Russell L. Ackoff & Herbert J. Addison, "Management f-Laws: How Organizations Really Work" (2007)

The title of this section got a lot of people nodding in agreement, recognizing the pervasiveness of “management by measurement” in the public service.

One thing I had underestimated however was that many managers and even some senior executives would suggest that in order to get better at people management – which has traditionally been something considered difficult to measure – we should provide managers with financial incentives, i.e. a "performance pay" based on how well they managed people.

That’s absolutely ludicrous! To begin with, there is growing evidence that pay for individual performance produces mixed results at best (see Jeffrey Pfeffer's work on the topic - this is a must read!). Pfeffer further explains that:

"Tinkering with pay appears to be easier than fixing organizational cultures and leadership capabilities. It is apparently "fashionable" because it does not seem to require the systemic intervention along multiple dimensions implied in the idea of building high performance work arrangements."

This is why I think the conventional thinking on which the argument of the managers above is based is fundamentally flawed.

People management should not be an after-thought or something managers do on top of the rest, but rather the foundation on which they can achieve all the rest. Good people management should be the default performance expectation against which managers are held accountable. Under absolutely no circumstance should we reward managers with a financial incentive for doing what should be considered the basic minimum. The perverse effects would simply be to great.

At any rate, we don’t need any kind of incentives to get managers to value people management. When the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Service was implemented, public servants were not told that complying with the Code was something "they could do at the end of the day, if they had time", and that those who comply would be rewarded. No. You either comply with the Code or you don’t; and if you don’t, you shouldn't be public servant to start with. Well, it turns out that there is a section in the Code called “people values”... Perhaps every manager and senior executive should re-read this section, think about the implications for people management, and then try to decide if good people management is really just a nice-to-have or, as I believe, a must-have.

I would also add it is a myth that people management is difficult to measure. The Public Service of Canada uses a great tool called the Public Service Employee Survey (PSES), which provides over a hundred indicators that are linked in one way or another with people management at the organization level. If I was a senior executive having to hold accountable my direct reports for the quality of people management in their unit, I would use the PSES as a benchmark, set clear performance expectations for what I would want the PSES results to look like in a year from now, and make this part of the managers' personal objectives in his annual performance appraisal.

In my organization, we have already been administering the PSES internally in-between the public service-wide surveys of 2005 and 2008. It is a very valuable tool that provides a good overall assessment of the well-being of the organization and can be used to measure the quality of people management. I’m glad to see that the Clerk indicated that the PSES will become an annual thing.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

In Hindsight: People Join Organizations but Leave Their Managers

"We cannot tell employees, "You are the most important part of the [organization]" and then put bad supervision in front of them. If we have bad supervisors, take them out of the job immediately."
- Errol Davis Jr. Taken from: 50 Lessons: Hiring and Firing (Lessons Learned). 2008.

There are three key ideas from "An Inconvenient Renewal" that particularly resonated with most readers: one that I discuss in the section on the barriers to renewal, another that I discuss in the section on levers of renewal, and a third which is the point of this entire section - the notion that people join organizations but leave their managers. I'm definitely not the first person to make this statement, but in the context of the public service it seems that it's the first time it is getting the acknowledgment it rightfully deserves.

Although most people agree in theory with the notion that people leave their managers and we need to rectify that, it seems that public servants (supervisors in particular) either don't fully grasp what's required to turn things around or are ill-equipped to do it.

One such example is the on-boarding experience of new hires where we typically over-promise and under-deliver. The high expectations created by the former only exacerbates the gap with the reality of the latter. In the past two weeks alone I have met four new hires who were offered the world on a silver plate by public service recruiters at a job fair, and ever since they have accepted jobs with the public service they feel they are totally left in the dark. They haven't begin their job yet that they are already starting to harbour ill-feelings towards the employer, a sure sign of things to come. Retention begins on Day One (actually, even before Day One...).

