Public Service Sector Renewal and Gen Y: Don’t be efficient

Perhaps the biggest problem for Public Sector Renewal is the enourmous expectation problem created by the internet.

Many of today’s Gen Yers have access to a dizzying array of free online tools. Tools this online generations has grown up and used to organize and make more efficient their personal lives.

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These range from the banal, such as Facebook (connect and find people), Evite and Socialzr (organize and send invites to parties), or Google Docs (manage version control and share essays across platforms) to the more sophisticated, such as Basecamp (manage school projects), del.icio.us (share research with friends), WordPress (share your thoughts) or TikiWiki (enable collaboration).

It isn’t hard to imagine how these tools can be used professionally. I’ve talked about the potential for a facebook-like application, but software similar to Evite and socialzr can help set up meetings, google docs and wiki’s can facilitate collaborative policy development, and basecamp is as effective at managing professional projects as it is school projects. A work blog can keep your colleagues up to date on your research and thinking as effectively as your personal blog keeps your friends up to date on your comings and goings.

And remember – these tools are not only free but people like using them.

However, as generation Y enters the work force – and, in particular the public service – it is confronted with a nasty reality. Their managers, Director Generals, ADMs and DMs aren’t familiar with these software programs and don’t grasp the full potential of the internet. More importantly, in the public service’s risk averse culture doing something new and different is frequently perceived as dangerous. And so, our intrepid new hires are literally being told – don’t be efficient.

This is remarkable. For perhaps the first time in the history of work a generation is finding that the tools they use to organize life at home allows them to be more productive than the tools they can use to organize life at work.

Take for example my friend who wanted to use survey monkey to send out a questionnaire asking 10 public servants across their department about potential dates and times when they would be free to meet.  The survey took 5 seconds to complete and would quickly identify the optimal date for such a meeting. However, her manager let her know very quickly that this was unacceptable. It was more important that each person be emailed – or better, called – individually, a process that gobbled up hours if not days. Time after time I hear stories of young people who, after doing what they do at home, quickly feel the full weight of the department descending on their cubicle. I won’t even mention an acquaintance who related a story of trying to set up a wiki (not even on accessible to the public!).

The larger point here is that it’s going to be hard to retain people when they feel like they have to work with two hands tied behind their back (because of the nature of the job public servants already work with one hand behind their back). Today’s best and brightest want the freedom to work quickly and efficiently – and why not? – this is what ambitious go getters do. Those that notice that their work lags too far behind what they can do on their own will find greener pastures to accomplish their aims.

Don’t believe me? Forget all the applications I mentioned above. Think about something as simple as Google. This simple application has created the expectation among Gen Yers (and even Xers and boomers) that information should be accessible and easily found. When was the last time you could easily find what you were looking for on a government webpage?

Public Service Sector Renewal’s biggest challenge is fighting the freedom that the internet is giving people. The freedom to accomplish tasks faster, to work more quickly and to be more effective – the only rub, is no one can control what anyone is doing because you can’t keep track of it all. There is simply too much going on. So, in short, in order to meet the expectations created by the internet the public service may have to learn to trust its employees.

Can it do this?

I don’t know.

29 thoughts on “Public Service Sector Renewal and Gen Y: Don’t be efficient

  1. Jeremy Vernon

    I think it important, as a Gen Yer who is a technology person, to not over-sell my generation’s understanding of technology.

    I think the defining characteristic isn’t an innate knowledge or skill or any such thing adopted by “growing up” around the technology – it’s a valuation, ‘net technologies are inherently more valuable because they’re ‘net technologies. Why? “Because, they’re like, on the internets, yo.”

    Given those motivational factors we are willing and (maybe more importantly) able to put in the time required to learn things like Facebook or GoogleDocs.

    A vast majority of young people are entirely clueless about the technology they’re using – they see it as magic as much as the older generation does. It’s a magic that is “theirs” though, so there’s a generational imperative to grok it.

