Saturday, February 26, 2011

Tele-working future

Is the idea of a self-sustaining neighbourhood a pipe dream? What would it take to transform my city into a collection of thriving communities where everyone could go to work where they lived? It seems so simple really, especially in a government town. I work at my nearest satellite office alongside other feds; some of my team are there with me and the rest are scattered about other generic GC office buildings -- no HQ required. Rush hour would be history. All of the pressure to 'densify' the core beyond what is sustainable would suddenly disappear.

So why is this not happening? Or is it? Proponents will say that a decentralized work force is unmanageable. However, does sharing the same office space really make us a team? A change like this requires that we redefine our concepts of work and management. Today, we pay people to sit at their desks for a fixed number of hours a day and we pay managers to supervise their productivity. The easiest way to do this is to make sure your employee is physically present. Sadly, this is where management begins and ends in the public service. Since there is no real accountability, there is no planning. Work just falls from the sky and gets doled out as it happens. Ask most managers if they know exactly what their staff is working on, when they expect to have it completed and what it will look like when it's done and I doubt they'd be able to give an honest answer. You start moving employees across the city and all of a sudden you have less of a need to manage staff in the traditional way.
In order for any kind of teleworking arrangement to work, you need to believe that your people will continue to work even when no one is physically watching them. Trust is key. The lack of trust between employees and management is ingrained in the culture of some organizations. When a bus strike brought my city to its knees a few years ago, I sat in a meeting and heard my peers express their serious 'concerns' with permitting teleworking for some employees. It really angered me to hear them speak of their staff this way -- the problem was not teleworking -- it was a lack of trust (and clearly a lack of leadership ).
In order to motivate employees, you need to inspire them -- remind them of the team's purpose and show them how their work is contributing to that end. You also have to understand the results you expect to attain and be able to measure if your team is making the grade. Again, if there's no accountability then why bother measuring results? K -- this is turning into another one of my leadership rants, so I better sign off. What I meant to do was document a particularly fruitful discussion I had this week that started with urban intesntification and eventually evolved to leadership in the public service. Love making all those connections. Any longer and I'm sure it would've ended with campaign finance reform! I hope that my generation makes this a reality -- we stand so much to gain from tele-working -- more productive employees, happier families, healthier environment ... the future is bright and I'm excited about it!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

It's not sexy

Got it - Information Management is not sexy. But do people even know what it even is? Public Servants should -- it's one of our core competencies after all.  I have some ideas on how to sex it up, but my management feels IM is serious business and simplifying the message will make it sound less complex then it really is. Well guess what, it's not complex AT ALL
First thing you do to practice good IM is PLAN for your information needs. You sit down with your team and ask questions -- what type of information do we need to collect for this project? who needs access to it? where are we going to store it? are we going to name our files a particular way?, are we going to be collecting or creating sensitive (private) info? are we going to minute our meetings or just the actions?, etc.
Then you DO -- You document your activities and your decisions following all the great rules you agreed to with your team. And at the end the project you look at all your information and toss the crap and keep the good stuff, which is anything that serves as the best evidence of what transpired -- the key decisions points, proof of where you spent $ and final deliverables that will inform future work.
And that's pretty much it. There's a bit more that we IM Specialists do behind the scenes plus public servants need to know a few more things such as -- if you have to hand over info because of an ATIP request then hand it over, don't delete it ... DUH! These are common sense and I'd rather not belittle people's intelligence, but we have to inform them or else they will plead ignorance ... which isn't much of an excuse, but we have to CYA.

So my ideas to make this as painless as possible ... I will save for another post. As I re-read what I just wrote, I'm thinking "FAUUUUK ... I must be missing something here ... is this all there is to IM FFS?"

Friday, February 18, 2011

Change Management

This is one of my favourite management terms that we give lip service to. It's right up there with 'Risk Management' (e.g. Hold the phone, this scope document has got to address Change Management ... errrr, okay, so what do we say about it?) It's about being honest with the change. WHY ARE WE DOING THIS? What's in it for me? How will this affect me? No, how will this really affect me?

