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.
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.