Transcript: CSPS Virtual Café Series: Maintaining Passion for Public Service
[The CSPS logo appears on screen.]
[A video chat appears with Taki Sarantakis with Jeannette Taylor, Lotte Bøgh Andersen, James L. Perry.]
Taki Sarantakis, Canada School of Public Service: Good morning, good afternoon, good evening, depending on when you are watching this broadcast, I am Taki Sarantakis, the president of the Canada School of Public Service, and welcome to the CSPS Virtual Cafe, where we talk about topics that are of relevance to Canada's public service and Canada's public servants with interesting guests.
And today we are talking about something that I'm not sure we talked about enough of in Canada and in the public service, and that's passion. What draws people to public service? We all kind of have in our background this, uh, this sense that there's something different about public service, that it's not just about a job, it's not just about a career, it's not just about remuneration. It's something different. And today we're going to talk about if that is in fact the case, what draws people to these particular professions, to this particular profession and these particular positions?
And we have three guests today, all of which are from outside of Canada. So, we're going to get this very interesting perspective for Canadian public servants. So, our first guest, and I'm going to ask each of them to introduce themselves, and then we'll get into our conversation. Our first guest is Professor Jeannette Taylor. Jeannette, tell us a little bit about why you're here today.
Jeannette Taylor, University of Western Australia: All right. Again, my interest is in public service motivation, in terms of motivations of public servants, particularly in looking at motivations, comparing them across sectors and also across generations. You know, so it's all to do with human resource management. Yes.
Taki Sarantakis: Thank you. And where do you teach, Jeannette? Where are you from?
Jeannette Taylor: Oh, yes, I teach at the University of Western Australia. And that is in the Political Science and International Relations discipline in the School of Social Sciences.
Taki Sarantakis: Thank you. Welcome. And then we have Professor Lotte Andersen. And Professor Andersen…
Lotte Bøgh Andersen, Aarhus University: Yes. And I am the leader of Crown Prince Frederick Center for Public Leadership, and we have kind of one purpose. We do leadership research to improve the public sector, and also the private sector, in terms of actually finding out how leadership can improve public service provision.
And I live in Aarhus in Denmark, but I'm also very interested in how we can improve leadership, how we can improve the public sector in the rest of the world. And I look very much forward to sharing all the insights we have about this very important topic.
Taki Sarantakis: Welcome, Lotte. And last but not least, we have Professor Jim Perry, who is closer to home. Professor Perry.
James L. Perry, Indiana University: Thanks, Taki. I actually have some Canadian roots. My ancestors came through Quebec and just a generation or two ago, they spoke very good French. But my French is awful and hasn't sort of picked up the tradition and the skills.
I'm a Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the Paul H. O'Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs in Bloomington, Indiana, which is in the heartland of the of the U.S. And I've been studying public service motivation since 1990, although prior to that I also studied merit pay and a variety of other issues related to the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, which was a major reform of our Federal Civil Service in the Carter administration.
I also authored a book that was published in December of 2020 titled 'Managing Organizations to Sustain Passion for Public Service', which tries to synthesize the research that I've been engaged in during the last three decades.
Taki Sarantakis: All right, so let's start unpacking then. So, I guess the word of the day is motivation. So, Lotte, what motivates us?
Lotte Bøgh Andersen: Basically, three things if we are kind of normal public servants. Of course, we go to work because we want to be paid; we all of us have to pay our rent and so on. But that's definitely not the whole story, as Jim can also tell from his studies of no-pay systems.
Because we also go to work because we want to make a positive difference for citizens and for society, and that's pro-social, and all of us are very interested in public service motivation. And especially Jim has a lot of insights about how we can actually also support this type of motivation. This orientation to do good for citizens and society through public service provision.
And finally, we also in our jobs are motivated by doing the task itself. We find it interesting. We also get up Monday morning, we go to work, although it rains because we enjoy our work. And for public employees and also private employees, these three types of motivation, kind of the extrinsic motivation, the pro-social motivation, and the intrinsic motivation, they go hand in hand, especially if we design our public service institutions in the right way.
Taki Sarantakis: So… so, Jeannette, we've got kind of, pay, which is almost kind of like on Maslow's hierarchy, you need to get paid one way or the other. We've got kind of this quest to make a difference. And then we've got interests. Do you have, like, other things, to add or disagree with or supplement?
Jeannette Taylor: With pay, I guess we can go a little bit deeper in terms of pay, in terms of without distinguishing between high pay and pay that is perceived to be fair, because studies that have been done, comparing public and private sector employees tend to report that those who are working in the public sector tend to emphasize more on, um.. Or emphasize less on high pay compared to those who are working in the private sector.
