I had a fascinating month of reading. I am smack dab in the middle of Todd Gitlin’s book Letters to a Young Activist and, this week at work while pondering the role of the corporate function, I discovered Harvard Business Review’s (HBR) great article from earlier this year “Why Corporate Functions Stumble.”

The HBR article goes into great depth about the various maturity levels of corporate functions from HR to Finance and IT and I recommend it for anyone who sits in these roles. More to the point of this blog, I have been in several discussions this year which call these functions corporate enablers, to emphasize their role in enabling the organization to succeed. Just one look at the Treasury Board (TB) policy suite, and you can see stacks and stacks (and stacks and stacks) of rules and guidelines and standards that one must follow to do things. Looking a little deeper, one sees the other side of corporate functions in the government, in that the policies are good practice and do not stand alone, but rather as a corporate whole.

So, seeking a more active solution then accepting one story, I looked into the word corporate. Oxford Dictionaries lists the origin in the late 15th century, from Latin word corporatus, past participle of corporare ‘form into a body’, from corpus, corpor- ‘body’. So corporate comes from a verb, to form various pieces into a body, kind of like glue. Corporate functions do not exist for their own sake, but for the sake of the joined body. The ideal joining job is when the glue is invisible, and so I discovered the reason I never got an A in arts and crafts. Thank you for reading…

Anyway, corporate glue exists to ensure things work together and work according to predictable rules. What predictable forces are essential in glue? Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) states cohesive forces (stick to itself) and interfacial forces (stick to others) are required. Corporate functions must work cohesively within themselves, intra-corporate and inter-corporate, but also inter-facially to bring the body together. If HR and Finance are working in opposite direction to IT, the glues do not stick to one another and the end state (connected body) fails. If the function is overbearingly bureaucratic, then it can repel the parts of the body rather than join them. This is the beauty of the TB policy suite, it is intended to be read as a (reasonably) interconnected whole, not perfect, but there for you to find if you try. On a final note, just like the glue must commit to invisibility, the body must accept the value inherent in the glue and take a corporate mindset.

Well that is all I have for now, but I will leave you with a quote from Mr. Gitlin’s book to remind us all to keep learning for a better, more connected public service in 2015.

“Ignorance of the past may be an excuse for people with lesser ambitions than changing the world, but it’s no excuse for you.”

Thanks for reading and happy holidays to all.


Disclaimer: Note that while I work as a public servant, this is entirely my own initiative and what I post here does not necessarily reflect the view of the government, my office or my position there in.

Craig Sellars
Craig Sellars is a passionate Canadian public servant and biologist. Connect with Craig on Twitter @CraigSellars.