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.
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:
- Social leadership and its defining characteristics; and
- Social branding – how you appropriately brand yourself.
For me, social leadership is about 5 elements:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- Promote yourself.
- Take ownership of your career and personal development.
- 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 science, political 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 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.