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Thursday, 28 November 2013

Do we need more courage in the public sector?

by Kim Armstrong

Three things you need to know about courage in leadership:

1. Courage is "The ability to do something that frightens one."  Acting courageously is not acting in the absence of fear - it is acting in the face of fear, acting with mastery of fear.  It is doing the "right" thing, regardless of unpleasant consequences.

2. The most vitally important, and most notably absent, leadership quality in the public service is courage.  Courage is most notably lacking in matters involving people - not policy.  In the public service, we are fairly good at making the tough policy choices.  Not so much at dealing with toxic employees, leaders, and supervisors fundamentally lacking the ability to perform or interact well.

 3. Our actions often lack courage because we do not possess the skills to engage in uncomfortable conversations where somebody might be unhappy with us.  So instead, we choose avoidance and inaction, forgetting that the choice to do nothing is a choice too - being inactive is itself an action.

Three myths about courage in leadership:

Myth #1: If I leave the person where they are, maybe they will become competent, or "grow into the position".

The Reality: Sometimes, this may occur with focused and dedicated training targeted at the individual's developmental needs.  More often, though, no amount of training or development will change a person who fundamentally lacks key skills or key values.  Not everyone is capable of doing every job.

Myth #2: Since I put the person in this position, I need to give them a chance to succeed.

The Reality: Though this sounds fair, it can be used as an excuse for being unwilling to address a situation where someone lacks the abilities, skills or values to do a particular job.  By insisting on keeping someone in an ill-suited position, maybe you are making that person happy, but what about everyone else?  What about the people who work with or for that person and who deserve a fully competent, skilled, and principled colleague or supervisor but are, instead, getting the person you are leaving there? 

Myth #3: I do not know how to have the conversation so better if I avoid it altogether.

The Reality: Busting this myth is the whole point of this blog.  You CAN have these conversations.  Here are some suggestions about how to find the courage to act courageously.
  1. Identify the situations where courage is required, whether it is an incompetent employee, inappropriate behavior, deficient supervision, or otherwise.
  2. Map out the scope and intent of the conversation in advance - role play it with someone.  Be clear about your intent, highly self-aware and vigilant against defensiveness.  
  3. Identify possible options for a way forward and be open to alternative options that you had not anticipated.  Be open-minded.  
  4. Invite the conversation.  
  5. Take whatever actions are required.  Lead with courage and others will follow.

Ms. Armstrong has received her Honours Bachelor of Arts in Political Studies and her Bachelor of Laws.  She has also completed the Police Management Certificate.

In 1997, she joined the Edmonton Police Service as a Legal Advisor. She was later promoted to the position of Manager in charge of the Professional Standards Branch, Legal Services and Risk Management Branch.

In October, 2006, Ms. Armstrong began working for the Alberta Solicitor General as the Executive Director of the Law Enforcement and Oversight Branch.  She co-led the Alberta Long Term Crime Prevention Framework and the Alberta Gang Reduction Strategy.  In April, 2011 she was appointed as the Assistant Deputy Minister of the Justice Services Division for the Government of Alberta.   On June 1 of 2012 she was appointed to the position of Deputy Clerk of Executive Council and Deputy Secretary to Cabinet.  In this role, Ms. Armstrong provided advice and organizational support to Cabinet and its key committees.   

Most recently, on October 10, 2013, she was appointed as the  Deputy Attorney General for the Province of Alberta.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

How do you build a diverse and inclusive public service?

by Candy Khan

Three things everyone should know about diversity and inclusion at the City of Edmonton…

  1. Diversity and inclusion is an integral part of our culture, values and the way we do business.

  2. The City of Edmonton has a Corporate Diversity and Inclusion Framework that reflects Corporate Leadership Team’s vision to create an innovative organization.

  3. The City of Edmonton has four (4) Diversity and Inclusion goals:
  • Having a workforce that is broadly reflective of the community.
  • Identifying and addressing barriers within organizational systems.  
  • Attracting and retaining a talented workforce skilled at working in an inclusive and respectful manner with one another and the community. 
  • Creating processes, policies, plans, practices, programs and services that meet the diverse needs of those we serve.

      Three myths about diversity and inclusion at the City of Edmonton...

      Myth #1: Diversity means ethnic diversity.

      The Reality: The City of Edmonton has a broad meaning of diversity.  The City of Edmonton defines diversity as the range of human difference.  It includes a person’s age, socioeconomic background, gender, race, sexual orientation, ethnicity, ancestry, disability, religion, or physical characteristics.  Each person has layers of diversity which makes their perspective unique.  Individuals may share a common factor, such as age, but they may differ regarding their gender, ethnicity, or socioeconomic background.

      Myth #2: The City of Edmonton hires employees based on the Employment Equity (quota system) set out by the Federal Government.

      The Reality: The City aims to employ a workforce that broadly reflects the population of Edmonton. This will be achieved by removing barriers (e.g., policies or practices that unintentionally exclude people) and promote an inclusive and respectful workplace culture. The City has a transparent and consistent hiring policy to ensure individuals best suited for a position are hired irrespective of their age, socioeconomic background, gender, race, sexual orientation, ethnicity, ancestry, dis/ability, religion, or physical characteristics.

      Myth #3: The Respectful Workplace Directive openly invites complaints and enables disputes in the workplace.

      The Reality: Respectful workplace training is available for all City staff. This training clarifies the City of Edmonton’s policy, directive, and framework regarding diversity and inclusion. Employees understand their human rights. Human rights contribute to us all working and operating in a respectful and inclusive manner. The respectful workplace training serves to educate and prevent disputes to ensure a safe, respectful, and inclusive workplace for all.

      Candy Khan works as a Senior Diversity and Inclusion Consultant at City of Edmonton in the Human Resource Branch. She actively promotes and supports corporate diversity and inclusion policies, strategies and initiatives.  In the last five years, Candy has been able to make extensive gains in promoting a respectful workplace culture vis-à-vis curriculum delivery, training/education to all City of Edmonton employees, and working collaboratively with senior leaders to ensure policies, practices, and structures are equitable for all. 

      Friday, 15 November 2013

      Can Millennials build a better political future?

      by David Coletto

      Three things everyone should know about Millennials…
      1. Millennials (those born between 1980 and 2000) are the second largest generation in Canada with about 8 million individuals representing 24% of the population.  By 2020, 40% of the working age population will be Millennials

      2. Millennials, having been raised in a highly structure environment, crave feedback and believe they can achieve anything they want to.  They have high expectations and need to understand how they can achieve their goals.  Keep them focused and give them feedback on their work and they will stay motivated.

      3. Millennials are highly creative multi-taskers and adopt new technologies quickly.  Give them a problem and let them come up with a solution using their extensive networks.  Ask them to report their progress and provide constructive feedback on their work regularly.

      Three myths about Millennials...

      Myth #1:  Millennials are entitled, lazy, and don't work hard. 

      The reality:  We are all entitled to some extent, regardless of the generation.  Millennials have been raised to believe anything is possible.  Embrace this optimism and confidence and focus it on solving problems.  Bring them onto your teams, task them with specific jobs, and provide them with the structure and feedback they crave. Set clear objectives with time lines and deliverables and expect results quickly.

      Myth #2:  Millennials are apathetic about politics and public affairs. 

      The reality:  Yes, young Canadians are far less likely to vote than older generations but it is not because they don't care.  Most Millennials are highly engaged and care deeply about their communities.  Recent social movements in Canada (Occupy, Idle No More, and the student protests in Quebec) were organized and driven by Millennials. Many Millennials believe they are not informed enough about politics and don't yet have the confidence to responsibly participate as citizens.  But their generation's size means they can fundamentally alter the political life of a country or province.

      Myth #3:  Millennials are no worse off than previous generations.

      The reality:  It is empirically more difficult today for Millennials than in previous generations.  Not only is youth unemployment higher than in recent years, but many of the entry level jobs that young people could rely on in the past are taken up by older generations.  Add in high personal debt (higher tuition fees), unaffordable housing in most large urban centres, and a rising cost of living, and you have a generation that is delaying many of the big life decisions.  

      David Coletto is CEO of Abacus Data and adjunct professor at the Arthur Kroeger College of Public Affairs at Carleton University.  He is regularly called upon by private and public sector organizations to speak about how they can better understand and engage the emerging Millennial generation in Canada.  Follow him on Twitter (@ColettoD) and read insights and analysis at

      Wednesday, 6 November 2013

      Who are pracademics?

      by Maria-David Evans

      Three things everyone should know about pracademics…

            1.   Pracademics are folks who are committed to formally applying a duality to their profession complimentarily combining the best of both worlds: from academia and as a practicing public servant.

            2.   Pracademics are lifelong learners, continually enriching and improving their work, as public servants, through formal academic study and/or instruction. The corollary is also true: pracademics are academics continually improving their academic proficiency through engaging in actual public sector practice.

            3.    Pracademics excel as both public sector leaders, integrating theory into their practice and as academics enriching their academic knowledge through the application of practical experience.

      Three myths about pracademics...

      Myth #1:  Pracademics is the label given to former public sector leaders, who when they can’t do it any more…. teach it! 

      The reality:  There is immeasurable value in formally undertaking knowledge transfer throughout the public service through this path. Decades of public sector leadership experiences being passed on to public service practitioners trying to improve their capacities and striving for excellence, should be celebrated.

      Myth #2:  You can’t do both: work full time at a responsible public sector job and simultaneously  undertake lifelong learning through formal studies and/or instructing in an post-secondary setting. 

      The reality:  Over 90% of my MBA students work full-time as did I throughout my career: 32 years of continuous university studies (with occasional lecturing and teaching). And with today’s institutional flexibility there are a huge range of options for incorporating lifelong learning.

      Myth #3:  The term Pracademics is associated exclusively with Universities. 

      The reality:  Many Pracademics either attend and/or teach at technical institutions or colleges, where instructors are specifically hired for their ability to provide practical experience combined with the theory, study and research about a specific public sector practice (eg. law, communications, human resources, etc.).   

      Want to read more about pracademia?  Continue the conversation through Dr. Jared Wesley's post, "What is pracademia?" and Tracey O'Reilly's discussion of living the pracademic life.

      Are you a pracademic?  IPAC Edmonton is building a stronger pracademic network and culture in Canada through initiatives like this blog.  Share your story by commenting below, and join in the discussion!

      After 45 years of public service, Maria David-Evans retired from the Government of Alberta in November of 2011, where she had served as Deputy Minister since 1997 having held the DM posts in the departments of: Family and Social Services; Alberta Learning; Alberta Infrastructure; Children's Services; and Aboriginal Relations. Before joining the GoA, Ms. David-Evans built her public service career with the City of Edmonton having held senior positions in the departments of: Community and Family Services, the Planning Department and concluding her 31 year career as General Manager of Edmonton Parks and Recreation. As a lifelong learner and an obvious Pracademic, Maria attended university for 32 years and now teaches Public Sector Leadership at the University of Alberta's School of Business to MBA students. She is also an avid lifelong community volunteer and presently sits on 6 boards.