Category: Craig Sellars

Defining Your Creativity

In starting the new year, my thoughts go to goals and resolutions, as I am sure they do for many of you. This year, as with every other year, finding and nurturing creative pursuits is high on my list. Early in January this year, however, my mind turned to how I define creativity.

As I understand it, creativity is bringing together things that have not been brought together before or bringing together things in a new way. This is not restricted to end result and cannot be; in fact, I define that as a separate entity. Being creative and using your hands to express that creativity are both important, but can destroy each other if always linked.

Despite the creative results of something like “Ikea hacking” on a building project, sometimes I just need a table with four (4) chairs, not four (4) low tables with one (1) really high chair.

One may feel the need to be creative while painting on a canvas, another while building a new deck, while yet another while reading and thinking about what they read. Bringing thoughts together on divergent subjects is a creative process as you can create new thoughts and expand on what you had previously understood. I see creativity as the thought process which may or may not result in something concrete whether on a canvas, in my backyard or on a piece of paper.

This year I will continue to seek my creativity and continue to explore the diversity of life.

Beware the perilous rapture of shrinking your world to the tribe of the saved, the cheerleading good guys who brandish the same slogans, curse the same enemies, thrill to the same saints” ~Todd Gitlin

Thank you for reading.


Craig Sellars
Craig Sellars is a passionate Canadian public servant and biologist. Connect with Craig on Twitter @CraigSellarsWhile he works as a public servant, this is entirely his own initiative and what is post here does not necessarily reflect the view of the government, his office or his position therein.

Corporate Activism

I had a fascinating month of reading. I am smack dab in the middle of Todd Gitlin’s book Letters to a Young Activist and, this week at work while pondering the role of the corporate function, I discovered Harvard Business Review’s (HBR) great article from earlier this year “Why Corporate Functions Stumble.”

The HBR article goes into great depth about the various maturity levels of corporate functions from HR to Finance and IT and I recommend it for anyone who sits in these roles. More to the point of this blog, I have been in several discussions this year which call these functions corporate enablers, to emphasize their role in enabling the organization to succeed. Just one look at the Treasury Board (TB) policy suite, and you can see stacks and stacks (and stacks and stacks) of rules and guidelines and standards that one must follow to do things. Looking a little deeper, one sees the other side of corporate functions in the government, in that the policies are good practice and do not stand alone, but rather as a corporate whole.

So, seeking a more active solution then accepting one story, I looked into the word corporate. Oxford Dictionaries lists the origin in the late 15th century, from Latin word corporatus, past participle of corporare ‘form into a body’, from corpus, corpor- ‘body’. So corporate comes from a verb, to form various pieces into a body, kind of like glue. Corporate functions do not exist for their own sake, but for the sake of the joined body. The ideal joining job is when the glue is invisible, and so I discovered the reason I never got an A in arts and crafts. Thank you for reading…

Anyway, corporate glue exists to ensure things work together and work according to predictable rules. What predictable forces are essential in glue? Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) states cohesive forces (stick to itself) and interfacial forces (stick to others) are required. Corporate functions must work cohesively within themselves, intra-corporate and inter-corporate, but also inter-facially to bring the body together. If HR and Finance are working in opposite direction to IT, the glues do not stick to one another and the end state (connected body) fails. If the function is overbearingly bureaucratic, then it can repel the parts of the body rather than join them. This is the beauty of the TB policy suite, it is intended to be read as a (reasonably) interconnected whole, not perfect, but there for you to find if you try. On a final note, just like the glue must commit to invisibility, the body must accept the value inherent in the glue and take a corporate mindset.

Well that is all I have for now, but I will leave you with a quote from Mr. Gitlin’s book to remind us all to keep learning for a better, more connected public service in 2015.

“Ignorance of the past may be an excuse for people with lesser ambitions than changing the world, but it’s no excuse for you.”

Thanks for reading and happy holidays to all.

 

Disclaimer: Note that while I work as a public servant, this is entirely my own initiative and what I post here does not necessarily reflect the view of the government, my office or my position there in.


Craig Sellars
Craig Sellars is a passionate Canadian public servant and biologist. Connect with Craig on Twitter @CraigSellars.

