Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Should Public Servants or Public Administrators Even be Allowed to Use Web 2.0 at Work?

I just read an interesting post by recent "unofficial" public servant blogger Laura Wesley. She wraps-up her post by asking if public servants should be allowed, or even encouraged, to blog.

A similar question was discussed at a conference for government communicators I was attending yesterday: "How should we handle the resistance to Web 2.0 in the public service?". Despite the fact the audience was composed of communicators and IT specialists who obviously embraced technologies, the relatively young age of the crowd, and the near absence of senior executives in the room, I was amazed by the level of risk-aversion and the arguments raised by the participants. Instead of finding solutions to address the resistance towards Web 2.0, it seemed to me that most comments favoured extreme prudence.

On the surface, I would describe the problem around the use of Web 2.0 technologies in the public service as follows:
  1. The people who know best how to operate Web 2.0 and draw the most value from it are, generally speaking, not the decision-makers.
  2. While most people recognize the potential benefits of Web 2.0 for government, no one wants to be the first to make a mistake.
  3. (Loop back to #1)
If you dig beneath the surface though, the REAL problem emerges. The next time you sit in a meeting or attend a presentation about Web 2.0 and the discussion (invariably) shifts to the risks of using these technologies in the public service, I challenge you to find a single argument that is not based on the assumption that employees can't be trusted.

In order to break the cycle, decision-makers should rely on the people who know best how to operate Web 2.0 to set positive precedents and ensure that whatever mistake is made (because there will invariably be some) is small enough (as to not cause a crisis), done early enough (so that it's seen as a necessary part of learning), and detected quickly enough (so that we show we're on top of things). This is more a less the approach taken by my organization with regards to the use of social networking websites (i.e. Facebook) by employees.

Failure to trust employees to behave properly or make appropriate use of Web 2.0 will result precisely in the kind of situation a risk-averse public service is most afraid of: employees who are ill-equipped to exercise good judgment because they've never been allowed to exercise good judgment! It's yet another manifestation of the downward spiral Barry Schwartz warned us about just a few weeks ago.

I don't know about you, but personally, when someone - especially a boss - put their trust in me and give me freedom to act, I don't want to disappoint them and I do everything I can to meet the expectations and keep that trust and that freedom. It would be nice if public administrators and servants and the entire public service as a whole would take a similar approach with regards to the use of social networking websites by employees.

Career Advice, Part 3: Developing Talent

Always an exciting topic...
  1. Why Can’t We Figure Out How to Select Leaders?
  2. Employee Performance and Promotion Myths
  3. A Practical Guide for Developing Leaders
  4. Eight Ways To Improve Employee Morale
  5. Grassroots Change
  6. How to Spot the Future Leaders of Your Business
  7. Searching for growth leaders
  8. 62 Types of Questions and Why They Work
  9. Five challenges that accelerate leadership development
  10. Grow as a Leader Now

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Living Renewal: How to Turn An Organization Around in 1000 Days

It's official! I will be delivering my presentation entitled "Living Renewal: How to Turn An Organization Around in 1000 Days" at the CSPS Armchair Discussion on March 17, 2009, 8:30 to 11:00 (Eastern time).

If you are a federal public servant, you can register:

Here's the description:

Living Renewal: How to Turn An Organization Around in 1000 Days

To say the organization was in a poor state would be an understatement – it was a mess! Much of the pride and commitment of the employees had been eroded, if not lost altogether. Relations between management and staff were strained. Everywhere, the organization was preceded by its "bad reputation".

Fast-forward 3 years later: trust has been rebuilt, employees are as dedicated as they ever were, and people are now saying: "If this organization did it, anyone can!". How did this organization renewed itself? What were the steps that lead to organizational healing? What were the big lessons learned? What can you do to make renewal a reality in your organization?

In this presentation, Etienne Laliberté, will tell the story of the renewal lived in his organization over the years, and even share the secrets of how they systematically do staffing in three weeks (yes, that is correct: only three weeks!!!). In the spirit of his article published recently in the magazine Canadian Government Executive, the presentation will also challenge some of the myths around change management and demonstrate how simple - and yet difficult! - turning an organization around can be.



Vivre le renouvellement: comment transformer une organisation en 1000 jours

Ce serait un euphémisme que d’affirmer que l’organisation était en mauvais état – c’était un beau gâchis! La fierté et l’engagement des employés avaient été gravement ébranlés, voire complètement anéantis. Les relations entre la direction et le personnel étaient tendues et partout, la mauvaise réputation de l’organisation la précédait.

Projetons-nous dans le futur, soit trois ans plus tard : la confiance a été restaurée, les employés sont plus dévoués et les gens disent maintenant : « Si cette organisation a réussi tout cela, tout le monde peut y arriver! ». Comment cette organisation est-elle parvenue à se renouveler? Quelles étapes ont mené à cette guérison organisationnelle? Quelles sont les grandes leçons apprises? Que pouvez-vous faire pour faire du renouvellement une réalité dans votre organisation?

