This post was original published at CPSrenewal.ca.
I’ve been, perhaps ungracefully, transitioning from a conversation here about facelessness vs. authenticity (see: Embracing Authenticity Means Embracing Complexity) to an exploration of what a new professionalism looks like for the Canadian Public Service (see: Towards a New Professionalism in Government, Parts I and II).
I stand by my points: we need public trust to attract talent, and to create maneuvering room for policy options. We gain it through building relationships with those we serve, through stories and through authentic interactions. But none of that is particularly shocking, and professionalism contains many more moving parts.
So as I said, perhaps ungracefully. Two posts in, it’s time to start at the beginning: this should have been Part III. But I can’t go towards anything, without knowing where I am, and where I’m going.
My view of things will certainly change over time, but here is what I consider as my duty as a public servant:
- To do my job well and with integrity
- To continuously strive to build skills and gain knowledge; my ability to do my job will almost certainly, on average, increase in importance over my career (see: What You’re Giving Now? You Can Never Give Less)
- To try to positively influence those around me through example and through fearless advice
- To look for opportunities to contribute to positive change in the public service
I’m outspoken about ideas that could improve the public service. I recently received advice that, instead, I should just find a good manager and I’d be happy. My response was that, if the public service could be made better and isn’t, regardless of whether it directly affects me, “I’m not okay with that.”
The “it’s not my job” approach has benefits and costs. As Seth Godin would point out:
The person whose job it was to make that sign? It wasn’t their job to point out its asininity. So it got made.
Ultimately, our job is to serve the public interest.
For my list above, there are short-term and long-term elements, and there’s a balance of “How can structural problems be fixed?” and “Maybe it’s us? Maybe it’s me?” Dr. Rosemary O’Leary argues in her book, The Ethics of Dissent, that if you’re going to push against the status quo – and expect motion – you had better be damn sure you’re right. I agree. We must be cautious about the direction we’re pushing in.
The road to a new professionalism in government, though? I don’t know exactly what direction it takes, or what balance of it, and us.
But here’s my stab at it, and I welcome a conversation that corrects and lengthens the course. To start, I think we need to overcome the following ideas – and I believe they’re that, and that only: ideas that have propagated, irrespective of basis in truth.
The First Step is Knowing Where We Are
I believe we’ve forgotten how important our jobs are. And once we forget that, it immediately becomes true.
I believe that we’ve forgotten how much is possible. And once we forget that, it immediately becomes true. As soon as someone says “there’s no appetite for that,” they’re immediately right.
I believe we’ve allowed ourselves to believe that processes can replace relationships in creating effective outcomes.
And I believe that Ottawa, the concept, has to spend more time outside Ottawa, the city*.
Where do we start?
*Compared to the U.K., U.S., and Australia Canada is overepresented in the capital, and travel across this country is not easy. Removed from Ottawa, the concept, we’d understand better Canadians’ needs. And we’d see our impact, which would motivate us to swing for the fences.
I wrote once that organizations need to attract talent like varsity sports teams. The bargain is this: responsibility, development, and status in exchange for dedication, sacrifice, and hard work. Near-mandatory rotations out of Ottawa for public servants would be one such sacrifice.
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