Looking Forward to Looking Beyond

Looking beyond is a practice I try to cultivate daily. I read newspapers, blogs, research articles, watch videos and follow social media accounts that appear to have little or no connection to what I am doing today or sometimes what I have been planning to do tomorrow.

The surface of the earth was not mapped all at once or by a single person, but rather progressively over decades and centuries and by seeking out the unknown in places that were, well, unknown at the time. I may not have time today to talk to everyone around me or see every process that connects with mine or my team or on the immediate project, but over time I can build a global map and establish the linkages which will lead to current and future successes. Regularly, I end up with “that’s okay I can do that tomorrow or the next day.” I still have time to accomplish what I will, much of that is unknown too, and daily or even weekly progressive effort over a long period can yield substantial results. I may not find a piece of the puzzle today, but I may find some glue to hold it more tightly together.

When a new project or task comes up, when I think I am done planning, looking for inter dependencies and then delivering, I look a little further beyond the immediate time, space and scope to see what the logical next step is. To see where the team can go a little further today or where we can solidify gains already made. Occasionally this leads to false linkages, false understandings, and even backpedalling, but if the same effort is applied tomorrow, I have a chance to recover, or to uncover and correct a misconception.

“Once we accept our limits, we go beyond them,” wrote Albert Einstein. Knowing where I am, provides the foundation for going where I need to go. Once I see what can be delivered, this does not remain a demarcation of the end, but a new beginning for the next journey. Yes, I have to deliver today, but a progressive ethic and drive to know where my team connects with other teams, where my team is going next year, and where my whole organization is at today, this is looking beyond.

Thanks for reading and have a great month.

 

Disclaimer: Note that while I work as a public servant, this is entirely my own initiative and what I post here does not necessarily reflect the view of the government, my office or my position there in.


Craig Sellars
Craig Sellars is a passionate Canadian public servant and biologist. Connect with Craig on Twitter @CraigSellars.

Looking Forward to Looking Back

It is just past mid-year review time. We sit with our boss and/or sit with our employees, and it is important to look at performance so far: what is realistic to achieve by end of the year and what needs course correction, either to aim higher, lower or maybe even left or right of your original intent.

Even if you do not have a boss or employees, it is a critical leadership trait to be able to assess, to adjust or stay the path on your own. It is essential to recognize all behaviour – the good the bad and the ugly – and ensure the appropriate steps are taken to ensure direction is clear and there is a supportive and ethical environment to contribute to our shared goals.

When you do sit down in the next couple weeks, make sure you look at the Individual Learning Plan as well. The Policy Framework for People Management clearly states: “Attracts, recruits and retains talented individuals, and maximizes the potential of its workforce to meet both current and future organizational needs.”

Current and future organizational needs.

Step 1. Current: How are we doing against immediate objectives, in year or even in month or in week.

Step 2. Future: How are we preparing, either on the job or with additional study, for future objectives.

The Individual Learning Plan is an important part of the second step and it should be clearly aligned with where bosses and employees see themselves going professionally, but also aligned to where the organization is going.

Will the current paper process be moved online? Better get prepared.

Will the current process be moved to an alternative service arrangement? Better get prepared.

Performance management time is your chance to review and your chance to extrapolate on both the individual and the organizational directions.

Thanks for reading and have a great month.

Craig

 

Disclaimer: Note that while I work as a public servant, this is entirely my own initiative and what I post here does not necessarily reflect the view of the government, my office or my position there in.


Craig Sellars
Craig Sellars is a passionate Canadian public servant and biologist. Connect with Craig on Twitter @CraigSellars.

Governance, risk management and decisions

I had a busy month reading about governance, risk management and value.

First, a great research paper titled Postmodern IT from Gartner, which had the following quote:

Governance prefers the known: Reality revels in surprise.” (Gartner analyst Chris Howard)

Recently, I wrote about governance and the correct balance in applying governance. Governance needs to be flexible enough to adjust to new or previously unforeseen risk or to accept new evidence that necessitates a new way to look at previously identified risk. Don’t we all.

I also read Kent Aitken’s great post on the value of people. This post rang true as I have been considering the Treasury Board policy suite as visualized by Nick Charney and the Treasury Board website. Seeing the policy suite as a set of risk management practices, proportionately published by number to meet each risk according to the value of the assets at risk.

1. Budget/Money assets – Governance and Expenditure Management, Assets and Acquired Services, Financial Management – (Chief Financial Officers)

2. People assets – Human Resources, Compensation, People Management – (Chief Human Resource Officers)

3. Information assets – Information and Technology – (Chief Information Officers)

Seeing the Service framework in there, will we have a need for a Chief Service Officer?

Finally, if you have not read up on John Doe v. Ontario, 2014 SCC 36, it is worth a look for any public servant. There is much more to the issue, but here is an interesting section to whet your appetite:

[45] Political neutrality, both actual and perceived, is an essential feature of the civil service in Canada… The advice and recommendations provided by a public servant who knows that his work might one day be subject to public scrutiny is less likely to be full, free and frank, and is more likely to suffer from self-censorship. Similarly, a decision maker might hesitate to even request advice or recommendations in writing concerning a controversial matter if he knows the resulting information might be disclosed. Requiring that such advice or recommendations be disclosed risks introducing actual or perceived partisan considerations into public servants’ participation in the decision-making process.”

Thank you for reading and have a wonderful month.

Craig

Disclaimer: Note that while I work as a public servant, this is entirely my own initiative and what I post here does not necessarily reflect the view of the government, my office or my position there in.


Craig Sellars
Craig Sellars is a passionate Canadian public servant and biologist. Connect with Craig on Twitter @CraigSellars.

Interchangeable Media

As you are all probably aware, we have a new Clerk of the Privy Council. This news (and a reminder tweet from @Jodilynne3) sparked the idea of doing something to commemorate the occasion, like visualizing the tweets that have originated from @WayneWouters or @WayneGWouters.

Wouters tweet

 

While considering different ways of doing this visualization, I ran into the @NickCharney piece on @cpsrenewal regarding interchanges in the government, which asks “Are public servants interchangeable?”, and that got me thinking in a different direction.

“In other words, does this cultural homogeneity consistency lend itself more readily to the question of whether or not public servants interchangeable, rather than the question of whether or not they ought to go on interchange?”

What happens to the account and content on Twitter when Mr Wouters is no longer @WayneWouters the Clerk of the Privy Council and is rather @WayneWouters the individual?

Would a generic Clerk account make it, the conversations and thoughts expressed, and the individual using that account ‘interchangeable’?

As for the visualization, that will be for another day, unless someone beats me to it.

Thanks for reading.


Craig Sellars
Craig Sellars is a passionate Canadian public servant and biologist. Connect with Craig on Twitter @CraigSellars.

Note that while I work as a public servant, this is entirely my own initiative and what I post here does not necessarily reflect the view of the government, my office or my position there in.

Maintaining perspective

If you work in government or in a large corporation, you have undoubtedly found yourself on occasion, for good or ill, in a governance committee meeting. While considering the good, the bad and the ugly of governance in practice last week, I decided to learn a little more about it.

I explored the Management Accountability Framework (MAF) on the Treasury Board Secretariat website of which Governance and Strategic Management is one element of the framework. MAF is used to structure the review the management practices and performance in most small and large departments and agencies across the federal government. In MAF, the Governance and Strategic Management element is defined:

“Maintains effective governance that integrates and aligns priorities, plans, accountabilities and risk management to ensure that internal management functions support and enable high performing policies, programs and services.”

Via Wikipedia, I discovered the short article on the UN website regarding Good Governance which provided a nice definition:

“Simply put ‘governance’ means: the process of decision-making and the process by which decisions are implemented (or not implemented).”

The article goes on to describe that good governance has 8 major characteristics:

  • Participatory;
  • Consensus oriented;
  • Accountable;
  • Transparent;
  • Responsive;
  • Effective and efficient;
  • Equitable and inclusive; and
  • Follows the rule of law.

Finally, I found an interesting article in Governance by Jonathan Boston and Chris Eichbaum entitled New Zealand’s Neoliberal Reforms: Half a Revolution. The article describes New Zealand’s journey from a neoliberal “revolution” in 1980s during which invariable majority governments made decisions quickly and with little consultation. This was followed by the constitutional push back and a multi-party parliament in 1990s, which slowed the pace of change and decision making. The article provides an interesting comparison of two (2) points on the spectrum of governance.

It would appear that for governance in practice, balance is key. On one end, too much governance, or governance for governance sake, means nothing gets done or what does get done is inefficient or unresponsive. On the other end, not enough governance results in a loss of trust for those affected by the decisions made.