But it doesn't mean then that pay isn't important because pay that is perceived to be fair is important, you know, and in fact, it has been shown to have a positive link to public service motivation. And if we think of pay, it's not just the instrumental motivational properties that matter. There is also the symbolic motivational properties like in terms of acknowledgement, you know, status, power, you know, all that sort of thing. So when it comes to pay, you know there is more to pay than just pay itself.
Taki Sarantakis: Now, Jim, you wrote a book, if not the book, on public sector motivation. What are your thoughts here? Your opening thoughts?
James L. Perry: Well, I think one- You just use the word 'public sector' and one of the things we've been very careful about with respect to this research is to talk about 'public service.' And 'public sector' may be a sort of a fixed institutional set of roles, for instance, our civil service. That's the 'public sector'.
But much of what is done, for instance, in the U.S., particularly given the diffusion of responsibilities across sectors, is that the non-profit, the private non-profit sector, even the business sector is now responsible for delivering goods and services and benefits to the public. So, we like to think in terms of 'public service,' and one of the keys is that 'public service' is really sort of a different identity and it's a responsibility to this commonwealth. And in doing so, that I think, attaches itself to individuals or individuals with different identities connect better to that commonwealth perspective or the 'public service' perspective.
So, it's important, I think, to think about what the ends are. And many people who choose public service, as Lotte said, are driven partly by the pro-social motive in some way. You know, that is, they identify with the good that is done for the larger society, for individuals, for groups and others.
And we think that that's an important differentiating characteristic of motivation for public service. And so, you know, the original definition talked about are institutional differences that are unique to the public, or to the public service. And although there are some that are extrinsic, like job satisfaction that can sometimes get in the way of fulfilling this more pro-social vision of what it is that public service is about, we like to come back to this idea that it's all about bettering the community, doing good for one's fellow citizens, doing good for a particular cause, and then that's an important driver.
And we differentiate much of what we associate with government and in public law with different types of tasks. We don't, by and large, for instance, allocate defence to the private sector because the defence of a society is all about a public good, and a public good that has a special meaning to that society. And we think those different missions can be important motivating characteristics for individuals in their work.
Taki Sarantakis: Now, Lotte, I saw you kind of nodding your head rigorously as Jim was talking.
Lotte Bøgh Andersen: Yeah.
Taki Sarantakis: And Jim brought out a new word in the course of this conversation. He brought out the word 'identity', that one of the characteristics of public service and public servants is that like this notion of serving the public seeps into your identity, it kind of becomes one of the things that makes you who you are. Is that a fair characterization?
Lotte Bøgh Andersen: Yeah, and a very important, both for employees, but also for managers. And you're right to say identity concerns the kind of the answer to the question, "Who am I?" I think most of us have kind of several answers, but the important part of this is whether we are a person who contributes to society, to other people.
And what I was also thinking during a Jim's insights is also this is not only kind of cheap talk, this is not only within our heads. It's also what we do and what we achieve. And one of the studies I did on public service motivation is actually linking the motivation of individual teachers to the grades that the students achieve at the final national exam. And if you have a teacher in a given subject, for example, math, with a higher public service motivation, the students actually get better grades.
So, it also matters for the citizens. Whether we have this public service motivation and kind of the most amazing thing in that study was that we could see that if the students had been taught by the public service-motivated teacher for not only one year but three years, the effect was actually stronger. So, it matters also in the long run in public service provision, whether the employees are motivated to do good for society, to do good for every citizen.
Taki Sarantakis: Yeah. And very clearly, the jobs themselves are special because you're impacting on other people's lives. You are making decisions that in some cases, as we've even seen during the course of the pandemic, they're life and death decisions in some times. Thankfully, they're not that dramatic every single day over the course of a public service career, but they are decisions that impact on others. And that impact can be incredibly beneficial, as in the example that you just cited. Or it can be devastating, like if you make a mistake in a key public service position, whether that is, you know, in a defence realm or in a policy realm or in a social services realm, it will have incredible impacts. And that's one of the reasons I think why, historically, over time, societies have actually kind of been a little picky about the people who have occupied those institutions.
I wonder, Jeannette, if you could talk to us a little bit about that. I know in the U.K., you know, in the years gone by, we would hear about the civil service exams, and in other countries we hear about the different types of vetting. What are what are some of the ways that different types of governments try to make sure that these important positions are occupied by people who understand the importance of those positions, but also kind of have a competence to execute those tasks?
Jeannette Taylor: Yeah, that's right. I mean, that's part of the merit-based principles, anyway. You know, where people are actually recruited, selected based on merit. And that's very important for public service motivation itself, but also in terms of ensuring that the public service, you know, essentially are competent enough to carry out the essential services for the public. So, that's important. And that also comes into play in- it highlights the importance of fairness as well, and integrity as well. And again, that essentially is important for the public interest, so that there is people who are competent enough to deliver public services. Yes.
