Working in a governmental agency: a year in review

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Image courtesy: Dilbert.com

This post is a location-focused blog post and a result of personal reflections. If you think Moroccan governmental agencies are any different than the one I work in, please drop me a line, I’d be glad to push the discussion further.

 It’s been a year since I started working at a governmental agency. To be frank, the thought of working there has never crossed my mind. But with my PHD taking over my time, I had to switch from the hectic-private-sector lifestyle into a more measured environment where I can get more control over my time. It turned out to be a good compromise –considering my constraints. 

Most people think governmental jobs aren’t as challenging as the ones from the private sectors. The thing is, they are, just on different levels.  Working in a +6000 employees organization is definitely not a piece of cake, addressing the traditional paradigms and dealing with bureaucracies and office politics isn’t either… and the list can go on and on. 

As this year went by I have come to confirm some thoughts I had about public sector, refute others. But I believe a profound national discussion should be triggered in order to bring efficiency into the public workspace.

What I have learned since last year:

On collaboration: Collaboration is very scale-sensitive. The bigger the team, the more time it takes to collaborate. The more cross departmental the team is, the harder it is to work together… and expecting work to go faster while using rudimentary platforms is obviously delusional. 

On planning: There is nothing as frustrating as the fire-fighting phenomenon. Fire-fighters can go on days without having much to do, but once a fire breaks, urgency is the main trigger. In the workplace, I think this happen for 2 reasons:  Inaccurate planning and the illusion of urgency. And productivity is the number one victim. Working under constant stress can get things done faster but are they done well?

On Rationalizing spending: There are alternatives to proprietary software, there is proprietary software that can replace expensive proprietary software, and there are local consulting firms that would do a better job responding to your needs than the well-pronounced international consulting firms. Thinking about rationalizing the expenses of everyday choices has to become part of the process. And as the saying goes: you can find in a river what you can’t find in the sea.

 On sustainability: You cannot expect your employees to innovate if they’re worrying about fulfilling more basic needs. Harnessing employees’ engagement can only be a result of an effective HR strategy. Training your workforce isn’t an option anymore; it’s the only driver to better performance. Offering a less bureaucratic, less politically charged atmosphere is the basis of the organization’s sustainability. 

How I would love to see all this changing: (Pic: tweet about time travel and Intranet)

Collaboration platforms and Intranet 2.0: The traditional Intranet used solely to announce the organization’s latest press releases or the reorganization of some entity in a far away region is so Outdated! There is a solid business case for Intranet 2.0 and I can’t do a better job describing it than Oscar berg on his blog post : The business case for social Intranets

 Transparency: Beyond office politics, shady strategies etc., transparency has to be harnessed for it is what builds trust. And trust is a major ingredient for collaboration to succeed.  Better collaboration can only mean better performance.

 A more People – centric environment: Employees are not supposed to be cogs in a giant machine; they’re independent spirits, with ideas and insights that can greatly benefit the organization. Treating them as such is the only way to tap into the hidden and unbelievable power of collective knowledge. Breaking down silos (not all of them, at least some) between management and knowledge workers is essential to nurture innovation, and God knows how we desperately need that in public sectors.

As I’m writing these lines, I came across a very interesting article on HBR by Saul Kaplan: Confessions of an Accidental Bureaucrat. Saul brings out an interesting point: “I think there is much that the public and private sectors can learn from each other.”

 

Do you work in Private sector? What lessons do you think public sector can learn from you?

Lamia Ben
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3 thoughts on “Working in a governmental agency: a year in review

