Saturday, July 18, 2009

A Not-So-Inconvenient Renewal, Episode III: 1000 Managers

It looks like my last post has upset or turned off quite a few people. It is quite evident that to some readers, I'm coming across as a frustrated and arrogant little "Joe-know-it-all". It's not unusual for me to get that, and honestly, it is partly true(!).

What is also true is that the majority of my readership doesn't know me personally and therefore is not in the best position to fully appreciate where I'm coming from when I write some of my posts.

The discussion that followed the post (which by the way is the most interaction I've seen on my blog since I created it three and a half years ago) made me reflect on why am I the way that I am, why am I so passionate about good people management, and why I will sometime go overboard to push for my agenda.

I could trace the roots all the way back to high school, to a number of very formative experiences I've had in the numerous jobs that I have held, and to a series of specific incidents that I have been involved in since I joined the public service. To make a long story short, there's some history there, and it's only the kind of stuff that I share intimately with friends after a few glasses of wine. The take-away is that life shapes you as a person, as an employee... and as a blogger.

Don't worry, I will spare you the details before this post turns into a soap opera, but I will say that relatively few people are aware of the details of my journey in the public service. Those who are familiar with the stories are typically in disbelief when they find out about some of the situations I have experienced (and still am going through), and consequently have a different perspective when they later read my blog posts (not that they necessarily condone what I say).

Regardless, in my last post I breached to various degrees the three guidelines I had set for myself and tried my best to apply when I started blogging:
  1. Depersonalize the issues as much as possible. It's about ideas, not people.
  2. Be constructive rather than adversarial.
  3. Trade cynical comments for arguments that support what a lot of people are thinking quietly.
As a blogger, this is what I can (and should) be providing: a storyline, a rationale, a logical argument that most people are unable to express or unwilling to express publicly - much less in writing or on a blog.

I still have a lot to learn, but those are the general guidelines I normally use when I submit my post. In the case of "Revenge of the Contrarian Thinker", I will admit that I have failed my own censorship.

What is done is done, and as one of my readers wrote to me: "Don't apologize for feeling the way you felt when you wrote your post." If however my post has offended you or turned you off, I want to let you know that I am sorry.

Now on to better things...

I don't pretend to have invented renewal - I haven't. In fact, I never used the word "renewal" until PS Renewal was launched, and I was actually fairly critical of the choice of words in the introduction of "An Inconvenient Renewal".

So when I joined my current organization, saw the poor state it was in, and found a director who shared similar views about how he wanted to change it, we set out not to "renew" the organization, but simply treat employees the way we would like to be treated as employees. The PSES results may not be empirical evidence of renewal, but I like to think (perhaps naively) that it is currently the best (and only?) means available to measure the link between leadership, personal ownership, action, and results, as seen by employees. This is the reason why I tend to give so much weight to the PSES as an indicator of our efforts: the measures are consistent with the approach we took to renewal in our organization.

The so-called "renewal" experienced in my organization is not a new idea, nor is it innovative. What distinguishes our organization from others is that we have actually translated the ideas into actions, relentlessly pursued them, and made sure they reached every employee in every corner of the organization. As I keep repeating in my presentations and articles, there's absolutely nothing novel, complex or complicated in what we have done; the hard part is actually doing it, because you have to do it every single day.

You must be open to new and challenging ideas. You must be willing to have difficult conversations with employees. You must practice truth-telling. You must make unpopular decisions. You must welcome criticism. And you must apologize to employees and be held accountable for your missteps. I know few people willing to do all of this, and even fewer organizations where this is commonplace.

Managers must also believe that by putting people first, they will be in a better position to address the demands and pressures of their jobs. This, however, requires a significant investment upfront before seeing and appreciating the payoff.

So if it is true that most managers care for people management, then why are the people who find out about my organization's renewal story so inspired and hopeful for the future? Rather than risking to draw more criticism upon myself, I will leave it up to you, the readers of this blog, to propose your own explanation as to what the gap or problem is. I already have my own theory.

There is hope. My organization is a fairly small one: about 200 employees. In other words, we represent less than one thousandth (1/1000) of the federal public service. This also means that if 1000 managers who are each in charge of approximately 200 employees would take a similar approach to people management as we have done, the entire public service could undergo a pretty radical change.

1000 managers. Think of it. It is really not that many. The big question is: Who will those 1000 managers be?

1 comment:

Amanda Parr said...

I recommend the Lao Tzu, verses 66 to 69 - this translation works: