In this month’s blog, I’m featuring Bette-Jo Hughes, Associate Deputy Minister and Government Chief Information Officer, who I had the great pleasure of working for directly, while on a temporary assignment three years ago.
Bette-Jo’s reputation precedes her. As well as being one of the most respected leaders in the public service, she is also caring, sincere and willing to take on any challenge. A big believer in collaboration and people, Bette-Jo artfully demonstrates what good leadership looks like in today’s Public Service.
With her 25 years of service-oriented experience, we can learn a lot from Bette-Jo’s lessons from the field on how to get things done in government.
Here is a snapshot of Bette-Jo’s experience and accomplishments:
Bette-Jo has been the Chief Information Officer for the Province of British Columbia since October 2012. The Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) plays a leadership role in promoting and guiding the management of government information as a strategic business asset, and supporting technology infrastructure as a key enabler of business transformation.
Before her current appointment, Bette-Jo was Assistant Deputy Minister of Service BC where she led cross-government service delivery initiatives to improve services to the public. These initiatives included online, telephone and in-person channels, as well as business registry and statistical services. She was also involved in the development of service delivery agreements with the private sector, including the negotiation of the Service BC – IBM Alternative Service Delivery Agreement for the provision of web channel and contact centre services.
Bette-Jo has held a number of other key leadership positions, including BC representative on the Canadian Public Sector Service Delivery Council, and President of the Board of Directors for the Institute for Citizen Centred Service. She is currently the BC representative for the Public Sector Chief Information Officers’ Council.
Here is what Bette-Jo had to say about becoming the Chief Information Officer – a role that came as a surprise…
“I became the government CIO two years ago. This was foreign to me, from what I was doing – at least I thought it was. But once there, I realized that the basic things I had always done – focusing on delivering great services to citizens – was not all that different from running Government’s Information Management and Information Technology office. This was just another way to enable work and support the transformation of government services.
“When I entered into the role permanently in June 2013, I had my list of things that needed to be done, and that list became my priority.
“As the new CIO, we undertook a transformation, to bring together three organizations which operated very separately – the Strategic Partnerships Office, the Government CIO, and Technology Solutions. We evaluated what was going on, determined that these organizations weren’t working well on their own, and decided to take a lifecycle approach to the modernization of government IM/IT services.
“Through this transformation, we also moved from a competitive environment, where people weren’t incentivized to work together – to a culture that encouraged collaboration and rewarded it.”
I asked Bette-Jo what “thinking like an intrapreneur” in government means to her and here was her response…
“It means encouraging people to surface their new ideas, providing them with direction and supporting them, as well as setting people free to pursue them.
“It also involves working collaboratively across the organization to bring ideas together and build on them – I believe you always end up with a better product when you expand the discussion and bring more voices into the conversation.
“I started out with a more command and control approach when I first became a Director because of my limited experiences. This really changed after I moved into areas where I was not the subject matter expert. I needed to adjust my management style and trust my team. The more experience I gained, the less I felt the need to be in control of everything. You bring together the best people you can to accomplish a goal and you let them blossom into their own leaders.”
When asked about her defining moment as a public servant, Bette-Jo she shared this…
“I’m not sure I have one defining moment as a public servant. A few highlights that do come to mind – the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Government Agents in the Province; becoming the Assistant Deputy Minister of Service BC; and, becoming the Associate Deputy Minister and Government CIO.
“I do remember suddenly realizing that what I said had weight behind it. People took my words to mean a lot which brought about a new level of responsibility for me. As a leader, this was an a-ha moment that forced me to really think about what I was saying and how I was saying it.”
Bette-Jo explains how she moves ideas forward…
“Always clarify the problem you are trying to solve; ask “why is this important?” and “how will the solution change things for the better?”
“Be clear on the strategic direction and the benefits for stakeholders. Focus on a few key action items, develop a plan and then work through that plan.”
