Transcript: Innovate on Demand, Episode 3: Individual Innovation
Todd: I'm Todd Lyons.
Natalie: I'm Natalie Crandall.
Valeria: I'm Valeria Sosa.
Dana: I'm Dana Landry.
Todd: And this is the Innovate On Demand podcast.
It can be daunting, even depressing, to be a person with an idea inside a massive organization. After all, what can one individual to do effect change from within? On this episode of Innovate on Demand, Dana Landry asks us to consider the power of one.
Valeria: Welcome Dana, we're very happy to have you here. Maybe you can tell us a little bit about yourself to start.
Dana: Thank you. I'm very pleased to be here. So I am a Senior Policy Analyst. I work with Crown Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada. I've been with that department for almost 13 years, the duration of my federal career to this point. And I'm here to talk about individual innovation.
Natalie: Individual innovation, that sounds really interesting. What exactly would you say is individual innovation?
Dana: Well, I think it's pretty interesting. So hopefully others will follow suit. So when I'm talking about individual innovation, I'm talking about not relying on systemic change in order to find a better way or to address those micro-irritants that we all face within our work, being aware of what your surroundings are, and what your gap-stop measures are, but also ways to increase your productivity and your ability to network with other employees to build more awareness and competence into your daily skills, but within the system as well.
Valeria: Can you give me a for instance, of a micro-irritant?
Dana: I think, probably the best example of a micro-irritant are the systemic pathways that we are all engaged with. So we'll talk about the briefing process. Yeah. Everybody hold on to your chairs. So I think in terms of a micro irritant, we all have those sort of nuances. We talk about how the workforce is changing. Telework is becoming more and more popular. People are being asked to step outside of what they see as the norm for a public servant. But they're not given the tools to really do that in a way that eases the burden. So you're fine to write a briefing note from your from your home, from your home office, or wherever you are, because we have that secure Citrix capability. But what we lack is the physical docket-running capability in the electronic realm. We don't, we don't do that. So we create a system where we allow for micro innovation, but not complete in the cycle. So it just becomes an irritant that I can work from wherever I am, as long as I have internet connectivity. But I can't actually fulfil my entire duty without having somebody in the office…
Valeria: …to do your dirty work.
Dana: Exactly, exactly -- to do the legwork for me -- literally to do the legwork.
Valeria: So that's a good point, actually. I never thought of that. Can you think of anything else?
Dana: I think, well, for me, in particular, and it's a major irritant, but it's really displayed in a sort of a micro way is the level of cultural competence within the department -- within my department in particular. And I say that, because I'm an Indigenous person. And I find many, many times that our department is not particularly able to ensure that part of the hiring mechanism is the ability to display cultural competence. So we end up with people who are very good at their work. It's not a question of competence in that regard. But it's a question of understanding how the work that you do at your desk, affects the community and affects an actual human being. So we are disconnected. And for me, that's an irritant. Because we don't -- we don't actually recognize that the human factor is so much more of what of what we do each day. So we become desensitized to the plight of human beings.
Valeria: Have you contributed to making that better? In a way, within as much as you can control as an individual?
Dana: As much as I can control as an individual, yes, I do feel like I'm making strides for change. And I know that there are many indigenous public servants, particularly within my department that do off the side of their desk, serve to -- I'm going to use a word I don't like: indigenize. And we can come back to that in a minute. But so many public servants are taking this approach where part of education within the system is to educate your colleagues -- is to, be mindful of, of how you do your work and for whom you're doing your work. And when you're faced with an individual within your organization, perhaps the person who sits beside you or someone who shares the table at lunch with you. And you know that that person comes from a culturally different background from you and a different way of life and, and the bundle that they bring into the building with them is theirs alone. And you don't need to know what's in their bundle. You don't need to understand every facet of their life. You just need to recognize that the work that they do, is being done with a different lens than the work that you do. So you recognize that you're all bringing a bias with you. But if we are conscious of that application, we have an opportunity to change the system without having to have this grandiose approach. And we don't have to be saying the term innovate, innovate, innovate, because we're doing it.
Natalie: I'm fascinated by this articulation of the individual innovation. And as you're talking, it's sort of hitting me… What would you say is the first step for an individual to really change their mindset around this. I feel like it comes down to maybe one of two things. And I could be completely wrong here. Maybe it's a third or fourth that you think of, but it's a sort of a juxtaposition of a methodology and a philosophy. And I don't know what you think about that?