Thanks for reading.

 

Disclaimer: Note that while I work as a public servant, this is entirely my own initiative and what I post here does not necessarily reflect the view of the government, my office or my position there in.


Craig Sellars
Craig Sellars is a passionate Canadian public servant and biologist. Connect with Craig on Twitter @CraigSellars.

Objects in the Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear, Pt. 3

Taking a look this week at the vision from Blueprint for Renewing Government Services Using Information Technology, 1994 on its 20th birthday. Happy Birthday!

Historical context
Jean Chrétien had been Prime Minister only since 1993, Wayne Gretzky tied Gordie Howe’s NHL record of 801 goals and 1994 was a summer of OJ.

Summary: The Vision and Key Architectural Principles

Vision: Government Services That Are Affordable, Accessible, and Responsive

  • Direct Service to Clients. Delivering and providing easy access to services through electronic means. It envisions bringing services to the clients and providing them with “single-window” access for multiple services (as opposed to developing services with the convenience of the service provider in mind).
  • Transparent and Seamless Service. Streamlining and integrating processes across functional and organizational lines to provide transparent, seamless services to clients (as opposed to continuing with stovepipe processes that cannot interact with one another).
  • Value-added Service. Rationalizing operations and empowering knowledge workers to provide value-added services directly to the clients (as opposed to pursuing control-oriented solutions, well-removed from the client interface).
  • Continuous Learning. Enhancing the knowledge, skills and active participation of employees to ensure they can meet the changing needs of clients and provide quality services in a fair and cost-effective way.
  • Standardized, Interconnected Tools. Developing a standard suite of interconnected system tools, readily available to management and staff, to support decision-making and service delivery (rather than having a proliferation of different, incompatible and, often, proprietary computer applications).
  • Shared Solutions. Routinely sharing solutions and resources for common functions and processes and using departmental clusters to share common systems and services, reducing development, maintenance, and/or operating costs (as opposed to each agency or department developing its own unique solutions, at greater overall expense).
  • Shared Information. Developing and implementing a standards-based electronic information infrastructure consisting of common information, applications, technology platforms and networks to make it possible to share information and computing resources, as well as to rationalize operations enterprise-wide (as opposed to developing isolated islands of information).
  • Paperless Environment. Redesigning as well as automating routine processes in order to reduce paper and the need for human intervention (as opposed to manual processing or merely automating existing processes).

Key Architectural Principles: People are key

Fundamental to all the principles below is the recognition of the importance of people management, shared values, and a responsive and flexible work environment. The value of investing time and resources in enhancing employees’ knowledge, skills and abilities and of involving people in changes must also be recognized as essential to cultural change, renewal and improvement.

  1. Business. Government services will need to be transformed to focus on serving clients, on sharing solutions for common functions, on seeking innovative business partnerships, on exploiting information technology and on facilitating accountability.
  2. Work. Service delivery will need to be automated, seamless and available through a single window, convenient with options, free from such constraints as functional or organizational barriers, red tape, time and location, and measured against standards for continuous improvement.
  3. Information. As a valuable national resource, government information will need to be accessible, secure, captured once and validated close to source, properly maintained to ensure privacy and integrity, and electronically distributed to authorized users.
  4. Applications. Computer applications will need to interact freely with one another, have a consistent look and feel, and be modular, re-usable and broadly shared across government.
  5. Technology. Information technology will need to be open, flexible, practical, and secure to provide the capability for supporting distributed and accessible computing environments.

Thanks for reading.

 

Disclaimer: Note that while I work as a public servant, this is entirely my own initiative and what I post here does not necessarily reflect the view of the government, my office or my position there in.


Craig Sellars
Craig Sellars is a passionate Canadian public servant and biologist. Connect with Craig on Twitter @CraigSellars.

Maintaining Perspective

Disclaimer: Note that while I work as a public servant, this is entirely my own initiative and what I post here does not necessarily reflect the view of the government, my office or my position there in.

Lately, I have been tired.

Working long hours and studying a second language, in addition to the time I am (or should be) enjoying with my family and friends, takes a lot of energy. At times, in fatigue, I struggle to see the good in situations and to correct my perspective. I can fixate on a single point and logically trek down narrow mental paths a long, long, long way, trying to anticipate all the things that could go wrong and formulating numerous plans for alternative ends. It is not that things actually go wrong more than usual when I feel this way. The odds stay pretty much the same regardless of my mental meanderings. (Hmmm, so I am not THAT important after all!)

