Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Straight Talk

When I first released “An Inconvenient Renewal”, most initial reactions from readers were fairly strong. Some experienced it as a form of “catharsis” (!), others couldn’t believe my audacity to publish “such heretical ideas about the public service”.

Fortunately, some people also saw in the paper an opportunity to make it the starting point to a meaningful discussion with their staff and colleagues. One such person was a Regional Director General in the Pacific region who, 24 hours after receiving the paper, forwarded it to ALL his staff with the following note:

Good Day All, I'm forwarding this paper, "An Inconvenient Renewal" to you, not to incite dissention, but to provoke further thought and discussion on our work environments and your ability to influence positive change, regardless of your function within our organization. I hope, should you read this, you'll consider our [business plan] and think about how the two dove tail. […] I look forward to hearing your thoughts and invite you to share and explore options within your respective offices.”

Needless to say, I was impressed! And much to my delight, his memo to staff paved the way for other RDGs who followed in his footsteps.

I have since observed a trend in a number of public service-related publications: straight talk. Aside from being characterized by honesty and truth-telling, you can often recognize straight talk by its candidness and refreshing style.

As it turns out, I just finished reading one of the best piece of work I have seen in a long time: "Cat's Eyes: Intelligent Work Versus Perverse Incentives - APEX Forum on Wicked Problems" (registration to Optimum Online is free; you just need to provide your email address). The paper, written by Ruth Hubbard and Gilles Paquet, “is a report on sixteen sessions of discussion with a few dozen federal government executives on eight different difficult topics that, by their very nature, seem to require the development of something akin to cat’s eyes. These sessions took place in the fall of 2007 and the winter of 2008, under the auspices of the Association of Professional Executives of the Public Service of Canada (APEX).

While the first part is filled with interesting observations about the so-called “perverse incentives”, it is really the second part of the article (“A personal distillation of what we learned”) that resonated with me the most. Indeed it provides an amazingly honest, uncensored, yet respectful, analysis of the culture of the public service executive cadre. I can’t recommend it enough! This is definitely a must-read for any public service executive willing to take a good look into the mirror.


Speaking of straight talk, I also want to hear from you! I have a few polls and surveys currently running:

You may also discuss your own PS Renewal initiatives on the Bottom-Up Renewal group. (So far participation is next to non-existent, despite many requests for such a tool. If you can help me understand why, please drop me a line!)

Please forward to your bosses, colleagues and friends!

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