Au cours de cette présentation, Étienne Laliberté, nous relatera le déroulement du renouvellement vécu dans son organisation au cours des dernières années, et partagera même comment on y fait de la dotation en trois semaines (oui, vous avez bien lu: seulement trois semaines!!!). Tout comme il le fait dans un article publié récemment dans le magazine Canadian Government Executive, cette présentation s’attaquera aussi aux mythes entourant la gestion du changement et nous démontrera à quel point il est simple - et pourtant si difficile - de transformer une organisation.

Performance Management, Part 3: Managing Performance

Third installment of this series of posts on performance management:
  1. The Importance of Performance Management
  2. Performance Management, Performance Reviews and Appraisals
  3. How to Think About Performance
  4. Matrix Organization Design - Don’t Go There
  5. Leading Knowledge Workers: 5 Deadly Leadership Sins To Avoid
  6. Why You Need to Tell it Like it Is
  7. Giving and Getting Great Feedback
  8. What Every Manager Should Know About Feedback
  9. Get Rid of the Performance Review
  10. Why employee performance appraisals are ineffective, sometimes?
  11. Where Jack Welch Got It Wrong - The Mandatory, Annual Low-Performer Cut
  12. Setting and Resetting Expectations
  13. The Time To Manage
  14. Six Obstacles to Extraordinary Performance
  15. Micromanagement undefined
  16. Is Micromanagement Inherent or Contextual?
  17. More Talent Management Facts
  18. Stop Sabotaging Employee Performance
  19. 5 Reasons CEO’s Get Fired
  20. Leaders Who Think They Walk on Water
  21. Beware of Setting Goals
  22. The Case Against Cutting the Bottom 10%
And in case you missed it: Performance Measurement.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

On Rules and Thoughtlessness

During lunch I watched Barry Schwartz' latest presentation at TED. I couldn't help to make the connection with an article published last week about the federal government's "web of rules".

Here's what Barry Schwartz had to say:
"Rules and procedures may be dumb, but they spare you from thinking. [...] When things go wrong, as of course they do, we reach for two tools to try to fix them. One tool we reach for is rules: better ones, more of them. The second tool we reach for is incentives: better ones, more of them. What else, after all, is there? [...] The truth is that neither rules or incentives are enough to do the job.

What happens is that as we turn increasingly to rules, rules and incentives may make things better in the short run, but they create a downward spiral that makes them worse in the long run. Moral skill is chipped away by over reliance on rules that deprives us from the opportunity to improvise and learn from our improvisation. And moral will is undermined by an incessant appeal to incentives that destroy our desire to do the right thing. And without intending it, by appealing to rules and incentives, we are engaging in a war on wisdom. [...]

[We need to] remoralize work. [...] One way NOT to do it: Teach more ethics courses. There's no better way to show people that you are not serious than to tie up everything you have to say about ethics into a little package with a bow and consign it to the margins as an ethics course."
I feel the same way about what I call "management by checklists", another trend I have observed in recent years and that has manifested itself in many workshops I have attended (i.e. staffing), where managers demand more checklists to follow, more tools to re-use, more best practices to duplicate. Consequently, too many managers are abdicating their responsibility and leaving decision-making in the hands of rules, checklists and other standardized tools. I am not a fan of management by checklists, as I believe that just like over reliance on rules, it ultimately leads to thoughtlessness.

Again, you'll find links to my favourite TED presentations in the side-bar on the right.

Performance Management, Part 2: Accountability

A dozen good links for you today:
  1. Five Signs That Personal Accountability Isn’t a Core Cultural Value
  2. Creating An Accountability Culture
  3. Personal Accountability – Who are you Really Pointing the Finger at?
  4. Gain Accountability by Passing the Buck
  5. Managerial Accountability Is Not Missing; It’s just Misplaced
  6. Requisite Organization Resources
  7. When Everyone is Accountable, No One is Accountable - The Team Accountability Fantasy
  8. Personal Accountability Training
  9. Responsibility
  10. Accountability and the High-Performance Organization
  11. Operationalizing Engagement via Managerial Leadership
  12. Leadership Lessons from Geese

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Leadership in a Culture of Compliance

“The straightest line to success is to conform to prevailing views, as opposed to challenging them.”
- Mark Stevens

As you know, I am a big fan of CPSRenewal. If you haven’t already done so, please go to their blog and read their latest column entitled “The Development in Leadership”. I found it to be perhaps their finest post to date, partly because of the topic and partly because of the slightly contrarian perspective. I initially wanted to comment directly on their blog, but once I got going I had so much to say so instead I chose to make it a separate post here.