Taki Sarantakis: Yeah. And that's another great word. And Jim, I'm going to come back to you on that word, "merit" in the public service. We talk about probably more than in other areas, we talk about the merit principle. In Canada, in fact, it's actually even in legislation and we have an entire organization called the Public Service Commission in Canada that is established essentially around the notion of protecting merit. Now, merit as I understand it, I think it comes from China. I think it comes from the fact that in Chinese society, over the centuries, they kind of said, 'Well, just because you're the son of somebody or the daughter of somebody, it doesn't mean that you are able, or you have the capacity or the competence to occupy one of these important positions.' The administrative gene doesn't necessarily, or the guardian gene doesn't necessarily pass down in a biological sense. We have to kind of test you for that. What are your thoughts on merit, Jim, or what can you tell us a little bit more about merit?
James L. Perry: I could go on for about that for a long time, but let me note, I am also- I'm presently working on a comparative study of South Korea and Taiwan, looking at the civil service exams. And East Asia has a history of very stringent civil service exams, such that only about one percent of those taking the exam for the higher civil service qualify. One of the questions is-
Taki Sarantakis: One percent?
James L. Perry: One percent.
Taki Sarantakis: So, 99 out of ever hundred people who apply don't qualify?
James L. Perry: That's right. Yes, that's right.
Taki Sarantakis: That's pretty stringent.
James L. Perry: Small numbers. The question is whether the exam has become the focus, whether so much is about the exam because in, for instance, in South Korea, now you have many families who say, we want you to work for government because of the security associated with government employment, and they will pay and permit their sons or daughters to spend as much as three or four years preparing for the examination, so they can succeed in the examination. Now, the question is whether that puts the exam before this notion of public service motivation, and it may actually drive out public service motivation. So, we're focused on that.
But, you know, I think this issue of meritocracy is so important. There's a group called The Quality of Government Institute at the University of Gothenburg that has been studying this very deeply for the last decade or more. And one of the things their research that covers hundreds of countries, you know, this is not just Sweden or a few countries. This is over 100 countries in their samples, and they also have an expert survey they do, I think, every two years or maybe as frequently as every year, suggest two things.
One, merit is related to government effectiveness, and two, merit is related to lower levels of corruption. And both of those are sort of critical results. But the other the other point I make in my book is that a strong merit system, a merit system that protects civil servants from their political superiors and creates a different set of incentives and rules for the merit-based employees in the civil service from their political appointees also supports strongly the basic psychological needs of employees.
And what are the basic psychological needs of employees? Self-determination theory says that there are three components. One is competence, and the merit system clearly and directly is intended to improve and elevate the level of competence of employees.
The second is autonomy. And what happens in strong and effective merit systems is that civil servants are buffered from their political superiors and therefore gain significant autonomy.
And the third is relatedness. That that permits employees to connect socially with their various stakeholders and publics. And so those are three fundamental basic psychological needs that merit system support, and this is something that we haven't traditionally made the connection about. That is, one of the things we tend to think about is that merit systems protect, maybe, lazy civil servants. That's exactly the opposite of what an effective merit system does.
An effective merit system protects competent people and permits them to do what they need to do on behalf of citizens. So, merit systems are enormously important, and they create a context, a supportive context, for public service or effectiveness of civil servants and low levels of corruption, which I think is enormously important. Globally, it's not only in the U.S. or Canada or Western countries, but countries globally.
Taki Sarantakis: So, you mentioned statistics and you mentioned kind of empirical research, and I'd like to kind of maybe start telling our audience a little bit about kind of the facts on the ground, so to speak. So, are people in public services across the world, are they as motivated today as they were yesterday? Do we need something there? Are we less motivated? Is it harder, as Jim said, kind of to get out of bed on Monday morning? And do you need an extra coffee to work in the public service today? Maybe I'll start with Jeannette.
Jeannette Taylor: OK. So, essentially, you're comparing workers today to the past. This is based, I guess, in terms of generational differences. So, if the argument is based on generational differences, there are two schools of thought. One is what we call the age cohort effects, which actually argues that different generations have different values or different preferences. And then there is that life and career-cycle-effects, which actually argues that at similar points in their career or in their life, different generations actually want the same things.
So, take, for example, a person who is more established in the career. They might want things that are different compared to when they have just started in their career. So, it's not so much as, say, people nowadays compared to in the past, or generation now compared to those in the past, have different work preferences or different values, but it's more where they are in the life cycle in the career.
But essentially, we also have to think about, I guess, the environment now with lots of changes, reforms in the workplace in terms of layoffs of staff, you know. So that, you know, there is this argument that, you know, with lots of, as permanent positions, you know, more and more permanent positions become replaced with contractual positions or casual positions, people are more likely to think that they can accrue, say, career security by looking for positions or by looking for jobs that actually offer access to ongoing learning, that sort of thing. But, you know, so there is that sort of argument, you know, we've got to look at the environment now. But then there is also this argument we have to look at people's careers, where they are in the career.
