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Renewal
April 3, 2014

A fresh perspective

After seven years in the public service it was time to readjust. It was time to pursue new challenges, benefit from a different perspective, and work more closely on public sector issues that are rising in importance. I’m still working on public sector issues, but now I’m on the outside looking in.

A bit of background
A month ago I assumed responsibilities as a senior research officer at the Institute on Governance (IOG), a two-year assignment under the Policy on Interchange Canada. The IOG is an Ottawa-based not-for-profit with a mission to advance better governance in the public interest and my work thus far has spanned its four lines of business (modernizing government, public sector governance, indigenous governance and not-for-profit governance), involved its in-house learning lab and cut across all three jurisdictions.

In short, the move has already opened up an enormous world of opportunity, provided me greater flexibility, and considerably diversifies my work. While obviously the move is satisfying personally, there are a number of larger observations that are worth sharing.

Refreshing change
Spend too long in any one place and your vision stars to blur; you take the things around you for granted and settle in a certain way of doing things, for better or for worse. Rotational assignments – especially those that facilitate movement in and out of the public service – ought to be easier to access. Greater mobility, and the cross pollination that comes with it, creates new networks, challenges old assumptions and breaks up the monolithic public service culture.

Easy technology
The benchmark for integrating into an organization’s information technology infrastructure set by new hires is incredibly high. When I joined my new organization, I was handed some login credentials, sat down at my work terminal (an iMac), hooked up my personal iPhone to the wifi and connected my office calendar and email with my other Google accounts. Better IT-related onboarding processes for new hires would go a long way in reducing the frustrations of new hires; even a bit of flexibility goes a long way with respect to new hires.

Organizational language
We often get so wrapped up in the nomenclature of the business that we fail to understand that sometimes it can hinder rather than help; the same can be said of organizational structures. This is playing out right now within our institutions of government, between them and whenever they interface with the publics they serve. It’s creating real barriers to engagement across the board, causing people to dig in their heels with partisan rhetoric and otherwise eroding the middle ground of compromise that I’ve always thought was the inherently Canadian way forward. We could all benefit greatly if we dialed back the rhetoric and found a common language.

Looking for greener pastures
Perhaps it’s just the cohort I’m in, perhaps it’s generational, perhaps it’s symptomatic of some larger issues out there in the ecosystem, but there are a lot of talented people I know that have either found or are currently looking for work outside the civil service. I’ve taken the opportunity to speak with others who have left recently and they all expressed frustration, burnout, and boredom, or they have realized that they can accomplish just as much (if not more) outside the system than from within it.

Your real value
Whether it’s Murphy’s Law or the fact that it’s human nature to take things for granted when they are around you every day, your worth to an organization is never truly understood until you’re no longer there when they need you. I suppose the lesson to be gleaned here is that a little more validation, a little more responsibility and a little more freedom for action within the system may result in less people looking outside of it.

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