First, some of the highlights:
  • “One of the effects of being in school for a prolonged period of time is that people become accustomed to its normative framework and to the structured progression.”
  • “One participant even said that she was very concerned about the prospect of working for a manager who was quickly promoted because they excelled at thinking inside the box.”
  • “The problem with development programs is that they do not necessarily produce leaders and innovators. In effect they reward and perpetuate herd mentality and produce predictable outcomes.”
  • “Leaders and innovators typically lead and innovate despite the status quo, not in support of it. Yet, the best a development program can do is provide employees with the skills that have been determined to be important in the past and in the immediate present. In essence, development programs are cyclical in that they support and reinforce the status quo, creating predictability and producing (process and rule) followers.”
As I was reading the column, it reminded of Upton Sinclair’s famous quote: “You can't make somebody understand something if their salary depends upon them not understanding it.” I have faced a similar type of resistance with regards to some of the ideas I have expressed before. But in the context of leadership development, this raises two questions:
  1. Given that the ethos of public service management is to comply and ensure compliance, what conclusions should we draw about the people who succeed the most in the system (i.e. get promoted to high level positions)?
  2. What kind of leadership and innovation can we expect from people who know so well how things should be done?

Last week, a friend of mine forwarded me an interesting article written by G. Hayward and C.Everett entitled “Adaptors and innovators: data from the Kirton Adaption-Innovation Inventory in a local authority setting” (Published in the Journal of Occupational Psychology, 56, 339-42). Using the Kirton Adaptor-Innovator Inventory which measures on a continuum the behaviour of innovators and adaptors (or "non-innovators" if you prefer), the researchers found that local government workers were more adaptive (i.e. less innovative) than the general population. Furthermore, the longer workers had been employed in the government, the least innovative they were. The research also found that new recruits were mildly innovative, but within five years they would fall to the same level as the rest of the staff. Junior employees were more innovative than intermediate or senior staff.

The researchers conclude that “organizations become adaptive (or innovative) mainly because people leave or stay according to whether the organization suits their personality.” This “leads to more entrenched positions, adaptive organizations becoming more adaptive and vice versa. More adaptive styles reduce the range of responses available to the organization and lead to it becoming less flexible in its search for solutions, with the dangers this implies in a world of conflicting and rapidly changing pressures.

Not surprisingly, the authors add that the public service “may well appeal to people who are adaptive by nature, and those with an innovative bent may find the work uncongenial or may not fit socially in a team of adaptors. However, to some extent the current employment situation may alter their behaviour, in that jobs are not easily obtained. Staff may remain and choose to be miserable rather than moving to find work more suitable to their innovative natures. […] It is much more likely in our view that, in order to fit, individuals can make only superficial changes to their behaviour. For the most part the individual must either find a niche within the organization, make alterations to the job in order to get a better fit, or, as a final outcome, leave the organization.

Dr M J Kirton reaches similar conclusions in his article entitled “Adaptors & Innovators - Why New Initiatives Get Blocked”. Noting that “middle-ranking Civil Servants were markedly adaptor-inclined”, Kirton writes:

“Organisations in general and especially organisations which are large in size and budget have a tendency to encourage bureaucracy and adaptation in order to minimise risk. [...] The aims of a bureaucratic structure are precision, reliability and efficiency, and that the bureaucratic structure exerts constant pressure on officials to be methodical, prudent and disciplined, and to attain an unusual degree of conformity. These are the qualities that the adaptor-innovator theory attributes to the ‘adaptor’ personality. For the marked adaptor, the longer an institutional practice has existed, the more he feels it can be taken for granted. So when confronted by a problem, he does not see it as a stimulus to question or change the structure in which the problem is embedded, but seeks a solution within that structure, in ways already tried and understood – ways which are safe, sure predictable. He can be relied upon to carry out a thorough, disciplined search for ways to eliminate problems by ‘doing things better’ with a minimum or risk and a maximum of continuity and stability. This behaviour contrasts strongly with that of the marked innovator. The latter’s solution, because it is less understood, and its assumption untested, appears more risky, less sound, involves more ‘ripple-effect’ changes in areas less obviously needing to be affected; in short, it brings about changes with outcomes than cannot be envisaged so precisely. This diminution of predictive certainty is unsettling and not to be undertaken lightly, if at all, by most people – but particularly by adaptors, who feel not only more loyal to consensus policy but less willing to jeopardise the integrity of the system (or even the institution). [...] Tolerance of the innovator is thinnest when adaptors feel under pressure from the need for imminent radical change. Yet the innovators’ very disadvantages to institutions make them as necessary as the adaptors’ virtues in turn make them.”


So back to leadership development programs and my response to CPSRenewal’s contentions...

“Employees do not need to be in a development program to lead.”
I couldn’t agree more. Having spent four years in a development program, I can say I have seen many of my peers embody the status quo.

“Opportunities to lead are most likely more numerous outside development programs where there are fewer restrictions.”
I can only speak based on my own experience, but one of the beauties of leadership development programs is that you can get away with murder! People will forgive your mistakes more easily because you of the label “still developing” stamped on your forehead. However, that freedom to lead and innovate doesn’t always come with the credibility you need to push the ideas forward and see their implementations. For that to happen, you may need the support of a credible sponsor or manager with a lot of pull.