Taki Sarantakis: So, Lotte, I guess what Jeannette was saying and I apologize a little bit of reverberation there. I guess what Jeannette was saying, if I heard it correctly was it's not that we're more or less motivated today in, you know, 2021 than we were in 1980. It's just, you know, at year three of your career, you want something different than year 17 of your career. Is that kind of what you're reading of the evidence shows?
Lotte Bøgh Andersen: Yeah, we find the almost the same in Denmark and we find that it's kind of the same basic types of motivation, also the same level. We find that when young professionals go into their first job, they had a reality shock. But that reality shock is actually bigger, kind of decreasing motivation if you go into private employment compared to public employment.
And then we also see that as people grow older and kind of advance in their career, their public service motivation increases slowly. And that could be because you kind of get more experience, but it could also be as you get older, it's more important for you to kind of make a lasting impact on something bigger than yourself. We also find in Denmark that it's very important that you actually can see the impact you do, to see the impact on society, see that you kind of do something good for other individuals, other people. And that is very much about leadership.
Taki Sarantakis: So, Jim, I'm going to bring in the M word now. And the M word is millennial. And a few years ago in the public service, everybody was like, 'We can't attract millennials. And even when we attract millennials, we can't motivate them. They're not motivated.' Is it kind of- is it myth or reality?
James L. Perry: Good question, Taki. You know, I'm not a believer in significant generational differences, which puts me with Jeannette and Lotte regarding how I sort of think this plays out over time. And obviously we have to compare apples with apples. And if we look at people at the same stages of their careers, I think they tend to react similarly across the life course.
Now, I think one of the issues is what are we offering the millennials? Now, we have, I think, two things that are perhaps out of sync. One is that we're recruiting very few millennials, although we're recruiting some. But I think the numbers in the U.S. federal government are like, we have almost no employees under 30 and we have a high degree level of difficulty recruiting in younger individuals, partly because many of our federal civil servants have stayed well beyond the retirement age and the workforce is not growing. So, we have very little room for these new folks.
I think the other thing we know is that millennials, at least from some of the survey research and other sources of evidence, are very much public regarding. That is, that they may come with higher levels of public service motivation. But are our institutions satisfying those motivations? And I think the answer may be no. That is that if we are looking to satisfy them with low levels of responsibility, higher pay, high levels of job security, that's not what interests them. Many of them are interested in other things. So, we need to reshape our institutions to satisfy the needs and the preferences and what incentives these people respond to. And so, you know, part of it is reshaping the institutions. And that's something I think that is in flux.
You know, when I when I started my research prior to the research on public service motivation, we gave a lot of emphasis to pay, particularly performance, pay or pay for performance. And I think I've dismissed those as usually failing and not satisfying the needs of the types of people who come to public service or the institutional requirements of public service.
But we have not put into place a new set of institutions and a new set of rules that are attractive to the people we want in public service. So, we need to rethink that. That's obviously one reason for why I wrote the book. The other thing that I might comment on is that, you know, I use the word passion in the title of the book because I drew that from the United Nations Development Program.
The head of the United Nations Development Program in 2015, said that we need to embrace a new public passion, because if we want things like the Sustainable Development Goals and the reduction of poverty and other goals associated with sustainable development to succeed, we need to create a culture of public service in developing countries that reignites the passion of the people who are governing and serving the citizens in those countries. And so that was an expression that we need to change the institutions. And the institutional rules are not up to the needs of the citizens and the people we're trying to attract to civil service.
Taki Sarantakis: Yeah, you brought up a lot of interesting points that I want to unpack in the next few minutes. So, the first is the age-old, you know, person meets institution, institution crushes person. And we all kind of know and have lived that, unfortunately. But the notion that you come into the public service full of passion and energy as a young person and then something happens to you sometimes, where it's kind of, you're kind of told, 'Okay, now you sit here for the next 25 years and you become seasoned, and you become wise, and you become gray and at some point we'll kind of give you the keys to the car.'
In Canada, at least, we have a situation, not a situation, but we're having more and more kind of younger ministers. We're having ministers of the crown in their forties, in some cases in their 30s. We even had a little while ago in their very late twenties, but in their twenties. We would never have a deputy minister like at 29 or 31, we would never have the kind of the top administrative person in the government at that age. We tend to have them, you know, in their 50s and when somebody becomes a deputy minister in their 40s, it's like, 'Oh, she's very young. She's very young.'
But the world is kind of ruled by people in their 40s, whether it's Silicon Valley, whether it's, you know, President Obama. What is this notion? Why in the public service I think more than other professions, we tend to tilt to age. We tend to view age as a proxy for competence. Lotte, is that fair?