Dana: I would, I would agree completely with that. And I think one of the tools that my team in particular has been working to develop, and it's been going on for quite some time now is it's a intersection of policy development model. So it looks at the traditional policy development cycle. And at every juncture, it accounts for gender bias, it accounts for indigenous perspective, it accounts for intersections of sex and gender, it accounts for a variety of mechanisms that serve to "other" people. So by addressing it from a systems base, we've created this capacity to create systematic change, and not just to have that micro change. So by implementing micro level change within an individual's work and how they perform their work, we're actually creating systemic change. And that really is the fundamental principle which actually brings me to the point of indigenization, because to me, the term indigenization means that we are in digitizing something that is pre-existing. But the problem with that is that the system of business, the way that we operate within the federal government is inherently broken. So from my own perspective, I don't want to indigenize a system, that's lot, I want to implement a fulsome system that actually does what it's intended to do properly the first time so that no Band-Aids are required. So we don't have to have this GBA-specific lens where, you check the box on your Treasury Board submission, you have to go through your GBA area to ensure that you've reflected that context within your work -- it's already baked into the system. And that teaches people how to recognize that their bias, although relevant to the work that they perform, is actually just one part of the equation. So it's the bias that you recognize within yourself. It's understanding that there are many different characteristics that are part of your colleagues and part of the population that you support -- part of their realities. But it's also recognizing that by using a system that is not flawed, you have the opportunity to create real innovation because you're serving real people.
Valeria: Yeah, that's interesting. What you're looking at is complete mindset shift. And so I'm just going to -- I'm going to plug because I'm working with the Public Service Renewal team right now. So I'm just going to ask you, because it's been on my, on my mind quite a bit. So are you familiar with the Beyond 2020 framework, and for public service renewal, and that they're looking at mindsets and behaviour changes in that perspective?
Dana: Yes. I'm not well versed in it, I can tell you that honestly, but I am aware of the concept and what they're trying to work toward. I do -- I support it. I think it's an active approach to change.
Valeria: Yeah, I was -- Well, and that's what I was going to ask you. I was going to ask you what you thought about that -- about just -- they're looking at agile, inclusive and equip. But if we just look at it from a bigger perspective, the mere fact that the government is focusing on mindsets and behaviours, to me is pretty huge.
Dana: Oh, it's, it's massive, because it's recognizing that the work of a public servant is not a paper-based exercise. We support human beings, and that needs to be tantamount in our approach to our work. Because if we don't understand that, at the end of our pen, is the life of a Canadian, of a human being, or a community, or a municipality, or a province or whatever the case may be, regardless of how big it gets. The point is that if we can't see that human factor in the work that we're doing every day, then we're not looking deep enough. We're not really affecting change. We're part of the machinery at that point. So when people -- they play out their career, they get to the end, and they're saying, Oh, I'm just going to coast a little bit. Now, I'm at my 28 year mark. And that's fine. People, they need to re-acclimatize to the reality of their life within those coming years. But they are still a part of the machinery. And as long as they're recognizing that machinery involves their perspective -- that their perspective as a senior public servant is very important. So it's not to say that, that the work that they've done counts for nothing, it's to recognize that no matter where you are within your career, that the power of change is at the end of your pen, and everyone has that capacity, no matter what your role is, or what your job is, within the system. You have that capacity for change. And I think that that's part of what often is missing in our innovative strategy. When we say that term, "innovation" -- when we say to people, "Oh, go and bring me something innovative." I've heard that several times. "Let's make this innovative." Well, I'm not a trained circus performer. I don't -- I don't -- I don't perform on cue, I need to think…
Valeria: You can't innovate on demand?
Todd: We're going to have to re-title the show now.
Dana: I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'll try to be a more compliant guest, next time.
Valeria: Sorry, I had to -- I had to do that.
Dana: No, no. Of course, of course. But it's very real. You cannot innovate on demand. You can action-manage a crisis on demand. But when you think about innovation, and really what that means. It's not just about doing it differently. It's about all of those small pieces that build up to this place of, Oh, we've really made an impact here, or wow, this has really changed the way that we do business. And part of that, for me is that every individual employee really needs to comprehend the strength of their pen, and how their work -- no matter what they do within the institution -- is extremely valid to this concept of holistic innovation.
Valeria: Let me ask you, do you -- in the years that you've been at the public service, and the years that you've been at CIRNA, or what was INAC or what was AANdcterms…
Dana: I get confused, too.
Valeria: Is there an example that sort of sticks out of someone or something that sort of happened, that really inspired change, and it was just such a small thing.
