So before we start you may be wondering who the hell am I to stand up here and tell you how to engage your employees. If you don't know who I am than that is a fair question, if you do know me, feel free to check the emails on the old crackberry while I do a brief intro. I wear two hats within the public service.
In my official duties I work for Indian and Northern Affairs Canada as a Project Manager. My role there is to help employees improve their internal business processes and communication using social media and collaborative technologies. Not surprisingly my work leads me to take on many things: Organizational management Change management Business improvement Evangelization Technical support Ideas generation Employee engagement
My unofficial duties revolve around public service renewal. I have been blogging openly about it for the last year and have published a guide on how to get involved within an organization despite the bureaucracy entitled Scheming Virtuously: A Handbook for Public Servants. In short, I have been able to rally public servants from around the country using social media. But that is enough for now, I will share more about my experience a bit later in the presentation
We are moving from the 1.0 world defined by Newtonian cause and effect and hierarchical rigidities towards a 2.0 world defined by complex ecosystems and diffused decision making Social media in government is a disruptive technology is that it can drive innovation and improve business processes in ways we never expected because it puts a tremendous amount of power into the hands of those who traditionally did not have it.
Thus it is no surprise that often those in positions of authority are troubled by the introduction of these technologies because they tend to flatten the organization. This flattening causes tension which in turn manifests in different albeit interrelated ways.
These are all things that I have either experienced first hand, that others have confided in me as problems they face, or are obstacles I have observed others struggling with. Format will be ...
I started in government about 4 years ago. Prior to that I worked for the Ottawa Senators Hockey Club. I actually left the team during their cup run against Anaheim. In short I left the most exciting work experience of my life to join government. The shift was overwhelming, and I was sinking.
I starting running into closed doors where I expected open ones, fear when I expected freedom and work where I expected fun.
So after about a year I started to panic.
That is about when I hit the old fork in the road. I was going insane, I was under appreciated, underutilized, and unknown. I was shut out by a system that played by rules I didn't understand, and I almost left, but I didn't.
Instead I started to seek out and connect with others who were equally disillusioned. Together we concluded that a career in public service had to offer more than a place where good ideas go to die. My first year in the public service was so atrocious that it lit a fire under me.
That fire prompted me to do two things. First, I took on as much as I could within my organization. Second, I started a blog where I could share the lessons I was learning from that pursuit with others.
A lot of people tried to dissuade me. They made a face like this one. They called me stupid. They said that I was taking on unnecessary risk, that I was jeopardizing my career, and maybe some of you are thinking those exact thoughts right now. But what it did was allow me to connect to a community; a community that didn't know it existed yet because it couldn't connect easily before.
It was a community that was looking for a place to happen. The blog gave them that space, and guess what, if I didn't do it someone else would have it was only a matter of time. Moreover, my blog this is just one small example. Other discussions are happening in other related communities that are facilitated in similar ways on LinkedIn, Govloop, or Twitter.
When I set down this path, something I never expected was the amount of opportunities it would bring my way. I went from a relative unknown to someone with a rep for being good at tearing down walls. And what is especially promising now is that there are pockets in within the government that realize the potential of these tools and are starting to turn them over to public servants, beseeching them to tear down the walls.
My substantive position is now that of an organizational management ninja where my weapon of choice is social media. My full time job now hinges on my ability to apply social media to government processes to affect better outcomes for Canadians. Moreover, I am invited to speak at conferences like these frequently, my work has been referenced by university professors in the foreword of a book, I've been leading the charge on Govloop North and am in talks with Steve Dressler, been profiled on govfresh, been named one of the top 20 #gov20 heroes to follow, dubbed as part of the public service renewal rat pack, and am the only practitioner currently on the gcpedia steering committee.
And all of that is fucking awesome! I've gone from a public servant looking to pull the chute to one of the most engaged and engaging public servants I know. Have I had the chance to be innovative with the tools? Absolutely, I started NIBS. Does my boss have to worry about retention? Hell no, I don't even read my job alerts anymore they go straight to the trash can. And I have done it all on the back of social media because social media in government allows public servants to get involved and make a contributions that would otherwise be impossible or go unnoticed. So let me ask you this, why wouldn't you want to adopt tools that help your organization find the value it so desperately needs?
