Category: Pride

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.

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.

Volunteer and let them see us volunteer

I am a volunteer. I have sold raffle tickets, cooked sausages, coordinated parking, been a stagehand and I have had the chance to volunteer as a member of management committees and boards. I grew up with parents who volunteered. According to the ABS 2006 Volunteer Workforce Survey, 5.8 million Australians volunteer and in the Northern Territory, 35.8% of Territorians volunteer.

I strongly believe that volunteering benefits the individual, teams and the community. After reading a report by Baroness Neuberger, who at the time of writing the report was the UK Prime Minister’s Volunteering Champion, I see a huge opportunity for the public service in Australia. An opportunity to show leadership in, and provide support to, the community. How? By volunteering.

Baroness Neuberger’s report in July 2009 looked at employer-supported volunteering in the civil service. There are already many successful employer-supported volunteering schemes in UK government departments. However, I have not been able to find any similar schemes, in the public service here in Australia. There are volunteering schemes established for major sporting events and recently in relation to the response to the floods in Queensland, but no general scheme to support volunteering by public servants. If you know of a scheme please let me know.

To be clear, I am not saying public servants don’t volunteer. I am confident that many of us do volunteer our skills and our time. Further, I am sure that supervisors and managers support this volunteering effort albeit, informally.

What I am suggesting is that the public service should have a recognised employer-supported volunteering scheme. Such a scheme would not include any volunteering that public servants do in their personal time in no way connected to government. Rather, the scheme would support volunteering that takes place during staff working hours (this includes volunteering outside working hours that is matched with time off by the employer) and has in some way been encouraged or facilitated by the employer, in the case of public servants, the government. It can be self-organised and might often continue outside working hours.

Now I know we are in a time where we have increased expectations from government and the community to deliver more and better quality services while at the same time we have less resources to deliver these services. So how can we afford to have public servants volunteering in the community? Perhaps the better question is: How can we afford not to have public servants volunteering in the community?  Baroness Neuberger offers a business case for volunterring:

  1. Outreach and community engagement enables more responsive government – engaging in volunteering public servants experience the community’s perspective, gain new experiences, create networks and ultimately develop better policies and deliver improved services;
  2. Learning and development – volunteering is a great way to develop and learn new skills, especially softer skills (build self confidence and social skills, learn to relate to more diverse groups of people). Volunteering can be incorporated into a public servant’s learning and development plan;
  3. Boost staff morale and encourage team building – supporting volunteering can enhance a public servants view of the public service generally, increasing the level of pride in the public service and build stronger relationships with colleagues.

In addition to the points above, another benefit from public servants volunteering in the community is that it will help build the capacity of community organisations and the non-government sector generally.  By working with community organisations public servants can share their skills and knowledge with other volunteers, including how to engage more effectively with government.

By way of example, when I worked in the Department of Justice we created a “Green Team”. In 2010, the Green Team, with the support of the Department, coordinated our participation in Clean Up Australia Day. Over 30 people attended and we even had a local butcher donate sausages for lunch when he heard what we were doing. It was hot, hard and thirsty work and we earned those sausages. We were equals, there was no hierarchy, whether you were an administrative assistant or a senior lawyer, we all got our hands dirty. It was satisfying work and by the end of the day we had built stronger relationships with each other. We were engaged in a common enterprise that was adding value to the community. These kind of activities are worth supporting.

Earlier this month, the UK Government announced its commitment to giving 30,000 volunteering days a year (see details here).  This commitment equates to just over 82 years of effort put into the non-government sector annually.  As part of the scheme, the UK Government is enabling the non-government sector to make direct requests for specific help when needed.  This is an extraordinary commitment which is being supported by large companies such as KPMG and the BT Group who support the initiative.

I would like to see the public service here in Australia, whether Federal, State or Territory, make a similar commitment and introduce employer-supported volunteer schemes.  Even just 10,000 volunteering days per year (or just over 27 years of volunteering effort).  This will make a significant contribution to the non-government sector, not to mention the benefits for the public service and the individual public servants.

I will leave you will one final thought from Baroness Neuberger:

“I would like to see volunteering become part of the DNA of our society”.

regards, Jason
A public servant since 28 June 1999.

Note: At the time of writing this post all links I could find to the report were broken.  If you want a copy of the report please email me and I will send you the copy I downloaded.

Resolutions for 2011

At the beginning of a new year many of us make resolutions: get fit; stop smoking; quit coke (and I will); lose weight (I am working on it); save more money; achieve goals; be more organised; and write a guest post for www.publicservicelive.com.

How many of your resolutions for 2011 relate to your role as a public servant?  Finance, health, relationships – these areas all get some attention. I encourage you to spare some thought for the kind of public servant you want to be.  I have set out below some ideas you might consider when thinking about your resolutions.

Possible public servant resolutions for 2011

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. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. Support. 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 colleague what they need to excel at their work?  Resolve to work with your colleagues, to help your colleagues become better at what they do.

6. 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. 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.

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

regards, Jason
A public servant since 28 June 1999.

End of the year – a perfect time to say thank you

I was sitting down to a drink yesterday afternoon with two friends (they would hate me using the word mentors, but they are both friends and mentors) and we were discussing many different things.  One idea that we discussed was saying thank you to those people you valued in 2010.  Our relationships, both inside and outside the public service are a key part of being an effective public servant and often we don’t put enough effort into maintaining and building our relationships.  Sure we are all professional, but I think being professional is not enough, we also need to be people first.

It is the end of 2010 and there are many people with whom you have worked with over the year. These people have, in many cases, provided valuable input into your projects or programs, taught some new skill, helped you gain a different perspective.  Whatever they did, it was something that you can respect and value.  Now is a great time to acknowledge their contribution.

So here is the challenge: Take a few moments before you rush off to your end of year break and pick 10 people (or more, but 10 will be a challenge for most of us) and take a moment to thank them.

Remember you don’t have to just pick public servants, there may be people working in other organisations that you worked with this year that made a recognisable contribution.

A few tips on the thanking part:

  • email, note or phone – you can call up your people and say thanks.  Personally, I like the idea of them having an email or a hand written note, something they may keep and re-read in the new year
  • make it personal – don’t just say thanks, but highlight why you valued them this year
  • gifts are not essential – you don’t have to give a gift or other token.  In some cases, you may be moved to give a gift, that is your choice but think about the recipient and whether they will feel comfortable with receiving a gift
  • do it before Christmas
  • remember in 2011 that you don’t have to wait until the end of year to say thanks

regards, Jason
A public servant since 28 June 1999.