    Reply
  2. Jeremy Vernon

    I think it important, as a Gen Yer who is a technology person, to not over-sell my generation’s understanding of technology.I think the defining characteristic isn’t an innate knowledge or skill or any such thing adopted by “growing up” around the technology – it’s a valuation, ‘net technologies are inherently more valuable because they’re ‘net technologies. Why? “Because, they’re like, on the internets, yo.”Given those motivational factors we are willing and (maybe more importantly) able to put in the time required to learn things like Facebook or GoogleDocs.A vast majority of young people are entirely clueless about the technology they’re using – they see it as magic as much as the older generation does. It’s a magic that is “theirs” though, so there’s a generational imperative to grok it.

    Reply
  3. David Eaves Post author

    Jeremy,

    Couldn’t agree with you more. A big part of this has to do with the fact that many young people are simple more comfortable using these new technologies.

    Your point is more nuanced than my own. A level of detail I didn’t opt for, but maybe should have.

    Thanks for adding!

    Reply
  4. David Eaves

    Jeremy,Couldn’t agree with you more. A big part of this has to do with the fact that many young people are simple more comfortable using these new technologies. Your point is more nuanced than my own. A level of detail I didn’t opt for, but maybe should have. Thanks for adding!

    Reply
  5. Chaf

    Great post! I agree that young professionals who are savvy with these free web tools should advocate their use when being interviewed for a job or in their current positions. I’ve recently implemented a RSS feed from a del.icio.us account I created in our intranet so that my colleagues could stay up-to-date with what is happening in our industry.

    I think the problem is that Gen Y’ers have a problem with breaking down old barriers and may feel that they have little sway in convincing older generations that these tools are good for their company. Also, since sites like del.icio.us are public, some employers may fear that competitors will keep tabs on what is being researched by their employees. (speaking from experience here)

    Reply
  6. Chaf

    Great post! I agree that young professionals who are savvy with these free web tools should advocate their use when being interviewed for a job or in their current positions. I’ve recently implemented a RSS feed from a del.icio.us account I created in our intranet so that my colleagues could stay up-to-date with what is happening in our industry. I think the problem is that Gen Y’ers have a problem with breaking down old barriers and may feel that they have little sway in convincing older generations that these tools are good for their company. Also, since sites like del.icio.us are public, some employers may fear that competitors will keep tabs on what is being researched by their employees. (speaking from experience here)

    Reply
  7. ncharney

    My personal thoughts about technology and productivity stem from the difficulties I have simply trying to run firefox at work, given that we are still using office 2000, firefox picks up some of the slack that a more up to date version of windows would. Why are we so worried about access? Once I managed my end around to get FF installed I am way more productive, ie, feeds from relevant agencies, relevant news items, quicknotes, etc.

    Again, a great commentary. With permission I would like to reprint your post on a blog a fellow PS and I just started that aims at providing a single source of information on the subject of renewal.

    site url below: it may change however in the near future we are still testing the waters for this personal project.

    http://cpsrenewal.blogspot.com/

    Reply
  8. ncharney

    My personal thoughts about technology and productivity stem from the difficulties I have simply trying to run firefox at work, given that we are still using office 2000, firefox picks up some of the slack that a more up to date version of windows would. Why are we so worried about access? Once I managed my end around to get FF installed I am way more productive, ie, feeds from relevant agencies, relevant news items, quicknotes, etc.Again, a great commentary. With permission I would like to reprint your post on a blog a fellow PS and I just started that aims at providing a single source of information on the subject of renewal. site url below: it may change however in the near future we are still testing the waters for this personal project.http://cpsrenewal.blogspot.com/

    Reply
  9. David R.

    Hi David,
    My wife Anna pointed out your blog when you guys connected through Facebook a while ago, and I have been following it fairly often, as you touch on my main area of interest these days: knowledge sharing and collaboration, particularly in the federal government.

