Author: Jason Schoolmeester

Public Servant Resolutions for 2015

I first published a set of possible public servant resolutions in 2011. Heading into 2015, these resolutions are as relevant today as they were in 2011. I have tweaked them and added a few new ones.

As you read through this collection of possible resolutions, it is not about taking on board everything but rather, finding the few that resonate with you. I hope you have a fantastic 2015.

Possible public servant resolutions for 2015

  1. Participate. Get involved. Don’t sit on the sidelines. Share your ideas; help develop the ideas of your colleagues. No matter what you do, make a contribution. You can get a lot of satisfaction from developing and implementing ideas to improve the way you work, the way we deliver services to the community, whether the ideas are your own or that of a colleague.
  2. Respect*. The pace and complexity of the modern public service means we are all busy and under pressure. Be mindful of others and resolve to treat each other well. Listen to your colleagues and try to engage in a conversation instead of a competition. Accept constructive criticism with grace. Be grateful and thank your colleagues for their contributions.
  3. Solutions focused*. The public service is charged with delivering a complex range of services, policies, and projects. To meet these challenges we need to be solution focused, to be constructive, and brave. We need to offer sound, informed advice. We need to implement policy and deliver services effectively. We need to create and embrace new ideas. The public service environment can be highly risk adverse. It is all to easy to pull-apart an idea for its potential faults and that is a useful skill, but it can be counter-productive if it occurs before an idea has been fully tested for its potential. Let the idea run first, before letting the ‘black-hats’ de-construct it. It’s only then that the strengths get a full airing, before the weaknesses emerge.
  4. Grow. Continuing to learn and grow your capacity can enhance your contribution as a public servant. Whether it is learning new ways to create policy or engage with the community or new skills such as project management, learning helps you improve your capacity as a public servant. Improving your capacity means you may be given other opportunities. Think about how you want to contribute as a public servant and what you need to learn to position yourself to give you the best chance of getting that opportunity. Remember, it may be that the best way to grow is to take up an opportunity to work in another part the public service.
  5. Balance*. To give your best, to grow and to innovate requires time. Most of us are so busy just getting through our day to day tasks that it is very easy for us all to focus our time on just what is in front of us, on the work we are doing right now. This focus can mean that we are not giving enough attention to the bigger picture or connecting with people in our divisions, agencies, across government or in our communities (for more on this check out the Take 10 Challenge). Getting our balance right and having the courage to delegate to someone who wants to have a go can help you get a better balance. Remember that giving someone else the opportunity to grow and develop while being challenged with a new role or task is possibly the best opportunity for them to develop and grow (Resolution #4). And by helping them take on the new challenge, you will inevitably grow and develop too. Everybody wins!
  6. Do the right things*. Where to you spend your time? Every job involves a multitude of tasks, some with obvious value and some a lot more questionable. Find the time to ask whether the bottom 5% of those tasks really are necessary. Can they be stopped to free up resources. If they are outside your control, is there an effective alternative you can suggest? The key to spending your time on broader issues and objectives, to spending your time on the right things, is to consistently free up time and resources (for more on this check out the 100:0:0 challenge).
  7. Embrace technology*. The world is changing fast. Services are changing rapidly and the expectations of the public are growing. The delivery of public services needs to keep pace — technology is driving the future of public service delivery. Don’t resist it, embrace it, play with it and actively work to make sure it improves service delivery. It’s not about technology for technology’s sake, but about improved service delivery — services people want, when they want them, and how they want to access or receive them.
  8. Live your public service values. Your Department, and possibly your public service, has gone to a lot of trouble to identify values that support the objectives of the Department. Do you know what they are? Do you live them? Resolve to live the values of your Department. If you have an issue with the current set of values, then talk to others about your ideas and make sure you get involved in any planning process.
  9. Collaborate. There is a lot of talk about collaborating with other parts of your Department, with other Departments, with NGOs and the private sector. Are you collaborating? We produce better work and can achieve better outcomes when we leverage the knowledge and support of our colleagues. Who can help you improve your work? What information do you need and who has it? What information do you have that you can share with colleagues in your Department of even another Department? How can you work with another Department to better your own and their objectives? Take an interest in what other Departments are doing and I guarantee you will find ways where you can collaborate to deliver better outcomes. Equally important, share what you are doing with your colleagues and you will find they are able to give you new insights and ideas to improve the work you are doing.
  10. Support, Mentor and Guide*. Take a look around your division or Department. How can you support or assist a colleague in their job? What can you do to help give a colleagues what they need to excel at their work? Resolve to work with your colleagues, to help your colleagues become better at what they do. Identify a younger colleagues who shows promise and take an interest in what they are working on and what advice or past learning might assist them grow in their role.
  11. Serve*. Think about this idea of service. No seriously, think about it. You are a public servant. There is no greater work to be done than the work in service to your community. So take pride in the opportunity you have to serve. Respect individuals and the community. As you go about your work, think of the greater good and the interests of your community. Make a commitment to be a better servant of the people, a better public servant.

* Updated or new.

I encourage you to share any resolutions you have made about your role as a public servant.

Thanks to Alastair, Janet, Terri, Jeff, and Dave for reading drafts of this article.

regards, Jason
A public servant since 28 June 1999.

Where do you spend your time?

In 2006 Sir Gus O’Donald (former head of the UK Civil Service) challenged his top leadership with a simple question: Where do you spend your time?

Sir Gus set them his “100:0:0” challenge.  This challenge was his way of asking them how much of their time was spent on their narrow policy areas, their departmental objectives and civil-service wide, corporate issues.   For many the answer is 100:0:0.

How do you spend your time? Use can use this template to undertake your own exercise.  Do it once every few months (at least bi-annually).

The Challenge:

If any of the boxes are zero or below 10%, think about what you can do to increase that percentage. There is no right or perfect mix.

It is often hard to find time to look outside your own division, workgroup or other administrative unit. Every job involves a multitude of tasks, some with obvious value and some a lot more questionable. Find the time to ask whether the bottom 5% of those tasks really are necessary. Can they be stopped to free up resources? If they are outside your control, is there an effective alternative you can suggest? The key to spending your time on broader issues and objectives is to consistently free up time and resources.

A gift of service: lend a hand where it is needed

Given the response in 2011, ‘A Give of Service’ is back.  As we approach Christmas there are many community organisations that need help in delivering their services.

We would like to encourage you to give a gift of service this Christmas and volunteer at least 4 hours of your time before Christmas to lend a hand where it is needed.

It is our wish that by sharing with you the jobs, activities and tasks that community organisations have identified they need help with, that we make the choice of giving a gift of service a little easier to make.

You can do more than just send a seasons greeting or a merry Christmas.  You can do something meaningful, something that will make somebody’s day.  For more information about the ‘A Gift of Service’ challenge, read this post from last year.

Through Volunteers SA/NT we have identified jobs, activities and tasks accessible and you can find them here.

The volunteering has already started, including a few members of the NT Department of the Chief Minister and the NT Department of the Attorney-General and Justice,  joining with some Rotarians to help wrap presents for the Salvation Army’s Flying Padre (pictures below).

We also want to give a special thank you to John McNeur (Volunteers SA/NT) and Anne Coleman (NT Department of the Chief Minister) for their support of the ‘A Gift of Service’ initiative.

If you want to know where help is needed click here.  If you are part of an NGO that needs help, then email me.

Please feel free to email or post a comment and share what you did for your 4 hours.



Take 10 Challenge: make and keep an appointment with yourself to think

We hear a lot about the need for public servants to innovate and to collaborate. However, how do we find the time to do this? The reality is that without attention, it is very easy for us all to focus our time on just what is in front of us, on the work we are doing right now. This focus can mean that we are not giving enough attention to the bigger picture or connecting with people in our divisions, agencies, across government or in our communities.

