Putting the “Public Service” in “Public Service Renewal”

With the Clerk’s PS Renewal Action Plan just released, there’s a lot to talk about in terms of his ideas and how he is going about achieving his objectives, what measurements are in place for Deputies, and what it means for us as line public servants. In terms of the actual substance behind the ideas, there are many who are far better suited to comment on it than I am, and so I look forward to seeing their posts on the subject.

There are two things that interest me:

1. Explicitly asking for Experimentation

I found it neat, skimming across the past Action Plans, that the direction seems to be a bit more explicit in terms of what shall be accomplished (and what shall be attempted), while allowing for a wide range of flexibility in terms of how one might meet the objectives.

Specifically, I’m interested in how DMs will report back on the “Innovation” section. The direction:

Deputy heads will foster a culture of innovation, both in the way they manage their organizations and in the way they serve and engage Canadians, through activities such as:
• building strong employee and managers’ networks;
• developing collaborative work environments;
• further reducing the “Web of Rules”; and
• experimenting with Web 2.0 technology, including GCPEDIA.

The Clerk is encouraging DMs, in the most public way, to innovation and experiment with new technology. “Experimenting” means that there is the risk of not succeeding/of failing.

When the reports come back form the DMs, my hope is that something else is made public — what ideas were tried? What succeeded? What didn’t? Even if we don’t get specifics, looking at one another is doing is key to how all of us learn. Whether it’s learning from the experiences in our direct working communities, or through broader communities like #w2p, having access to this follow-up will be essential to moving forward as a public service.

2. The “Let’s Do It” Mentality

I love this post by Laura over at ResultsJunkie. I love the fact that we’re talking about just getting on with it. We’re seeing this more and more, whether through the development of informal communities/camps, interdepartmental collaboration happening on GCPEDIA or other ways.

By taking these risks, courageous public servants are demonstrating something important: Individual Public Servants CAN be trusted to risk manage. By having the trusts of their superiors, they are doing some amazing things. Does everything go perfectly? Of course not. Are there disputes? Surely. But at the end of the day, what are the benefits, and what has really been lost?

While I agree with Laura’s post, here’s my problem: The organization she outlines is a model for, I imagine, any organization. What makes the public service different? Organizational Renewal is important, and something many strong organizations go through. But we aren’t just any other organization. Maybe that’s not important, maybe it is. I’m not sure. The post outlines what a renewed organization looks like, but what is a renewed “Public Service”? This isn’t a knock at Laura — It’s something I honestly just don’t have the answer to.

The Clerk has a bit of a hint of the unique context within his Action Plan:

The current context of fiscal restraint makes renewal even more critical for the Public Service. Better planning, targeted recruitment, employee development, and continual improvements to our workplace are all required for us to become more efficient while strengthening our capacity to respond to the challenges facing Canada both domestically and globally.   We must remain dynamic and relevant in our complex and unpredictable world.

Even then, though, I’m curious as to people’s thoughts: What makes a renewed “Public Service” different than just a renewed organization?

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One thought on “Putting the “Public Service” in “Public Service Renewal”

  1. Astute observation. My view is that all organizations are made up of people and each person brings their own baggage, fears, goals and motivations to work with them everyday. I had my dreamer hat on that day; envisioning a workplace I’d be jumping out of bed to get to (not so different from now actually 😉 ).

    But you got me to thinking…so…here goes.

    The public service is different from other organizations in that our ‘bottom line’ is quality of life for all Canadians (including us!). Seems obvious but how many of us actually go to work everyday thinking about how to do that better, faster and cheaper? The drivers, limitations and goals may be different from the private sector (not so different from non-profit sector though), does that make it more likely for certain behaviours and scenarios to emerge in the workplace? Yes, it probably does. But as I re-read my post that you mentioned above I realized I left out one very important thing for a results junkie: how we would measure success?

    Public service renewal has the power to transform life for more than just the people working within the walls of federal buildings, it has the power to provide better, faster, cheaper services to the public; which benefits everyone. So, renewal is not just a nice initiative to get everyone feeling good about themselves; it’s imperative! It has the potential to transform a nation. How cool is that?

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