“Leaders and innovators tend to be drawn to where opportunity congregates, in this case outside development programs.”
I don’t disagree with the statement, but I would like to qualify it. I would argue that leaders and innovators tend to be drawn to where there is a void to fill or a need to address, and because of the high level of attention employees in development programs often get (in contrast to the employees who are not in those programs), the most pressing needs and significant voids are likely outside development programs.


I have been in a government leadership development program and had the distinct privilege of nearly failing my first promotion board. Despite superior achievements in my assignment and outstanding evaluations from my managers and clients, I didn’t do well on the interview (my heart was just not into it for a host of reasons, including the fact that the interview had been rescheduled four times and was now six months late). So when I met with the promotion jury (another six months later) to find out my results, they told me: “Etienne, you did not demonstrate you met the requirements to be promoted. But we are going to do you a favour and give it to you anyway.

Obviously, I was frustrated by the fact that the verdict was based on my performance in a one-hour interview and totally dismissed my performance during the 2500 hours of work that preceded it. But first and foremost, I was disgusted by the fact that I was given a promotion that, according to the standards of the members of the promotion jury, I should not even deserve. Basically, I was becoming a prime example of the Peter Principle and they were telling me that they were promoting me to what they thought was my level of incompetence!

For my next promotion, I decided to play by the rules. Since now I knew that all what really counted was the interview, I was going to comply with the process. More specifically, I knew I would be asked questions about my home department, such as mission, vision, organizational structure, priorities, etc. The problem was that by then I had not worked in my home department in over two years, and had been in three other departments and agencies in the meantime. I suppressed all the feeling of futility and silliness I was experiencing and memorized by heart the content of my home department’s website. Fortunately, I’ve always had very good memorization skills, so at the interview I regurgitated word for word everything from the website. At one point I noticed from the body language of one of the senior executive on the jury (who was from my home department) that he didn’t even know about the departmental priorities and objectives I was discussing, so I dug even further. When I asked them if they wanted me to keep going, they told me they had enough for the purpose of the assessment (none of them were going to admit their own ignorance!). I nailed that interview and got my promotion.

That day I learned an extremely valuable lesson about what leadership means in a culture of compliance.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Employee Engagement

I briefly mentioned the concept of "employee engagement" in my last post, so here's a selection of my 20 favourite blog posts on the topic (in no particular order):
  1. U.S. Employee Engagement Deteriorates as Financial Crisis Worsens
  2. Kudos to Blessing White’s State of Engagement 2008 Report
  3. How employee engagement affects your organisation
  4. Morale and mood
  5. 6 Mini Employee Engagement Rants…1,2,3,4,5,6
  6. Employee Engagement: What do we need to remove?
  7. Systematically Poisoning Employee Engagement
  8. Why Engagement Sits at about 20 Percent
  9. From Disengagement to Employee Engagement in 10 Seconds
  10. The 4 top productivity drivers
  11. 5 Steps to Leading Change
  12. The five rules of engagement
  13. Engage 5
  14. Employees Who Quit, But Stay On
  15. Get rid of managers and we'll all be happier
  16. Five Signs Your Management is Destroying Employee Morale
  17. Three reasons why managers don't do people management
  18. Top management dis's the importance of managerial and supervisory skills
  19. An Asset, not a liability
  20. When It Comes To People, We Need To Start Measuring What Matters
You will also find a few more here: 10 Best Articles on Employee Engagement.

If the topic interests you, I also recommend Manager Tools for Employee Engagement. Some disarmingly simple stuff here, i.e.:
"What will the main work of a manager be for 2009?
If I were to suggest a starting point for One Small Thing, I'd recommend that Managers begin to develop habits such as:
1. Saying "good morning" to each member of the team
2. Asking each team member "how's it going?" at least once a week
3. Asking each team member "what do you think?" whenever a problem surfaces"
Finally, as a follow-up to my post on innovation and creativity, here's a a short video that will look all too familiar to some of you (thanks tom Peter Smith at Spagetthi Testing for bringing this to my attention!).

Random Thoughts on Talent Management

Take the quiz:

1. What do we mean by “talent management”?
  • a) The programs, policies and processes in place to support recruitment, retention, training and development, staffing, succession planning, etc.
  • b) The actual day-to-day management of talented people
2. What do we mean by “talented people”?
  • a) The so-called “best and brightest”
  • b) Anyone with interests and talents that can be put to contribution
3. If you answered a) to the previous question:
  • How do you know who “best and brightest” are?
  • How do you know you are not overlooking anyone who is actually talented?
4. Talent management should be done in the interest of who?
  • a) The organization
  • b) The employee
  • c) Both

My working definition of talent management goes something like this: “Getting the best from employees so that employees feel they are contributing their best.”