So what can we do? Well, to help us all remember to take the time to broaden our focus and look at the bigger picture and connect with other people, I propose we scheduled it. That’s right, make an appointment with yourself, which you must keep, and dedicate that time to really thinking about what you are doing and how it fits into the bigger picture. Now change is hard, so to make it easier, I challenge you to dedicate 10 minutes per week, just 10.


Take 10 minutes each week – Just 10 – and think about your work. Take time to consider how what you are doing fits with the bigger picture, what information you could be sharing, how you can connect with people in your division, agency, across government or in your community, or how you could improve the way you work or the way services are delivered or the way you deliver services.

Make an appointment with yourself for 10 minutes a week, every week and keep that appointment. It just might be the best 10 minutes of your week.

You might find the best time is those 10 minutes before or after lunch or the first 10 minutes of your day. It doesn’t matter when, but find 10 minutes where you don’t feel rushed or you are likely to be interrupted. In fact, find a place where you can spend 10 minutes and not be interrupted. Often the simple act of sitting or standing somewhere different can change your thinking.

You could do your Take 10 session in a group, but I encourage you to spend 10 minutes with your own thoughts before opening up to a group for discussion.

To help you with your Take 10 session, you might like to consider the Take 10 Challenge Questions. Clearly you don’t have to answer them all in a 10 minute session. Read the questions and see what thoughts they might spark.

Imagine the ideas and, in many ways more importantly, the action that might come from 10, 20, 100, 1,000 or even 10,000 public servants spending 10 minutes a week thinking about how their work fits in the bigger picture, how to better align their work, what information should they be sharing or seeking. The table below shows just how powerful just 10 minutes a week can be.

In Just One Week of the Take 10 Challenge

Public servants 10 20 100 1,000 10,000
Total Minutes 100 200 1,000 10,000 100,000
Total Hours 1.7 3.3 17 167 1,667
Total Days 0.2 0.4 2 21 208

[Note for simplicity the above table is based on an 8 hour day and a 46 week working  year]

Looking at the above table, if 10,000 public servants spent 10 minutes per week to just think, this is almost equivalent to one person working every day for a year (based on a 46 week working year), with no distractions or breaks. What’s more, this effort can be achieved every week.  It is hard not to get excited about the possibility of what might happen if a large group of people spend dedicated time to purposefully think about their work and then act on those thoughts.

I am interested in your Take 10 Challenge experiences.  You can email me or post a comment here about your thoughts on the Take 10 Challenge.  I also interested in knowing what questions you ask yourself.

Download: Take 10 Challenge – Template and Questions

A Gift of Service: Just 4 hours

Christmas Cards. Most of us this time of year are either sending or receiving them or both.  They come and go in different forms, from the traditional card to more modern mediums like email.  But not all emails are equal as many are a conduit to an online Christmas message with animation and sound – I have already received some of these.

I have been active in the Christmas Card, or rather the Christmas Message, space for a few years.  Since 2005 I have been encouraging my colleauges to be creative with our seasons greeting.  Some examples have resulted in videos such as these: 20052006 and 2009.  Other years we have created eCards.

This year I want to do something different, I want to do more than just send a seasons greeting or a merry Christmas.  I want to encourage people, you, to do something, to act.

One morning after talking with my walking partner, Alastair, about the idea of encouraging people to act and then again that same morning over breakfast with my wife, Caryn, the beginnings of “A Gift of Service” started to take shape.

The idea is simple: Give the gift of service this Christmas.  Specifically, undertake 4 hours of volunteer work before 25 December 2011.

I took the “a gift of service”, or AGOS, idea to a colleague, Janet, and we developed a simple action plan:

  1. Contact NGOs and ask them what jobs, activities or tasks they need done as we approach Christmas and the New Year.
  2. Share these jobs, activities or tasks with our colleagues in our Department and with others, depending on the response from NGOs.

The thought is that by identifying actual jobs, activities or tasks that need doing we can make it easy for people to find something they feel comfortable volunteering to do. And so we did it.  We contacted NGOs and shared the jobs, activities and tasks they sent in.  We have only just started AGOS, but we already have the first reported AGOS assisted activity: helping to wrap presents for the Salvation Army’s Flying Padre & Outback Services (Gifts for remote communities & Stations).

