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!

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