Lotte Bøgh Andersen: Yeah, because it's different in Denmark. We have kind of a much more kind of smooth age profile of the public sector and we have what we call flexicurity. So, Denmark has very high trust and low corruption country, but we actually have what I would call a merit culture, not so much a merit system. So, it's so deeply institutionalized in Danish society that we don't need the formal rules to have a very high level of merit in the public service. So, when we hire public servants, it's much more based on their actual competence, not so much that age.
And we also have kind of a very busy labour market. So, if we want to have the important positions in the public service actually kind of perform, then we need the young people. So, we have a lot of young public servants, but we also have young ministers and other young politicians, even young top leaders. So, the flexicurity system I talk about, it makes it easier to change jobs to actually achieve a very good fit between the person and the job, and the person and the organization. So, this is also linked to a very kind of good system for unemployment, meaning that the job security we talked about before is not so important for young people.
They're willing to take a chance to have a public service job because they know that they either get another job that's kind of a great demand for their talented young people, or they will have time enough due to the very good unemployment benefits to find the right job. So, you could say that the merit culture in Denmark actually supports the creation of very good person-job fits and very good person-organization fits.
Taki Sarantakis: Jeannette, is that the same in Australia? Is the culture so kind of inculcated into the notion of being a public servant that the institutions aren't as important in other areas because it's already there?
Jeannette Taylor: It's slowly changing.
Taki Sarantakis: It's slowly changing.
Jeannette Taylor: Yes.
Taki Sarantakis: As a Canadian, we look to Australia a lot because we have a lot of similarities.
Jeannette Taylor: Yes.
Taki Sarantakis: And we have we have similar systems of government and similar systems of governance. But in Canada, I think for us to say that the public service is motivated, I'm not sure that's empirically true. I don't have the statistics on my fingertips, but I know we do surveys of the public service with some regularity and there's- it's not a case of total happiness.
And on the three side of our panelists here, I'm kind of hearing a little bit of a utopia. And as a Canadian, I'm kind of going, I'm not sure that's what our survey results are showing. I'm not sure that we're as kind of sunny and bright, certainly as they are in Denmark, but maybe in other parts of Asia, which I know Jim studies and other parts of the Commonwealth, which Jeannette knows well. But are there pockets of discontent in public services across the world? Are there themes? Are there issues that are arising that have some commonality, Jeannette?
Jeannette Taylor: Well, Australia is also looking- when I do work with the government, they are also very interested in Canada because of this similarity there and with the census that tend to be carried out at the federal level, at the Commonwealth level, they tend to carry it out every year and they also look at motivation, satisfaction, that sort of thing.
Based on those surveys, it seems that majority are satisfied, are motivated. But I guess it does come down to the culture of the organization, because definitely, I've carried out studies of some departments and essentially, they are, like, some departments are really bad, you know, in terms of motivation, satisfaction. Digging deeper into it, we found out that the culture isn't conducive, you know.
That's where employees feel that they are not supported. They are not acknowledged in their work. Where they actually feel that the system isn't fair, that they can see inconsistencies in the application of rules, and that's where discontent arises.
Taki Sarantakis: Yeah. And Jim, one of the challenges we have sometimes in public service is we have very lofty goals and very lofty aspirations. You have people that come in with the absolute best of intentions to give the best of themselves, their energy, their passion to this calling, even, sometimes more than a profession, and then they hit that institution that we talked about earlier. And sometimes there is a disconnect between the aspirations of the institution as it represents itself and the institution as it is. Do you find that at all in any of the work that you do?
James L. Perry: Well, I can share with you an interesting anecdote from my Federal Service that goes back to the year that Bill Clinton was elected president. This is about 30 years ago, but I was in a meeting at HHS, and we had a presidential management intern who was just starting her federal career. And she- we had, in this collective meeting, she was asked to sort of comment about her experiences, and she was saying, 'Oh my gosh, I'm really excited to come to the Federal Service, and this is such an opportunity for me.' And she went on for about two or three minutes and then finally completed her presentation. And then a voice came from the end of the table saying, 'Wait 'til you've been here 20 years.' So, sometimes there's sort of a disconnect over time. Literally, our goal as leaders and managers within public organizations and within our civil service should be to elevate that public service motivation.
Now, I think, you know, we have ups and downs with job satisfaction and with morale and the like, and that shifts because of maybe an event in the environment or leadership of a particular type. But I think public service motivation, those who are sort of driven by public service are there for the longer term. They're there because of the values. They're there because of the difference they can make. And often I think the public service motivation is far more resilient, and those who are highly motivated by public service are far more resilient than we would understand by looking at the annual job satisfaction survey results.
But we do know, for instance, in the best places to work in the American federal government, most of the organizations that are at the top stay at the top. Places like NASA, the intelligence community, The Department of Transportation, Health and Human Services, Treasury, they're all- They're all the top six in the most recent surveys of the best places to work in the federal government.
