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.

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