    Your post is very interesting to me, given my frequent interaction with federal government managers, at all levels, on this subject. I am a big proponent of social software, and use many of those free tools you mentioned. Interesting that I haven’t taken to blogging yet… hmmm.

    Anyway, I digress. My comment to your post is this:

    What I am finding is that the typical risk adverse, old-school senior management in the federal public service, while still very much there, are themselves subject to renewal. There are fewer and fewer at the Director level that feel as you describe about technologies impacts on productivity, and this is creeping to the DG level. Soon, even those stodgy ol’ ADMs and DMs will move on to their next career (as high-paid consultants) and this will become less of an issue.

    I think the source of fear in managers has much to do with access to information (ATIP) and anonymity. How can managers control what is “ATIP-able” if they can’t control the applications people are using, especially when those tools are outside of the firewall and have no form of identity control? The only way they can deal with this is to bring the tools in-house, make them available; but get rid of the anonymity aspect, and make people accountable for their actions, and thereby, their comments, posts, confidentiality disclosure, etc.

    I work for a major technology company – we have rules for what we can and can’t disclose, how we should behave (ethics, etc) – and these apply just as much to the web/blogosphere as they do to in-person interactions. The Public Service has to get with the program on this, and realize that it is going to happen regardless of whether they approve of it, or they will lose good employees because they don’t (as you suggest). Why not enable it, nurture it, and take advantage of the reason’s why we users of social software use it in the first place?

    In the meantime, you are right though, that the Public Service must prepare now, for those entering the workforce in the next few years expecting these tools to be available for them. The likes of IBM’s Lotus Connections, and many other open source software products out there are gradually making their way onto CIO’s radar, but I hope it isn’t going to be too little, too late.

    Judging by the length of this post, maybe I should think about blogging, instead of ranting in a comment. Thanks for reading to the end.

    Reply
  10. David R.

    Hi David,My wife Anna pointed out your blog when you guys connected through Facebook a while ago, and I have been following it fairly often, as you touch on my main area of interest these days: knowledge sharing and collaboration, particularly in the federal government. Your post is very interesting to me, given my frequent interaction with federal government managers, at all levels, on this subject. I am a big proponent of social software, and use many of those free tools you mentioned. Interesting that I haven’t taken to blogging yet… hmmm.Anyway, I digress. My comment to your post is this:What I am finding is that the typical risk adverse, old-school senior management in the federal public service, while still very much there, are themselves subject to renewal. There are fewer and fewer at the Director level that feel as you describe about technologies impacts on productivity, and this is creeping to the DG level. Soon, even those stodgy ol’ ADMs and DMs will move on to their next career (as high-paid consultants) and this will become less of an issue. I think the source of fear in managers has much to do with access to information (ATIP) and anonymity. How can managers control what is “ATIP-able” if they can’t control the applications people are using, especially when those tools are outside of the firewall and have no form of identity control? The only way they can deal with this is to bring the tools in-house, make them available; but get rid of the anonymity aspect, and make people accountable for their actions, and thereby, their comments, posts, confidentiality disclosure, etc.I work for a major technology company – we have rules for what we can and can’t disclose, how we should behave (ethics, etc) – and these apply just as much to the web/blogosphere as they do to in-person interactions. The Public Service has to get with the program on this, and realize that it is going to happen regardless of whether they approve of it, or they will lose good employees because they don’t (as you suggest). Why not enable it, nurture it, and take advantage of the reason’s why we users of social software use it in the first place?In the meantime, you are right though, that the Public Service must prepare now, for those entering the workforce in the next few years expecting these tools to be available for them. The likes of IBM’s Lotus Connections, and many other open source software products out there are gradually making their way onto CIO’s radar, but I hope it isn’t going to be too little, too late.Judging by the length of this post, maybe I should think about blogging, instead of ranting in a comment. Thanks for reading to the end.

