Time to Expect More

Not all, but many in the public service have forgotten the larger mission, have become demoralized, and have adopted a behaviour of mediocrity.

How could they not? 

Politicians are stuck in ideological dogma. Leadership is based on polling, not principles. Open discussion and debate has been replaced by social media rants. Organizational strategy is developed among only the chosen few. The average front line employee is six levels removed from the decision-making table. Risk-taking has been abandoned because of the fear of making a mistake. Career advancement comes through internal politics and lateral moves. Unions have considered innovation to be a threat to membership. Professional development is rudimentary, underfunded and ineffective. And no coaching is provided to uplift and challenge the next generation of leaders.

No wonder high-performance isn’t talked about within the public service. No wonder employees are lulled into complacency. And no wonder we don’t talk about leadership in the public service.

Given we have over 5.6 million people employed in the high-purpose calling of the public service, over 30% of the employed population, this culture of complacency and mediocrity needs to be identified as a tragedy of the human spirit across our country.

  • As public service employees, we should demand so much more;
  • As public service leaders, we are capable of so much more; and
  • As citizens and taxpayers, we must expect so much more.

As a nation, we need a fundamental change of perspective and attitude in what we expect from our public service organizations. We need to embrace a new philosophy of leadership for our institutions. We have big topics to tackle, like how to educate our children, care for the elderly, house the homeless, treat our environment, strengthen our economy, narrow the income gap, reduce our debt levels, and so many others.

These topics are not new, but they are not being solved. We continually try to solve these complex issues by approaching them as the same situation with the same mindset and with the same leadership philosophy as before.

And it isn’t working.

We now need a new generation of leaders to step up and change the out-dated ways in which we operate our public service institutions. We need to unleash the talent within that wants to make a difference, wants to solve problems, and wants to change the world. We need to challenge the performance of our bureaucracies, and realize that our current approach is only self-perpetuating a culture of non-performance.

We deserve so much better.  No more excuses.  It is time to expect more.

Calling All Leaders!!

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Our system is broken, and we know it’s broken. Our public service – those bureaucracies, institutions, universities and healthcare systems – who once gave our country a massive advantage over others, are fast becoming the Achilles heel of our competitiveness.

We are not getting major projects approved. We are not reducing wait times for surgeries. We are not improving our education rankings. We are not helping the middle class. We are not improving workplace productivity. We are not attracting the smartest people to public service. And we are not building the next generation of public service leaders.

In fact, we are getting worse.

An intervention is needed. And I’m resurrecting this blog to start the conversation.

The root cause of the problem is that we have become complacent about our expectations of these institutions, our bureaucratic leaders are leading with antiquated management philosophies, and the good people that work in the public service are surrendering to a system that perpetuates and rewards mediocrity.

Most have given up on the topic, shake their heads and say that things will never change.

I disagree. It will change. Slowly. It may only change one ministry, institution or agency at a time, but it will change for three reasons:

  • The next generation of public service leaders – Gen Xs and Millennials – are far too altruistic, connected and impatient to settle for continued non-performance;
  • The next generation of public service employees – Millennials and Gen Zs – will not tolerate antediluvian leadership models, will not suffer in uninspiring work environments, and will not accept the eventual erosion of their aspirational goals and their human spirit; and
  • The next generation of the general public – the private sector and private citizens – can no longer afford the cost of government and will no longer sit quietly and politely when they see poor performance in exchange for their tax dollars.

Change requires leadership, and it is time for a new generation of leaders to be properly armed with the strategies and courage needed to make change in our public service.

I look forward to the discussion ahead.  I promise to be provocative, as it is too important of a topic to be left not discussed.

Are We Smart Enough?

Complacency is a dangerous disease. It’s forever affected General Motors, Kodak, Microsoft and Blockbuster. And it is a widespread addiction amongst Alberta companies.

Why?

Because things are good. Why change? Why invest? Why try harder … when you can just sit back and enjoy the prosperity that comes from underlying economic growth?

Look at your own organization. Look at yourself. What are you investing in today that will allow you to reap dividends in 2-3 years or 5-7 years?

These are important questions, and they are the questions every Albertan should be asking every day. They are the questions that we will explore at E-Town (www.e-town.ca) next week, and it is important that you invite yourself to the conversation. Here’s why (true stories from the past week):

Me: Is your team coming to e-town this year?
CEO: It looks fabulous, but we’re too busy working too hard.
Me: Is working harder your competitive advantage?
CEO: Ummm … shut up.

Employee: I’d like to attend e-town this year. It only costs only $399.
Boss: What will you learn?
Employee: Technology, leadership and creativity trends affecting our business.
Boss: I don’t think those are our priorities right now.

Do these stories sound familiar? Are we simply trying to win by working harder? Or is it time we start thinking about competing by being smarter than your competition? One of our speakers, Estelle Metayer, focuses solely on this topic, and I’m probably looking forward to her session the most.

Why?

Because it strikes at the heart of our economic future. And you can’t afford to miss it.

Register yourself and your employees at www.e-town.ca.

Thank you.