No one wants to really answer these burning questions. No one except me that is. I love being brutally honest, even when the message is not all that rosy. Problem is, I'm not much of a spin doctor and management does not want to draw attention to anything negative. Everyone knows that people naturally don't want change so it's best to just do it rather than spend time talking about it.

A colleague and I were talking about change the other day and came to some other interesting realizations:
People don't want to feel stupid. I now know why my projects were de-scoped to practically nothing. Even though I believed in my heart that once the end users understood how much better life would be in the new work environment, it was too far a leap from their everyday work habits. They would have been cursing our name for months, years even.  Start small.

Always let them change on their own time. Think of how you feel when you log into your fav Social Media app and it's completely turned on it's head and for no apparent reason. You should always give people an option to continue doing things the old way -- they will soon realize that they will be left behind if they don't change. A good example my friend gave me is that he refuses to text -- it's something he's just stubborn about, but knows that it will eventually happen because his kids will force him into it out of necessity.

Let others sell the change for you. This is often what we try to aim for by running small pilots. We secretly hope that the success will go viral and users will be bragging to their colleagues about how great the new systems is. Sadly, this is rarely the case. But I can always dream.

Be honest. If the change requires training, costs, minor inconveniences or more time then just be up-front about it. Too often we focus too much on the benefits of change without addressing the reality. People are already skeptical of change, so not being upfront just enforces the resistance.

This blog post isn't particularly enlightening but I'm learning a few things along the way and I like writing about them with the hopes that they'll stick.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

I want to burn the house down

I'm having one of those moments where I despise everything that I own. The fucking house is bursting at the seams with all this crap that I don't need. I want to turf it ALL and move into a tiny one bedroom apartment with just the bare necessities. Just the thought of living a simple life free from the burden of THINGS is so liberating .... ahhhhhh .... I WANT THIS dammit!
Apparently it's called downshifting and it's not as difficult as it looks once you commit yourself. There's even a challenge called "The Month of 100 Things" -- try to get rid of 100 things in one month. THAT I can do, starting now.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Inspire Me

Whenever my colleagues and I bitch about how dysfunctional our work place is, we inevitably end up blaming it on a lack of leadership. It's not to say that we are blameless. But when it is so systemic in the public service, there's got to be a bigger reason then just laziness. Why are our managers failing to inspire us? Should it be their main priority? How do you even go about doing it?

A friend of mine says that it starts by showing people how their work makes a difference. You've got to draw a dotted line from their mundane tasks to the strategy and vision of the organization and you've got to instill in them a sense of pride in their contribution to the company's objectives. Here's a good case in point that he shared with me:
Back in the 60s, when the Kennedy administration was committed to putting the first man on the moon, the story goes that there were rumors of problems at NASA and that the people there weren't dedicated to the administration's vision. So President Kennedy hopped on Air Force One and headed to NASA for a personal visit. He wanted to reinforce his commitment. Before the meeting, he stopped into the restroom where a janitor was emptying the trash and puttering around. The President asked, "How are you?"The janitor replied, "I'm doing great. I'm putting a man on the moon."The President left the restroom, got back on Air Force One, and flew back to Washington. There was NO problem at NASA.1
The other thing leaders need to do is talk to us about WHY we are doing what we are doing rather than focus on WHAT we are doing. Leave the details to the middle managers. Just keep slamming the vision down our throats until we start to feel it too. And I'm not talking about lip service here -- it's got to be tangible and attainable. Instead, the vision becomes a corporate exercise that's undertaken every five years, engraved on a plaque and ignored.

The last thing we talked about was empowerment to effect change. I had a small taste of it this week and boy did it rock my world. For the first time in months I was engaged, fully charged, and productive! It's sad that we demean our employees by making them ask permission so often for non-important things. They don't trust us to make decisions that count and it's so sad that they don't realize how badly to erodes our confidence, abilities and in the long term, our productivity.

I'm learning a lot about what NOT to do during my tenure here. I just pray it hasn't ruined us. Maybe we can inspire ourselves and show our leaders the positive effects of their attempts to break the dysfunction? Or maybe we can just wait it out until it's our turn to lead.