So what do I do to return to myself and take a healthier perspective on my life, on events that are happening around me and on things I can and cannot change?

1. Stay healthy. I try to eat well, exercise and get enough rest. My wife is my best support in this department and pretty much all others.

2. Take time for myself. I find this one the hardest, as I tend to gravitate back to the internet or read a book or do something “productive”, or my brain continues to chew up cycles thinking over a problem and trying to find the best solution (see above). I need to spend time just breathing.

3. Remember my “why.” This one I seem to be pretty good at, but I can always improve. Perspective for me goes like this: While I like my job and the people I work with, I love my wife, my family and my friends. I work primarily so I can provide some level of stability and so I can spend time enjoying the things I love outside of work.

These may not ring true for everyone, but they seem to work for me. These three tasks help me be better at, well, pretty much everything.

I will end off with a great quote from the late Harold Ramis:

“You should start each day with a note in each pocket. And one note says, ‘The world was created just for me today,’ and the other note says, ‘I’m a speck of dust in a meaningless universe.’ And keep them both … because neither is true and both are true.”

Now it is your turn: What do you do to stay centred?


Craig Sellars
Craig Sellars is a passionate Canadian public servant and biologist. Connect with Craig on Twitter @CraigSellars.

Quitting Something New

Disclaimer: Note that while I work as a public servant, this is entirely my own initiative and what I post here does not necessarily reflect the view of the government, my office or my position there in.

Trying something new can be hard, it can be exciting, it can be scary, it can be educational. Quitting something new can be the same. With the recent Windows XP ‘retirement’, I decided to try a free operating system (OS), Ubuntu, on my new computer. After four months of trial and error, reading and learning, satisfaction and clean re-installs, I ended up purchasing a copy of Windows 8.1 a weekend back. I decided that moving forward with an unfamiliar OS was simply not worth the cost savings for me against the time sunk into learning how to use the new OS.

So at what point do we make a decision to quit something we started? I passed by a video on making better decisions which explains sunk costs and how we should not take them into consideration for current decisions. While I agree that we should not take sunk costs alone into consideration, they can be a source of education to better inform decisions. Otherwise, we run into the realm of insanity – that is, doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

I found an example when I was reading an English-language Russian newspaper online, which described an amusing anecdote about life aboard a modern submarine. The nature of that life is that the enlisted sailors must not disobey orders.

“The most colorful character among my commanders was Capt. First Rank Gaponenko. Once he came down from the bridge, looked at us, and asked: ‘What are you guys up to?’ We replied that we were practising formation maneuvers, and were about to coordinate actions with the other boat, No 685. Suddenly, the commander reached for the mike: ‘No. 681 to 685, please kill your engine.’ The reply came instantly: ‘No. 685 to 681, unable, over.’ Gaponenko didn’t like this at all. ‘Kill your engine now, it’s an order!’. An even more insistent reply came: ‘Repeat, unable to comply, over.’ Gaponenko flew right off the handle: ‘I am ordering you to kill your engine, right now, do you hear me? It’s Capt. First Rank Gaponenko speaking! I’ll hang you out to dry when you return to base!’ Uneasy silence fell. Then the radioman, who was half dead with fear, whispered: ‘Comrade Captain 1st Rank, I am sorry, it was my mistake. We need to coordinate with No 683; No 685 is an aircraft.’ Gaponenko broke the communications panel in wrath, stormed out, and stayed in his quarters until we surfaced.”

The other half of the coin is that the orders must be reasonable and that important information must be taken into account before giving the orders. This said, if one simply “stay[s] in his quarters”, one cannot take the error into account – balancing the sunk cost of looking foolish in front of one’s crew – when giving an order in a truly dangerous situation.

So I believe decision-making should be influenced by sunk costs, but not in isolation, and likely more so in future decision-making than current. The next time I get a new computer, I will consider carefully the time investment of learning a new operating system and weigh it against any financial investment.


Craig Sellars
Craig Sellars is a passionate Canadian public servant and biologist. Connect with Craig on Twitter @CraigSellars.