Volunteer Gift Wrappers

For people that like numbers. The table below shows that 4 hours of volunteer work by 100 people is equivalent to one person working for 50 days.  It only takes 730 people doing 4 hours of volunteer work to be equivalent to one person working for an entire year.

People 100 730
Volunteer hours 4 4
Total Hours 400 2920
Total Days (8 hour day) 50 365


So, as we approach Christmas and the new year, I challenge you to undertake 4 hours of volunteering in your community.  If you want to know where help is needed or you are part of an NGO that needs help, then email me.  Please feel free to email or post a comment and share what you did for your 4 hours.

Note: For NGOs wishing to share what jobs, activities or taks they need doing, please provide the following details:

  • A description of the job, activity or task;
  • Whether there are any special skills required;
  • The estimated time for the job, activity or task;
  • Whether the job, activity or task requires an individual or group or both;
  • Any specific dates or times for the job, activity or task;
  • The location for the activity; and
  • A contact person (name, contact number and email).

What is innovation?

Innovation is a well used term and so often gets confused or associated with the creation of big ideas.  People associate innovation with flashes of inspiration, with developing the light bulb.

To me, simply put, innovation is ideas in action.

It is not just about invention.  It is not always a new product, service or process. Innovation can be as simple as improving an existing process or changing the way we deliver an existing service.  Innovation is not just ideas.  You have to put your ideas into action.  You have to actually make them work for them to be considered innovative.

I believe anyone can innovate. You don’t have to be a so-called creative type of person.  If you have an idea and you put it to work then you are an innovator.

Innovation is not about change for change sake.  The intention is to make a positive change and improve a product, service or process.

Innovation is not about people in a laboratory wearing white coats conducting experiments; it is not about people sitting in a room with funky chairs and garish coloured walls just thinking things up.

Innovation is happening around us all the time.  It is happening in our work places right now. Every time we improve a product, service or process then we are engaging in innovation. Every time we make something faster, simpler, better or improve its quality then we are innovating.  Every time we remove waste from a system then we are innovating.  Every time we move a transaction from requiring physical or over the counter services and move them to an online space then we are innovating.

In a public sector context innovation is about improving service delivery to the community, whether that is through direct services or policy development or our internal administrative process. If we improve any of these areas then we improve our service to the community.


Tweets from a public sector convention

In March 2011 I attended the International Public Sector Convention 2011 held by CPA Australia.  I took the opportunity to play with twitter and tweeted my first conference.  You can follow me on twitter here.

I am not sure why, but now when you search my hash tag, #cpaipsc2011, there are no results.  So, to preserve my tweets I have set them out below.

11 March 2011

  • Nicholas Gruen says markets let you ask the Spice Girls question: Tell me what you want what you really really want? #cpaipsc2011
  • Peter Thompson says that CPAs are storytellers with numbers. We need to be able to communicate at the human level. #cpaipsc2011
  • Alex Malley CPA @cpaaustralia jokes there are 2 types of people : CPAs and those that want to be CPAs #cpaipsc2011
  • Darrin Grimsey – if infrastructure is working it is silent. We are surrounded by a silent world which supports us. #cpaipsc2011
  • Ben Peacock shows us a video by Dan Pink on Drive –… #cpaipsc2011