I asked Bette-Jo what strategies she deploys when encountering areas of resistance while leading change. Here’s her advice …
1. Find allies; dance with the people who want to dance with you
2. Demonstrate success and build on it
3. Continue to focus on your vision, ensuring that every step you take leads you in that direction
4. Course correct as necessary
5. Don’t focus on placating the naysayers, let success speak for itself
Next, Bette-Jo shared some lessons learned throughout her career…
“Self-awareness is key – it’s important to know yourself, to understand other people, and seek out different points of view. Go to people you trust and ask often for good, honest feedback.
“Focus on your strengths and play to them. Pursue a job that brings out your best strengths – find that perfect fit between your work and your talents.
“Know when you’re in a good spot – it’s not always about getting to the next level. You can lead important change from where you are. Sometimes people feel pressured to take on new opportunities but we need strong people who love their work and their positions. Appreciate all the great things you can do and relish your successes!”
On having the courage to take on daunting roles…
“I trust when someone tells me they think I can fulfill a role. I’ve had the opportunity to work with incredible leaders throughout my career. This has given me the chance to observe some amazing women in the public service. From a junior manager, I had great female mentors and supervisors who were very supportive of me. This definitely shaped who I am. Now, I see the development of others through mentorship as a priority for me.”
On the art of collaboration…
“Collaboration is not always easy or pretty – people sometimes have very strong feelings and ideas about certain things. Collaborating is about working through divergent perspectives while keeping a focus on the common goal. It’s not about “you’re right and you’re wrong,” it’s about finding out how everyone can bring their unique gifts to the table.
“And it is not about trying to get to perfect. It’s about getting to a starting point and working from there.
“We all have something to contribute and a role to play in addressing our challenges. You have to involve all the right people in finding solutions. If you don’t, the solution you develop will likely not be sustainable or meaningful.
“If we try things out and learn as we go, then we will only get better.”
On personal growth and development…
“• Ask good questions
• Clearly translate the value and benefits of a business change – ask yourself “why should government care about this?”
• Find mentors you want to mirror, those who share the same values as you and who have a similar style – this will help you stay true to who you are as you grow.
• Plan and focus (if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there)
• There is always a lot going on, but it’s important to step back and look at the whole picture. What are the two most important things right now that you are passionate about? You can’t focus on 25 things but you can have a lasting impact on a couple of them.
• Know your numbers. As you become more senior, it comes down to math (budget and performance metrics). If you’re passionate about change, then build an evidence-based case for your initiatives.
• Continue to learn. Always be open to learning – perhaps through TED talks or reading articles.
• You have to let go of control. In the past, I was forced to let go because of time constraints. Now, this comes more naturally and I’m always amazed by the great things people make happen when you give them the opportunity.
• Stuff happens! Even with a beautiful plan, and all the information we need to take us where we want to go, other forces may have a different idea. Have a plan B – or a detour to your North Star.
• Be resilient. “We should look at the past, but not stare at it. Let’s learn from our experiences – not dwell on them.”
• Stay healthy, and fit for change. Take care of yourself.
• Have fun!”
Finally, I asked Bette-Jo about her legacy, which she found to be a difficult question. Given her deep dedication to the organization, she rarely thinks about her personal legacy – she feels it’s more about the organization than the individual. After highlighting all of the positive experiences that I, and many others have had working with her, here is what Bette-Jo shared…
“I would like to be seen as someone who has contributed to ensuring the sustainability of the organizations I worked in for the overall benefit of the BC Public Service.
This involves identifying change drivers, and realigning the organizational culture and strategies to remain relevant into the future. It also includes identifying leaders in the public service, and working with individuals and teams to grow and develop their leadership capacities.
I think our job as leaders is to grow more leaders, so that when we move on, the organization continues to thrive.”
Colleen McCormick is Director of Strategic Issues with the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism, and Skills Training and former Director, Innovative Partnerships where she managed the social innovation file in the Ministry of Social Development. Colleen is also the founder of Social Innovators Network Foundation. Previously, she was a TEDxMileZero organizer and National Chair of the New Professionals for the Institute of Public Administration of Canada. She has an MBA from RRU and a Graduate Diploma in Social Innovation from the University of Waterloo. You can contact her on Twitter @SInnovatorsNet.