The first day, first week, first month, and even the first year in the job can leave a lasting impression on the new hire. One thing I will try to push for in my department in the upcoming months is to implement a formal on-boarding process which would include:
  • Providing peer support to new hires before their arrival;
  • Delivering all the mandatory and required training in the first weeks on the job;
  • Job-shadowing managers and colleagues to all their meetings for the first 3 months in the job.
  • Etc.
It is ambitious, but at the same time I am convinced that this is something where we can have the greatest bang for the buck. Whatever cost there is (i.e. lack of direct productivity while the new hires follows managers to meetings) should be assessed against:
  • The cost of not doing it;
  • The gains in learning and development;
  • The level of effectiveness in the job at the end of those first three months;
  • The long-term retention of top talent (see "In Hindsight..." in "Conclusion" for more on this).
We often hear about the importance of recruitment and talent retention, but seldom (if ever) ask the employees what they want, what they need and what will keep them with us. My organization has hired quite a few new recruits in the past year. Approximately one month into the job, we administered a short "in-take" survey to our new hires. We asked them:
  • What’s the best experience you have had since you joined us?
  • How could we improve our on-boarding experience?
  • What's the # 1 thing we can do to make sure you're still with us in five years from now?
  • How do you play a role in this challenge?
  • How can you make a difference?
Some of the answers we received indicated that we were doing pretty good on some things, and definitely not as good on others. At least it provided us a starting point to improve our on-boarding process. Since then, we are getting a little better every time!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

In Hindsight: There Is No Renewal in the Idea of “PS Renewal”

"Culture is the shadow of the leader."
- George Ambler

The provocative title of the paper combined with the defiant title of this section earned me a number of labels: "maverick", "wild card", "rogue public servant", "loose cannon", "troublemaker", "sh**disturber", etc. But underneath the slightly in your face style of the paper lied some valid messages on the importance of people management, as well as a few requests for clarifications to the senior leaders championing PS Renewal. To my delight, most of my requests ended up being answered.

The senior leaders I had a chance to discuss the paper with acknowledged that PS Renewal, in its current version, was not a "be-all and end-all". The four priorities identified in the public service-wide action plan were chosen somewhat arbitrarily; they were not perfect and didn't encompass all the important issues, however they made sense and were a good starting point to force Deputy Heads implement some important changes in their Departments and Agencies. As it has now been explained, Deputy Heads are not limited to these four priorities; in fact they retain the flexibility to go beyond the four priorities. Hopefully, they will give "people management" the consideration it deserves.

While I was initially skeptic about the future success of PS Renewal, most of the concerns I had at the time have now been addressed. The Clerk has shown his commitment to PS Renewal by articulating his vision to a number of different audiences (i.e. at the Townhall in Vancouver, at the Managers' Community Forum, at the APEX Symposium, etc.). Other senior leaders have been following in his footsteps, therefore demonstrating that the "vision" doesn't lie in the hands of a single individual. In addition a number of valuable initiatives are providing feedback mechanisms for public servants to respond to PS Renewal and share what's on their mind. The Future Leaders Forum is one such example. The last Managers' Community Forum in Vancouver also provided an opportunity for managers from across the country to speak up their minds. If we continue in that direction, I think PS Renewal may just deliver on its promises.

At this point, I think the biggest challenges for PS Renewal will be the following:
  1. Keep the vision strong. By that I mean: we must never lose sight of the "why's" behind PS Renewal: Why is renewal essential for the public service? Why is it not "optional"? What are the problems we need to solve? What will be the consequence of not resolving those problems?
  2. Find senior leaders in all departments & agencies AND in every region across the country who understand the PS Renewal vision clearly enough to be able to champion it as if was their own and who can adapt it to the reality of their respective organization and/or region.
  3. Recognize that this must be a long-term effort and keep the solutions and initiatives coordinated around a critical core. We must not fall in the trap of trying to do it all, i.e. launching a whole array of fragmented solutions and other "quick-fixes" that won't be sustained beyond the short-term.
Personally, I would like to see a 5 years plan centered around the idea that people management matters, and see it reflected in national, regional and departmental PS Renewal initiatives. But that's just the opinion of a "maverick"... ;-)

Monday, November 10, 2008

In Hindsight: We Are The Problem… And The Solution

"Raising a latent conflict can come with the risk of being seen as disloyal or simply as the one who created the issue. It is crucial to make clear that most conflicts are not created by tempered radicals; but tempered radicals are often the ones who speak "truth" and raise issues that have been suppressed."
- Debra E. Meyerson, "Rocking the Boat: How to Effect Change Without Making Trouble" (2008)

A couple of weeks after I released "An Inconvenient Renewal", I attended an IPAC conference in Toronto. I noticed a familiar face in the crowd: Tamara. I had worked briefly with Tamara on a project at PSHRMAC (now CPSA). Tamara asked me what I was up to, so I told her about the paper I had just completed. She responded: "Oh, yeah... The paper in which you say that PS Renewal is not really renewal. ALL my bosses are talking about it."