    Reply
  11. Jeremy Vernon

    Small factoid as well, you probably already know – 10% of the population of Canada are active users of Facebook (active = checks their profile on average > 1 p. mo and checked their profile within 25 days of the measure)

    Obviously the demographic on Facebook is HEAVILY biased in favour of college-aged kids – but that’s a HUGE group using this stuff on a regular basis.

    Reply
  12. Jeremy Vernon

    Small factoid as well, you probably already know – 10% of the population of Canada are active users of Facebook (active = checks their profile on average > 1 p. mo and checked their profile within 25 days of the measure)Obviously the demographic on Facebook is HEAVILY biased in favour of college-aged kids – but that’s a HUGE group using this stuff on a regular basis.

    Reply
  13. David Eaves Post author

    David R.

    Thank you for your post. Glad to hear you are finding the blog interesting. I fear I may cover too many topics to be of interest to blog readers (who tend to be fairly niche) and so comments like yours are really appreciated. Also, sorry for the delay in responding – some writing projects had me flat out.

    It is good to hear that change and an embracing of Web 2.0/technology is creeping up the chain of command. I’ve heard of some really exciting things happening over at NRCan that I hope to blog about soon. As with any large organizations there are pockets of excitement, larger pockets of conservative backlash and large swaths that are simply trying to stay afloat. These changes will happen, it is just a question of how long, and how painful will they be.

    Reply
  14. David Eaves

    David R. Thank you for your post. Glad to hear you are finding the blog interesting. I fear I may cover too many topics to be of interest to blog readers (who tend to be fairly niche) and so comments like yours are really appreciated. Also, sorry for the delay in responding – some writing projects had me flat out.It is good to hear that change and an embracing of Web 2.0/technology is creeping up the chain of command. I’ve heard of some really exciting things happening over at NRCan that I hope to blog about soon. As with any large organizations there are pockets of excitement, larger pockets of conservative backlash and large swaths that are simply trying to stay afloat. These changes will happen, it is just a question of how long, and how painful will they be.

    Reply
  15. Ellie-Sue

    The day that my *new* Gen X assistant deputy minister decided to launch a blog for the entire IT community just made me retrack in fear. I saw this is just another opportunity to weed out the trouble-makers (ie: people looking to improve the way things are). Thanks, but no thanks!

    You don’t have to be a Gen Yer to feel the wrath of the Powers-That-Be. This is not a new attitude in the Public Service. It’s just that now, it’s affecting a huge staffing pool that’s supposed to replace the retiring Boomers. It is much more visible and having a much wider impact. That’s a really BIG problem. It may mean the end of the public service as we know it — not just another “renewal” effort… which may not be a bad thing.

    Reply
  16. Ellie-Sue

    The day that my *new* Gen X assistant deputy minister decided to launch a blog for the entire IT community just made me retrack in fear. I saw this is just another opportunity to weed out the trouble-makers (ie: people looking to improve the way things are). Thanks, but no thanks! You don’t have to be a Gen Yer to feel the wrath of the Powers-That-Be. This is not a new attitude in the Public Service. It’s just that now, it’s affecting a huge staffing pool that’s supposed to replace the retiring Boomers. It is much more visible and having a much wider impact. That’s a really BIG problem. It may mean the end of the public service as we know it — not just another “renewal” effort… which may not be a bad thing.

    Reply
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  20. itjobs1

    My comment to your post is this:The Public Service has to get with the program on this, and realize that it is going to happen regardless of whether they approve of it, or they will lose good employees because they don’t (as you suggest). Why not enable it, nurture it, and take advantage of the reason's why we users of social software use it in the first place?Find more jobs: http://www.staffingpower.com/

    Reply
  21. itjobs1

    My comment to your post is this:The Public Service has to get with the program on this, and realize that it is going to happen regardless of whether they approve of it, or they will lose good employees because they don’t (as you suggest). Why not enable it, nurture it, and take advantage of the reason's why we users of social software use it in the first place?Find more jobs: http://www.staffingpower.com/

    Reply
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