Wherever possible start to remove barriers and filters to the web and the collaborative tools offered there. There is so much choice outside the firewall that the lack of choice (or even the limited amount of choice) behind the firewall is quickly apparent One of the biggest obstacles to innovation / engagement is being denied access to tools w/o providing alternatives
And that is why I advocate appropriating technologies internally. If you provide employees with a similar suite of tools behind the firewall that is available outside they are less likely to simply do an end around the organization. Given that social media is so new to government there is a whole lot of learning to do, where would you rather your employees get their feet wet, behind the firewall, or out in public, what would your deputies prefer?
Playing safe is a great way to build trust. It allows people to start asking questions, try new things and build relationships. So encourage people to explore possible uses of the technologies and connect them with others doing similar thinking.
Once you have trust, work together to set up some concrete goals. Simply throwing information at a wiki or mandating the use of employee blogs is not a goal. The goal should be something akin to better communication, the proactive sharing of information via wikis and blogs in order to stimulate a policy discussion or HR actions. In my work, the goal is usually to improve communication between the policy wonks.
Once you have a goal you can sit down and build a common understanding of: the culture what constitutes success what is required by whom and for whom how can we address all of the implicated policy frameworks like ATIP, OL, Accessibility, Values and Ethics to the best of our ability And anything else that anyone feels needs to be discussed prior to getting the ball rolling
And what you are actually doing when you do this is learning together. When I sit down with my colleagues, and hopefully when you sit down with yours, what you are doing is learning about the strengths and weaknesses of the organization and identifying opportunities for better collaboration and increased innovation using social media.
Once you have those opportunities lined up you should establish guardrails to communicate how the organization (or in my case the policy centre) intends to appropriate the use of social media and what is expected of users using it in order to achieve that intended use. Don't set out to control the process in so much as ensure that you aren't opening the door for employees and then leaving them to wander the halls. If you let them wander than you have no right to get pissed off at them when they go somewhere you didn't intend for them to go.
With the guardrails in place it is important to nurture people's interest in the content flowing through the social media (not in the social media itself) As an enabler, my role has been to make the technology as invisible as possible and nurture interest in the content. You don't want people to view the technology as an obstacle – as another thing to learn. I've been able to nurture interest by showing valid business uses of social media technologies in order to communicate better internally – hence the title of this session. And by making participation as simple as possible (e.g. building the templates, including instructions, ensuring consistency, etc)
While nurturing this interest focus on attitudes, not age. So many people boil social media down to a discussion about generations, or introverts and extraverts, but the truth of the matter is this: I have seen young people who vehemently oppose social media, older people who embrace it, introverts who share profusely and extroverts who hoard. You can disagree with me all you want on this one, but if you can't do so while proposing a solution, I would argue that your position lacks value. Besides, think of it this way, under what other circumstances would ageism constitute a sound management approach?
Which brings me to my next point, technically social media behind the firewall does not present any new people management challenges. Chances are if you were a strong manager before SM you will be a strong one w/it, and vice-versa. I have two pieces of advice for managers: 1) Don't use the spectre of vandalism as justification for withholding social tools: you give people pens and you aren't afraid they're going to write on the walls. What is easier to catch? Dirty words scrawled anonymously on the bathroom wall or something tied to your IP address, your workstation, your Government of Canada log in? 2) Don't deny access to the web because you think ppl will waste their time. Unproductive people in your organization have been unproductive for years without social media.
Employees generally don't have a detailed understanding of all of the complex and interrelated policy frameworks that touch their jobs in complex ways unless they work specifically in those areas. How many public servants truly understand information management, ATIP, OL, Values and Ethics, or Web Accessibility? When you shift to a web 2.0 workforce these deficiencies become apparent much quicker. So if you have resources in these fields please take advantage of their expertise. A lot of people think that we can continue to work within the existing policy frameworks, but I disagree. I think that the government would have a lot more to gain by modernizing frameworks than by holding new tools to old standards.
There is no delicate way to put this so, excuse my bluntness, but building collaborative systems within your organization, while incrementally better than the status quo, is missing an opportunity. What people looking at implementing these solutions should be doing is working at the enterprise level, which is to say across the Government of Canada. Why should a handful of departments invest significant resources in building Web 2.0 systems that reinforce existing stovepipes? Its like little pigs moving from the house made of straw to the house made of sticks after the former was blown down. What we need to do is get into the big house made of bricks, cook the wolf, get the collaboration monkey off our back and …