From that moment on, I knew I might eventually get in trouble because of my paper. Why? Because a number of people thought the point of the paper was to criticize PS Renewal and the Government of Canada. But nothing could be further from the truth. While I used PS Renewal and the federal public service as a backdrop, the problems I discussed in my paper can be observed in many organizations - public, private and not-for-profit alike. If you have worked in a large private organization, I'm 99% sure you have witnessed or experienced much of what I describe in “An Inconvenient Renewal”. Anyone who took the time to read my paper for what it was meant to be understood that the real criticism was not against PS Renewal or the federal public service, but rather against poor people management and bad managers.

I think many readers were blinded by the provocative title of the paper. Consequently, what they saw in it was more a reflection of their own fears (i.e. disloyalty, speaking up against a government program) than my true intents (i.e. get managers to recognize that we don't manage people very well and thus we need to change that). In retrospect, I should have been more explicit about the aims of my paper and help all readers read between the lines and understand that this paper was mostly about the importance of people management.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

In Hindsight: Are Public Service Managers Ready to Change the Way They Manage?

“Let’s face it, changing is inconvenient for any creature unless it is seen as a necessity. To relinquish the old and embrace the new is a big risk.”
- Joe Dispenza

Last week marked the one year anniversary of “An Inconvenient Renewal”. In my next few postings, I will present the additions I have made to the original publication. These additions are featured on the website, in boxes entitled “In hindsight…” at the bottom of each page. I don’t know how many visitors have taken the time to read the updates, but some of them are highly relevant given the direction PS Renewal is taking (for instance the increased focus on performance management). So here’s a little background for those who don’t know the whole story.

In the spring of 2006, I started jotting down some ideas for an article on how to improve our workplaces. These ideas stemmed from my sometime difficult experience with various organizations, but more specifically within the Public Service of Canada. The hardship I had experienced was not unique however; nearly every person I knew who had recently joined the public service had similar anecdotes to share. When I started connecting these anecdotes together, I found a larger story that needed to be told. So I put together some thoughts that eventually became the skeleton for a paper. And then Public Service Renewal was announced... I figured I should probably hurry and finish up the paper, otherwise I would miss the boat.

On November 5, 2007, I released "An Inconvenient Renewal: Are Public Service Managers Ready to Change the Way They Manage?". I initially posted it on my blog, and sent it in PDF format to a few hundreds selected public servants across the country... And it spread like wildfire! The Canada Public Service Agency accepted to translate the paper in French, and posted it on the CPSA intranet site in order to make it available to all federal public servants.

I have received quite a lot of feedback regarding the paper, mostly positive. The observations I made hit home with many public servants who recognized that what I described in my paper was also "what people talked about in the hallways" (i.e. the organizational culture). As someone put it, the paper may not have changed the public service, but it certainly put people management on the forefront of the PS Renewal agenda and made it a top priority by getting a critical mass of people - including managers and senior executives - to acknowledge some of the things we are not really good at and therefore need to change.

It is with this intent that I decided to create a dedicated website for "An Inconvenient Renewal" (see also the French site: "Un renouvellement qui dérange"). By making the sites public, I hoped to achieve a few objectives:
  • Make people management a central theme of management - not just within the public service, but within any private, public and not-for-profit organizations;
  • Draw the attention of bargaining agents (the "unions") to the matters I discuss in the paper, as they play a key role in changing the culture of the public service (e.g. the culture of entitlement, managing poor performance, building trust, etc.);
  • Stimulate an on-going conversation around the ideas contained in the paper and build on them in order to support PS Renewal.
The content of the paper itself has remained exactly the same, except for a few minor updates and corrections. I have added a few new features to this site:
  • At the bottom of each page I have included a short piece called "In hindsight", in which I give some background information on the content of the section, explain what were my intents when I wrote it, what sort of reception it received, what new thoughts it prompted, and how my perspective might have changed since the release of the paper;
  • I have gathered all the written feedback I received from readers since the release of the paper in a new section called "Comments From Readers";
  • At the bottom of each page, you will also find an "Attachments" and a "Comments" functions which allow you to share your thoughts on any given topic or section, recommend links or share documents. (Note: You must have a Google account to use these features. If you don't have one, you may open one here.) This is the conversation part of the site and I hope it will be widely used;
  • Finally, I provide a few links of interest relating to PS Renewal.

The site is only as valuable as people's contribution. Make the best use of it!