While the first half of the definition is straightforward enough, I feel the public service tends to fall short on the second half. Indeed, according to the 2005 Public Service Employee Survey, 96% of federal public servants are “Strongly committed to making difference in organization” (Question # 86). However, the overall employee engagement score for the public service is only 56,8% - a 40% gap!

(The methodology to determine your employee engagement score is explained here, but in short you just need to calculate the average of the percentage of employees who “agree” or “strongly agree” with the statements contained in the following ten questions of the 2005 PSES:
Q. 16 Encouraged to be innovative or take initiative in job
Q. 18 Have a say in decisions/action affecting work
Q. 27 Supervisor takes suggestions for improvement seriously
Q. 37 Satisfied with how informal complaints are resolved in work unit
Q. 44 Immediate supervisor does good job at helping develop career
Q. 46 Have opportunities for promotion within dept or agency, given qualifications
Q. 63 Department or agency works hard to create a workplace that prevents harassment and discrimination
Q. 65 In work unit process of selecting person for position is fair
Q. 78 Sr. management does good job at sharing information
Q. 87 Overall, organization treats with respect)

I sometimes wonder if senior executives and managers are aware of this gap. A group 300 senior executives from a federal department were recently polled at a meeting: “Which leadership competency is strongest in the Department: 1) Values and Ethics, 2) Strategic Thinking, 3) Engagement of People, 4) Management Excellence”. 46% of the respondents answered “Engagement of People”. Yet, this department is in the bottom 20% in terms of employee engagement according to the Hill Times’ ranking of federal public service organizations...


I see a number of obstacles preventing the public service from doing better with regards to talent management.

At the organizational level:
  1. Predominance of program and policies over good people management.
  2. People management is often an afterthought, and takes a backseat to all other priorities.
  3. Doing what is easily measurable rather than what is important.
At the field level:
With the current economic context, I know many managers are thinking: “See, working for the public service isn’t so bad all of sudden, because we have a certain level of job security that the private sector doesn’t necessarily enjoy.” That might be true. It is also true that many public servants will content themselves with their current jobs, not making as much noise about poor people management practices as they would in less turbulent times.

But I have to ask managers and senior executives:

What type of organization do you want to be?
  • The one people cling to and feel lucky to be in when the economy is bad? Or,
  • The one people want to join when the competition for talent is at its peak?

Back to talent management and the Public Service Employee Survey (PSES).

The 2008 PSES presents a number of changes over the 2005 PSES. I counted 21 questions that were removed, and the addition of 16 new ones. Of those 16 questions, there are five to which I will pay extra attention when analyzing the results for my organization, as they have clear implications for talent management:
  • Q. 10 I know how my work contributes to the achievement of my department’s or agency’s goals
  • Q. 16 My job is a good fit with my skills
  • Q. 4. My job is a good fit with my interests
  • Q. 8 I get a sense of satisfaction from my work
  • Q. 9 Overall, I like my job
So what’s the connection with talent management?

My organization has made performance management a top priority given the number of new supervisors who were appointed over the past three years. One of the things we did was giving each supervisor a copy of the book “The Managerial Moment of Truth”. I love this book as it offers a very simple methodology to provide accurate feedback to employees. One of the most interesting chapters of the book however, is the one on “managing the mismatch” (Chapter 10). The authors argue that four elements need to be present in order to get the best performance from an employee:
  1. Alignment (with mission, values, strategy of the organization)
  2. Skill (to do the job)
  3. Interest (in the work)
  4. Attitude (whether disruptive or not)
I see a clear linkage between these elements and the 2008 PSES questions I listed above:
  • Alignment = Q. 10 I know how my work contributes to the achievement of my department’s or agency’s goals
  • Skill = Q. 16 My job is a good fit with my skills
  • Interest = Q. 4. My job is a good fit with my interests
  • Attitude = Q. 8 I get a sense of satisfaction from my work
  • Overall job match = Q. 9 Overall, I like my job
Now I agree, the correlation is imperfect and the data incomplete (for instance you may argue that Q 8 and 9 should be inverted, or that the attitude of an employee might be the result of some past history with his organization). But that is not the point. What is more important for the manager is to get a sense of what needs to be addressed (or leveraged) as far as talent management goes. For example:
  • You would normally expect “alignment” (Q. 10) to be high, but if it’s not, this is something you can easily fix as a manager through improved communications with staff.
  • If you think of talent management as the day-to-day management of talented people, you should do well on “skill” (Q. 16), but if that’s not the case, it’s never too late to take the time to sit down your employees and identify with their strengths are and how they can put them to better contribution.
  • Same thing goes for “interest” (Q. 4).
  • “Attitude” (Q. 8) and overall job match (Q. 9), are partly out of the control of managers, but they are also a consequence of the three factors above.
In all case, there are implications for talent management and you as a manager can have a significant influence on it.

Your thoughts?

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Innovation and Creativity

A short but positive post today.

Here's a list of links (mostly blog posts) on creativity and innovation I found interesting:
Finally a came across this fantastic TED presentation entitled "Institutions versus collaborations". Like the best presentations showcased at TED, this one offers an enlightening spin on a somewhat familiar topic, but the ramifications go way beyond what we might think.