Are they similar? In some respects, they're similar, but NASA is quite a different animal than the U.S. Department of Transportation. But they tend to sort of sustain themselves over time. I think that's partly related to the mission. The organization that tends to be at the bottom of the scale or bottom of the best places to work service is the Department of Homeland Security. Which is a very large organization, a relatively new organization, a diverse organization.
It's hard to say why they're at the bottom, although I think one of the reasons they're at the bottom is because the leaders have not been able to figure out how to connect the missions that are infused across the Department of Homeland Security with the people at the bottom of the organization. With the people doing the work, the twenty-five thousand TSA agents who may be preyed upon more than they are appreciated.
This goes back to one of Jeannette's earlier points about how we reward people. But I think we need leaders who recognize the missions of the organization and are able to translate that to what individuals throughout the organization do, regardless of where they're located.
Taki Sarantakis: Yeah. So, let's move into that area now because we've been focusing mostly on the side of the employee. Let's flip now to the other side of the equation. Kind of the leader, the manager, the supervisor. Is there something about a public service leader that is different about kind of a leader in the private sector? Lotte, are they analogous or are they different or are they the same skills?
Lotte Bøgh Andersen: They are different. But of course, there are also similarities. And let me start with what Jim said about the mission, because the missions in public service organizations, they are different. The big "why" of a hospital or at defence organization, it is different because they work for the people of the community and individual other people. The citizen, voters, the people in the country are the kind of ultimate principles of this organization.
And when we train leaders to be able to do what Jim is talking about: elevate the passion and motivate the employees to actually continue in kind of the very long time to do good, to do their jobs, we can see that kind of the clarifying, the sharing and sustaining of the vision of the administration is kind of easier for public service leaders. For leaders where the core task is to actually do good for other people and society, where their services has been kind of ordered and all financed by the public and talking about missions and visions.
I totally agree with Jim that the mission, the big "why," kind of the core task of the organization is important, but so is the vision. A vision is a picture of the desirable future, not only desired but desirable future. And that is a way to elevate the motivation. We know that public and private leaders who can do this actually result in employees with a higher public service motivation, with a higher intrinsic motivation and also with better results for the citizens.
But we see in our field experiments that it's actually easier for leaders in public conversations in organizations with public service missions, because these missions and their attached visions are inherently desirable. It's simply kind of easier to translate a vision, concern with doing good for others compared to a, for example, private sector vision about kind of generating profit or selling a lot of, for example, cigarettes.
Taki Sarantakis: Jeannette, talk to us a little bit about public sector leadership. What are some of the hallmarks of public sector leadership, what are some of the key characteristics that a public sector leader has or should have?
Jeannette Taylor: Well, one thing public sector leaders should have is strong standards, you know, high standards of ethics. Because ethical leadership is important in the public sector. That's for sure, particularly to maintain integrity within the public service. And public sector leaders are also, it's important for them to be seen to be fair, in terms of supporting the needs of the employees.
Supportive is another is another thing that I would think of. Good communication is another one to me that is important. Yes. I'm trying to think through all of these characteristics, yeah, but definitely…Because I guess I've done work on whistleblowing, corruption in the public service. So, that's why, you know, I emphasize more on ethics because that's the work that I do. And in fact, those people who are reluctant to blow the whistle essentially place a lot of emphasis on leaders, because, you know, in terms of leaders not doing anything about the reports or managers, actually, they think that nothing will be done. They think that managers actually accept the behaviour within the organization and they have fear that it has repercussions. So, for me, in terms of leaders, you know, ethics is important.
Taki Sarantakis: Yeah. So, Jim, I want to I want to play a little mind experiment with you. So, we know who some of the big private sector leaders are or have been. Talk to us a little bit like how would a Steve Jobs fare in the U.S. public service? How would a Jeff Bezos do in the Department of Transportation or in Homeland Security or in, you know, in another typical part of the U.S. public service apparatus?
James L. Perry: I'm going to stay away from some of those names like Steve Jobs.
Taki Sarantakis: Okay.
James L. Perry: Well, I think Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos would probably not do so well. But, you know, that's just an impression. Well, let me talk about one person who I know and who has made a difference to me. And this is the person whose name appears on my school, Paul H. O'Neill.
Paul was a bureaucrat. Always a relatively low-level bureaucrat who came to Indiana University in the 1960s and got a master's degree when he was probably GS5 or GS7, it was in the lower half of the civil service and then he went to Washington. And two things he did: One is he became very competent about certain aspects of his work in something called the Bureau of the Budget.
Now, in 1970, I think it was 1970, to be precise, President Nixon converted the Bureau of the Budget to something called the Office of Management and Budget, which we all are familiar with today because it is the 800-pound gorilla in the West Wing of the White House. It's the sort of key office in the executive office of the President.