I also invite to take the poll (see on the right hand side of this page) and share your PS Renewal practices on the group "Bottom-Up Renewal". The "discussion" section already features 27 examples of individual initiatives or organizational practices that support PS Renewal. I have revised my objective and I am aiming to have 100 such practices listed by January 1, 2009. So please spread the word!

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Poll Results: My PS Renewal Priorities

From September 1 to November 5, 2008, I have administered a poll on my blog, based on a posting I made about what my PS Renewal priorities would be.

45 people took the poll. The results are shown below.

The results are pretty consistent with the ideas put forth in "An Inconvenient Renewal", the feedback I get whenever I make a presentation, and my discussions on PS Renewal with public servants:
  • Not surprisingly, 42% of respondents have chosen "making performance management a top priority";
  • It is followed closely by "making people management an overarching theme for the next five years", which was selected by 40% of the respondents.
  • We have a tie between the next two priorities, which were chosen by 36% of the respondents: "putting in place a mechanism for employees to provide input and feedback on the issues that matter to them", and "focusing on the on-boarding experience of new employees during their first year in the public service".
  • 14% have indicated that while the priorities above were good, some key one(s) were missing.
  • Only 4% (2 out of 45 respondents) said that these priorities were totally missing the point.
Is your Department or Agency taking steps towards PS Renewal that are in line with the results of this poll? Please feel free to comment below!


As you might have noticed, I am administering a new poll in which I hope to identify the top reasons for the low participation on PS Renewal-related websites (such as the ones listed here). These sites are characterized by a fairly high traffic, but the number of comments left by visitors or the use of interactive features (such as the possibility to attach documents, or recommend interesting links) is disproportionally low. Why is that?

Please take a moment to take the poll on the right hand side of this page and I will publish the result on this site.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Survey Result, Q8 &10: Ideas on How to Get Involved

For this post – the last presenting the results of my survey on PS Renewal – I will simply paste below the verbatim I received from the respondents .

Q8. How will you get involved in PS Renewal, or what are some of ways people like you could get involved in PS Renewal? (Note: wild ideas are welcome!)

Networking within my Department with our recently formed PS Renewal Committee chaired by our Regional Director General.

I will take ideas and implement them in my work as a manager. Also pass them along to my colleagues.

Advise managers & employees to challenge what they are being told to ensure policies, processes, etc. are based on the flexibility allowed for in the new legislation.

Relating to: 'Have the freedom to work on personal initiatives that would support PS Renewal.' - I'd love to see a Google-esque policy (the '20% of your time on your own projects') where eligible public servants could use a percentage of their time for self-directed projects on renewal.

I am Co-Chair of Youth Connect Nova Scotia, our regional youth network. Our committee has been involved in PS Renewal activities in the past and is an issue we continue to focus on.

I would like to get further involved by acting as an advocate/recruiter for the federal public service, promoting the benefits of the federal government to high school and university students all over the country."

I have been selected to the [departmental/regional] Public Service Renewal Committee.

Through National Council of Visible Minorities.

Am currently a member of the core team of the Future Leaders of Ontario (FLO), try to influence, sometimes challenge, policy and initiatives within my direction.

By doing my best to keep people motivated in programs such as the ileadership and the Management Trainee Program. Reading, MTP Conference 2008, applying the PS Renewal Principles.

Work with Bob Chartier to get his LeaderFest idea off the Ground. Bob has this great idea (actually he has many great ideas, but I am only referring to one here) of organizing a festival to focus on Leadership. The approach would not be your normal leadership conference, but would be akin to the rejuvenation for Blues and Jazz of the those festivals.

I really feel that attention needs to be paid to youth/new recruits - how we can make the PS more appealing to them, because as it stands (and I say this being a 20-something myself) it's pretty unappealing. Youth enter the service with great ideas and lots of energy, and I feel that that is sucked up when they realize all the bureaucracy and red tape that is involved in doing the simplest of tasks or exploring the most minor change. When other employers offer innovation, flexibility and creativity, my experience tells me that the PS stifles these qualities.

Identify a mentor and get into a management position. I know what I'd like to do and I want to take action.

I'm still reading. Need time for reading. How about thinking. Need more time for thinking. Actually, time is the big one. But, either way, I'm at year 3 of what I hope will be a 25-year career as a public servant, one that will see major changes in the ways Canadians and their governments make choices. I plan to be part of those changes, in whatever way I can.

Support 'infrastructure', 'planning', and 'development' in the broadest terms possible in day-to-day real ways.