Dana: I think one of the things that's really sort of served to change my perspective on things and to recognize the value that each individual plays within the organization, and how that individual role is so important for global change is to look at how we've, over the years, managed issues of mental illness. And in particular, for me, this is one that hits really close to home. I’m not embarrassed to say who I am. Part of my makeup is that I have a depressive illness. I manage it -- some times better than others. But in 13 years, within the same department, I have seen the management of mental illness, take a real turn-around. And I think for me, one of the most poignant things that I've seen within my career was the wellness framework was released last year -- the mental health in the workplace, I can't remember what the title is, and I apologize for that. But our Associate Deputy Minister, introduced the launch, and she spoke very personally about a friend of hers and a friend who had suffered from, from depression. And it was so refreshing to see that very humanized content. Whereas for the most part, in the previous parts of my career, it was very much an issue of, just don't say anything about it. It's fine to be depressed, it's fine to know that your colleague is upset, it's fine to not be yourself today. But just don't talk about it, because it makes people uncomfortable. And people don't know what to say to you. So it's just better if we just largely ignore that facet of human beings altogether. So that I think to me was a very pivotal moment in recognizing that no matter who you are within the organization, you are at the end of the day, and at the beginning of the day, a human being. And if that perspective is not ingrained into both the work of the institution, as well as the work of the employee, you failed.
Natalie: Yeah, I couldn't agree more. I'd like to go back to something really interesting that you said around, you were talking about indigenization of a flawed system. And one of the things that that brings to my mind, again, is coming back to this juxtaposition between a methodology or a philosophy or maybe an alignment of a methodology and a philosophy is that I don't think I understand the concept of a non-flawed system. I think, for me, it's everything we do, we can never say to ourselves, Well, this is it, we're done. We accomplished it. I feel like this concept of continuous improvement, and constantly looking at all of our systems, our processes, everything we do with that lens of "is this the best it can be", is something that that's really, I think, particularly important in government, because our ability to nail things the first time sometimes is compromised.
Dana: Yeah, no, I think you're absolutely right. And I agree completely, there will never be a perfect system. And that's the beauty of this is that because each individual person brings their perspective. It's very difficult to duplicate that. So when we change the system, and that's the nice part about systemic change is that because systemic change doesn't have to be finite, and really shouldn't ever be finite, you do have the capacity to continue to implement mitigating strategies. So if you change the system… All told, by instituting the recognition of bias and the intersection of various predicaments as a systemic baseline, then as your baseline grows and changes, you have the ability to recognize where you're -- where you're finding a gap, or where your process doesn't quite take into account the micro-issue that you're dealing with. So, if an individual public servant is given not only the skills and the abilities, but the absolute mindset that they hold within their hand, the key to implementing change in a systemic way, by operating under their own principles. And recognizing that the term, well, "It doesn't work but that's the way that we do it here" is never accepted -- by recognizing that that doesn't exist anymore, that we have advanced so far past that maintaining the status quo perspective, that each individual employee is an actual agent of change, and has the capacity and the tools and the approval to provide that input and say "the system is broken because of x, we need to implement y." So that's where this concept of systemic change really is never going to be finite. And if it is instituted in a way that is finite, then you failed, you failed immediately from the onset, because you're not recognizing the value of change and the value of perspective.
Natalie: Constant iterative change that is the result of everybody's contributions.
Dana: Yes, absolutely, absolutely. And I think that that's part of something that is lacking in the system, because of the size of that system. And even when you break the federal family into its departmental entities, some ministries are quite small, but my ministry, the former INAC is massive and systemic changes is virtually impossible within this organization. So if you don't have a way to offer at least an attempt to indigenize, a system that is flawed, then you're completely without any tools at all. And I think that that's part of why there is such a churn within the former INAC, within Crown Indigenous Relations. Two things happen: one, you become desensitized to the population that we serve. And you start to see things that are totally unacceptable, as being normal. Because you start to take on the perspective of "I can't change it, because I don't have the personal power to change it." And the second thing that happens is that you start to see your role within the institution as simply your role within the institution. It becomes you being a cog in the machine. You are no longer required to think independently. You are no longer required to say that's wrong, you are no longer required to say, "why are we doing it that way?" You just become caught up in the mechanics of your position of your post. And when they started centralizing all the qualifications -- I'm in the EC category, so I know from my own personal experience what the EC category took on. And it was this way to ensure that you had lateral transfer ability across the federal sector, based on simply your category and level. But it didn't take into account the population that you serve. It didn't take into account the environment in which you work. It didn't take into account any of your subject matter expertise that would either serve to propel or cripple the work that you do. So when we perpetuate this system, because it's easier than to move employees from this post to that post, we've lost that fundamental perspective of individual intersectionality and bias.