The other thing he did was he was mentored by someone who came in who became the first director of the Office of Management and Budget, George Shultz. And George Shultz subsequently became labour secretary and secretary of state and recently passed away at the age of 100. But he was a star, and he was a highly ethical civil servant.
But he also persuaded Paul O'Neill to leave a civil service job and take a political job. And then he asked Paul O'Neill to use some of his specialized expertise to support work within the Office of Management and Budget, and O'Neill was ready and stepped forward and did it.
But one of the things I like about all Paul O'Neill's career is that he went from a low-level of bureaucrat to a high political-level political appointee, to president or vice president of International Paper, the president and a very stellar leader of Alcoa Aluminum, to become secretary of the Treasury. And then he got fired by President Bush because he told President Bush on the third time that Bush suggested we needed to cut taxes that that was a bad idea.
And Paul O'Neill, I think, I look- I respect him. And one of the things he talked about is knowing his values, and he knew his values throughout his career. And I also consider him a servant leader, someone who put the public first and put the people, his subordinates first, and he served them and in serving them he serves the better interest not only of the public and his roles in the public sector, but also the private corporations he led.
So, I think there are some great stories about what I consider stellar leaders. I'm not sure any of those corporate leaders would be able to do what Paul O'Neill did. But Paul O'Neill started out in the public sector from a low level and understood his values and understood the importance of competence and ultimately elevated that to success at the highest levels of the public, private and health care sectors in this country.
Those are the sorts of leaders we need to be looking for. And so, one reason why I'm so very happy to be associated with the O'Neill school is because Paul O'Neill is one of those leaders whose name, when we put it on our doorstep, on our logo, we can say this is a person we need to emulate as a public leader and as a pure leader.
Taki Sarantakis: Lotte, Jeannette, do you have kind of examples of kind of people in the private sector that have some kind of stature, cachet, they come into the public sector and succeed? Like, in Canada, at least our public service is relatively closed.
We don't have a lot of movement back and forth between the public and the private sector, and we, the odd person, kind of leaves the private sector and goes and does great things in the publ- private sector. We don't have many examples of the reverse. We don't have kind of the in and out. Do you have that, that kind of culture in Denmark or Jeannette in Australia? Do you see it more, this kind of this, a little bit more permutation and permeability between the public and the private sectors? Lotte?
Lotte Bøgh Andersen: So, we have examples, but we definitely have too few examples. We also talk about differences, but there are similarities also. And I think that the similarities and the learning between our public and private sectors could be much better if we actually kind of, saw the benefits of such passion.
For example, in Denmark, we just had the director for the Danish medical agency during the COVID crisis, he came from private, then he was director during the crisis, and then he went back to a private company. Why did he leave the public sector again? Well, he said that the many stakeholders, it was too difficult to actually achieve results. And if we had been a little bit better at actually appreciating that he actually created a wonderful result for Denmark as a country during the crisis, he might have kind of continued to contribute in the public sector.
So, I think that we can be better at seeing the competencies from leaders from the private sector working in the public sector and also the other way around. I also hear from successful public leaders who actually succeed in big private companies. Maybe because of their very good skills in terms of balancing different stakeholders. And, as Jim also said, before knowing their values, knowing that values are very important, also ethical values, like Jeannette said before.
Taki Sarantakis: Yeah, Jeannette.
Jeannette Taylor: Yes. The government here, I've talked to a couple of senior levels. In a way, they actually work as consultants, so they come in from, I guess, the big four consulting firms working in the government on a contractual basis. And one of the things that they have complained about working in the public sector, that is the, I guess, the waiting time, the delay in getting things done. So, they get frustrated with the, what they considered is the accountability system, and they frame it as red tape. And they actually said they in the private sector, they can get things done pretty easily. So, that's one of the complaints. And again, I've seen people from the government working in the private sector and doing really well because of the strong public service values, the strong work ethic as well.
Taki Sarantakis: Yeah, it's relatively easy to go from the public sector to the private sector. It's relatively much harder to go, you know, as a mid-career person from the private sector to the public sector. So, I want to kind of shift to our last topic and it's 2021, and it's tough in 2021 not to talk about COVID and not to talk about the pandemic. What has the pandemic meant to public service and to public service motivation? Will it have a legacy here like it will have in so many different areas? Jim, you want to start us off?
James L. Perry: I'm a lousy prognosticator, Taki.
Taki Sarantakis: Do you know why?
James L. Perry: I wrote an article- What's that?
Taki Sarantakis: Do you know why? I'll tell you why you're a lousy prognosticator. Do you know Yogi Berra, the great American philosopher?
James L. Perry: I do.
Taki Sarantakis: So, he said that making predictions is very difficult. But he also said that making predictions about the future is almost impossible.
