Too soon old, too late smart… Passing the Torch in the Public Sector

“Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.” Douglas Adams

In a previous blog I spoke about the article entitled “Generation Y Challenges the Public Service,” by David Eaves which offers some interesting food for thought Eaves leaves the impression which is entirely justified that the public sector is frustrated by the dominance of Baby Boomers.

With the baby‐boom generation (those born between 1946 and 1964) reaching retirement age there will be an increasing number of vacancies in the federal public government workforce. While labeling the situation as a “crisis” would seem like an exaggeration, this mass exodus of labour from the workforce does have the potential to cause significant challenges for the federal government. Source

Angela Majic in an article The Public Service: a Generation X Perspective responds to Eaves article in “Optimum” and argues that so were Gen Xers before them, who faced the additional challenge of trying to break into the public sector job market during the deficit-slashing days of program review. But Baby Boomers have something that Gen Yers (and Gen Xers, for that matter) do not have.  She points out that, “Going to school longer is not necessarily the same thing as being better educated. While one cannot deny the benefits of formal learning, and the fact that educational qualifications are crucial to being able to function effectively in a knowledge-based economy, experience can be a great teacher. At the risk of restating the obvious, people who are older have more experience.” She goes on to say  We can choose to complain about that, or we can take the opportunity to learn FROM the “organizational memory” or “corporate memory” that the Baby Boomers possess. We can choose to waste the next 25-30 years of our careers by re-inventing and re-discovering things that already exist. Or, we can learn FROM those who came before us, and improve and redesign things, so that systems, institutions, laws, regulations, etc. function better for us, our children and our grandchildren”

As someone who retired from the public sector a few years ago and who is now working as a consultant to the public sector, I do agree with this perspective. As former Newspaper Editor Samuel Smiles once quipped “We learn wisdom from failure much more than from success. We often discover what will do, by finding out what will not do; and probably he or she who never made a mistake, never made a discovery.”

It’s called experience. Yes that very overlooked attribute. Pilot Veteran flier Chesley Burnett Sullenberger III maneuvered the US Airways Airbus A320 jet around New York’s skyscrapers and pulled off an incredible landing on the water. The plane – flight 1549 to Charlotte in North Carolina – was apparently hit by a flock of geese only minutes after take-off from LaGuardia Airport. New York’s mayor Michael Bloomberg praised the pilot: “The first and most important thing is that this pilot did a wonderful job, and it would appear that all 155, including crew and one infant, got out safely, “We’ve had a miracle on 34th Street. I believe now we’ve had a miracle on the Hudson,” said the Governor of the State of New York, David Paterson in a press conference. Sullenberger, known as ‘Sully’, not only landed the plane masterfully but walked the length of the plane twice to make sure that everyone had been rescued.  Sully saved the plane because he  had experience.  He has been flying for more than 30 years, six of which he spent in the US Air Force behind the controls of F4 Phantom fighter jets. Sullenberger knew what to do on January 15, 2009, because he had thoroughly thought through the process long before he was called to land in the Hudson. He had many years of experience.   Some pundit on CNN suggested that before the “Miracle on the Hudson ” if Sully tried to seek employment with another airline he would be screened out because he was too old . In other words he had reached his “best before date”

“You know more of a road by having traveled it than by all the conjectures and descriptions in the world.” –William Hazlitt

The old proverb “Experience is the best teacher” is something we all know but sometimes forget. We seem to think that older or experience managers are old fashioned and are not up to speed with the new ways of doing things, especially with the new technologies that have emerged in the past 15 years. But they forget that new technologies, as great as they are, are no replacement for experience.

Angela Majic suggests in her article The Public Service: a Generation X Perspective that different generations need to learn from each other and have better two-way communications. “Only through a genuine dialogue that respects the abilities, knowledge and talents of all parties can we hope to bridge the often mentioned, yet seldom understood, “generation gap” in the workplace. In the process, senior employees may discover that their tech-savvy junior colleagues have solutions to long-standing information management and information flow problems, or that complex problems might be addressed after they are analyzed FROM a new perspective. Concurrently, junior employees may benefit FROM the mutual discovery that the wisdom that one gains FROM experience is something that can be passed down.”

Finally on the issue of corporate memory, which is a major problem in the public service with many managers retiring, her comments are very timely “Too often, valuable information is packed in a box of old files, stuck in an old day timer, erased FROM a hard drive, hidden in a box of floppy diskettes or left on a nondescript flash drive to be forgotten when someone retires. The work does not stop, however. Consequently, a new person coming on board has to learn many things FROM scratch.

How often do we see people retire or leave their public sector job after many years and with them goes all their corporate knowledge? As Angela Majic points out, “The knowledge accumulated by senior public service employees is too valuable to the people of Canada to be dismissed to the dustbins of history. The citizens of Canada deserve better.”

Experience is that marvellous thing that enables you to recognize a mistake when you make it again. Franklin P. Jones

I would be interested to hear from those who are recently retired or getting close to that date .


Marketing Public Sector Programs has become a Real Challenge

Is it becoming impossible to successfully run effective government marketing campaigns?.

We are now living in an over-saturated communications society with a tremendous amount of  marketing noise. Multichannel, 24/7 media, 400 TV channels, explosion of digital media how do you break through all the clutter? It is becoming a herculean task and demonstrating once more  the importance of marketing  concepts like branding, positioning and  segmentation.  At our Centre our mantra of “strategy before tactics” has never been more relevant. Every day we see lame attempts by non-profits and public sector organizations attempting to communicate to their audiences by using slip shod poorly crafted communication and marketing efforts without any strategy and seriously thinking that they can get their message heard or read. Even in cases when an organization has all the money and strategy  in the world and throws everything but the kitchen sink at a marketing program , there is no guarantee of success.

Take the Economic Action Plan here in Canada.  Last year, it was difficult to turn on the television or radio, glance at a newspaper, or drive anywhere in Canada without seeing marketing touting the federal government’s Economic Action Plan. It was the backdrop to almost every Minister’s appearance day in day out. Not to mention MP’s bearing giant cheques with the logo. The federal government ordered its bureaucrats across the country to track every single sign promoting the federal economic stimulus program.  This exercise began last summer, when the first signs were posted, and now spans eighteen departments and agencies.

Visitors watching Atlantic waves crash into the eastern tip of Newfoundland this summer couldn’t miss the iconic Cape Spear lighthouse, billboards advertised economic stimulus dollars at work, Similar signage blanketed the  the country featuring Economic Action Plan.  source

We’re not talking a few posters here, but 8,587, as of August 27 2010, and counting.   Multiply 8,527 by the price of a medium-sized sign, for argument’s sake, and the government would have shelled out $1,751,748. That figure, of course, would not include the cost of determining the signs’ location, or transporting, installing, and tracking them.

The advertising campaign for the government’s economic stimulus package—which uses a logo of rising green, blue and gray arrows—was launched in early 2009. The campaign includes a slick website, full-page ads in major newspapers and television spots. It cost $89-million last year. source

So what are the results of the most massive marketing communications campaign seen in recent history:

41 per cent of Canadians (57 per cent of Quebecers) had never heard of the Economic Action Plan.

More than half of those over 60 – the ones who normally pay more attention to news and vote more frequently than young people – hadn’t heard of the plan.

And among those who’d heard of the plan, most didn’t really know what it was about.

These results emerged from an Environics poll conducted last April for the Department of Finance.

Why did this program not achieve better  results? Hard to say. Was it because of the quality of the creative? Bad media placement? Bad strategy? Or was it because  as Jeffrey Simpson of the Globe and Mail points out this campaign did not have major impact because a whole lot of people aren’t interested in anything governmental, and/or they’re just misinformed about a lot of things.

So what’s the lesson here? Well one thing for sure the “tonnage” of marketing and communications resources may not matter if the message does not resonate with the intended target audience. Or maybe our expectations are too high and some will interpret these results as being great considering the topic area and the cynicism of  all things government .

May be if they had Stratford Ontario rocker Justin Bieber (and you thought the only thing that came out of Stratford was the festival)  delivering the message we may have had more resonance with young people  ( and their parents?) or Canadian icon  Don Cherry could have delivered the sports bar  crowd. The fact is that delivering messages is certainly getting difficult these days.

Let me know what you think.

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The erosion of charitable giving and some potential solutions to stop the bleeding

According to Statistics Canada Canada’s long tradition of supporting charities is showing signs of erosion.

The number of Canadians making charitable donations is falling sharply and the total amount donated has dropped by nearly $1-billion over the last two years. Meanwhile, the average age of donors has risen to 53, leaving many charities wondering where future funding will come from.

Figures released by Statistics Canada last week highlight a disconcerting trend for charities. The report showed that 5.6 million people donated money last year. That was down from 5.8 million in 2008 and was the lowest number of donors since 2002, when 5.5 million people gave money. In dollar terms, total donations dropped to $7.75-billion in 2009 from $8.19-billion in 2008 and $8.65-billion in 2007.

The participation rate – a measure of the percentage of tax filers reporting a donation – is even more troubling. Last year, 23.1 per cent of taxpayers claimed a deduction for making a charitable donation. That was down from 24.1 per cent in 2008 and marks a 30-year low. Not that long ago, nearly one-third of taxpayers reported a donation; now the percentage is less than one-quarter.

The trend indicates a growing gap between wealthy Canadians, who have largely continued to make donations, and the middle class, which has found giving difficult during tough times. Statistics Canada figures show that over the last decade the number of donors has fallen, but the median gift has increased from $190 to $250. That means fewer people are giving more money.

The average age of donors has also slowly moved upward, rising from 51 earlier this decade to 53 last year.  But a bigger concern is that young people don’t seem to be getting into the habit of donating. This obviously has implications for the future and the survival of charities and non-profits

So what is causing this decline? Nobody knows for sure but here is my take:

  • the  most recent  recession and the slump in the economy  makes it harder to give, especially tightened middle-class family budgets.
  • Religious participation, traditionally the route through which many Canadians give, has been falling.
  • The increase in non-profits and charities
  • Some believe that many Canadians  have simply become turned off from the act of giving, alienated by:

o   One too many fund-raising phone calls,

o   Direct mail and e-mails that have increased significantly by charities

o   Telethons , seems there is one every week

o   Charitable Lotteries ( does anyone remember that we once only had the Irish Sweepstakes)

o   Charitable organization solicitation at supermarket, shopping malls and other centres in the community

o   Numerous charitable auctions

o   Hospitals which are supposed to be funded by the taxpayer are now one of the largest fundraisers in the community

o   Alumni fund-raising (university graduates) which seems to be never-ending

o   Public schools use their students as their fund-raising arm selling cookies chocolates etc. Parents are not pleased

o   Religious institutions and related charities are heavy-duty into fund-raising and they have become much more aggressive but seem to be offering less and less to its members

o   Calls for financial support for disasters in Haiti, tsunamis in Asia floods in Pakistan earthquakes in Chile, China etc.

o   And there are the biggies like United Way and dozens of health and social charities which seem to need more and more money every year

o   And then there are charities like breast cancer which take all the oxygen out of the fund-raising room and have caused some to really question fund-raising in the health area. Pink M and M’s anyone?” How about pink football cleats and on and on it goes. See article

Some may argue that one of the reasons for decrease giving may be related to the headlines touting the six-figure salaries of some charity executives,(  a parliamentary committee is looking into a bill that wants to cap the salaries of CEO’s of charities at $250,000 and require the top 5 salaries of every charity to be publicly disclosed by name)   or the wasteful or unscrupulous ways of a few charities. Not to mention fraudulent charities ( think of the Ashley Kirlow cancer claim case )

If too many Canadians opt out of charitable giving, the character and face of Canadian philanthropy could change. Large signature projects such as hospital wings and university buildings which attract a few wealthy donors will keep getting built, but other sectors, and broad-based campaigns that depend on many small donors, such as the United Way, could start coming up short.Imagine Canada, an umbrella group for Canadian charities that there is real concern that “the donor base is shrinking and that’s very worrisome.”

For more info check out these links :

Link 1

Link 2

So what is the solution, well I suspect there will be cries for more tax concessions and of course handouts from government. But is there a better way ?

How about non profits developing revenue generation strategies using strategic marketing techniques . Or looking at how to use social  and digital media to attract donors, particularly younger donors? Surely it is time for senior managers who work in the non-profit sector to look at some innovative approaches to raising money for example through corporate sponsorships. We at the Centre of Excellence for Public Sector Marketing are always giving courses and workshops to non profits on how marketing can enhance their financial health. Check us out