Natalie: Yeah, well, it all is part and parcel with part of some of the bigger issues I think that we're facing across the government. Everything in how we manage our human resources, is around describing work. And really, when we look at the future -- and you mentioned the topic of the future of work, what that looks like what teleworking looks like -- we really need to start describing our people. Like this is -- it's all about people first. And we need to get to that point where we're actually able to start having that kind of a conversation. I think that's the paradigm in our HR that's going to help us achieve those other goals.
Dana: I think so. And I think really, in particular, in that regard, what needs to happen is more of a longer term vision. Like we invest in employees on a yearly basis. We create a performance management agreement based on a year. We talk about their educational attainment, that can happen within a year. But what happens after that year is just a renewal of that system. So if we took a system where we brought an employee into the organization, and planned out the next five years of their career -- and I'm not just talking about, you're going to go to the Canada School, and you're going to take a course on how how government works. And then you're going to come back and you're going to share that information with your team. And you're going to go back to your job, and you're going to do the same things you did before, you might be able to implement a subtle nuance, but for the most part, it's going to be you, the employee, performing their their tasks. So if we take that system away, and say, "this is your career development plan. It's a five year plan, you're one there's a check-in, year three there's a check-in, and in year five you either have completed your plan, or there are areas that need improvement." Because then in those five years, you haven't just allowed somebody to gain a notch on their belt of expertise at the EC five or the EC three level, you've actually taught them the tools that they need not only for their position, not only for their next position, but two or three positions down the road, and potentially even that transition into to the EX -- into the management realm. So you're actually creating more diverse and skilled employees, because you're teaching them how to operate within the system, but also how to mitigate issues of change and to be agents of change, because you've invested in them.
Natalie: So how close do you think that somebody manager needs to be, really? Like, what you're talking about is people management. It's a beautiful vision, by the way. I just want to let you know. I'm always on top of -- I'm always on board with anything where we can change how we manage people, which I think is the greatest resource here in the federal government. So how do you envision being able to manage employees through career development over five years, when probably our mobility requirements for employees and things like that aren't going to have that person in the same job that whole time.
Dana: And that's the plus and minus of our system, is that it's very easy for somebody to go through the motions of the career ladder progression. It's very easy to do that. But the person that's being cheated in that regard is the employee themselves, because they're not getting what they need. And their job satisfaction is based on that next rung -- get to the next level, get to the next level, make the next jump. But when you get to that plateau, what happens to you? That's when you have to start looking at yourself and internalizing: where do I want to be? How do I make this happen? Do I have all of the tools in my toolbox? Do I have all the skills that I require? So when I think of this plan, this visioning cycle, I think it's very difficult to ascribe the responsibility for it to one individual. Because that individual, much like every individual within the public service is transitory. There's, there's no clear indication that that individual is going to be there in a year, or six months. You don't know what's going to happen. So I think from my own personal reflection, that the easiest way to manage a system where where employees have a longer term vision is to ingrain it into the system. So you make it part of your baseline HR corporate function, and you manage it through a third party. It doesn't need to be a third party exterior to the government. It just needs to be a third party who isn't the manager or the employee who can provide a non biased perspective on the situation and say, Oh, these are the things that you've -- you really knocked that right out of the park.
Natalie: Like if every employee had a talent manager who wasn't their hiring manager.
Dana: Who wasn't their hiring manager, and who wasn't their day to day person that they report to. Simply because, that system only recognized the skills of the hiring manager or the direct report, and not the skills of that level completely. If you find a manager -- you happen to be so lucky to work under a manager who has a real knack for big p policy, long term vision. This is the most excellent situation you can find yourself in. If you do ever find yourself in a place where your direct report talks about long term vision, talks about the steps that need to happen in order for big level change: hold on to that person, and learn everything that you can from them because they are so instrumental. We as an institution, don't utilize the genius that is big p policy. We are so trapped in this micro-approach in this "What are we going to do tomorrow? What do we need to have done by the end of the day? What's the vision for next week?" that we have lost sight of the fact that there is an endgame here. So with the creation of Indigenous Services Canada, to me, that's a clear example of where for the most part, people have looked around and thought, we need an endgame. And that endgame is the devolution of services and programs to indigenous organization, or aggregates. That's the concept behind the creation of indigenous services. But to me that says, we've really looked at this long term. We've looked at what it is that's broken, and why we need to fix it. And how are we going to get there? So we've established a goal. But in a system where we don't recognize an individual's ability to grow and change within the organization, we've lost them. So if you have this five year vision plan, and you give employees the opportunity to grow their language skills, to grow their policy development skills, to understand what program application means, and to really be part of a cycle of change, they can see how their micro innovation is absolutely crucial to the perpetual motion of the system itself.