Encourage recruitment by hiring based on potential - ensure they have the education, security, medical, do 2-3 proper references to ensure they are not liars or psychotic - then JUST HIRE THEM!!! Use the probationary period if they really can't do the job. Eliminate all the other nonsense - merit is that they can do the job, so stop wasting time and let them do a work-sample with all the tools, and be fair, transparent, but diligent in using the probationary period.

First I have to consult all the websites listed above to learn about the process.

Start by getting more info on PS Renewal
my expectations with PS Renewal are not so high

Find out more and (time/priorities/ opportunities permitting) see how I might be able to take a more active role in PS Renewal.

What we need is good infrastructure to facilitate renewal and maximization of potential of public servants. This means good career development and assignment programs on an interdepartmental level.

Involving learning and professional development in HR planning and as a way to attract new employees

Promoting Individual Learning Plans, Career Development, HR Planning, Business Planning and measuring our success in meeting the spirit of PS renewal.

I'd like to just begin integrating it in to regular discussion. It tends to get talked about at retreats, etc. and then put on the back burner for the rest of the year.

I will continue to be actively involved with the various Youth Networks/committees in my region !

Think nationally, act locally...Governexx and related intradepartmental networking sites...
Find out more, spread the word, connect with others when attending regional or national gatherings to discuss the details, subvert the system from within. Participate in a public service renewal summer camp/ retreat!

Setting up a national renewal network (a Champion's network)

Sharing ideas of what others are doing in their departments (via a website)

I do it daily, both as a part of my job (HR Advisor) and as a public servant. I also serve on the NB Youth Network Board of Directors.

Do my job well, provide example for others.

I think it is critical that managers be given the tools to facilitate PS renewal. For example - education regarding employee development methods, budgets to support continuing education and training of their existing staff, training and tools to assist recruiting employees from outside the public service - beyond the PSR program.
Clearly these type of suggestions will need to be action and/or modeled by senior public servants more than myself.
But as for my sphere of influence - there could be a discussion forum for middle managers regarding staff development tools and experiences, lunch and learns for 'staffing managers' or a support network to share general HR tools and experiences.

My take is that you guys should explain to us how PS renewal (what does it means anyway?) can be important and useful for my fellow Canadian tax payers…
For me this is one more useless initiative in which too many public servants are wasting to much of their time. Tell me? Why should we (as Canadian) maintain the position you are in if in fact you are able to spend that much time such futile issue?
Let me renew PS for you and make it cost efficient: Let’s just abolish all positions that have been empty from more then a year (ok maybe two) and all position where the incumbent is busy else where working on some futile initiatives that have nothing to do with serving Canadians… Once that done we will have a nice and thin public administration, we will be able to staff back and create new position in priority sectors…
If you guys can make me a proud public servant, proud of the organization I work for, chances are that I will stay in the government. And you want to make me proud, help me make this

Volunteer to represent my department at recruitment fairs at university and colleges.

Q10. Please provide any additional thought or comment...

I have been a federal civil servant for over 35 years and am very pleased that I was chosen to provide input to this committee ... just the thought that after all these years I may still have something to contribute. I'm proud of the civil service and what we've done for Canada. I hope the Renewal Process will enable others to access and choose a rewarding career serving Canada.

Employees should get involved one way or the other (staffing, coaching, mentoring, etc.) in the PS Renewal but it takes time and we need some support from our organization.

We've heard about PS Renewal for years and the powers that be keep talking more than doing. I believe that the next generation will be ill-prepared to manage due to the limited opportunities we have been given to be mentored and gain management experience.

Keep the momentum

I am able to be proactive and to go find information I need if necessary. I don't want to receive too much emails on PS Renewal.

I am currently on assignment with CRA so I probably do not have access to many websites that I may have had if I were with my home org, PWGSC.

I think this is a great idea but keep in mind that anything that requires too much of a time commitment may not be conducive to peoples' hectic work schedules. If a formal network is set up with support from senior management across many departments this might lend more credibility to the process.

Just a note--Unfortunately I have not taken the time to read a lot of the information regarding PS renewal, including your blog. I am also new to the Public Service and I am not aware of all of the issues surrounding this subject yet. This is not due to lack of interest on my part, but perhaps workload and then just plain old forgetting to read up on it when I do have down time.