I have also added a little feature in the side-bar of the blog where I list my favourite TED presentations. Scroll down and check it out!

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Keep Pushing!

You keep driving through walls, but what’s in your fuel tank?
- My friend Sean

Well, this was an interesting week characterized by high points and low points.

On one hand I had the highest traffic on my blog in a single week since its creation: 300 unique visitors, or 35% more than the second busiest week (when I released the results of my survey between November 2-8, 2008), as well as the busiest day ever, which surpassed by 18% the previous peak. It actually says quite a lot about the topics that interest the readership.

On the other hand, I once again had to face of few hurdles in order to foster change. I even brought up these issues to my Action Learning Group on Tuesday, as I needed an outside perspective to help me make sense of the obstacles ahead of me (hence the quote at the beginning of this post).

Then, just as I thought I had reached a low point, Doug Bastien posted an article with the most intriguing title: “Advice: do not start a blog about the Government of Canada". His article reminded me of why I was doing everything I do, in my work and through this blog.

I have to concur with Doug… at least partially. It is true that you can’t fully appreciate what it's like to be an unofficial public servant blogger (i.e. one who is not sponsored by his Department or Agency to do it as part of his normal job) until you’ve tried it. In fact, any attempt at changing the culture can be exhausting.

In her book “Rocking the Boat: How to Effect Change Without Making Trouble”, Debra E. Meyerson explains:
“Tempered radicals are people who operate on a fault line. They are organizational insiders who contribute and succeed in their jobs. At the same time, they are treated as outsiders because they represent ideals or agendas that are somehow at odds with the dominant culture."
For instance, can you guess how many levels of approval were required before I could submit my article to Canadian Government Executive – a short 1500 words “good news” type story? Nine! (I even drew a flowchart in case anyone asks me.) On the flip side, this article constituted the first time I was explicitly allowed to state what I do for a living and (hold your breath!) even name my Department!!! As Mike Kujawski told me the other day: “Baby steps…”.

Other example: I recently received a request for an interview for a podcast on how to change large organizations such as government. If it was a simple radio interview, it wouldn’t be so complicated, but a “podcast”... Who in government knows what a podcast is anyway? (We certainly don't have policies for that.) The real tricky part is that in addition to this being a podcast, the target audience is not composed of federal government employees. So there’s a debate going on as we speak to determine whether I should speak as a public servant or as an “individual” (identifying myself as an employee of department “X” was ruled out right off the bat). Sounds familiar

If you are a long-time visitor of my blog, you are probably aware of some of the trials and tribulations I have had to go through after releasing “An Inconvenient Renewal”. What you may not know, however, is that for almost a year after releasing it, each time I posted a new article on my blog I wondered if this was the one that would get me fired.

I sensed in his post that Doug was having some doubts as to the usefulness of his attempt to improve the public service (although I know Doug can be a little “edgy” in his writings ;-)). I haven’t chatted with Nick and Mike in a while, but I have noticed a reduction of posts on their blog in the past couple of months – perhaps a sign of their own questioning as well.

Together the four of us form the handful of federal public servants who have openly embraced PS Renewal on the Web, through our blogs. I won’t deny it: it’s a lonely place to be (and the lack of comments on our respective blogs doesn’t help either). Because we are breaking new ground, the resistance we face is greater than what all of our successors combined will likely face.

Ronald A. Heifetz calls this “leadership” or “the mobilising of adaptive work”. (Incidentally, this is one of the rare definition of leadership with which I wholly agree).
“Adaptive work can mean clarifying a conflict in values, or bridging the gap between the values that we stand for and the current conditions under which we operate. When you have a problem or a challenge for which there is no technical remedy, a problem for which it won't help to look to an authority for answers - the answers aren't there - that problem calls for adaptive work.” (Source)

“Leadership requires disturbing people—but at a rate they can absorb. [...] When exercising leadership, you risk getting marginalized, diverted, attacked, or seduced. Regardless of the form, however, the point is the same. When people resist adaptive work, their goal is to shut down those who exercise leadership in order to preserve what they have.” (Source)

So before starting a blog, read Doug's advice.

But before giving up, remember: the light at the end of the tunnel may be you!

Friday, February 06, 2009

Staffing in Three Weeks and Missed Opportunities

“With a nod to Albert Einstein, we can't change the system by using the same kind of people we used to create it.”
- LeadingBlog

Big news this morning. Apparently, the Canada Public Service Agency will be “dismantled” and much of the blame is assigned to the inefficiency of staffing in the public service. As an indicator, the national average duration to carry out an internal staffing process in the federal public service is 22,8 weeks. As it can be expected, nearly everyone is pointing the finger at the "system", but…

…Meanwhile, my small organization (which operates in the same “system” as all the others) has steadily completed each of its last 26 internal advertised appointment processes in three weeks - that's 4,5 months less than the national average! (Three weeks being the amount of time between the release of the poster on Publiservice and the release of the first notification of consideration for appointment. )

As I have said before, it’s not the system – it’s what people do with the system. (If you haven’t read this particular post in its entirety, please do. I would also recommend reading the full document I produced in which I explain how we do staffing in three weeks - French version also available. While we're at it, you may also be interested in the following documents: "Beyond the Staffing Values: Communicating with Applicants and Managing Expectations Under the New PSEA" and "Innovative Practices in Staffing". Please note that all these documents are accessible to federal public servants only.)

There is no question that the public service has missed a great opportunity, and the negative consequences are huge. That being said, I firmly believe that managers and senior executives are the ones mainly (if not solely) responsible for the current situation. Here’s a recent example.

As I have mentioned in a previous post, I was in a Montreal just a few weeks ago for a meeting of all the senior executives of my Department – just over 300 of them to be exact. The topic of the panel I was part of was talent management. During the question period, a person in the audience asked: “How can we manage talent when it takes so long to run a staffing process?”. Nearly everyone in the room was nodding in approval. I seized the moment and told the crowd about my organization (which is part of the same Department) systematically doing staffing in three weeks.

Although my comment sent a shock wave through the (incredulous) crowd, not a single person came to me afterward to enquire about how we were doing it. I took this as a clear indication that the senior executives in the room either didn’t believe it, had no intention of changing their habits, or preferred not to enquire too much about how to do staffing in three weeks as it might shed light on everything that is really preventing them from being more effective (i.e. their own actions - or inaction!).

Then this Monday, I received my first enquiry about three-week staffing. Interestingly, the request didn’t come from a senior executive, but rather from a Management Training Program (MTP) participant who was in attendance at the meeting and was curious to find out more about staffing in three weeks because she thought there might be an opportunity to improve staffing in her unit. Isn’t it amazing that the only person to ask a question and to believe improving staffing is possible was not an EX?

Since receiving this email, I have been debating whether I should try once again to promote how we do staffing in three weeks. I am quite hesitant, because 99% of the people I have told about staffing in three weeks have responded by either:
  • Telling me all the reasons why this would never be possible in their organization;
  • Invoking (false) reasons to justify why my organization is able to staff in three weeks;
  • Suggesting or implying that there’s probably something we are not doing right and must therefore be breaching the PSEA.
But no one ever wants to acknowledge the real reason why we're able to do staffing in three weeks: we make staffing our absolute number one priority. I guess it's not stylish enough!

Back in 2007, I had tried to make the document I wrote about how we do staffing in three weeks available to all federal public servants. It took a full nine months to get it approved and published on the PSEA Best Practices website (and this was done only after it was announced that I was going to receive an award for my work on staffing!).

I’d be really curious to find out from someone at the Public Service Commission how many staffing processes have been initiated in the federal public service since July 17 2007, just to get a better appreciation for the scale of the opportunity that was missed by not sharing with Departments and Agencies how it is possible to do staffing differently...

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Performance Management and Measurement

I've wanted to write this post for a long time. It may never have seen the day if it wasn't for the fact I've been asked to make a presentation on this exact topic in my (formerly undisclosed) Department.

Whenever I need to discuss a subject I know will be controversial (especially when I know my points of views will be "challenging" - and challenged! - by the people in the room), I like to draw extensively on the work of other authors. This way I can say precisely what I want to say, without sounding like I'm the first person to ever make such a statement. True to my habit, this is just what I will do for this post.

First, if performance management is new to you, you must read the chapter entitled "Performance Management : Panacea or Fools’s Gold?" written by Barbara Wake Carroll and David I. Dewar in "The Handbook of Canadian Public Administration" (2002, pp. 413-429). The authors lay the foundations for what performance management is:

“Performance measurement is the collection of information about the performance of programs using some indicator or standard of measurement. Performance monitoring is the review, or tracking, of the measurements. When they are used by a manager to improve programs they form part of a performance management system. [...] Performance management consists of four elements:
  • Deciding what is the desired level of performance
  • Measuring performance
  • Reporting or communicating performance information
  • Using performance information to compare actual performance to the agreed performance level”
The authors further explain that there are three levels of focus to performance management in the public sector:
  1. “The evaluation of programs or policy at the broad governmental or political level and includes a political consideration of basic objectives
  2. The implementation and management of a policy or program
  3. The assessment of the performance of individual employees”
(And I would add a fourth level: the management of an organization or business unit.)

Carroll and Dewar then make some distinctions with regards to what can be measured:
  • "Process: how something was done
  • Outputs: what was done or produced
  • Outcomes: what happened in society
  • Impact or results: what are the effect of what was done (what has changed as a result of the action) "
(They don't mention "inputs", but I think this one goes without saying as it is typically the easiest to measure and the one that usually gets all the attention.)

