Category: Colleen McCormick

Intrapreneurship in Action: An interview with Nick Frate

This month’s blog features Nick Frate, the Assistant Director of the National Recognition Program and National Test Services with the Canada Revenue Agency. He also sits as a reverse mentor on the Deputy Ministers’ Committee on Policy Innovation.

Nick Frate, the Assistant Director of the National Recognition Program and National Test Services with the Canada Revenue Agency.

Nick Frate, Assistant Director of the National Recognition Program and National Test Services with the Canada Revenue Agency.

Here is a snapshot of Nick’s accomplishments:

Nick started his professional career in the private sector, where he spent five years as a manager in a financial institution. His career in the public service began in 2007 with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). In 2010, he joined the Quebec Federal Council first as Coordinator of the Federal Youth Network of Quebec and Official Languages, and then as Regional Coordinator for the National Managers’ Community – Quebec Region.

Nick has a Bachelor’s degree from McGill University in Political Science and a Master’s degree in Public Administration from Université du Québec à Montréal. He is also the recipient of the 2014 Public Service Award of Excellence – Youth Category. Nick speaks four languages: English, French, Italian and Spanish.

I asked Nick what “thinking and acting like an intrapreneur” in government looks like to him and this was his response…

In my previous role as National Chair of the Federal Youth Network (FYN) and my current leadership role in the CRA, I understand the importance of intrapreneurship. Fundamentally, it’s all about the essence of leadership related to these two components:

  1. Social leadership and its defining characteristics; and
  2. Social branding – how you appropriately brand yourself.

For me, social leadership is about 5 elements:

  1. Authentic leadership: This style of leadership is not authoritative in nature because it’s focused on tapping into the whole team’s expertise. The authentic leader understands each team member’s strengths and weaknesses and enables them to lead a file at the appropriate time. It’s all about empowerment.
  1. Meaningful communication: Being an effective communicator in today’s noisy world is critical. To be effective, you need to seek out ways to take advantage of all forms of communication. That way, you can ensure that feedback and information is relevant, timely, adds value and is accurate.
  1. High-level of emotional intelligence: Self-awareness often facilitates good leadership. It allows for real connections to happen and trust to be built between you and your team. It also enables you to be vulnerable, open and transparent, and more in tune with people’s emotions and personal boundaries. Being self-aware is a fundamental ingredient when trying to build respectful relationships.
  1. Ongoing recognition: Giving real-time recognition while making sure you adapt your praise and feedback to the needs of the person being recognized helps build trust and strengthen relationships. This is particularly important when something fails because it presents a great opportunity to help everyone quickly learn from errors and improve.
  1. Real visibility, both physical and virtual: Visibility is another critical element of social leadership and it ties nicely with my second component of intrapreneurship – social branding. Your team needs to see and be inspired by you as a thought-leader. Social branding allows you to build your social media profile to showcase yourself as an expert in a particular area and promote your ideas through visibility. This helps you build credibility and take on exciting leadership roles in your areas of expertise and passion. All you need is a picture and profile, alongside social media tools. My preferred tools are Twitter, LinkedIn and Periscope.

Here I mentioned to Nick that I often hear leaders in the public service talk about the need for us to take thoughtful risks, to not be so afraid to try and fail, but I rarely hear them tell stories about “how” they create safe space to try and fail. So, I asked Nick to share how he gives permission and encourages people to try and fail. This was his response…

First, you need to create the conditions and climate for trust. This is why emotional intelligence is so important. You can only encourage trust when you are open, transparent and vulnerable, and when there is continuous communication so people feel like they can confide in you. I share with my team the times that I make mistakes more often than my successes because they represent opportunities to learn and grow. I need to lead by example and say “it’s okay that I got this wrong.” You also need to welcome negative feedback to set the example for the team.

Here Nick explains the difference between social leadership and traditional leadership…

Social leadership and social branding are key ways to demonstrate your leadership ability and have an impact. Ultimately, they are about how to be a leader without a title because I firmly believe you don’t need a title to be a leader.

I asked Nick what percentage of his team embodies social branding and he responded…

I believe that about 60% are embracing the idea. Some team members report directly to me and others report to a manager. Of those who report directly to me, it is 100%. When it comes to promoting social branding within my team, I stress that it’s not about doing it for me – the value is for them. What I want people to understand is that they are their own leaders. When I’m going to them for help to solve a problem, I need their expertise. They are the knowledge holders and I empower them to provide solutions. Social media tools enable their expertise to shine and it gives people the opportunity to sell and promote their talents.

I believe social media tools give you the power to do three things:

  1. Promote yourself.
  2. Take ownership of your career and personal development.
  1. Act as an ambassador for your organization through showcasing your expertise and preferred knowledge area to colleagues across government.

Having an intrapreneurial mindset helps me better lead, manage and inspire my team because I’m always focused on trying to find out what other people think and know. I don’t see employees in my organization. I see colleagues, who are equals, regardless of the title they may have in the hierarchy.

I asked Nick to share an example of intrapreneurship and he told me about a reverse mentorship initiative he has been involved in for the past three years in the federal government that nicely demonstrates the principles of intrapreneurship in practice…

This is not a program per se, but the reverse mentorship model is an extremely innovative initiative that has wowed Canada’s counterparts in Australia and the United Kingdom. Both countries are impressed with our leadership and intrigued by the executive support for this commitment.

Nick share’s the story of how the reverse mentorship model came to be…

Our previous Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Wayne Wouters, created a new Deputy Ministers’ Committee to examine social media tools and develop government policy around usage given its rise in popularity. This was a closed Deputy Minister table where policy, programs and service delivery were discussed at the highest levels. The appointed Committee thought it would be interesting and would likely to lead to better input if they brought internal people to the table that had vast knowledge of social media tools. The Deputies were keen to learn about how these tools could be applied in the public service even though none of them were using the tools. Furthermore, they thought it would be valuable to seek out people who were non-executives to share their expertise and perspectives, as well as participate as reverse mentors. This had never been done before so it was cutting-edge thinking.

First, the reverse mentors were asked to coach Deputies on a new social media tool and demonstrate how it functioned. Then they were asked to highlight the benefits and explain where and how the tool could be used in a policy area. In the second year, the Deputies realized the many advantages of having these non-executives around the table to bring forward unique perspectives and ramped up participation.

Andrew Treusch, the head of CRA, was placed on the Committee during the second year. He started looking for a reverse mentor to support him and I was the fortunate candidate selected. One of my first responsibilities as Andrew’s reverse mentor was working to help coordinate efforts on a report back to the Committee on a concept known as “nudging”. The nudge concept comes from behavioural sciencepolitical theory and economics – it argues that positive reinforcement and indirect suggestions to try to achieve non-forced compliance can influence the motives, incentives and decision-making of groups and individuals, at least as effectively – if not more effectively – than direct instruction, legislation, or enforcement. The Committee had a great interest in learning how the CRA was applying nudge economics to further its mandate. This was largely due to the Committee’s desire to develop a Playbook of Best Practices in the federal government and they were seeking input on different ways organizations were doing things to drive innovation and improve efficiency.

The role of this Committee continues to evolve. Now, in year three, it has officially become the Deputy Ministers’ Committee on Policy Innovation. Today, it’s known in government as the DMCPI – and the role of reverse mentorship has also increased to provide more than just coaching and teaching to Deputies on social media. The Committee invites ideas and input on other emerging policy initiatives and trends in government. This provides Deputies with great insight and adds to their ability to provide culturally relevant leadership. Currently, the Committee is looking into areas that don’t necessarily fit with any particular ministry or mandate. One area of focus is on the sharing economy.

A key factor driving success has been showcasing the value of the reverse mentorship model during the past three years. Promoting the benefits both the Deputies and the reverse mentors have experienced has led to the new Clerk, Janice Charette, supporting the model and showcasing it to her colleagues around the world. Many exciting opportunities lie ahead as we begin to connect the DMCPI to the new Government of Canada’s innovation hub.

I have shared an extreme example of mentorship – reverse mentorship – but this process of sharing expertise happens through any form of mentorship. I am a big supporter of providing a mentor connection site on the Government of Canada website to foster learning by exchanging knowledge across levels, functions and generations. Through these tools, we can help create a workplace that is more diverse and inclusive, and develop leaders by building on their strengths and showcasing their leadership skills. These networks are important for connecting gamechangers, intrapreneurs and social leaders.

Mentorship is always two ways – it benefits both parties. The Federal National Youth network advocated for the reverse mentorship model because of the relationship connection it facilitated between the junior and experienced employees. Enabling insights to flow both ways has led to great success.

Anyone from a junior analyst to middle management can be invited to participate in the DMCPI. Everyone is valued and treated like an equal. The role of the reverse mentor includes disseminating information so knowledge doesn’t stop with them and engaging colleagues across government to get involved in certain activities. These may include hosting seminars and workshops to collect feedback.

For any leader, I believe it is fundamental to have a reverse mentor. In these informal settings, you get to know people. It is worth your time and focus because you will get so much out of these relationships. As a leader, you just have to make the time. You, and your performance, will only be better.

I’m currently interested in working with colleagues from DMCPI and the CRA on the digital workplace and how it can be a tool that can facilitate real-time collaboration across government. These are areas of interest to the DMCPI – policy areas that are forward thinking. The items discussed are not yet under the purview of any department or ministry, and don’t yet fall under the responsibility of a Deputy Minister. That is what makes this an innovative model – its focus on thinking forward.

I asked Nick how many representatives sit on the Committee…

Nineteen reverse mentors sit on the DMCPI. What makes this role so special is your perspective matters. You don’t sit at the back of the table behind your Deputies. You sit at the table and you are frequently called upon to share your opinion. If you are interested in learning more or connecting in, they have a twitter account, which is @DMCPI.

I asked Nick to share the benefits he has experienced as a result of the DMCPI – and this is what he said…

I have learned a lot from this experience, but most importantly, I’ve gained a clear understanding of how the machine of government functions. I understand the importance of the institutional structure and how it relates to the foundational pillars of the public service. I have a much better understanding of the principles the public service has been built on.

I am stating this as a key lesson because, as much as I’m all about being a game-changer, I believe that being a guardian for all Canadians requires you to have a deep understanding of the pillars of the public service. Having this type of exposure to the complex challenges many Deputies are grappling with has allowed me to connect the dots and better understand the functions of government. I often find it hard to believe that I’m getting this opportunity to sit at the DMCPI table.

Being exposed to Deputies in this way has also “humanized” these leaders in my eyes. It has made them real, approachable, and easier to follow. When leaders seem far away it’s hard to connect with them, but when you are able to interact with them at a table like this, where you are colleagues, it’s amazing! It makes your dedication to your job, and to the organization, quite profound. I think it increases your engagement tremendously.

The last question I asked Nick was about an intriguing comment I heard from him in Ottawa at the Institute of Public Administration of Canada’s New Professional’s conference. He said “don’t talk to me about being overwhelmed and work/life balance, talk to me about life work integration.” I asked Nick to tell me more about that statement…

I don’t believe in life/work balance. You have one life. You are one person. You are who you are so you need to find personal balance when you are leading a team, especially the intergenerational teams we’re all a part of today. For me, I work all the time because I’m always thinking about challenges and solutions. We are human. I am one Nick and I come into work with my own world and concerns. When I need to do something on the personal front, I do it. I don’t feel guilty about it. By focusing on life/work integration, I think it allows you to better manage your needs. If you have something in the middle of the day, you address it, and get your work done at night. If you have a passion around a change effort, live it, and find a creative way to connect it to your work. This sometimes takes time and discipline but life/work integration is always possible. We are all adults and we know what we need to get done and how best to manage our life/career pressures.

I have never had a personal versus professional dilemma. For me, I portray I’m an expert in social media. I have learned that it’s important for me to not only showcase my professional side through social media, but also my human side. So I have shifted how I use Twitter. I stay focused on my professional interests, and also share more about who I am. I’m a dad. I love to cook and make homemade pasta – it allows me to connect with my creativity and my heritage. Showing who we are, more often, will help connect us.

And I believe everything is about connection.


These are the treasured examples of innovation I am on a quest to seek out. It’s why I write this blog – to showcase innovative practices and mind-sets in an effort to demystify what innovation looks like in government.

Innovation is not going to happen in isolated change labs or hubs. Often times, it doesn’t even come from innovation champions, conferences, public speakers or lean practices. Innovation comes from forward thinkers who create space for new dialogue. It also comes from creating the vehicles to harness the idle knowledge locked deep within our organizations.

Innovation stems from leaders like Clerk Wouters, who started the DMCPI. Innovation is driven by the Deputies on this Committee, who immediately saw the value of having reverse mentors and non-executives at their table – as equals. Finally, the conditions for innovation will only intensify given the leadership of Clerk Charette, who is now championing and expanding the mandate of the DMCPI.

This is a brilliant demonstration of public sector innovation and excellence. The public innovators who sit around this table set the leadership bar high. They illustrate the difference between leadership by position and leadership by action.

It begs the question – why don’t we have a Committee like this for each level of government across Canada given the great success of the reverse mentorship model?

I, like, many other public servants are struggling in the public service today to find genuine leadership and the space to bring new problem-solving strategies and policy ideas to the forefront. I continue to hear from executives that there are skills gaps. The only major skills gap I see is a leadership deficit. Leadership models such as the DMCPI stand as a beacon of hope for public innovators who want to showcase their skills in a different way.

And what I really appreciate about Nick’s social branding vision – is it’s a development opportunity that puts YOU in the driver’s seat of showcasing YOUR unique expertise. You don’t need to sit at the DMCPI table to do this; you just need to believe in your talents and be willing to share them with the world.

Colleen McCormickColleen McCormick is Director of Strategic Issues with the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism, and Skills Training and former Director, Innovative Partnerships where she managed the social innovation file in the Ministry of Social Development. Colleen is also the founder of Social Innovators Network Foundation. Previously, she was a TEDxMileZero organizer and National Chair of the New Professionals for the Institute of Public Administration of Canada. She has an MBA from RRU and a Graduate Diploma in Social Innovation from the University of Waterloo. You can contact her on Twitter @SInnovatorsNet.


Lessons from the Field: Intrapreneurship in Action series

In this month’s blog, I’m featuring Dylan Sherlock, Policy Analyst for the Natural Resource Sector Transformation Secretariat. I have had the great pleasure of working with Dylan to establish our intrapreneurship network in the BC Public Service.

Dylan beautifully exemplifies the mindset of the next generation of public servant. He is a talented policy analyst, masterful collaborator, clever strategist, and respected community change agent. Dylan demonstrates what audacious and promising leadership looks like in the up and coming ranks of the BC public service.

Here is a snapshot of Dylan’s experience and accomplishments:

Dylan SherlockDylan Sherlock is a Policy Analyst in the BC Natural Resource Sector Transformation Secretariat where he provides cross-sector strategic policy advice to support the BC government’s Natural Resources Permitting Project. Previously, he entered government through contract and auxiliary position work in the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.

Dylan holds an Honours B.A. in Pacific and Asian Studies from the University of Victoria and is working on completing his final project of the Masters of Public Administration program at the University of Victoria. Before joining government, Dylan worked in the not-for-profit sector, where he maintains strong ties, including volunteering as the Treasurer of the Community Social Planning Council of Greater Victoria.

I asked Dylan what brought him into the public service and here is his story…

“I lived in China for two years during my undergraduate degree, learning Mandarin and at the very end of my time in China, I was interning in Beijing with an international environmental NGO that aims to foster environmental values with university students who were being groomed for positions in the public service of the Chinese state. It was particularly interesting, because I was meeting (hopefully) a future generation of leaders who were determined to confront the serious environmental challenges that China and the world faces.

Getting a window into the challenges of another country, especially China, was an incredible experience for someone of my age. I had a powerful realization that I was deeply engaged with people doing inspiring work but I still felt like an outsider. I realized that I didn’t want to just be an observer or academic studying change; I wanted to be hands-on making change happen.

I knew that if I wanted to have real impact, I would have to go back to my own country. This commitment to focus on change within my own community was life-altering. I left China and shifted my studies to public administration. I also became involved in student politics and became the Director of Finance of the student union, which gave me a taste of responsibility in a medium-sized non-profit and a chance to contribute to the sustainability of the campus and broader community.”

Dylan laughed, shaking his head, “it sounds kind of crazy, but I really just wanted to learn how to be the most effective public administrator I could be.

The UVic Masters of Public Administration program led me into the public service, though just barely! At the time, it was nearly impossible to find work in BC Government at the time due to the hiring freeze and a lack of coop opportunities. The last week I was going to be in Victoria before heading off to another province, I received an offer to do a research contract on natural resource policy. I am still so grateful to my boss for wanting to give opportunities to graduate students. From there, I moved into an auxiliary and finally a permanent position.”

I asked Dylan to describe what an intrapreneur in action looks like to him…

“Anyone can be an intrapreneur. The meaning of the word entrepreneur comes from French, meaning someone who someone who undertakes, but also literally a “between taker”. I think this is a great way to also look at the meaning of an intrapreneur. As I’m trying to be entrepreneurial in government doing inter-agency work, I do feel like a between taker. Most of my time is spent seeking input and ideas from different sources. The exercise of pulling all of these different pieces of information together to see new possibilities is what intrapreneurship means to me. And it’s not just about seeing the connections and opportunities, it is also the act of weaving possibilities together to create something new and exciting.

I also think I have a somewhat higher tolerance for risk and acceptance of making mistakes than most which helps me try different approaches in my work. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have direct supervisors who allow me to try and fail – a process that enables fast learning. You need that support to help you grow. This is what makes work worth getting up for in the morning.

Lately, I have been thinking about the importance of the ability to speak truth to power. If you recognize problems as they emerge, it is so important to have the confidence to push these problems up the organizational hierarchy. As long as the advice is given honestly and non-judgementally, as analysis of the issue, it is critical that decision makers hear it, even if it isn’t what they want to hear. There is a perception among many young public servants that senior public servants aren’t willing to listen to inconvenient truths, but fortunately I have found that my supervisors and executive team demand this kind of honesty. I suspect and hope that this is mostly the case across government, but I think the missing piece is giving lower ranked staff the confidence and ability to know how to succeed in speaking truth to power. Without that missing piece, a lot of insight and innovation stays untapped.”

Dylan describes an example of executive creating the right conditions for entrepreneurship…

“One of the most powerful examples of executive creating the right conditions was our Assistant Deputy Minister making a speech the first major meeting of our new secretariat where he highlighted that NRPP is a flat organization in which employees are expected to take initiative, make decisions and take responsibility for their activities. What people often don’t understand is how important that type leadership is in encouraging people to innovate. I raise this example because I know I am having a very positive experience in government and this is not always common for most people at my level and age. Leaders play a critical enabling role for those of us at the analyst level.”

Dylan shares his principles and practices when it comes to addressing challenges innovatively in his day-to-day work…

“I believe you have to collaborate to innovate. Trying to get things done without the explicit authority to do it takes creativity! It also takes lots of patience.

If you are missing the authority – collaboration is the best end run you can do – it’s through good collaboration that you find the authority.

Some changes come from on high as political or corporate direction, but most of what the public service does originates at the lower and mid-levels. The real rich opportunity space for innovation that hasn’t been mined enough is in-between ministries. There is so much we can do if we work together. Once we step out of the silo world, just by virtue of collaborating, we will solve problems – often by accident. This is what makes this space so exciting.

Magic happens when people who don’t normally talk to each other start talking.”

Here Dylan shares how he thinks about solving problems in a cross-sector context:

“I think about the people who I am trying to serve. I look for the clear line of authority within the hierarchy. Often, that clarity is not there. This means you can’t just drive forward unless you can do everything inside one agency, which is rarely the case in my work.

As soon as you have to do things across ministries, you are going to face major challenges because we have so many sub-cultures and capacity challenges within government. This is where you need to develop a good plan on how to best engage other ministries.

Many different factors drive people and inviting them to work together can be very hard. Some questions to be taken into consideration are: What is the other ministry’s workload? What are they going to get taken to task on by their Minister? What do their stakeholders want?

One of my defining moments as a public servant was when I was up in Fort St. John facilitating an inter-agency workshop. I saw two groups come together when they themselves weren’t sure collaboration was possible – there was a perception of a huge cultural gulf that in the end mostly disappeared. In large part, it came down to creating the conditions for them to reveal the similar challenges that they face in their work and realize that they had more that was similar than different in how they operated. The end result of the meeting was front-line staff from the two agencies proposing solutions that went beyond anything what we had originally proposed.”

Dylan shares some of his key insights, success factors and lessons from the field…

On learning from social movement-building and civil society: “II’m a big believer in the Marshall Ganz method of movement building. You can learn a lot from this when it comes to public policy and human behaviour. One of his key ideas is one-on-one coaching – the coaching developmental method. I like this idea because my position is not one of perceived power – it’s a position of building towards common goals of creating public value and fulfilling our role as public servants.

This one-on-one concept is applied well when it comes to policy development. You need to have a lot of conversations with your team, stakeholders and key advisors. These meetings are so important, particularly if you have four or five agencies you’re working with. You need to work with each individually in order to understand where an issue falls in their priority list. You need to find out how much people care about the issue that you are addressing and work from there.”

On giving credit to his supervisor and his leadership team for providing him opportunity to grow: “My director, Stewart Guy, has been a fantastic coach and mentor. He constantly encourages me to understand the organizational and human context of issues and he also takes the attitude of throwing me into the deep end to learn to swim. I am both grateful and frustrated to see friends and colleagues at the same level who aren’t provided the same opportunities to grow.

And the rest of the leadership team is no different – my executive director loves to engage us in open discussion about big policy ideas, which is amazing. My manager involves me in decision-making. When doing analysis work I feel like I’m an equal member of the team. Sometimes I’ll say the wrong thing because I don’t have the experience to provide the right advice, but that’s okay because I get the advice and the support I need to succeed in the end.”

On the challenges with problem solving in government today: “When I talk to my peers in government, many are frustrated and concerned that proper policy development processes are not being followed. People are feeling that they are not able to do careful analysis of a policy issue and its implications, or even to question if there could be more than one way to solve a problem.

There is a tendency that someone who has a lot of experience and expertise will say, ‘I know the solution, let’s just go and do it’, sometimes without even a clear problem definition. The ‘analysis’ work is relegated to justifying the intuition. While this is problematic, I would note that often the intuition approach actually works. Intuition of experienced leaders can be completely solid – and on the flipside, structured policy process can be time consuming and expensive. Nonetheless, we still need to try harder to be more thoughtful about how we solve problems.”

On using visualization to improve policy discussions: “Shifting from outputs to outcomes is so important. People are driven by what they are being measured on and if we’re driving towards the goals, we’ll get the wrong results. Logic models are an underused, but powerful tool to help flesh out our thinking of cause and effect in public policy development. In general, visualizing policy issues in different ways in a powerful level for shifting thinking. Even just using the smart art function on Microsoft programs can completely change a conversation. When you get a logic model or other visualization right, you can feel the impact that it has on people in the room.”

I asked Dylan what he thinks the next generation of the public service will look like…

“At a high-level, we will have a lot more internal capacity to solve problems. We will have greater knowledge, distributed (or “matrixed”) lines of accountability, network-based teams and a much bigger policy tool box to work with.

We have such a high volume of people leaving the public service with so much expertise and experience that entire business areas are going to need to be redesigned. This is daunting for government, and a common challenge facing many sectors today.

We are going to have to do government differently. We are going to have redesign and redefine our roles as public servants. To deliver better outcomes, we will need to become more audacious in every way.”

Colleen McCormickColleen McCormick is Director of Strategic Issues with the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism, and Skills Training and former Director, Innovative Partnerships where she managed the social innovation file in the Ministry of Social Development. Colleen is also the founder of Social Innovators Network Foundation. Previously, she was a TEDxMileZero organizer and National Chair of the New Professionals for the Institute of Public Administration of Canada. She has an MBA from RRU and a Graduate Diploma in Social Innovation from the University of Waterloo. You can contact her on Twitter @SInnovatorsNet.

Lessons from the Field: Intrapreneurship in Action

In this month’s blog, I’m featuring Bette-Jo Hughes, Associate Deputy Minister and Government Chief Information Officer, who I had the great pleasure of working for directly, while on a temporary assignment three years ago.

 Bette-Jo HughesBette-Jo’s reputation precedes her. As well as being one of the most respected leaders in the public service, she is also caring, sincere and willing to take on any challenge. A big believer in collaboration and people, Bette-Jo artfully demonstrates what good leadership looks like in today’s Public Service.

With her 25 years of service-oriented experience, we can learn a lot from Bette-Jo’s lessons from the field on how to get things done in government.

Here is a snapshot of Bette-Jo’s experience and accomplishments:

Bette-Jo has been the Chief Information Officer for the Province of British Columbia since October 2012. The Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) plays a leadership role in promoting and guiding the management of government information as a strategic business asset, and supporting technology infrastructure as a key enabler of business transformation.

Before her current appointment, Bette-Jo was Assistant Deputy Minister of Service BC where she led cross-government service delivery initiatives to improve services to the public. These initiatives included online, telephone and in-person channels, as well as business registry and statistical services. She was also involved in the development of service delivery agreements with the private sector, including the negotiation of the Service BC – IBM Alternative Service Delivery Agreement for the provision of web channel and contact centre services.

Bette-Jo has held a number of other key leadership positions, including BC representative on the Canadian Public Sector Service Delivery Council, and President of the Board of Directors for the Institute for Citizen Centred Service. She is currently the BC representative for the Public Sector Chief Information Officers’ Council.

Here is what Bette-Jo had to say about becoming the Chief Information Officer – a role that came as a surprise…

“I became the government CIO two years ago. This was foreign to me, from what I was doing – at least I thought it was. But once there, I realized that the basic things I had always done – focusing on delivering great services to citizens – was not all that different from running Government’s Information Management and Information Technology office. This was just another way to enable work and support the transformation of government services.

“When I entered into the role permanently in June 2013, I had my list of things that needed to be done, and that list became my priority.

“As the new CIO, we undertook a transformation, to bring together three organizations which operated very separately – the Strategic Partnerships Office, the Government CIO, and Technology Solutions. We evaluated what was going on, determined that these organizations weren’t working well on their own, and decided to take a lifecycle approach to the modernization of government IM/IT services.

“Through this transformation, we also moved from a competitive environment, where people weren’t incentivized to work together – to a culture that encouraged collaboration and rewarded it.”

I asked Bette-Jo what “thinking like an intrapreneur” in government means to her and here was her response…

“It means encouraging people to surface their new ideas, providing them with direction and supporting them, as well as setting people free to pursue them.

“It also involves working collaboratively across the organization to bring ideas together and build on them – I believe you always end up with a better product when you expand the discussion and bring more voices into the conversation.

“I started out with a more command and control approach when I first became a Director because of my limited experiences. This really changed after I moved into areas where I was not the subject matter expert. I needed to adjust my management style and trust my team. The more experience I gained, the less I felt the need to be in control of everything. You bring together the best people you can to accomplish a goal and you let them blossom into their own leaders.”

When asked about her defining moment as a public servant, Bette-Jo she shared this…

“I’m not sure I have one defining moment as a public servant. A few highlights that do come to mind – the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Government Agents in the Province; becoming the Assistant Deputy Minister of Service BC; and, becoming the Associate Deputy Minister and Government CIO.

“I do remember suddenly realizing that what I said had weight behind it. People took my words to mean a lot which brought about a new level of responsibility for me. As a leader, this was an a-ha moment that forced me to really think about what I was saying and how I was saying it.”

Bette-Jo explains how she moves ideas forward…

“Always clarify the problem you are trying to solve; ask “why is this important?” and “how will the solution change things for the better?”

“Be clear on the strategic direction and the benefits for stakeholders. Focus on a few key action items, develop a plan and then work through that plan.”

I asked Bette-Jo what strategies she deploys when encountering areas of resistance while leading change. Here’s her advice …

1. Find allies; dance with the people who want to dance with you
2. Demonstrate success and build on it
3. Continue to focus on your vision, ensuring that every step you take leads you in that direction
4. Course correct as necessary
5. Don’t focus on placating the naysayers, let success speak for itself

Next, Bette-Jo shared some lessons learned throughout her career…

“Self-awareness is key – it’s important to know yourself, to understand other people, and seek out different points of view. Go to people you trust and ask often for good, honest feedback.

“Focus on your strengths and play to them. Pursue a job that brings out your best strengths – find that perfect fit between your work and your talents.

“Know when you’re in a good spot – it’s not always about getting to the next level. You can lead important change from where you are. Sometimes people feel pressured to take on new opportunities but we need strong people who love their work and their positions. Appreciate all the great things you can do and relish your successes!”

On having the courage to take on daunting roles…

“I trust when someone tells me they think I can fulfill a role. I’ve had the opportunity to work with incredible leaders throughout my career. This has given me the chance to observe some amazing women in the public service. From a junior manager, I had great female mentors and supervisors who were very supportive of me. This definitely shaped who I am. Now, I see the development of others through mentorship as a priority for me.”

On the art of collaboration…

“Collaboration is not always easy or pretty – people sometimes have very strong feelings and ideas about certain things. Collaborating is about working through divergent perspectives while keeping a focus on the common goal. It’s not about “you’re right and you’re wrong,” it’s about finding out how everyone can bring their unique gifts to the table.

“And it is not about trying to get to perfect. It’s about getting to a starting point and working from there.

“We all have something to contribute and a role to play in addressing our challenges. You have to involve all the right people in finding solutions. If you don’t, the solution you develop will likely not be sustainable or meaningful.

“If we try things out and learn as we go, then we will only get better.”

On personal growth and development…

“• Ask good questions
• Clearly translate the value and benefits of a business change – ask yourself “why should government care about this?”
• Find mentors you want to mirror, those who share the same values as you and who have a similar style – this will help you stay true to who you are as you grow.
• Plan and focus (if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there)
• There is always a lot going on, but it’s important to step back and look at the whole picture. What are the two most important things right now that you are passionate about? You can’t focus on 25 things but you can have a lasting impact on a couple of them.
• Know your numbers. As you become more senior, it comes down to math (budget and performance metrics). If you’re passionate about change, then build an evidence-based case for your initiatives.
• Continue to learn. Always be open to learning – perhaps through TED talks or reading articles.
• You have to let go of control. In the past, I was forced to let go because of time constraints. Now, this comes more naturally and I’m always amazed by the great things people make happen when you give them the opportunity.
• Stuff happens! Even with a beautiful plan, and all the information we need to take us where we want to go, other forces may have a different idea. Have a plan B – or a detour to your North Star.
• Be resilient. “We should look at the past, but not stare at it. Let’s learn from our experiences – not dwell on them.”
• Stay healthy, and fit for change. Take care of yourself.
• Have fun!”

Finally, I asked Bette-Jo about her legacy, which she found to be a difficult question. Given her deep dedication to the organization, she rarely thinks about her personal legacy – she feels it’s more about the organization than the individual. After highlighting all of the positive experiences that I, and many others have had working with her, here is what Bette-Jo shared…

“I would like to be seen as someone who has contributed to ensuring the sustainability of the organizations I worked in for the overall benefit of the BC Public Service.

This involves identifying change drivers, and realigning the organizational culture and strategies to remain relevant into the future. It also includes identifying leaders in the public service, and working with individuals and teams to grow and develop their leadership capacities.

I think our job as leaders is to grow more leaders, so that when we move on, the organization continues to thrive.”

Colleen McCormickColleen McCormick is Director of Strategic Issues with the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism, and Skills Training and former Director, Innovative Partnerships where she managed the social innovation file in the Ministry of Social Development. Colleen is also the founder of Social Innovators Network Foundation. Previously, she was a TEDxMileZero organizer and National Chair of the New Professionals for the Institute of Public Administration of Canada. She has an MBA from RRU and a Graduate Diploma in Social Innovation from the University of Waterloo. You can contact her on Twitter @SInnovatorsNet.

The Intrapreneurial Spirit

I write this blog because I have an unwavering belief in the potential of the public service.

With this belief in mind, and with an Intrapreneurial spirit, I use this platform as a way to reimagine, redefine, and redesign the 21st Century Public Service.

Intrapreneurs are people who adopt entrepreneurial attitudes and apply start-up practices within large bureaucratic organizations. Recently, I came across another excellent illustration of this concept featuring David Gram, Head of Business and Marketing Development at Future Lab, on how LEGO continues to invent the future of play. Gram reveals how LEGO avoided going bankrupt in the face of challenges, while promoting innovation within the larger organisation to ensure that they will “inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow.”

I’ve been studying public innovators and intrapreneurship in government formally, and more importantly, informally over the past decade. Now, I interview “intrapreneurs in action” because I want to showcase their inspiring Principles and Practices in an attempt to accomplish two goals:

  1. Demystifying how innovation actually happens in government; and
  2. Shining a light on innovative thoughts and actions.

I have interviewed both new and experienced intrapreneurs including the head of the Canada Revenue Agency, Deputy Ministers, Assistant Deputy Ministers, managers, analysts, administrators and even interns.

What I have found in my research is that intrapreneurs share principles of commitment, perseverance, determination and patience. They seek to understand how to get things done in government, and how to do things better, while also addressing systemic problems in creative ways. Imagination and a sense of possibility drive their intrapreneurial spirits.

Here are a few of my key learnings from this year’s interviews which serve to highlight examples of intrapreneurship and demonstrate why I’m so inspired.

  • Despite government’s trepidation around the use of social media in its early days, the Commissioner of Revenue and Chief Executive Officer of the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) was an early adopter, and has since become a social media trendsetter in the federal government. Committed to creating the space for a new organizational culture to emerge, Andrew Treusch uses tools like Twitter to meaningfully communicate in real-time with his 40,000-person organization. It’s his relentless personal commitment to the organization, and his people, that drives him to try out new ways to seek direct policy input about the future of the CRA from workers “on the front lines.”
  • As a 14-year Deputy Minister who was so committed to moving breakthrough thinking forward, Maria David-Evans would put her word, reputation and career on the line by promising her resignation if a change initiative she was championing didn’t deliver the results she passionately believed were possible.
  • The first-ever Open Data BC Hackathon where people interested in open data were invited to access information and legislation to brainstorm ideas, create, and showcase apps to demonstrate different ways data could be used creatively.
  • Dragon’s Den type policy pitches, Tiger Teams, Communities of Practice, and federal and provincial lectures by public servants (in the style of TED talks) are all simple examples of intrapreneurship in action.

In fact, the BC Public Service has a Corporate Intrapreneurship Competency. In the Achieving Business Results section of Strategic and Business Leadership levels, the competency is described as:

Corporate intrapreneurship focuses on venture creation, governance, differentiation and integration of new ventures within the organization. This job requires the following most of the time:

  • Pursues opportunities on behalf on the unit within the organization for new areas of activities;
  • When dealing with new challenges or initiatives, moves forward in the face of incomplete or unclear information and adapts along the way;
  • Takes the lead in addressing risky situations/problems; 
  • When faced with setbacks and discouragement in a new project, searches for solutions to keep the project going.

As you can see, intrapreneurship is about a mindset rather than an output. It’s about the “how” you get to better outcomes by trying new practices, taking different approaches, and involving more problem-solvers in the problem you’re addressing.

Intrapreneurs don’t lead change alone; they do not work in isolation. Rather, they are fascinating strategists, capable of finding the right mix of people, with the right set of skills, at the right time.


I’m calling 2015 “the year of demonstration.” One of my biggest frustrations with people who want change is the lack of innovating through demonstration, particularly in the public service. This is a natural consequence of fear of failure and adversity to risk.

What if we freed our “intrapreneurial spirits” to redefine our roles as public servants – to see ourselves as convenors, connectors, collaborators and solution-seekers?

Citizens’ expectations and demands are only going to increase while government budgets continue to shrink. We can’t do more with less until we reimagine our role as public servants. Taking full advantage of the collective intelligence, tenacity and creativity of public servants throughout our entire organization can help us meet the needs of the 21st century. No longer can we place key challenges in the hands of a few managers and leaders – today, we must put them in the hands of every employee.


I want to be clear that intrapreneurship is not about undermining the direction or rules of our institutions. On the contrary, I have found that effective organizational change agents operate within the system to shift the system. Unleashing the intrapreneurial mindset is about creating vehicles to enable robust policies and improve outcomes through building a collaborative culture.

So, how do we redesign the next generation of public service?

Beginning with a mantra of relentless optimism is a good start. We can support each other’s desires to bring about large-scale disruptive change by mobilizing a broad range of people, expertise and latent assets in new and exciting ways.

Let’s challenge ourselves to become master collaborators in 2015. Mass-scale collaboration is needed to address our challenges, like individuals cooperating in a massive multi-player online game. We need to work together to tackle our issues.


Informal networks have always connected like-minded public innovators. I am a big believer in operating in the “space in between.” After all, this is where the magic happens – where innovation thrives and start-up practices live. Today, it is easy to cut across organizational boundaries and create exciting connections.

It’s through these self-organized social networks that intrapreneurs are demonstrating methods to reimagine, redefine and redesign the next generation of public service.

We can foster this intrapreneurial culture together. Anyone can be a part of this growing movement. There are no barriers to entry; all that’s needed is for us, the intrapreneurs, to lead by example while creating collaborative vehicles that connect our experience, ideas and solution-focused enthusiasm.

If you’re interested in reimagining the public service, reach out on twitter to @SInnovatorsNet.

Colleen McCormickColleen McCormick is Director of Strategic Issues with the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism, and Skills Training and former Director, Innovative Partnerships where she managed the social innovation file in the Ministry of Social Development. Colleen is also the founder of Social Innovators Network Foundation. Previously, she was a TEDxMileZero organizer and National Chair of the New Professionals for the Institute of Public Administration of Canada. She has an MBA from RRU and a Graduate Diploma in Social Innovation from the University of Waterloo. You can contact her on Twitter @SInnovatorsNet.

How Changemakers Get Things Done in Government: Intrapreneurship in Action

Photo - Linda Beltrano2 web
In this month’s blog, I’m featuring Linda Beltrano, Executive Director of Oil and Strategic Initiatives, who I had the pleasure of working with when I first joined the public service over a decade ago. Linda led our tourism policy initiatives within the branch team while I worked on sector development. I have to admit that I was a little intimidated by Linda when we were first introduced. Her reputation precedes her not only as a brilliant strategic policy designer and scholar of research methodology and evaluation, but also as an incredibly talented painter and jewellery designer.

Linda’s mantra has always been “let’s get the job done right.” She is a master of institutional entrepreneurship who has successfully moved big initiatives through government by staying laser focused on tackling the problem she is asked to solve. This has led to her being assigned complex files in government to lead as well as some incredible accomplishments.

In addition to having a great mind for policy development, Linda is also a thoughtful, caring and invaluable mentor. She concerns herself with the people around her and is always there when they need her – ready to offer a listening ear and honest advice.

With her over 30 years of experience in the public service, I was honoured to have Linda share her principles, practices and lessons from the field on how to get things done in government. She truly demonstrates what passionate commitment and intrapreneurial thinking can look like when put into action.

Here is a snapshot of Linda’s experience and accomplishments: Currently, Linda is the Executive Director of the Oil and Strategic Initiatives Division in the Ministry of Natural Gas Development. She is responsible for assisting in the development of recommendations related to energy exports and the opening of new export markets.

Linda has held the following positions since 1981:

  • Executive Director of Geoscience and Strategic Initiatives
  • Director of Program Planning, Policy and Strategic Initiatives for Act Now BC
  • Director of Policy and Strategic Initiatives for Ministry of Tourism Sport and Arts
  • Director of Corporate Relations and New Forest Opportunities – Linda was a member of the executive team that established and developed, New Forest Opportunities, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Forest Renewal BC, which included the construction of an office on Reserve – a first for BC
  • Senior Advisor, Aboriginal Initiatives, Ministry of Small Business, Tourism and Culture
  • Development of Small Business Program for Aboriginal Women
  • Regional Development Officer and Director Rural Development Branch for Ministry of Economic Development, Small Business and Trade
  • Senior Development Officer for the Northern Alberta Development Council, Province of Alberta
  • Winner of Green Ideas Shine Award for British Columbia Public Sector Employees
  • Nominated by industry for Women in Natural Resources Minerva Award.

I first asked Linda about her approach to problem-solving. This is how she answered…

“You have to dive into the opportunity and look at all the sides of the perceived problem. There are always pros and cons connected to each course of action. You have to first figure out where government wants to move on the problem, and then you need to work within the confines of the system to start moving a particular approach forward.

You also need to know the vision of where you want to go and ask yourself ‘does this opportunity match up with the vision and the mandate I have been given?’ If it doesn’t match up, your approach is not likely to work.”

One of the projects that Linda most enjoyed leading was the BC Resort Task Force. She explained that government recognized the exciting investment opportunities that were available, but didn’t know how to best capitalize on them. Government wanted to examine how long it would take to get resorts approved so they could fully understand the process from start to finish. Prior to this, no one had fully described the entire sequence and timeline. Linda explained…

“To figure this out, our group took this approach:

  1. We sat down and created a team;
  2. We identified our needs and what supporting documents we needed to fully understand the process;
  3. We documented the entire process;
  4. We laid out a vision of how we could reduce the overburden on resort developers where possible; and
  5. We identified all the players – we knew we needed all the stakeholders to be a part of achieving this vision and we worked closely with other levels of government, First Nations, and industry developers.”

Linda stressed the point that it’s critical to bring all of the key people into the dialogue about the future at the very beginning of an initiative. Failing to do so can often risk the success of the project.

Instead of focusing on who is part of a particular problem, Linda likes to stay focused on who is part of the opportunity, and she believes that reframing a problem as an opportunity will attract the interest of most people. Linda continued…

“We always tend to look at challenges as problems. Why? If you start talking about these problems as opportunities the light goes on for people. They start to see the benefits and want to be part of the process.”

Linda pointed out that they were also really fortunate to have an enthusiastic Minister of State, who wanted to reduce the burden for all the major stakeholders. She believes that this was key for the team to meet their mandate.

Here is where Linda shared some of the opportunities facing the public service today…

“I am seeing the need more and more for clear information so people can make good decisions about whether or not they want to pursue projects. Today, we have a lot of misinformation and biased opinions floating in the media. Technology has opened up some very powerful and exciting informational doors, but more often than not, there is bias being built in. The role of the public service is to give people accurate and factual information.”

In Linda Beltrano’s words, her approach to building a guiding coalition to help move big opportunities through government involves the following…

  1. “Start with identifying the right players;
  2. Seek out and define the opportunity;
  3. Determine the benefits and how to distribute them to everyone;
  4. Work with the most accurate information possible – always present the pros and cons (this often involves speaking truth to power);
  5. Do your research – understand the world you’re trying to change, think through where the resistance might lie, and understand why it might exist;
  6. Develop a Project Charter and the start to finish Critical Path. This way, if you have to collapse the process, you know where you can do it;
  7. Understand who you work for and how the bureaucracy works – the various roles of the Assistant Deputy Minister, the Deputy Minister, and the Minister are important to grasp. They can help you reach your goal;
  8. You need to know the decision-making tree – how government functions;
  9. Writing is vital – you have to be able to convey your message eloquently. I think this is a problem in today’s public service – we are missing good, effective writers; and
  10. Diversity in the workplace is key – there are many advantages to maintaining a multi-generational workforce – everyone brings something to the table in terms of experience and problem solving ability.

These approaches are not new, but they are very important because they force you to think through the twists and turns of the change you’re trying to bring into effect. They will prepare you for the constantly changing circumstances in government. They also help you build resiliency into your change efforts so when you meet resistance or come up against barriers; you know how to maneuver through them. This is also where you build out your different scenarios, your plan A, B and C, and helps you avoid getting spooked by surprises.

You never know what lies ahead. We are living in changing times and you need to be able to constantly adapt.”

Here are Linda’s thoughts when it comes to “defining the problem” – she believes that “if you can define the problem …then you don’t have a problem…”

She explains that most problems stem from an inability to effectively articulate what the issue actually is. By clearly defining the problem, you can get to the root cause which is what needs to change.

Linda’s problem defining process starts off by asking these basic questions:

  • What is the problem?
  • Is that really it?
  • If we do x, y and z, will that fix it?

Linda sees the process very much like an infinity loop that you have to keep going back through because if you stop going back to the basic questions, it is very easy to get sidetracked and lose focus.

When asked about how she has dealt with major resistance to a new idea or approach, she had these words of advice…

“Really explore what is causing the resistance. Sometimes resistance is not bad, it can be important because it causes you to go back and ask the important question of ‘is this the right course of action.’ If you are doing something big, then of course there will be resistance. Expect that and be ready for it. Have your different scenarios well-planned for how you are going to shift and move forward.

Some days, I don’t think we are as strategic as we should be. We don’t always look at the depth of the project. I like to look at a problem like it is a rubik’s cube – you have to see the interconnections and all the sides before you determine your best course of action.”

One of Linda’s former Deputies told her that there is always a push-and-pull tension in government when you’re bringing new policy through… and that is okay. It is healthy. This is when you go back through the loop to reflect on the mandate for change.

Linda shared lessons learned throughout her career…

  1. “Stay calm and carry on;
  2. You need to believe that in the end something always works out;
  3. Keeping people informed along your thinking path is critical – have your plan, communicate it well with your Deputy, so in turn they can communicate it well with your Minister;
  4. Keep an eye on budget and staffing – always!
  5. Surround yourself with multi-skilled, multi-talented people – never see yourself as the smartest person in the room;
  6. Always have an open door policy and invite your team to talk about different ways of doing things. Your team needs to be able to give you all the information and feel comfortable and free to bring whatever info they come across. Your job is to analyze all the data and prepare to present the pros and cons;
  7. Trust your intuition and trust your team;
  8. Identify actions when making recommendations – this keeps everyone action-focused; and
  9. The Golden Rule – always remember that people are your most valuable resource.”

I probed Linda about working under the radar when trying to build a new opportunity for government because many of the change agents I work with feel that they have to keep their ideas and approaches under the radar until the timing is right and a window of opportunity appears. She had this to say:

“You need to know when to stay under the radar and when to come up. This can be hard to do in a political environment. It can sometimes come down to a combination of knowing when it’s the right time to bring something forward and being told to come forward with a new, bold idea.

If you’re communicating well, usually the time to come up becomes obvious. If you have done your critical path, you also have a pretty good idea. Sometimes we wait too long to showcase a project and we lose the opportunity. This is why timing is very important.”

When asked about the next generation of public service, Linda’s eyes lit up as she described what it might look like:

“The skill sets are definitely different. Expectations are very high with people coming into the public service today. I think the future is going to be a very exciting time. Some of the minds are incredibly sharp, and people can use technology in so many fascinating ways.

As the next generation of public servants continues to learn and understand how to get things done in government, they are going to become exceptional leaders. The decision-making will be much better because these up-and-coming leaders have a much broader understanding of the triple bottom-line, which inspires me. These are very respectful people who care and are engaged.

The future skills of government will include socially-minded techies, business development experts, economists, and writers. In the future, it will be evermore critical to effectively tell the story around key opportunities.”

Finally, when asked what her legacy will be after a lifetime in the public service, Linda told me this:

“My proudest moments have been when the projects I’ve worked on have taken hold. I have always loved trying to tackle complex problems and figuring out what the core bases of these problems were. I’m grateful for all the diverse files I’ve been able to work on and lead in the public service, and the amazing people I’ve had a chance to work with.

Working in the public service is not about going to work every day and sitting in front of a screen. It’s about doing something and achieving something of value. If you’re not making a real contribution you’re not fulfilling your potential.”

Colleen McCormickColleen McCormick is Director of Strategic Issues with the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism, and Skills Training and former Director, Innovative Partnerships where she managed the social innovation file in the Ministry of Social Development. Colleen is also the founder of Social Innovators Network Foundation. Previously, she was a TEDxMileZero organizer and National Chair of the New Professionals for the Institute of Public Administration of Canada. She has an MBA from RRU and a Graduate Diploma in Social Innovation from the University of Waterloo. You can contact her on Twitter @SInnovatorsNet.

Intrapreneurs: How System-Changers Think, Design and Act

In•tra•pre•neur•ship (n) 1. Successful adaptation of entrepreneurial attitudes and strategies inside of a bureaucratic organization. 2. Implementation of start-up practices within a large organization, producing valued innovation.

Intrapreneurs are institutional entrepreneurs. Their approach to problem solving is innovative and collaborative. They are game-changers, who seek to deploy change through consensus-building. Gifford Pinchot said that intrapreneurs are dreamers who do. They are the people who take hands-on responsibility for creating innovation of any kind within an organization as they work purposefully.

We believe that intrapreneurs represent the future of public service.

The role of the public servant is changing in the 21st century. Increasingly, the public service has been shifting towards a more citizen-centered and accountable format. While dealing with ongoing challenges posed by a smaller workforce and limited budgets, the public service is now more than ever having to address problems that are complex and sticky, which requires an unprecedented level of cooperation, collaboration and innovation if there is any hope for success. We believe that by empowering the intrapreneurial way of thinking, we would be able to mobilize considerable human capital along with the underutilized resources that are embedded at all levels of public administration.

By definition, innovation requires change. Intrapreneurs see change as a necessity when it comes to their approach. They often bring a tempered approach to designing for change because intrapreneurs act based on a set of needs. They want the organization of which they are part of to be better, and they want to see that the organizational mission and processes are reflective of the organization’s deep seated values and vision. The intrapreneurial focus revolves around a deeply collaborative and multilateral set of activities.

They will encourage organizational-wide involvement by insisting on truth and honesty about what’s working, what’s not, and why. In the process, they will catalyze creativity and seek new ways to do business. Key ways of doing so will include empowering, enabling and encouraging others within the organization, focusing on building networks, and rewarding and showcasing intrapreneurial thinking in others.

If you asked us to lay down a few points to describe what intrapreneurship is all about for us, our response would be based on these following assumptions:

  1. We HAVE an abundance of potential and creativity alive yet locked in the public service.
  2. We BELIEVE that government can deliver on innovative products and services.
  3. We KNOW we can do a better job of tapping into collective intelligence across government.
  4. Intrapreneurship is NOT about undermining direction nor the rules of our institutions – effective change agents operate within the system – it is about creating the processes and vehicles to enable robust policies and improve outcomes through building a collaborative culture.
  5. We MUST challenge our own perceptions of how change happens – it happens small and within our own spheres of influence.
  6. Innovation IS happening all the time, all around us – we need to get better at how we discover, share and celebrate ingenuity at all levels!

Ultimately, though, we can say that intrapreneurship is a way of thinking, designing and acting for change. The public sector is often criticized about its resistance to change. While building coalitions, managing risk, and developing a shared understanding of both problems and solutions are important steps in making change acceptable, a strategy of intrapreneurial change management is important.

Over the past few months, Colleen has engaged some of Canada’s exciting government innovators in a series of interviews and dialogues to explore how they tackle the challenge of being intrapreneurs. She asked them to share their methods and strategic approaches to enabling change during their career. Some elements have appeared time and again during these interviews and we are going to share them here with you with the caveat that all intrapreneurial activity is going to be unique because even when we deal with similar problems and similar organizations the details, the history, the access to resources, the clients, and the windows of opportunity are going to be different enough that a one-size-fits-all approach is sure to fail.

Relationship building: all intrapreneurial activities are about relationship building. Innovation in organizations is always about challenging certain organizational cultural norms. This is certainly true – often more so – in the public sector. It is also the case that intrapreneurs ‘build a case’ for the change that they want to see occur; coalitions of like-minded people and of stakeholders are created and expanded over time. Intrapreneurship is inherently multi-lateral and cooperative.

Having a champion/political support: the intrapreneurs with whom we have spoken unfailingly mention that that having political support in their organization was a critical step in being able to engage in innovative thinking and in being able to implement that thinking. This relationship is one based on accountability and honesty. Intrapreneurs must be able to exercise a high degree of both in their connection with their champions.

Fairness and transparency: The activity of anyone who is interested in achieving change through cooperative behaviour must rest on a foundation of trust and openness. This approach extends in a 360 degrees fashion towards all who are affected by the process.

Speak truth to power: this is an extension of the previous point. There is no doubt that honesty and openness are critical characteristics for intrapreneurial action. They are at the basis of building solid change coalitions, just as they are necessary to improve the capacity of the organization to explore its limits and its opportunities.

Seize opportunities: do not shy away from difficult challenges. The intrapreneur must be able to take on difficult challenges because those are often those where the most opportunities for innovation are extant. Often they will require new ways of approaching the issue and almost naturally they tend to discourage people who use ‘status quo’ thinking and approaches.

The power of intrapreneurship doesn’t lie in a formula or a leadership competency. It lies in the creativity one takes to their relentless pursuit of excellence, regardless of the task at hand. Thank goodness we still have thinkers, policy designers and doers in the public service whose obsession with excellence and hunger for greatness reminds us that we can’t continue to accept the limits of our past thinking. The people who have pioneered a path to great progress in the public sector have always been system-changers – intrapreneurial minds who understood the “need for and how to” change thinking from within.

By recognizing and rewarding the intrapreneurial mindset and spirit, the talents of public service innovators might just lead us down the path to that much desired culture of innovation many of us are dreaming about.

This article was co-authored by Colleen McCormick and Andrea Migone. It was originally printed in the Public Sector Management Journal, Volume 25, Issue 3, September 2014.

Colleen McCormickColleen McCormick is Director of Strategic Issues with the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism, and Skills Training and former Director, Innovative Partnerships where she managed the social innovation file in the Ministry of Social Development. Colleen is also the founder of Social Innovators Network Foundation. Previously, she was a TEDxMileZero organizer and National Chair of the New Professionals for the Institute of Public Administration of Canada. She has an MBA from RRU and a Graduate Diploma in Social Innovation from the University of Waterloo. You can contact her on Twitter @SInnovatorsNet.

Lessons from the field: An interview with Andrew Treusch, Part 2

This month’s blog features Andrew Treusch, Commissioner of Revenue and Chief Executive Officer of the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). This is Part 2 of our conversation (for Part 1, see below, Sept 17, 2014).

Legacy of wisdom

Reflecting on his years in the public service, Andrew shares what he sees as his legacy:

When I think about what is really going to count for me, it’s quite simple. When you come to the end of your career in the public service, and I have been in 30 years now, you realize that most of the accomplishments you took so much pride in are quite transitory.

When I was younger, if there was an initiative that found its way into the budget that was favoured by government and money was put into it, I was really quite proud. But in a year or two, the water washed over those initiatives as I saw similar things in other budgets and realized they were less impressive.

In the end, you think more about the public service. How it has been important to you – the individual – and how you want to bring good, smart, passionate and ambitious people into the public service and give them the advantages you have had.

You think a lot about those advantages and opportunities and you do what you can to see others, the next generation of public servants, having great opportunities too.

You also get concerned by those people who tarnish the reputation of the public service, those who talk it down and criticize it – calling it old, rigid and high-brow.

And you do get behind the Clerk’s Blueprint 2020 vision – to change the public service so it is a modern, dynamic workplace of the future.

There are some things about the public service that we do need to preserve that are enduring and remain relevant. And there are many things that we do need to change so we can best serve this country for the next 100 years.

Like many other leaders, I’m also passionate about wanting to leave the Agency I’m working with now a better place. For me, that means I do all that I can to make sure that the CRA is a modern, world-leading tax administration that other countries admire.

I want to hear our colleagues across the world say that Canada has the best tax administration – that we are cutting-edge, use modern technology and offer good, fair and impartial service.

I have done my best to leave a whole cadre of people here, many younger, who are using new technology and who are leading the thinking as we go forward.

Without a doubt, there is a new generation of public servants who are more than competent, ready, and well-equipped to take over the leadership of this Agency for the next decade.

This is what makes me most proud. I believe most of my colleagues feel the same way.”

Andrew shares final thoughts and key lessons:

1. Technology drives change.

2. Go to the frontline – this is where sources of change lie – in your front line. It’s not your managers; it’s your frontline people who are in touch with clients, customers, and Canadians. The frontline is the nerve endings of your organization. They suffer the results of any dysfunction, and the associated frustrations when they get the complaints and are unable to do things people ask for. So, get in touch with the frontlines of your organization and don’t bottle yourself up in a boardroom with your management team.

3. Get out! You can’t drive organizational change from only within – you need to get out because that is the source of great, fresh ideas. This is where you are going to get an external view of your organization to make the most effective changes.

4. This is a point I’m very passionate about: you have to connect with the young people in your organization! Make a deliberate effort and develop a strategy to connect with NextGen employees. If you want to imagine the needs of the workplace of tomorrow, it’s pretty simple – just go to the younger people in the organization. They are already consuming the latest information trends, using modern technology and they are the ones who are most adaptive.

Once I was asked about what I predict or foresee for the future on a panel. I had to laugh. No one is a futurist – you can read things and guess, but you can’t predict the future.

There are a lot of things happening in this world that we’re behind in the public service. Things that other cutting-edge organizations have been doing for some time now. We are definitely behind. So, the first effort in getting to the future is to get caught up in the present.

And the same goes for young people – if I want to envision how people will want to do their taxes in the future, I just spend time with young people now and listen. That is why the Agency now has a mobile app.

It’s not trying to be a futurist, it’s trying to get to know the young generation now because they will take their practices up through their life-stream and they will get us caught up to those leading edge organizations.”

Given Andrew is a government trendsetter in the Twitterverse, I asked him why he buys into the power of social media.

That is a two-part answer. As I got to higher levels of leadership, I really started to think about what it means to be a leader when you can’t talk to everyone you’re supposed to be leading.

There was a point mid-career where I made ADM-level and I led an office of approximately 50 people who worked on one floor. To be their leader, I took the time to meet everyone, know them by name and each of their jobs, which is not all that impressive, but I was able to walk by and talk to people if not every day, every second or third day.

So, that’s one form of leadership.

Later on in my career, I was an ADM of a branch with over 800 people, in over a dozen buildings. I didn’t know everyone’s name and didn’t walk by their desks regularly, and in fact, there were divisions I didn’t know a lot about. And now, in an Agency with over 40,000 people, I definitely don’t know everyone’s names and have people working within the Agency doing tasks that I barely understand.

So what does it mean to be a leader in this scenario? A scenario where you lose the ability to have a personal relationship with everyone, which is important to me.

One of the tools is new media, for example, Twitter – which I took a real liking to. It’s easy to consume because of the short messages and there is something about Twitter that crosses the boundary between professional and personal.

People are looking for authenticity in their leaders these days. They are looking for a little more than just the Commissioner’s message because they want to see that personality more. Twitter offers that sense of immediacy and personality. I think it’s a great tool and I enjoy using it.

Twitter isn’t the only medium. I like webinars. And again, none of these are amazing technologies but you can get thousands of people connected and cross geographical boundaries easily. You’re not there in person, but it’s a close facsimile. Plus, you can be interactive and take questions and comments. We can organize a webinar, accompanied by Twitter, get about 6,000 people connected and we can run a full question-and-answer process. People get a sense of me because they have heard from me directly, and I can answer their specific questions.

How many days of travel and airports would that otherwise take?

We’re making quite a bit of progress here using social media tools. We have developed a Blueprint 2020 electronic for employees to put their ideas forward.

Now, we’re using this tool in a more purposeful way where we’re going to make changes to our HR policy with feedback from it. We are giving employees options and we’re going to use the tool to make decisions.

These are tools that enable you to connect with a lot of people and drive towards outcomes in a pretty efficient and exciting way for an organization that is pretty large.”

Andrew pointed out that there is a lot of organizational experimentation going on within the federal government these days, such as tiger teams, and nudge approaches and behavioural economics, which are in collaboration with the UK around work they have been leading.

We’ve got crowdsourcing and there are many more TED policy ignite talks happening as a result of Blueprint 2020. Many departments have taken a dragon’s-den approach to finding good ideas.

Departments have taken different innovative initiatives – some are big and some are small, but all this is bubbling away.

It will be interesting to reflect back and see what processes have really worked. Blueprint 2020 is geared to carry on until 2020 with annual reviews and progress reports. Through horizontal reporting it will be interesting to see the common trends across the public service.

CRA may not be perceived of being innovative, but because of our size, we ought to be front and centre. We have a lot of people who have done spectacular work on service delivery. As I mentioned, we are advanced on nudge approaches, and we have thousands of young people who are passionate and looking for the opportunity to talk about change, take new approaches and lead us into the future.

Let’s just say it’s a very energizing time to be in the public service.”

To learn more about Blueprint 2020, check out these links:

You can follow Andrew on Twitter at @AndrewTreusch.

Colleen McCormickColleen McCormick is Director of Strategic Issues with the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism, and Skills Training and former Director, Innovative Partnerships where she managed the social innovation file in the Ministry of Social Development. Colleen is also the founder of Social Innovators Network Foundation. Previously, she was a TEDxMileZero organizer and National Chair of the New Professionals for the Institute of Public Administration of Canada. She has an MBA from RRU and a Graduate Diploma in Social Innovation from the University of Waterloo. You can contact her on Twitter @SInnovatorsNet.

Lessons from the Field: How Changemakers Get Things Done in Government

“We have a temptation as human beings to think everyone else has to be the change agent rather than be the author ourselves.”

– Andrew Treusch

Andrew Treucsh

This month’s blog features Andrew Treusch, Commissioner of Revenue and Chief Executive Officer of the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). I didn’t quite know Andrew’s role when I first met him through the Board of the Institute of Public Administration of Canada (IPAC). Having been the National Chair of IPAC’s New Professionals, I was always intrigued and inspired by his attitude around change and his interest in new professionals. This is Part 1 of our conversation.

In terms of being passionate about the future of the public service, Andrew is the real deal – a genuine leader. Not only is he a big champion of small innovation, Andrew is a government trendsetter when it comes to the use of social media to tap into the collective, cutting-edge expertise of the next generation of public servants.

Here is a snapshot of Andrew’s accomplishments:

He was appointed Commissioner of the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) in December 2012. Born in Saskatoon, Andrew grew up in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He received a B.A. (Honours) and M.A. degrees from the University of Manitoba in 1976 and 1978; his principal field of study was Political Studies. He began his Ph.D. at Queen’s University in 1979 when he was selected as a Canadian Parliamentary Intern, which brought him to Ottawa.

Andrew’s career began with the Public Service of Canada in the early 1980s. He joined the Department of Finance in 1984, and then moved to the Privy Council Office, the Treasury Board Secretariat and the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development in positions of increasing responsibility.

In 2007, Andrew was named Executive Director to the Competition Policy Review Panel, chaired by L.R. Wilson. The Panel’s mandate was to review competition and investment policies and to report to the Minister of Industry. The Panel’s report, “Compete to Win,” was released in June 2008.

Andrew was appointed Associate Deputy Minister of Environment Canada in June 2008 and later Associate Deputy Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada in September 2009.

Currently, Andrew is the National Chair of the 2014 Government of Canada Workplace Charitable Campaign (GCWCC), the Federal Deputy Minister Champion for Memorial University of Newfoundland, and the Past President of the Institute of Public Administration of Canada (IPAC).

Andrew is married, has three children, and resides in Ottawa.

Andrew has been heavily involved in leading a dialogue around Blueprint 2020 – Getting Started: Getting Your Views – a living engagement strategy launched last year by Wayne Wouters, Head of the Public Service of Canada, which invites public servants across the country to take part in a discussion about the future of the public service.

Blueprint 2020 is based on these four guiding principles:
● an open and networked environment that engages citizens and partners for the public good;
● a whole-of-government approach that enhances service delivery and value for money;
● a modern workplace that makes smart use of new technologies to improve networking, access to data and customer service; and
● a capable, confident and high-performing workforce that embraces new ways of working and mobilizing the diversity of talent to serve the country’s evolving needs.

Here is what Andrew had to say on the cycle of change and innovation in government:

Change isn’t new. What has happened in the past will likely happen in the future, but the drivers are different and the pace of change is constantly accelerating.

I worry about people who make innovation so big and so grand that it ends up disenfranchising individual employees. This can lead to people feeling like they don’t have the time, authority, resources or the span of control to make big change. If people think change and innovation is something huge, such as a free trade agreement with the United States, a St. Lawrence Seaway project or building a railroad coast-to-coast, it can seem almost beyond our power.

I believe that big change comes from a thousand little changes, so it’s important to look at what is within your realm of control, what YOU can do, and what you and three other people can do.

When it comes to driving organizational change, it’s important to foster a space where everyone feels like they can make a difference, and make change happen at every level with their authority, using the tools and resources they have access to.

Big changes are doable but you often need a lot of time and millions of dollars to bring them about. People will say to me, “Why don’t we integrate all our e-service delivery by wiring everything together to make it seamless?” Now, this is quite doable, but you need five years and a lot of money to do it.

What is impressive is taking the power and resources that you have and mixing them in a way to make change happen. Innovation is about taking what you have and introducing something new in your own way.”

Andrew shares how he designs his change efforts:

When it comes to change, I have a recipe of three ingredients. First, I discourage grand thinking unless it’s accompanied by a practical plan to move forward, step by step. Second, there is no such thing as an idea too small. Third, the emphasis is always on what you can do, not necessarily what others need to do.

Since we started Blueprint 2020, one of the reflections I’ve had is just asking people what they want is not enough. Because if you directly ask people what they want, they will often come back with things that they want somebody else to do. They want better workplace tools, or HR to fix this and IT to fix that. We need to find better ways to ask people what they want while putting the onus back on them with what can “you” do or what can “we” do together, now.

We have a temptation as human beings to think everyone else has to be the change agent rather than be the author ourselves. We need to shift responsibility back on the individual. Now, that goes hand in hand with empowerment because people need to feel that they can be that author of change.

There are a lot of people who are quite motivated to embark on change but who are still looking up to see what supports are there for them and wonder if they will be blamed if something goes wrong.

Today’s public service culture stems from Max Weber – it’s hierarchical, a closed system that is rules-bound and very traditional. When I try to imagine a workplace at the other end of the spectrum (for example, Google), where it’s the opposite because it puts a premium on innovation, I don’t see the public service ever being that way, to be honest. I do, however, imagine us getting to some place at the midpoint between the two extremes.

When it comes to Blueprint 2020, I profoundly believe that if it’s going to be a success, it is because we have changed the culture of the public service. We will have shifted from a top-down, closed, hierarchical, rules-bound, and totally risk-averse culture to one that is more open, networked, collaborative, and less risk-averse as a result of taking smart, calculated risks.

Our goal with Blueprint 2020 is to fundamentally change the culture so the public service of the future is different. We want to help transform it by minimizing naysaying, and by helping to make it less “top-down”. The intent is to create a public service that allows for more individual initiative by offering more authority to develop, test and move ideas forward.”

Getting from here to there

Andrew’s step-by-step approach to building and leading change:

In a big undertaking of change, you need the vision of where you want to go. And then you need to be able to describe the destination, the end state of your journey, in a clear and compelling way. This is where you trigger the emotional side of people.

You also have the practical people to please, those who need the practical plan going forward. They need to know how the change is going to happen incrementally and what the impact is going to be. The practical people want to see all those little steps that lead you to that grand vision.

Throughout my career, I have encountered people and leaders who were strong in one of these areas and absent in the other. Some people may think that one is more important than the other, but you need both. And if you are more visionary in nature, connect with a great plan builder and vice versa.”

Moving past resistance

Andrew shares some of the strategies he has deployed throughout his career to build resiliency into his change efforts:

Sometimes there can be this sense of naivety for people who are new to the public service when it comes to leading change. You need to understand the scale of the change you are dealing with. If I have a small change, such as changing the routing procedures in my office, I take a certain approach because it involves and impacts a small group of people.

If I am dealing with a bigger change that will affect the Agency, government, or the Canadian public, I need to use a different set of strategies. Big change means you need far more resources and time. The higher your ambition, the higher the scale of change is, which means of course you will encounter resistance. And absolutely you should encounter resistance. You will get more push-back and challenges – as you should. It is entirely appropriate.

On the human psyche side, when I give a talk about public service leaders and key attributes, what I put way above intelligence, analytical, HR skills and all of the other conventional talents and attributes of leaders are stamina and determination.

If I was to reflect on the bigger things I have done in government, I would have to say they are a case study in dogged determination. They have always taken three times longer than I thought or hoped for from the outset. There were serious setbacks, difficult timing challenges, and moments where I thought the initiatives were dead. I felt a lot of frustration with the process but you have to see things through. You have to be resolute and confident enough to stay the course despite all of that.

There are always going to be critics, hard questions, and challenges that come at you, but these have merit! You have to be smart enough to realize “Wow, I didn’t think of that, so we might not be ready to go.”

I have learned to appreciate that for something to proceed, if I needed to get a particular stakeholder group to be supportive who was not, then I had to go back and work at it. You have to expect resistance, hear out the critics and address key concerns – you have to be clever about it.”


Colleen McCormickColleen McCormick is Director of Strategic Issues with the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism, and Skills Training and former Director, Innovative Partnerships where she managed the social innovation file in the Ministry of Social Development. Colleen is also the founder of Social Innovators Network Foundation. Previously, she was a TEDxMileZero organizer and National Chair of the New Professionals for the Institute of Public Administration of Canada. She has an MBA from RRU and a Graduate Diploma in Social Innovation from the University of Waterloo. You can contact her on Twitter @SInnovatorsNet.

Lessons from the Field: How Changemakers Get Things Done in Government

Greg GoodwinThis month, I shine the innovation spotlight on Greg Goodwin, an accomplished public servant with over 20 years of experience in British Columbia. I have had few opportunities to work directly with Greg yet, in our conversations before, during and after meetings, he has always inspired me. He demonstrates what real leadership looks like in the public service. A gentle force, valuable mentor and encouraging coach, Greg is well respected and highly regarded as an individual committed to the principles supporting a strong, innovative public service.

Here is a snapshot of Greg’s background and accomplishments:

Greg Goodwin is the Executive Director in the Economic Development Division of the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training. He has responsibility for a wide ranging portfolio of programs and policies which support regional economic development.

He has been with British Columbia Public Service since 1993 (Ministries of Small Business, Tourism and Culture, Forests, Community Development, Regional Economic and Skills Development) serving in Victoria, Prince George and Nanaimo. He took a leave of absence from the provincial government to work in Egypt from 2001 to 2006 to support small and medium enterprise development.

He holds a Masters in Natural Resources Management (University of Manitoba – 1977) and a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Conservation (McGill University-1975) as well as a certificate in French and tennis from the University of Nice.

In his spare time, he plies the keys of a marimba and also practices and competes on the Gorge, Vancouver and elsewhere with his Gorging Dragons dragonboat teammates.

Greg illustrates his intrapreneurial style and spirit through sharing his “Top 10 list” of characteristics of people who are government gamechangers. He explained it to me as he does with every new member of his staff.

Greg’s Top 10 – “if you want to get things done in government…”

1. P3 – Patience, persistence and perseverance

These days, everyone is in a hurry to get things done. If you want get things done, you need to build a strong narrative for your change effort. The best way I have learned to do this is by cobbling together as many aspects of the government platform as I can. For example, I take the service plan, media clippings, and other snippets I hear in speeches and presentations to create a cohesive narrative that helps the policy, program or initiative to be ready to bring forward. Once the timing feels right, I make sure I’m ready for that window of opportunity.

These windows open up occasionally in government because the internal dynamics are always changing. Bosses, deputies, assistant deputies and governments change; just because the time for an idea might not be right doesn’t mean you walk away from it. Circumstances will change, but you need patience and perseverance to see your change effort through.

Don’t swim upstream forever. You will only get exhausted. Sometimes you need to pull back, reorganize and redesign. Have a shelf of ideas ready to go, make sure they are well thought through and wait for the opportunity when you hear the invitation “we want to hear some bold new ideas.”

I think government is always looking for bold ideas. However, it is in your best interest to pay attention to the possible constraints in order for the idea to gain traction. For example, if there is a tight timeline that must be met, or no new money is available, then the design must be within that framework.

2. Volunteer and be visible

Step up and volunteer to do something that is important to you. I have always supported people who get involved with ministry initiatives that interest them, whether it be employee engagement or other innovation initiatives. I have reassigned work to help people get the time and space they need, or have taken on work myself when necessary to give people opportunities to pursue projects they are passionate about.

3. Strategic thinking and analytical competence but a focus on results

Keep an eye on the big picture. Process matters but results matter more. You need to be able to go from the big picture down to the finite details, which is almost an artform. Everything counts but you have to get things done. A big burly professor of mine used to say “don’t get it right, get it written.” I didn’t necessarily agree with him at the time but, throughout my career in government, I now have a better appreciation for his comment. On time is more important than anything. We can become obsessed with perfection and somewhat paralyzed by process. “Don’t let perfection be the enemy of the good.”

4. Communication skills – briefing notes, presentations, verbally succinct briefings

Good writing is important. It is an undervalued skill to write a good two-page briefing note. Sometimes there is nothing more rewarding than a well researched letter from the minister to a stakeholder – it can be magic. This is where deputies often demonstrate their incredible skill of sifting through issues to get to the succinct core and not get bogged down in white noise. Talented communicators bring a lot to the table.

Now I want to talk about the 12-minute briefing. It frustrates me that in some ways we’ve become slaves to Outlook – by these hour-long meetings that can become time suckers when all we sometimes need is a 12-minute discussion. I think we should create a culture where we don’t feel the need to meet for hours to discuss issues. Let’s give people the skills to get to the crux of an issue quickly, and it will never take an hour to discuss a problem.

5. 3C’s – Principles of collaboration, cooperation and coordination

Everything is about relationships. If you establish key rules of engagement and apply these principles to your coalitions and everyone agrees to share information and work together, you raise the bar and inspire others to follow similar protocols. I think, overall, a stronger, more productive and innovative public service results.

6. Add value, contribute

One of the things that mystifies me is why people come to meetings without saying anything – why are you here if you are not contributing?! Try to always contribute and add value to the conversation.

7. Network

Get outside of your comfort zone and connect with others. We need to do a much better job at cross-sector thinking and interlocking social and economic objectives and therefore ministries. Despite the way that government is generally designed, we can find creative ways to move files across organizational boundaries. This is what often leads to innovative thinking and new solutions.

8. Surround yourself with people smarter than you

There is no monopoly on wisdom. You are only as good as the people around you. Surround yourself with thinkers and questioners – they will up your game.

9. Lifelong learning

I want people to be curious to ask good and insightful questions, and to expand their knowledge by probing and prodding. Policy decisions should be based on solid evidence, so challenge your team to provide the best policy advice and options they can.

10. Seize opportunities – take on challenging files

Don’t duck. Take on the hard files. These are great opportunities to introduce new thinking and try different approaches. There is space to do new things in government, but you have to make sure you get the job you were hired to do, done. If the shelf life of a particular initiative is short, only put the time and effort in that it deserves. Seek out successes and create opportunities to get things done. Every once in a while you need to experience smaller and incremental successes to keep you motivated in addition to working on the larger issues.

Here are some of the things I’ve learned throughout my career:

  • If you can align your passion with the key priorities of government, magic can happen.
  • Sometimes you have to make tough decisions and do the right thing despite the potential impact on your career.
  • Always get a champion onboard.
  • Explain complexity with simplicity and ensure everyone is aware of all the benefits of your initiatives.
  • Keep your coalition intact – internal and external stakeholders need to be aboard for the ride.
  • Personal relationships are critical – you need to draw on expertise from many people when trying to move new thinking forward.
  • Let people clearly see that if you do X, you will see Y. How many strategies and plans do we do in government that don’t result in the outcomes we would like to see? This is frustrating. Explain the change you are trying to bring about and why it is better than the status quo. Peoples’ imaginations need to be captured so they can envision the change and become champions for that change.

When asked about his legacy, Greg shared the following…

“It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.” Bill Gates

Most people come into government to make positive change and contribute to a better society. But some become notoriously risk averse and simply seek out security and manage through without taking chances – out of a fear of failure. After all, let’s admit, going way out on a limb in government and failing is difficult. There are natural constraints to contend with, but managing without a fear of failure has always led to more meaningful work for me.

I have always been committed to creating the space for different views to come forward and allow people to express more of who they are. Debating is important for me, and we don’t debate enough in government. We have presentations, discussions and conversations but we don’t have formal debates where people form arguments about pros and cons around different policy options. There have been times where it has been used and it was exciting.

I hope my legacy is the people I have worked with who are empowered and therefore inspired. If you support and nurture your people, and provide an environment that allows them to grow and innovate, not only do you strengthen them, you also strengthen the public service. Agility, nimbleness, flexibility and adaptability are all key core characteristics of folks who excel at intrapreneurship.

Colleen McCormickColleen McCormick is Director of Strategic Issues with the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism, and Skills Training and former Director, Innovative Partnerships where she managed the social innovation file in the Ministry of Social Development. Colleen is also the founder of Social Innovators Network Foundation. Previously, she was a TEDxMileZero organizer and National Chair of the New Professionals for the Institute of Public Administration of Canada. She has an MBA from RRU and a Graduate Diploma in Social Innovation from the University of Waterloo. You can contact her on Twitter @SInnovatorsNet.

Lessons from the Field: How Changemakers Get Things Done in Government

“To be an effective public servant, the most important skills to develop are to be open, to put yourself out there, and just be honest.”
– Norman Lee


This month’s blog features Norman Lee, who not only encouraged me to apply to government 10 years ago, but also became my first manager. After serving in the public service for 24 years, Norman shares his principles, practices and lessons from the field on how to get innovative things done in government and illustrates what intrapreneurial thinking looks like in the public service.

Here is a snapshot of Norman’s experience and accomplishments:

Norman Lee is an Executive Director at the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations. He has held a wide range of positions in the Economic Development and Natural Resource ministries and has worked closely with federal and municipal government staff, industry associations, non-government organizations and First Nations. Norman began his career in the provincial government after completing his Masters of Business Administration from McGill University. He passionately believes that to have a rewarding career in government, you must believe in the concept of “public service.” Outside the office, he works with a talented team of volunteers who have presented three TEDx Victoria events.

I posed several “guiding questions” to Norman that he addressed with stories, examples and lessons.

Norman’s responses: “I believe in these operating principles:

Principle 1: Fairness and transparency. First of all, let me share what I believe is the role of the public servant. It is to serve the public and, to do that effectively, you serve the people who the public elect and pursue opportunities that offer excellent public value. As for fairness and transparency, this is how I have worked throughout my career. If you are transparent every step of the way when you are leading a project, everyone knows you are being fair. And fairness isn’t about being equal; for me, it’s more about ensuring all options are considered, proper process is followed, and all relevant information is brought forward to make sound decisions.

Principle 2: Operate openly and honestly. You have to build trust with your stakeholders. This is critical in government and it surprises me how some people still don’t undertand the value of operating openly and honestly. You also have to create opportunities to connect, human to human, to find commonalities, outside of your work positions whenever possible.

For example, I was involved with negotiating a resort land-use arrangement with a Chief and we had different perspectives on aspects of the agreement. Understandably so, I was representing government’s interests and he was representing his Nation’s interests. We respected that each of us were going to do our best to hold on to our interests. During a break, I was having a conversation with a colleague about our perspectives on children in foster care based on recent personal experiences. The Chief overheard and joined our conversation because we all shared common concerns about the foster care system and the impact it was having on children. Afterwards, it was as if the environment shifted. We began to see each other as humans – people who had common ground. It made negotiating seem less intense and adversarial. Our rhetoric subsided, even though we still maintained our positions. We were able to see past our positions because of our new connection. We stepped out of work boundaries and stepped into an informal conversation, which in a way gave us permission to engage differently.

Principle 3: Relationship-building and trust. Building trust in your relationships is critical. In order for you to build trust, you need to give trust, because it is a two-way street. Oftentimes, you need to be the one who goes first to help build that trust. Once it is established, you can be open and honest about some of the challenges that may be impacting an opportunity. When this space opens up, you can work collaboratively to address any issue, which given the complexity government faces in land-use decision-making, is key.

To be an effective public servant, the most important skills to develop are to be open, to put yourself out there, and just be honest about a situation. Once you have built trust, you can be in a position to coach people on the best way to address a particular issue. Once your stakeholders, internal or external to government trust your advice, it can lead to tremendous opportunity in the long term. In our world, like it or not, you sometimes have to let a colleague or stakeholder know that, despite a great idea, the timing may not be right to introduce it.

Principle 4: Know what the leaders need. Be clear on the priorities of your Minister and your executive, and frame any change initiative around those priorities. Directly link the work you are doing to key areas of focus for government and clearly demonstrate how an innovative approach will meet government’s needs better than the current approach. Don’t just have a good idea. You better have a sound business case that will attract the interest of your leadership team.”

Norman’s critical success factors for intrapreneurs:

  • “To move a big idea through, in my experience, there has to be an external champion, a stakeholder, who is pushing for the idea, and who has the ability to not only carry it forward, but help implement it on the ground. Having an internal champion or network of champions is just as important. You need both when trying to move a big policy shift through government. Part of the role of the internal champion is to connect the idea of the champion to the key priorities of government and help align the change initiative with government’s needs.The internal champion works closely with the external champion to look for windows of opportunity to introduce and drive that idea with key decision-makers. You are like a team, coaching each other as you move through the process. This is why trust is so important.
  • You have to take your ego out. If you’re too caught up in your ego, you won’t take the necessary, thoughtful risks required to move an opportunity forward. Nothing is about you in government. It’s about the greater good and as soon as you let go of your own needs, you’re able to accomplish a lot more and build long-lasting relationships founded on truth and honesty.
  • Work on initiatives that have a reasonable timeframe – a year is a good amount of time to start with. You always have to try to get things done within the government mandate. When thinking through your change effort, understand that you will likely need one year for approval, two years to get everything implemented, and the final year to line up opportunities for your Minister to promote the success of the initiative.
  • Keep your superiors briefed on what is going on every step of the way to ensure people understand and feel a part of the larger, exciting vision. Taking a “no surprises” approach goes a long way in government. And don’t get frustrated if you get resistance, just keep working hard with your external and internal champions to sharpen the business case for change and look for those windows of opportunity when the timing seems right.”

What are you most proud of in your 24 years as a public servant?

“Attracting and nurturing good people – everything else is transitory – but if you can build good people, and they in turn build good people, your contribution to the Public Service lives on forever.”

Colleen McCormickColleen McCormick is Director of Strategic Issues with the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism, and Skills Training and former Director, Innovative Partnerships where she managed the social innovation file in the Ministry of Social Development. Colleen is also the founder of Social Innovators Network Foundation. Previously, she was a TEDxMileZero organizer and National Chair of the New Professionals for the Institute of Public Administration of Canada. She has an MBA from RRU and a Graduate Diploma in Social Innovation from the University of Waterloo. You can contact her on Twitter @SInnovatorsNet.