Overall I find there is a disconnect between what is being said in the Public Service and what happens. We state that we want to be a learning organization, but we provide neither the funds nor the 'risk tolerant' environment to support that development.
We maintain that we want new ideas and people in the Public Service but have created policies surrounding the area of selection for external advertised processes that discourage managers from recruiting outside of the Public Service.
We claim that under the new PSEA we have given new power and flexibility to the delegated manager, but we have undertaken a system of monitoring staffing which fundamentally undermines this flexibility.
Finally, we state that we want to ensure that our hires are the right-fit for the organization, without providing the formal training for managers or requiring formal designation for HR specialist. The result is that we do not have the knowledge or expertise that would allow for the creation of selection tools which… "

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Survey Result, Q4-7: Getting Involved in PS Renewal

Today's post will be a quick one because the results to the questions I will present are self-explanatory.

Q4. How clear is it to you what PS Renewal is all about?

Good news here: close to two-thirds of the respondents say that it is either “clear” or “very clear” what PS Renewal is about, which reflects well on the communications effort around PS Renewal. I must however caution readers: the results may also be a reflection of the self-selection of the respondents. It can easily be assumed that those who saw the value in filling this survey did so in part because they already know what PS Renewal is about. I say this because if I asked the question to the 200 people in my organization (a very operational directorate based in a region), I would be pleasantly surprised if 20% could claim it is “clear” or “very clear”. In fact, next time I attend a staff meeting I will ask that question by show of hands.

Q5. How clear is it to you how you can get involved in PS Renewal?

I asked this questions because the Clerk has traveled all over the country telling public servants to “get involved, speak up, make suggestions, become part of renewal, be proud and make a difference”. Close to 40% of respondents have indicated that it was either “clear” or “very clear” how they can get involved. This is pretty good if you ask me. But it also means that there is close to 25% of respondents who are clear about PS Renewal, but don't know how to get involved. That represents a lot of people who need to be engaged right now. If we can't help them figure out where they fit and what they can, we are missing a great opportunity to turn the ship around. That 25% can be the difference between a public-service wide cultural shift and the status quo.

Q6. Are you interested in getting involved in PS Renewal?

Even with a group of self-selected respondents, I consider these results to be excellent given how early we are in the whole “renewal” process.

Only 15% are clearly not interested in getting involved (or at least not right now). 35% are interested but need to ask permission; to me this is an indication that these people just need a little encouragement, a small incentive, or just a straight-up question from their managers, such as: “Would you be interested in getting involved in PS Renewal?”.

1% said they asked for permission to get involved but it was denied, while 9% said they would have to do it partly on their personal time.

5% were given permission to do it entirely on their work time. 16% said PS Renewal was actually part of their responsibilities (a confirmation that the respondents self-selected to answer the survey!).

What astonishes me though is that 19% of respondents said they would get involved in PS Renewal on their work time without asking permission to their managers! Isn't that cool!?! I love that kind of “take charge” attitude! :-)

Q7. What would be most useful to you at this point in order to get involved in PS Renewal? (Select all that apply)

“Getting ideas of how to get involved” dominates the list. Next we have “interacting (in person or virtually) with other people like me who are interested in PS Renewal”, “receiving more information about PS Renewal” and “having my organization take a leadership role in PS Renewal and provide an opportunity to employees to get involved”, which all received similar number of responses. It is followed by “having the freedom to work on personal initiatives that would support PS Renewal”, and then “getting the support from my supervisor to get actively involved”. “Being told what to do next” comes last.

A couple of people have indicated “others”. Those ideas will be presented in tomorrow's post.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Survey Results, Q2-3: Interest and Usefulness of PS Renewal-related Websites

There was an unusually high level of traffic on my blog yesterday, so I guess the first results of my little survey are drawing some attention. Not a single visitor has posted any comment though, which is ironically a good lead-in for this posting.

Today I am presenting the results to a few more questions from the survey, more specifically:

Q2. What is the level of usefulness of the following websites? Q3. What is your level of interest in the following websites?
  1. The PS Renewal page on the Canada Public Service Agency intranet site
  2. The site An Inconvenient Renewal
  3. The group Bottom-Up Renewal
  4. The blog Contrarian Thinking
  5. The blog
  6. The Facebook group on PS Renewal
The results are as follows (click on image to enlarge):

The good news is that respondents rated 5 of the 6 sites just above “medium” for both usefulness and level of interest (the only exception being the Facebook group on PS Renewal).

