Why the Canadian Government is Stuck in the Mud

In a recent post I pointed out that one of the big questions discussed in the public sector these days is should government be run like a business.  As James Ferabee points out in his article Can Government Services Be Run Like a Business?  There is a whopping difference between the overall mission and mandate of a government service provider and any private business. 

On March 5th, Donald J. Savoie published an op-ed in the Citizen in which he points out that the goal of government in Anglo-American democracies in the past 30 years or so has been to make public administration look like private sector management.

However he points out that not only have private-sector inspired reforms failed, they have made matters worse. Public-sector morale has fallen, policy units are less certain about their role in a post-positivism world and relations between politicians and public servants have deteriorated.

The private sector as I mentioned in my previous post values initiative and enterprise, invests for productive purposes, is thrifty, optimistic, and open to inventiveness.

The public sector, as Savoie points out values obedience and discipline, adheres to tradition, respects hierarchy and is exclusive. Because these differences were ignored by public sector management in the past 30 years, the public service as an institution has been knocked off its moorings. Attempts to make the public sector manage like the private sector have played havoc with two distinct ethical standards and roles both have played with success down through the ages. Public servants have lost their way, uncertain how they should now assess management performance, how they should generate policy advice, how they should work with their political masters, and how and when they should speak truth to political power and to their own institution.

He also points out that our political institutions are less tolerant of administrative miscues than they were 40 years ago.

I have certainly noted in my public sector career which started in the mid-seventies that making a mistake in recent years ends up on the front pages of newspapers, TV political shows and now on social media channels. These changes can be clearly linked to the rise of the new media and gotcha journalism, and along with access to information legislation, has had a profound impact on public-sector management at about the same time politicians decided to look to the private sector for inspiration on how to fix bureaucracy.

As a result centrally-prescribed rules and processes were substantially reduced in a fruitless search for a bottom line in government operations. The verdict according to Savoie … We have witnessed in the last decade, in particular, a tremendous growth in the cost of government operations and falling public service prestige. In brief, public administration can no more be made to look like private sector management than the private sector can be made to look like government.

As one Deputy Minister mentioned to me many years ago, the Auditor General, which is looked as the saviour of the public service, actually does more harm than good.  Although they do catch mistakes etc. the results are new demands and more resources to evaluation units, to risk management efforts, to values and ethics initiatives, to internal audit and to financial management controls and information technology. In many departments there is more effort and resources put towards the watchdogs than the people who are actually running the programs. I spent an inordinate amount of time as a public sector executive responding to these watchdogs and their “make work“ initiatives. There were periods where it was “tools down“ in providing government services so we could satisfy the enormous appetite of the watchdogs who have nothing better to do than impose on front line managers and their staff to do their bidding

Savoie points out that these shops are filled with bureaucrats and hired consultants who “turn cranks attached to nothing,” and churn out reports for senior management and Parliament that are barely read. Savoie argues this oversight bureaucracy has come at the expense of front-line services. The essence of the public service is to provide front-line services to Canadians and somehow the public sector has lost sight of that.

The public service is tasked with managing the paper burden, “feeding the beast“ and managing processes and we can lay much of that at the doorstep of the auditor-general and other parliamentary officers.” No business would survive under such oversight but it would take political courage to tell the auditor-general it was wrong.”

Finally, he says the government should eliminate most, if not all associate positions, which have contributed to the doubling of executive ranks over the years. There are now 20 associate deputy ministers and associate positions have been created for every level of management from assistant deputy minister to director. The consequence, he says, is that they have “thickened” government, muddied accountability and added another layer in the chain of command to “distort information” and make it more difficult for front line managers to get their concerns up the hierarchy. Source

Talk to a public servant in Ottawa today and ask them what is involved in getting anything approved through their departmental hierarchical maze. Also throw in central agencies like Privy Council Office (PCO) and the Prime Minister`s Office (PMO) and it is a wonder anything gets accomplished in government

So what is the solution?

There is a need to give public servants an administrative space that they can occupy relatively free from political and bureaucratic interference, and a sense of ownership, however tenuous, in their work. If this is not possible, then citizens need to accept that their public service will never measure up to expectations. It will remain riddled with inefficiencies and will be far more costly to taxpayers than it need be. If anything, private sector inspired management reform measures have made public servants feel worse about this institution than they need to. It will also become increasingly difficult to attract and retain the best and the brightest to the public service. source

Let me know what you think.


Public Sector Decision Making 101or How to Kill a Dead Horse

Someone sent me this and I thought I would share with my readers. Enjoy.

The tribal wisdom of the Dakota Indians in the United States, passed down from generation to generation, says that when you discover that you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount and get another horse or walk. The common sense approach.

In the Public Sector, however, a whole range of far more advanced strategies is often employed, such as:

  1. Change riders.
  2. Buy a stronger whip.
  3. Do nothing: “This is the way we have always ridden dead horses”.
  4. Visit other countries to see how they ride dead horses.
  5. Perform a productivity study to see if lighter riders improve the dead horse’s performance.
  6. Hire a contractor to ride the dead horse. (Can be as useful as a saddle when it comes to protecting your rear end!!)
  7. Harness several dead horses together in an attempt to increase the speed.
  8. Provide additional funding and/or training to increase the dead horse’s performance.
  9. Appoint a committee to study the horse and assess how dead it actually is.
  10. Re-classify the dead horse as “living-impaired”.
  11. Develop a Strategic Plan for the management of dead horses.
  12. Rewrite the expected performance requirements for all horses.
  13. Modify existing standards to include dead horses.
  14. Declare that, as the dead horse does not have to be fed, it is less costly, carries lower overheads, and therefore contributes substantially more to the bottom line than many other horses.
  15. Promote the dead horse to a supervisory position. (But, the competition for positions is fierce).

Yes that is how we do things in the public sector and why very little gets done.


Why Public and Not-for-Profit Marketers and Communicators should be attending MARCOM 2010

June 9-10-11 is very special here in Canada’s National Capital. The premiere educational forum for not-for-profit marketers and communicators takes place at the Hilton Lac-Leamy in Gatineau, Quebec.

MARCOM understands the daily reality in public and non profit sector marketing; where the focus is more about how to make large-scale changes with limited resources than conceiving of multi-million dollar campaigns. MARCOM takes a look at the trends and topics that matter most to public sector and not-for-profit marketers and communicators.

It’s a chance for those of us who work in this area to enhance our marketing knowledge and keep up to date on the latest trends. It is also an opportunity to network with those in the field and pick up practical tools and tips especially in the area of social marketing and digital marketing /web 2.0  .

This is the 12th year of the event and this year’s program is outstanding. This year’s theme: Marketing with Authenticity reflects on  how we breathe life into our causes, our campaigns, our livelihoods. When you’re authentic, you’re connecting in a deeper way – being truly heard, believed, remembered and trusted. People deal with people they like. People deal with people they believe. People want to deal with real people.

MARCOM offers inspiring keynotes, 15 concurrent sessions, Peer2Peer Round-tables and a Networking Reception. There are also 3 pre-forum Workshops and as always, there’s an Exhibit Showcase of marketing vendors who can elaborate on how their solutions can help you in your initiatives. This is an event not to be missed.

Who comes to MARCOM? Managers and service delivery professionals from functional areas such as:

  • marketing communications,
  • online marketing and web management
  • social media and web 2.0
  • branding
  • strategic communications
  • community outreach,
  • program management,
  • exhibit management,
  • partnership development,
  • fund development,
  • client services and
  • social marketing.


Mitch Joel: President, Twist Image

He is a marketing and communications visionary, interactive expert, community leader, Blogger and Podcaster. In 2008, Mitch Joel was named Canada’s Most Influential Male in Social Media. Mitch joins MARCOM to deliver the Opening Keynote on June 10th. Mitch’s keynote a few years ago at MARCOM was one of the most inspiring presentations I had ever seen. Frankly his keynote alone is worth the price of admission.

Terry O”Reilly: Age of Persuasion Host CBC Radio.

O’Reilly looks at what animates creativity and how the art of persuasion informs our culture. He delights both general audiences and advertising veterans, pointing to trends and dispatching timeless lessons. O’Reilly is an ad man in love with the promise of advertising but not blind to its shortcomings. Attendees of MARCOM 2010 will hear Terry deliver a keynote on June 11th.

Every Saturday I make it a priority to listen to Terry on CBC’s The Age of Persuasion   http://www.cbc.ca/ageofpersuasion/ and Terry never disappoints. He produces a high quality show which if listened to every week is like a course in marketing communications. I have always encouraged my university students who take my Marketing Communications course to listen to his broadcast.

I will be personally involved in the following sessions at MARCOM:

June 9, 2010 – Workshop

09:00 – 16:30 Social Marketing Planning – Implementing an Effective Campaign

Jim Mintz | Director, Centre of Excellence for Public Sector Marketing

One of the biggest challenges in Social Marketing Planning is the Implementation stage. Many organizations develop great plans, but poor execution leaves them wondering why they didn’t achieve the desired results. In previous editions of MARCOM, Jim Mintz has taken participants through a proven process for developing their social marketing strategy and plan. At MARCOM 2010, you will learn how to transform Strategies into Action! Jim will briefly review the social marketing plan process and then move into detailed discussions surrounding how to successfully implement your strategy. In this tough economy it’s important to ensure maximum impact for marketing dollars; especially when you are moving from planning into implementation where the majority of your budget will be allocated.

You will learn 7 key areas for social marketing plan implementation:

  1. What questions to ask when working with marketing and communications suppliers;
  2. How to develop a creative brief to ensure your communications agencies remain on strategy;
  3. The Do’s and Don’ts for smooth supplier relationships;
  4. Innovative ideas to fully leverage a limited budget;
  5. How to present and “sell” your social marketing strategy to management;
  6. How to approach and capitalize on strategic alliances;
  7. How to evaluate your campaign progress and success.

Take the next step: Join me and move your plan into action!

June 10, 2010

08:30 – 09:45 Session 1: “Leading the Charge” Panel: Learning from Marketing-Driven Organizations in Government

Facilitator: Jim Mintz | Director, Centre of Excellence for Public Sector Marketing
Karen Dufton | Senior Director General, Service Canada, Head, Marketing and Communications
Greg MacDougall | Director, Communications, CATSA
Lisa Allaire | Director General, Production and Advertising Services, Department of National Defence

What is a marketing-driven organization? What are some of the challenges faced in transforming a bureaucratic culture into a customer-centric organization? How do you get buy-in across the organization? These are some of the questions that will be answered by our panel of public sector marketing leaders who will share their experience and expertise on how they are creating a dynamic marketing culture in their organizations and what you can do to advance marketing as a powerful business transformation tool.

Register Today!

Hope to see you there.

Note the Centre of Excellence for Public Sector Marketing is a strong supporter of MARCOM 2010

Come visit us at our Booth.