A Pathway for Advancement

Interesting commentary from Kevin Willey, which I quote at length from LinkedIn:

Performance management is nothing more than buzz words in the government departments, and I speak from experience on this.  I entered the government back in early 2001, with the false impression that being creative and innovative would be rewarded, and that I could help to change things for the better.

Was I ever wrong. The harder I tried to point out a better way, the more I was ignored, and eventually punished for being innovative. I was even told by one of the managers that attempting to, or suggesting alternatives was not part of my job function.

We hear again and again from the political types they want to attract the brightest and the best, yet, everyone in Ottawa knows that a government job is a dead end, and that the only ones who get promoted are those who write tests well. Truly, they raise to their level of incompetence.

I have lived in Ottawa for 54 years, and I have heard this same story over and over, before I joined the public service, and could not believe it as true. That impression was way wrong, all those people were correct.  I also have two brothers who work in different departments, and they have reflected the same story.

In the public service, the managers are more interested about protecting their turf, than accepting new ideas for fear that they may be chastised for not thinking of the idea.  Twice this approach has caused me to have to take short term disability for clinical depression, before the last time it was almost not necessary because I came very, very close to ending my own life out of frustration.  Mental illness is almost at epidemic levels in the public service, I see it every day, and I have former friends who have killed themselves because of this frustration level. This is truly a sad state of affairs. 

Interesting comment from Kevin Willey, and I can attest to his remarks about the stress of working in the public service.

In my experience, the primary qualification for advancement to leadership positions is obedience. This may seem paradoxical, but it actually makes sense in an organization that should be taking direction from elected officials.

However, the side-effect of obedience is that as it permeates through the ranks, the result is, as Willey observes, managers who do not take risks and who do not welcome innovation from below.

That said, I am not sure that the situation is very different in large corporations, where again accountability is to external agencies, in this case shareholders, and where direction typically flows from the top down.

But these observations tell us where we should be directing efforts to support innovation. The spin-off is a prime source, where experienced staff spot an opportunity and make their move. So is proactive recruitment of experienced staff from large organizations to management level positions in smaller organizations, for the same reason.

I'm not sure how much discussion exists around regarding large organizations and the public service as sources for ideas and expertise that can be, if you will, 'mined' by the surrounding community.

Indeed, the most productive way of streamlining corporations and the public service may be to develop programs that encourage exactly this sort of activity: it would provide a pathway for advancement and at the same time create economic drivers in the community.


  1. In realizing that almost every cool thing happening in a classroom in British Columbia violates our province's information / privacy laws for minors, and wondering why more principals, superintendents and school trustees are more likely to prohibit the use of social media or any use of the open web than defend these practices as essential to the "21st Century Learning" these same people talk endlessly about, this thought crossed my mind today: "...the primary qualification for advancement to leadership positions is obedience." Taking momentary solace that it's a shared struggle...


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