Something puzzles me though. While 5 of the sites' usefulness and interest comes at least in part from their interactive features (comments, input from users, or in some cases capacity to share links or attach documents), the level of participation on the majority of these sites is almost anaemic:
Part of the explanation undoubtedly lies in the inequality factor (thanks Nick for the link!), which states that “user participation often more or less follows a 90-9-1 rule:
  • 90% of users are lurkers (i.e., read or observe, but don't contribute);
  • 9% of users contribute from time to time, but other priorities dominate their time;
  • 1% of users participate a lot and account for most contributions: it can seem as if they don't have lives because they often post just minutes after whatever event they're commenting on occurs.
On my blog, I have received approximately 3200 visitors in the past 12 months, or 267 visitors per month. It is not too bad given that I have averaged just over one post per month in the last year (by comparison, practically features a new post every day and a column every week!). But I have also averaged just over 1 comment per post, when according to the 90-9-1 rule I should have expected 15 to 20 times. So there must be something else…

I am raising this issue because the implications are broader than you might think. As you may know, I do quite a lot of work in staffing, and one of the comments I hear the most often coming from managers is that they want “more tools and more opportunities to share best practices” around staffing and the new PSEA. Now here we are with PS Renewal, hearing similar demands, and for once the tools are available and the opportunities to share “best practices” are better than they ever were. But no one is making use of the tools, and few people are sharing anything. Why is that?

Could it be that the repeated demands for more tools and opportunities to share best practices are in fact “cop out”? A thinly veiled excuse for not taking responsibility for the change, yet not being blamed for the lack of progress?

I can already see employees pointing the finger at managers, managers pointing the finger at senior executives, and senior executive pointing the finger at central agencies. “It's not our fault if we are not getting positive results with regards to {insert problem of the day here, i.e. PSEA, staffing, recruitment, succession planning, PS Renewal, etc.}! We need more tools! YOU (whoever this may be) must give us tools like websites where we can access information, repositories for sharing best practices with other Departments, and discussion forums to encourage dialogue!”...


Troubling isn't it?...

And perhaps a little painful...

Let's get back on track before denial kicks in...

So far, I have only been able to come up with a few other explanations for the low participation rate:
  • Restricted access to these sites from work;
  • Equivalent or better sites available behind departmental firewalls;
  • Limited time to comment and provide input;
  • Discomfort or lack of familiarity with the medium and/or the technology;
  • Language barrier (i.e. sites in English only);
  • Fear of getting in trouble;
  • Learned helplessness.
If you can think of other reasons why participation is so low – especially when we keep hearing that people want more opportunities to share ideas and best practices – please comment below. I will use your input for my next poll on this blog.

Tomorrow... Well, tomorrow is a special day. I'm saying no more, it's a surprise!

Monday, November 03, 2008

Survey Results - Q1: Access to Web 2.0 and PS Renewal-related Websites

The first question of the survey was inspired by an idea from New Zealand’s public service blogger Jason Ryan in a posting where he referred to the Stop Blocking! campaign. I instantly felt an urge to rate the Public Service of Canada’s Departments and Agencies, but the undertaking was a little ambitious. So I compromised for a single question that would provide an imperfect but very telling picture of the current state of site blocking in the public service.

The question was: “Which of the following websites are you able to access from your work computer? Select all that apply:
  1. The PS Renewal page on the Canada Public Service Agency internet site
  2. The PS Renewal discussion guide on the Canada Public Service Agency intranet site
  3. The site An Inconvenient Renewal
  4. The group Bottom-Up Renewal
  5. The blog Contrarian Thinking
  6. The blog
  7. The Facebook group on PS Renewal (or just the Facebook home page if you don’t have a Facebook account)
  8. Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s channel on YouTube
  9. Randy Pausch's Last Lecture on YouTube
  10. The "Canadian Civil Service" page on Wikipedia
  11. The Prime Minister's photo gallery on Flickr
  12. The "Emails, Emails and More Emails" presentation showcased at the Canada School of Public Service
  13. Business Week's video on "being entrepreneurial"
  14. Ottawa Citizen's reporter Kathryn May's articles on the federal public service and PS Renewal-related initiatives
  15. The 2007 Manion Lecture audio recording.

My intent with this question was to get an sense of just how many public servants have access to PS Renewal-related Web resources. While some of the links above are not directly related to PS Renewal, their content either lends itself well to the spirit of PS Renewal, or constitutes information that you would expect all employees to be able to access in an organization operating on principles of trust, transparency, and openness.

The selection of some of the sites was also governed by their popularity. As of October 31, 2008, Alexa’s ranking of the top websites in Canada included: Facebook (#3), Youtube (#5), Wikipedia (#9), Blogger (#10), and Flickr (#19). The Government of Canada held the 11th spot.

