Walk a mile, open a mind – Canadian Government Executive

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May 7, 2012

Walk a mile, open a mind

If you want to understand someone else’s position, walk a mile in their shoes, so the saying goes. To better prepare its future leaders, the Alberta public service has put that chestnut to the test.

In 2005, Alberta created the Executive and Senior Manager Mobility Program to provide a coordinated approach to facilitate secondments between ministries, and broaden the experience of its senior leaders.

“We have a 20-year partnership with the University of Alberta for our leadership and executive development programs, but those are classroom experiences,” acknowledges Heather Caltagirone, executive director of Workforce Development. “We wanted to create an opportunity for executives and senior managers to work and learn on the job, but outside of their own departments, sometimes in completely different areas.”

For 12- to 18-month secondments, executives walk that figurative mile (or more), tackling a similar function to their own job, but under different circumstances, or experiencing something completely new. “For example, sometimes we will have a finance person moving into a different finance-type role in a different ministry, though still gaining value because of different processes and culture. Other times the secondments expose participants to completely different lines of work,” Caltagirone explained.

“We’re finding at senior levels it’s less about being a subject matter expert. Rather, it’s about leading people, teams or a project. This experience is opening up participants to new areas and broadening their perspective of government. It’s also reinforcing how we really are one government. The Mobility Program exposes participants to new people, new ideas, new processes and new philosophies.”

It has also paid dividends to both the department receiving the “new” employee and the “home” department. “We’re hearing from the ministries that are hosting participants that this is great, it brings new ideas and a different way of thinking. And when they return to their ‘home’ department, those departments are saying, ‘they’re coming back with new ideas, they’re rejuvenated.’ There has been a spin-off effect beyond just the participating person.”

To date, 63 executives from directors to ADMs have participated. In fact, demand has exceeded the program’s initial target of 10 per year. “We’ll let the individual need drive it rather than a target number,” Caltagirone said, adding that many now see the opportunity as a unique career builder.

“It has positioned them better to advance their careers. We’ve seen a number of people promoted or move into different roles. This has been a step for them to look beyond the four corners of their department, to look at other opportunities.”

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