Based on my experience in project management, I see four challenges to performance measurement:
  1. Availability of data in a timely fashion (i.e. outcomes and outputs sometimes take years to materialize and data is therefore rarely - if ever - available upon completion of a project or implementation of a program);
  2. Priorities change over time (e.g. ever noticed how budgets become such a hot issue towards the end of fiscal when it's never nearly as big of a deal the rest of the year?);
  3. Ease of measuring (usually, information relevant to the "management" side of things are easier to measure: inputs, resources, hours of work, expenditures, etc.);
  4. Linking inputs, processes, outputs, outcomes and impacts (who can really prove that the inputs are directly tied to the outcomes?)
For these reasons, critics of performance measurement have voiced similar concerns in different terms (now is probably a good time to resort to quotes!):
  • "People revert to metrics out of fear, not out of vision." (Patrick Lencioni)
  • "Managers who don't know how to measure what they want settle for wanting what they can measure."(Russell L. Ackoff & Herbert J. Addison)
  • "Measurement has its pitfalls and dangers, however, as well as its benefits. The first, well-known danger is that you get what you measure. If measurements are attached to some facets of public service work then those are the things that will get attention, often at the expense of other, equally or more important dimensions of work. […] The second danger, which is a corollary of the first, and the one that concerns us most here, is that things that are difficult to measure may be neglected, while things that are easier to measure will enjoy exaggerated importance. Values, leadership and good people management are among those things that are not yet sufficiently valued, on the excuse that they are difficult to measure." (The Task Force on Values and Ethics)
As a former manager, I have always found resorting to metrics quite useful for:
  • Improving estimates (learning from experience);
  • Measuring efficiencies (do more with less);
  • Improving visibility of critical activities (what gets measured gets done);
  • Identifying problems in real time (and correct them);
  • Spot trends (across projects or units, recurring problems).
But recently I came across an amazing article written by Nicolas Berland, Catherine Chevalier-Kuzla and Samuel Sponem, entitled “On ne gère bien que ce que l’on mesure” published in the "Petit bréviaire des idées reçues en management" (2008). The authors offer what is probably the best dissection of the benefits and pitfalls of measurement I have read. Here are some of the highlights:

Benefits of Measurement:
  • Measurement allows synthesizing large quantities of information and clarifying the complex.
  • Measurement can make explicit relations between phenomena, and foster learning.
  • Measurement makes visible many aspects of the organization.
  • Measurement provides a common language and allows shared representation, because measurement is considered objective, i.e. detached from the individual.
  • Measurement allows the convergence of goals and allows changing organizations. Indeed, measurement is a support to evaluation systems and is a powerful means of incentive.
  • Measurement allows to classify actions, objects, and people compared to each other's, and thus determine the respective contributions and their scale, which in turn allows to decide and to act.
  • Measurable objectives allow to control from a distance other people's behaviours, to responsibilize them, and to motivate them.
  • Measurement is the antidote to ambiguity; it forces to be clear on vague concepts and forces to act.
Pitfalls of Measurement:
  • Measurement has a number of risks: simplification of reality, disconnect with the field, short term focus or short-sightedness, orient behaviours in the wrong direction because of a bad choice of performance indicator.
  • Measurement is interested first and foremost in the past.
  • Measurement omits important elements of long-term performance of an organization: quality, competence, trust, innovation, etc.
  • Furthermore, are easily measurable only variables relative to unambiguous objects. But management is often in the domain of ambiguity.
  • Measurement is only as good as the systems and people that captured (garbage in garbage out)
  • The danger of motivating people through numbers is that they will disregard what is not measured.
  • Sometimes, performance indicators take a life of their own. Measurement is no longer synonym with good management but rather out of hand bureaucracy. What was initially a means to improve the functioning of the organization becomes an end in itself: you must increase (or decrease) the number, no matter the underlying reality. Measurement takes over management.
The key point made by the authors however is when they say that the true value of performance measurement is not in providing answers as much as raising questions. They go on to offer the most honest look at what performance management really accomplishes:
  • Measurement can be used to move your agenda forward.
  • Measurement is a symbol. It doesn't have to be exact, only to influence people.
  • When measurement doesn't produce the expected result, the easiest thing may be to change the measurement.
  • In the end what counts is less measurement than the result of the action created by measurement.
The authors close on some philosophical questions about performance management and measurement:
  • Where does the obsession for measurement come from?
  • What are the real ends of measurement for a manager?
  • Do we manage better because we measure more?
  • Do we manage poorly when we don't measure?
  • Is measurement sufficient for good management?
While you ponder these questions, let me recommend you some more reading:

Monday, February 02, 2009

Living Renewal: Myths and Reality

I am very pleased to announce the publication of my first article in a magazine!

So it's no longer a secret: now you know which organization I work for ;-)

By the way, this article is a shortened version of the introduction and conclusion of my new presentation entitled "Living Renewal: How to Turn An Organization Around in 1000 Days".

Update: February 3, 2009

The article is now available for download in Word format on my "Inconvenient Renewal" sites: