I am currently working on a white paper about how I feel we can improve our sector. That being government, and in particular, local government. I encourage you to watch for it soon but in the meantime I felt compelled to share one of the pieces that is standing out for me at the moment.
I think there are some disconnects between the public and public service that are seriously hampering any improvement efforts. A huge one is trust. The white paper will expand on this but in general the public does not trust government and many studies and polls will back this up. However, the studies and polls I have seen ask the questions mostly about the elected officials and rarely about the public servants.
So, I am going to throw out an assumption here to further this blog. I believe that the public trust of public servants would be higher than that of elected officials. But, I also feel that elected officials that see and feel that distrust of the public do a couple of things that hamper improvements in public service. They attach these trust numbers to the entirety of government (themselves and public servants) and then try and improve this trust by demonstrating they are "holding public servants feet to the fire" or "squeezing them for efficiencies".
Can you see this politician grilling their CAO or head of some department? Can you hear them "I was elected to hold you accountable..."
And, while looking for "efficiencies" too often an area like training and development is cut. And, I can actually see why. It is an area that, also too often, is underspent. So, it looks like we are continually carrying a surplus. So, cut it.
But wait. I offer the reason we ask for this budget is we all intuitively know how important it is to continually improve. We see other employee benefits from this type of growth support in their positions. These employees will be more freely open with discretionary effort. They will tend to stay longer .
So why then do we not spend the budget allocated to training and development? It is because we are too busy having our "feet help to the fire". Doing all the immediate tasks that demonstrate we are serving the public so to speak. Our days are completely filled with requests coming at us from places I would never have seen, even 10 years ago. The public can ask of our time 24/7. And when we get to work these "tickets" are too often the #1 priority.
I suggest that we should be not only not cutting the training and development budget but committing to using it all. Using it on improvement initiatives to become a better run organization. To be better public servants. To be critical of our status quo and challenge ourselves to do things better. We should also weave this into our narrative with the public. Be absolutely transparent that we are making an intentional effort to improve ourselves. We believe this will result in better public service. It will take some of our time and resources but we feel providing our absolute best to the public is too important not to make this investment.
I would offer that I believe the local governments who do this well should also make this a part of their recruiting strategy. Not just say that employee growth is important to you but here is the proof. It will serve them well. People who are supported like this at work tend to stay longer, provide more positive contributions, share their positive situation with others and go that extra mile for you.
So, next time the same old rhetoric starts showing up at yearly budget deliberations I hope this post might trigger some different thinking. Use that which you have for the purpose it was intended. Being better.