I used to be a proud public servant. Now I’m not so sure. There was a time when Canada’s public service was the envy of the world. Bribery and corruption were rare. Employees diligently worked long hours and performed excellent work. Foreign governments looked to our civil service as the example to follow when creating or revising their own public administration.
Wait a second. All of those things are true today. So, why aren’t we proud?
When I talk to my fellow public servants, they feel under attack from media, from politicians, and even from their fellow citizens.
The media showcases all hints of impropriety, rare as they may be. Recent examples include allegations of inappropriate contracting with retirees and attacks on our pensions. We take too many sick days. We’re paid too much. Our pensions are too rich. Rarely does the news report on the bureaucracy without calling it “bloated.”
Our political masters incessantly cut operational budgets and staffing levels. They take the excellent work of bureaucrats for granted. Some treat us as overhead rather than as a competitive advantage. Endless reforms and reviews strive to “trim the fat.” For many of us, the fat is long gone and the knife is scraping bone.
Whatever happened to the ethos of pride in public service? Lately, public servants are perceived as parasites on the back of the “hard working” and “efficient” private sector. Personally, I think that’s bunk. But how can we, the faceless bureaucrats, fight back?
I believe we need to share the stories of success of individuals, and of organizations. Media, politicians and citizens need to hear the stories of a public service that is dedicated and hardworking. One comprised of devoted individuals committed to their jobs.
I proudly work for the National Managers’ Community (NMC), a group with only 22 paid staff in the federal government. During my two-year term in this job, I’ve been given responsibility to build a community of managers in Alberta. My assigned goal is to improve the quality of public sector management across the province.
My inexperience in event planning and communications didn’t stop the NMC from exploiting my potential. I learned fast. In one year, I offered 33 leadership events to over 800 participants. Total cost: $20,000 (30 percent under budget). Fantastic value for tax dollars. On quality, 90 percent of participants said they’d recommend the sessions to colleagues. High quality and low cost. Not what you hear in the news, is it?
I started a weekly email newsletter to connect leaders across the 40-plus departments with staff in Alberta. It grew from 250 to 1600 subscribers in 18 months. By word of mouth. Total cost to keep managers informed? Zero. I write it mostly outside of work time. Why? Because I’m committed to making a difference.
To summarize: I’m a proud public servant. I’m frugal with the public purse. I strive to be excellent in all that I do. And I’m not alone.
As an organization, the NMC delivers better, cheaper and faster results for public service managers and for senior leaders.
Last fall we were asked to consult with managers about the effects of deficit-reduction changes. We talked with over 200 managers from sea to sea within a span of two weeks. Hardly any money was spent on travel. Within three months, the report was translated, published, and highlighted by the Clerk of the Privy Council. Many people worked long hours to make it happen, and no, we didn’t claim overtime.
Nationally, we deliver over 250 workshops annually to over 12,000 people using a peer learning model. We’ve cut the cost to run our learning events by 80 percent, to less than $70 per person for a full day of learning. Private sector consulting firms charge $1,000/day for similar sessions.
Individual public servants and the organizations that employ them do great work every day. The NMC isn’t unique, and I’m not the only public servant who strives to make a difference.
If you’ve been successful as a public servant, share your story. Stop being merely a faceless bureaucrat. Proclaim your success to your friends, tell your MP, and if you dare, tell it in print in Canadian Government Executive.
Editor’s note: I completely agree that we need to share good stories that reflect the true value of the public service to Canadians. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to share your best practice.