Senior Managers and Departmental Engagement

What do we expect from our senior managers?

What can they expect from us?

These are two crucial questions that we do not explore nearly often enough, outside of the confines of typical management jargon. We expect our managers to set broad direction, and in return we carry out our functions as outlined in our various work descriptions. It seems simple enough. Of course, this does nothing to spur innovation or create actual dedication to carrying out a broader mission for a department.

Recently, a translation has been completed of a Dutch book called Civil Servant 2.0. This book outlines how Web 2.0 can be used both inside and outside government, and what sort of challenges are faced in using these tools. While I won’t get into all the details, there are a few sections that talk about managers and what employees are expecting from up-the-line. In a government department, we often expect to get news directly from our line managers, and this news tends to be fairly specific to the area in which you’re working. Sometimes we’ll see an all-staff e-mail from a senior manager, or maybe a quarterly all-staff meeting, but the value of these meetings shifts as it does not offer constant engagement for those in the department. Often times, these mechanisms serve as a way to download information to staff, without creating a venue for feedback to be sent back up.

This brings us to the first part of the book that I’d like to quote:

…It’s often difficult to tell what another organisational unit is doing, and how management interprets the challenges facing the organisation.

One example to overcome this would be the actual maintenance of a policy dashboard  (internal link) for departments. Such items allow a quick overview of what a department is currently doing (in a real way, rather than broad objectives outlined in many corporate documents). If a section could be added to the dashboard on current expertise required, or challenges that are currently being faced, that creates an opportunity for others to chip in and see what they can do to help. Accountability still rests with the managers, but they can draw on the expertise from the Public Service as a whole in order to accomplish their tasks. This in itself is a big idea that I’ll expand on later this week (although Laura’s beaten me to the punch, as I’m drafting this).

One of the recommendations from the report in a section entitled “Getting started as manager 2.0” is the following:

Limit the number of departmental meetings, but keep a blog to discuss dilemmas and progress

The aim of such a blog, in my view, would be to engage departmental employees as the corporate level, rather than within their own organisational areas.

One of the challenges faced by some senior managers when talking about up keeping a blog is that they aren’t sure what they would like to write about, or how they could write it in a way that engages people. There are a few solutions to this, including having someone write the blog posts “reporter style” (rather than ghost-written — which I think has some authenticity issues attached to it). Essentially, ghost written posts come across as inauthentic because it shows that a manager recognizes that they may not be the best person to actually write a post (either due to time contraints or other factors), but won’t admit to it. By having a ‘reporter’ follow them around and discuss how to create a post, it creates an authentic persona for a senior manager and allows the ‘reporter’ to act as a link between the manager and their blogging.

By using internal communication channels to keep a group/department abreast of current challenges, in a way that allows people to feed into the process (and see the results of their contributions), we not only strengthen our departments’ ability to solve higher level issues, but also create a stronger link between senior managers and their staff.

Essentially, senior managers should use internal mechanisms to keep people engaged in between departmental/section meetings. Use those meetings as a way to demonstrate how people have fed into the process, and what is being done with their input. The worst thing that can be done is to ask for feedback, and then not actually show how it’s being used (or worse — not use it at all).

This requires frankness on the part of our senior managers as well. Whether in the guise of posting a year SWOT analysis for the department to view/contribute to, or asking for assistance on some nice-to-have projects, such a system allows us to feed into our departments outside of our day-to-day work.  

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2 thoughts on “Senior Managers and Departmental Engagement

  1. 1 – it kills me that the dashboard that you linked to (the one that took me months to develop) was never picked up and used more broadly.

    2 – I love the idea of reporter-style. I pitched it to PCO re: the Clerk. It was never picked up as an idea, I still think it could provide greater value than ghost-writing (which I agree seems to be disingenuous)

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