10 March 2011

  • Listening to Ben Peacock –
  • Interesting observation – I have spent some quality time with my NT colleagues, time we don’t spend when we are home in Darwin#cpaipsc2011
  • Time to settle down with friends, some new and some old, and enjoy the conference dinner. An amazing setting here at the MCG.#cpaipsc2011
  • @cpaaustralia #cpaipsc2011 Another big day with some valuable lessons and a dash of inspiration. Simon Brown-Greaves was a stand out today.
  • @cpaaustralia #cpaipsc2011 Fergus Welsh from New Zealand says a quality public sector is vital for society.
  • Simon Brown-Greaves on leadership: cartoon – “Our employees are our greatest asset. I say we sell them.” #cpaipsc2011
  • Check out the Royal Australian Navy Leadership Ethic –… #cpaipsc2011
  • Better practices in corporate areas = more money for frontline services. Obvious?Yes, but delivery requires clarity of outcomes#cpaipsc2011
  • Public Service has always been innovative. Innovation is not a new concept and remains vital to meet the challenges ahead#cpaipsc2011
  • Ian Fitzgerald believes the Heads of the PS have a stewardship role to ensure the PS meets the demands of today and the future#cpaipsc2011
  • Patricia Kelly says the Public Sector innovation matters as it underpins broader economic success. #cpaipsc2011
  • Colin Pidd predicts that there will be less focus on accountability and more focus on responsibility. #cpaipsc2011
  • In talking about the future Colin Pidd said that best practice is on the way out. It is not the best place for innovation. #cpaipsc2011
  • Quote Day 1: Colin Pidd “computers are like fruit, they rot on the shelves if not sold within 6 months” #cpaipsc2011
  • Quote Day 1: “working in the public sector will be like walking through treacle” yet John Collington feels he has achieved more#cpaipsc2011
  • In Melbourne attending the International Public Sector Convention 2011 run by CPA Australia #cpaipsc2011

What do you do for work?

How many conversations start with the simple question: What do you do for work?  You meet someone new and it’s an almost automatic response, a reflex.

It seems harmless enough but after reading a post by Scott Dinsmore I think we need to think not only about the value in asking that simple question but how we answer that question ourselves when asked.

As Scott puts it, opening a conversation with a new person by asking what they do for work says that you care more about their title and position than you do about them as a person.  It also says that you may not really be invested in this conversation and could not be bothered to think of something better to say.  Is that really what you are saying?  Scott offers an alternative approach, but I will let you read more about that.

What I want to talk about is how we, as public servants, answer the question about what we do for work.  Who were the last three new people you met and talked about your work with.  Now that you have them in your mind, consider these questions:

  • Do you think you made a good impression?
  • Do you think they understood what you do?
  • Did you leave them feeling positive that you were working to make our community better?
  • Did your passion and enthusiasm about your work shine through your conversation?
  • Did you show an interest in them?

It is so important that we as individual public servants are able to answer those questions, more often than not, with a YES.  It can seem daunting but everyone we meet is our customer or client. Remember, we are also “our” customers and clients. We consume public services, so how did the last public servant you met rate against these questions?

We work to make our community a better place. It is why we have a public service. I believe this should be the fundamental motivation at the core of every public servant. But to achieve this objective, we need our customers and clients, the public, to trust us.  How can you trust someone to make your community a better place if when you meet them, you are left thinking that they had no interest in you or your interests or they didn’t show any passion or enthusiasm for their work.  Simple, you can’t.

Here are some things to think about when you are answer the question about what you do for work:

  • Your job title is difficult for other public servants to understand, never mind anyone else in the community.  Humanise your job.  Find a way to explain what you do that actually means something to people.
  • What do you really enjoy about your job? Share it.  Of course you can’t share confidential information, but you can talk about your job in general terms.
  • People get frustrated with the public service, particularly when, from their perspective, they are not getting a good service.  You don’t have to agree with them.  You don’t have to trash talk the public service to be liked.  How we talk about each other and ourselves matters.  Instead, think empathy not sympathy.

So the challenge to you (and to me), as a public servant, is to find a way to share with the people you meet your passion and enthusiasm for the work you do.  Engage with them, take an interest and understand their perspective.  I am confident that a public service that takes an interest in and engages with the public it serves can’t help but create a positive impression and earn trust.

regards, Jason
A public servant since 28 June 1999.

Monthly Must See Series – March 2011

Each month I am asking friends to identify one link that they have seen online in the last month that they think is a “must see”. It can be a story, a picture, a video or a thought. I just ask that it be something they thought was inspiring.

Check out these links that we’re recommending as must see:

Now it’s your turn: in the comment section pick one thing that you saw this month that inspired you and share it.