  1. Excellent post. Well, I’m not sure what Public sector can learn from Private sector but to tell you the truth, every organization whether it’s connected to multiple other organizations or an individual enterprise with set of employee units in itself, inner-political issues never decrease. It’s not about just the Moroccan agency you work for, it’s almost same every where around the world. I’ve worked in multinational firms and organizational politics is the biggest issue, if you visualize a broader view of how everything is connected to organizational politics, it is the main aspect of all the things you listed, and it gets harder and harder when the number of employees are really big. Official work environment should neither be too formal and neither me too friendly, it should lay somewhere in between.There’s an issue in private sector I would like to highlight here; as you mentioned that every individual gets a different idea, organizational structures (administration etc.) doesn’t usually allow individuals to grow and share their knowledge, creativity or ideas with their organization, reasons could be many, financial issues, political issues, personal matters so and forth. That’s why every organization must have a global white board policy, let’s say for instance; a big white board on which every individual can write up their ideas and at the end of the day there can be some kind of quick review of the creative ideas shared.And regarding collaboration, collaboration platforms, intranets and all the software application, ERPs, knowledge based systems, DSSs etc. depend on few of the following aspects:1. A specialized team who would study, audit, and then issue an official statement regarding the benefits of a particular software application, instead of blinding buying ERP solution from a cousin or a friend’s friend, moral relationships should stay away in such decisions, because you work in governmental agency, I know this thing happens a lot, that if one department’s manager is from family A, he will hire all the people from family A. Happens a lot. This should be completely eliminated from our systems, as long as they hire only those who are eligible for the job description.2. Finance. If financially an organization has no issues, then everyone will think of their personal benefits as mention in point 1. Thus finance department or purchase department should outsource the inspection of selected software application to another audit firm or hire someone totally not in mutual connection with the team mentioned in point 1.3. Knowledge workers (whom in my language I call, the end-users), the knowledge workers are the real people who would actually interact with the system being developed or bought. Thus it is solely important that they are kept on highest priority and they are being indulge in selection of the proprietary software buying or development.4. The highest management. At the end of the day, whatever the higher management wishes, only that happens. The owners or the upper most administration authority should personally check what’s going on at the lower end. And everything should be monitored properly.Technology & time can never stop, they’re increasing at the highest pace of life possible on this planet. Thus it’s also important to take care of what things are beneficial and what things are not, creating a defective robot can screw up your own workshop.Good posts Lamia! I love the way you express your thoughts. One of my favorite blogs!P.S. I’m sorry if anyone is feeling offensive regarding this comment. These are just my way of looking at things. Cheers.

  2. Thank you for the great comment Faisal, it’s a blog post on its own! :)I see your point. Big organisations and Public agencies have a lot in common because of their size. But the distinction would mainly be the fact that private organisations can change easier. They don’t have to undergo state strategies, they don’t go through lengthy procedures to get budget… I certainly agree with all the aspects you mentioned and I’d like to add: Transparency. It actually encompasses it all.I also want to point out this case study from Accenture. An organisation of 190.000 employees in 120 countries! They managed to implement a social strategy that drove innovation, enhanced client relations and improved employees’ satisfaction. Worth a read! http://www.accenture.com/Global/Services/CIO/Collaboration.htm Regards,Lamia

  3. It was a pleasure, thanks for your kind words. If you analyze any random company who is on national level, you’ll see there are many procedures which are totally not required but they exist due to human psychic. Transparency is a serious issue with all of us, right now we’re talking about our work places, this really reflect the higher level situation of countries, when one employee is lazy and not motivated, he says, "Oh man, relax, everything is ok, I’m getting paid at the end of this month & work is all same as it used to be." Now this employee doesn’t need any change in the company. I’ll give you my own example, I worked in one of the biggest real estate company for an year, you know it, when I resigned, the first thing company’s CEO asked me was, "What went wrong? We pay you on time, we’ll pay you more, we’ll provide everything you need, just don’t leave the company like this." And I replied with another question, "Sir, it’s been one year since I joined this company, company neither went further, neither went back, it’s still in a vacuum, I can’t stay in this company anymore, my brain is rusting, thus it’s my personal decision that I should leave." Of course they got surprised when he had to repeat my words in the board meeting, regardless of the talk, my point is, that me and you, we think that collaboration is important as much as other things in an organization, but do others care about it equally? No. Majority doesn’t care.I would like to tell you something I always believed on Lamia; we’re living in communication era, where 140 characters can speak louder than any voice on this planet, only that person is successful, who love team work, who asks for collaboration between teams, who asks for enough transparency, if I make you sit on a high position in a company where no one bothers to help you or work with you, you’ll get sick of that place, even if you’re getting too much money.Regarding procedures, every company should upgrade their working procedures, procedure calls, I say it should be done every month or at least every 6 month if the organization is too big. Upgrading and polishing your work procedure is very effective. I’ll give you an example here, there’s a company where there are many departments, some departments work individually and some need collaboration with other departments to produce the end results. Sales guy get’s interactive with the client, client defines his issues or requirements, sales guy come back to Pre-Sales Engineer and discuss the issues, Pre-Sales then place a short mock-up meeting with Division Manager and rest of the team, then they finalize their offer, after 72 hours, Pre-Sales talk to the Sales person, Sales person talks to the client. Long procedure? 72 hours is a fail?Now this is how you enhance your procedures; instead of keeping Pre-Sales and Sales guys separate, place them in the same work space where Division Manager sits, IPT solution? CRM? Accounting? Great! Sales guy use the CRM, Pre-Sales look at the CRM in real time, Manager sees it too, Manager recommends, Pre-Sales & Sales understand the situation, offer is made at the same time in maximum 2 hours the proposal is sent to the client and a call is also made for further discussion.See? 72 hours and 2 hours have almost 70 hours of difference. In one minute anything can happen and you’re working in a 72 hours work procedure.So, my point is, everything depends on the people! People work together and achieve better! Proper use of technology is super-effective!

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