Valeria: I love what you're saying. And I think it also speaks to being able to mobilize the right types of people. When you have a specific objective or a vision in mind, and realizing that if you will want to accomplish (A) that now we need a different type of person here. And it's about timing. And one of the issues with our system -- what I always found -- was the rigidity, and the inability to be flexible. When I came in from the private sector, small businesses from Montreal and I started working in public service, there was quite a few things that really just hit me really strongly. But one of the things was I realized they don't care, or my impression at the time was that the "big they" weren't motivated to have the right people in the right jobs at the right time. At all. Whereas, when you're running a small business, you can't afford not to have the right people in the right job at the right time. And you move them around and you develop them as you need to fulfil your big picture vision that you need to accomplish. And as a government, we completely lost sight of all of that. I do feel that we're slowly getting there, though. Yeah.
Natalie: I feel like actually, what we're talking about right now is talent management. And really what the game changer is, there's performance management, there's career coaching, there's career development. Once you start going to talent management, you're actually starting to think about (A) it's back to that "how are we describing people?" Because talent management inherently includes the concept of -- there's also a need that the enterprise needs to have built. And there's the concept of matching, and there's the concept of data. So if we come back to “Oh, you're looking at ‘now we're starting to map skills and competencies of an employee’, right?" And we can start thinking about “Hmm, instead of describing the pieces of work that need to be done, what skills and competencies do I need to hire for?” Now we're starting to talk about talent management, and that gives us the ability to say, I actually have a whole different system and process and mentality around what that 'best fit' means. And how do I actually get the right people in the right place at the right time? You said some really interesting things Valeria. You talked about the objective or the vision in mind. You talked about the timing and the flexibility. All of those things are the outputs that we can expect as we start actually doing talent management. Coming back full circle to what you were saying, Dana, which is, if an employee has a talent manager who's not their hiring manager, then all of the sudden, we start having this concept of developing our workforce in a completely different way, which doesn't take away from the people and leadership management we do for people who are actually working. That happens also from their hiring managers, and from the leadership of the places where people work. And once we start moving towards that system, I actually think that's where we have the actual possibility to make some very serious changes in how we do things in the public service.
Dana: And I agree with you. And I think really, Valeria, to your point with regard to the small business, that is absolutely why the small business is able to either succeed or fail. It's because that human element is there. It's right in their face. They know they don't hire you because of your sparkling personality. That's a bonus. But that's the bonus that comes with the skills that you have to do the work. So in the public service, part of the issue is that it's just too big. And we know that and I think that that's very evident in many of our processes, and in our policies is that we are designing a system that needs to speak to the absolute massive masses, but is removed enough from individual characteristics that it doesn't become a sort of nepotistic style of management and career development and placement, but yet, still recognizes that there are values in having someone who is particularly gregarious and outgoing and friendly and adapts beautifully to new situations, in a position that requires those skills -- those soft skills -- behind the hard skills that they need to actually do the work of that position. So it's not just recognizing that, Oh, I have a box that needs to be filled. No, I have a need for an outgoing people person who has the ability to implement a full policy cycle. But the critical factor is the human characteristics. Those are the essential requirements that I need. And there's no reason why -- aside from meeting the hard requirements of a position, so the educational requirements. which are quite flexible. There are many facets to to hiring, essential qualifications that can be changed and augmented to fit what it is that you're looking for. And I think part of the thing that we're seeing now in the public service is that people are being very candid in their callouts for staffing. They're talking about the dynamics of their workplace. They're talking about how the institution operates. They're talking about the personalities that they're looking for. And by writing those things within your "sans-sees" you're actually giving employees an opportunity to say, "Hey, I really sparkle in that area. And I'm more than just my ability to implement a great program." So those soft skills and hard skills are becoming of value to an employer, as well.
Valeria: Thank you. This has been a great, a great chat, and super interesting. And I think we should also invite Diana back at some point, so we could keep having this conversation.
Dana: I'd love to come back. Great, great talk.
Valeria: But any final thoughts before we wrap up?
Dana: My one final thought would be to say to people, if you are a public servant, do not limit yourself to the phrase, "I can't." Just do it. Just do it. Pull a page out of Nike and just do it. And you will always, always have an easier time asking for forgiveness than you will for asking for permission. So if it's in your mind, and you feel like this is imperative to the work you do, or your ability to remain within the confines of your position, do it.
Natalie: Thank you very much, Dana. No final final thoughts?
Todd: No final final thoughts.
Valeria: Thank you.
Dana: Thank you.
Todd: You've been listening to Innovate On Demand, brought to you by the Canada School of Public Service. Our music is by grapes. I'm Todd Lyons, Producer of this series. Thank you for listening.