I was specifically interested in knowing what percentage of public servants didn't have access to those sites and resources. The methodology I used to compile the results was the following. By asking people which of the sites listed they could access from their work computer, I was able to determine which ones they couldn't access. I then compared the answers of respondents from the same departments to see if their responses were consistent. When there were inconsistencies, such as it can be expected in a large decentralized departments (e.g. Service Canada) where different offices may impose different access restrictions to websites, I applied the following rule: in order to conclude that the employees of the department don't have access to a specific website, all the respondents from that department must have no access to that website”. This logic obviously skews the results in favour of the sites that are accessible (the more respondents from a given Department, the greater the odds of concluding the site is accessible), however it gives me a greater degree of confidence with the claims I make later when I say that a certain percentage of the public service doesn't have access to a given website. For instance, let’s say I have 4 respondents from the same department: 3 say they can’t access a given site, 1 says he can. I will conclude that the employees in this department can access the site, even though in reality 75% of them may not have access. By applying this rule, I may be embellishing the actual level of accessibility to certain sites, but at least it reduces the odds of exaggerating the level of inaccessibility to those sites.

The table below presents three sets of data:
  1. The 34 Departments and Agencies represented in survey (which accounted for 85,4% of all public servants);
  2. The 87 respondents;
  3. An extrapolation of those results to the whole Core Public Administration (i.e. 107 Departments and Agencies totaling 263,118 public servants), factoring the size of each Department and Agency.

Percentage of federal public servants who can't access PS Renewal-related websites from their work computer


34 Departments and Agencies Represented in Survey

87 Respondents

Entire “Core Public Administration” (Extrapolation)

The Facebook group on PS Renewal (or just the Facebook home page)




Business Week's video on "being entrepreneurial"




Randy Pausch's Last Lecture on YouTube




Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s channel on YouTube




The "Emails, Emails and More Emails" presentation showcased at the Canada School of Public Service




The Prime Minister's photo gallery on Flickr




The blog Contrarian Thinking




The 2007 Manion Lecture audio recording.”




The blog




The group Bottom-Up Renewal




Ottawa Citizen's reporter Kathryn May's articles on the federal public service and PS Renewal-related initiatives




The PS Renewal discussion guide on the Canada Public Service Agency intranet site




The "Canadian Civil Service" page on Wikipedia




The PS Renewal page on the Canada Public Service Agency internet site




The site An Inconvenient Renewal




I don't want to discuss the results too much – in fact I hope that the readers will discuss them using the “Comment” feature below and therefore spark an interesting conversation – however I will point to some of the highlights I see:

  • Although Facebook is the top Web 2.0 site in Canada, an estimated three quarters of all public servants can't access it from work– not even the Facebook group on PS Renewal. (Wow! Those CBSA recruits really scared government officials last year…)
  • Over half of public servants can't even access the Prime Ministers’ channel on YouTube, and just under half can’t access his photo gallery on Flickr! (Who do we work for again?)
  • In 2008, nearly 18 % of public servants still can’t download a legal MP3 file from the Canada School of Public Service website. (I guess we still have a long way to go before becoming a true “learning organization”!)
  • Approximately 43% public servants can't access my blog, despite the fact I use the Blogger platform – the 10th most popular site in Canada. Nevertheless, it is an improvement compared to what it used to be. A year ago, none of my friends at PWGSC – which accounts for nearly 5% of all public servants – could access my blog, but in this survey most said they could.
  • The figures are better for my friends at who, despite the fact they use the same platform as I do (Blogger), are able to be reached by an additional 25% of public servants (that means 65,000 more people!). That is a relief, since I think their blog is the single best source of news on PS Renewal. But why is my blog blocked more than their's? I don't know...
  • I am actually amazed by the level of access to my sites An Inconvenient Renewal and the group Bottom-Up Renewal. But then it makes me wonder why the participation on those sites in non-existent (I will come back to this in tomorrow's posting).

The methodology I used is obviously flawed, and I won’t argue with that. The numbers presented above probably reflect a best-case scenario. Given the relatively small number of responses I received, the results of the survey need to be interpreted with great caution; so please don’t go around quoting these numbers as facts!

With the recent launch of GCpedia (accessible to federal public servants only), these results promise to generate quite a bit of discussion. Coincidentally, Jason Ryan and Mike Kujawski just made some postings related to the use of social networks and Web 2.0 in government.

Please feel free to discuss the findings below.

More results coming tomorrow!