James L. Perry: Right. Yes, I wrote an article in 2010 about the 2020 public service, and I'm looking back at it today and saying I was very optimistic. And I talked about all the transformation that would occur because of Barack Obama, and it just didn't happen.
But, you know, I think going back to the sort of the focus on COVID, one of the things that's happened with COVID is we've put a great pressure on many of our public servants, individuals, for instance, in the health care area. Individuals in the policing area. And of course, we've had, at least in the U.S., some other things happen simultaneously, like the death of George Floyd.
And I think that that may have a lasting impact for us to reassess the support we provide public servants. And you know, there's a theory that talks about the demands on individuals in their jobs and the resources that people have to cope with them. And one thing I think we've discovered in the COVID era is that we can make enormous demands on people in public service, and civil servants, and people in public health care, and public safety and other organizations. But we have very few resources for them. And one of the debates going on in the U.S. today is about how we build back better, and do we need to provide some sources of support, for instance, for women so that they can stay in the workforce, and support individuals with mental health problems if they're overstressed in their working life?
So, I don't know what the lasting effects we're going to have, but I think we've generated some special pressures on public service and on public servants in the face of the pandemic. And I hope it leads us to step back and reflect about the demands on our public servants and how we can relieve some of those demands with additional resources.
I think that's going to be very important going forward to sustain high levels of motivation because, you know, one of the issues is, if people are so concerned about what happens to them when they join the public workforce, they won't join the public workforce. So, we need to assure that people can enter the public workforce and feel safe doing that. And if they can't, you know, this also extends to schools and the debate about masking and the vaccination requirements and mandates and the like. So, until we solve some of these things and maybe step back and change some institutional rules, it's still up in the air what the future holds for us.
Taki Sarantakis: Yeah, we have seen in different pockets of the public service the pandemic take incredible personal tolls on people, whether they're nurses, whether they're doctors, whether they're other frontline workers. Also, kind of in senior levels. Like, I personally have friends that have been working 'round the clock on things like vaccine delivery and the like.
And a lot of those people, that toll, they will never be the same. They kind of stood up for us in their public service role. And there will be impacts for them personally, kind of, in some cases for the rest of their lives. Jeannette, if you were to look ahead and say, what did COVID do to the public service, what did the pandemic do? Do you think it will have done anything structural or is it just a big event that we just kind of then get over and get back to our lives in terms of public service?
Jeannette Taylor: Well, I guess it shows that the government has to be better prepared, you know, when it comes to contingency measures, particularly like in terms of investing in health. Like, in Australia, you know, there is this report within this particular state, they have a lot of ventilators, but they do not have enough skilled staff to operate the ventilators.
So, in that sense, it is useless without the adequate human resources behind it. So, that shows that, you know, with all these layoffs in government that they actually have to start investing in public sector organizations so that, you know, these sort of things in future, if it happens, they are better prepared for it.
Taki Sarantakis: Lotte, last word to you on this. What do you see? Do you see a tail of COVID or do you see it as an event that 10 years from now won't really have an enduring impact on public service?
Lotte Bøgh Andersen: I think that is going to matter for a very long time, because we saw- We had a field experiment, we saw that public service motivation actually increased when we had kind of the lockdown and the kind of very drastic pandemic.
But we also saw that a key public service personnel — you mentioned nurses — I think that's kind of the most important group, at least in Denmark, in terms of long-time effects. They are now feeling frustrated. They know that the public really appreciated that kind of what they contributed with during the crisis, but now they feel kind of overburdened. And so, I think it's a question of a very long time. Even in small, coherent, high-trust countries such as Denmark. So, it means that decision makers and leaders in the public sector must simply try to continue to, like Jim said, elevate those employees, but also citizens in their support of the public sector.
So, I think it can go two ways. We can use the learning from the crisis where we saw that the effectiveness of the public sector response to the crisis was so important. But it could also go towards more conflicts and public servants being burned out by all the demands that society is putting on the public sector. I really hope that we go towards an era with more commitment to the public interest, more commitment to community. But as you said, we'll see.
Taki Sarantakis: Very well said. And one of the things that we know, watching COVID and watching the pandemic, is that the quality of your public service matters. And in times of crisis, whether it's a pandemic, whether it's war, the public service literally means life and death for your society. And it will be very, very important that I think one of the kind of the post-COVID reflections that we all make, whether in Australia or Denmark or in the United States or in Canada, is how can we make sure that we attract the best people to these jobs, with the right values, the right ethos, the right kind of sense of calling for these public, these incredibly important public service jobs.
Because we see, in a sense, crisis on the horizon coming, whether that's climate crisis, whether that's a refugee crisis, whether that's… just name it. There's crisis on the horizon and without capable and competent and, yes, passionate public servants, our societies won't be able to weather those metaphorical and actual storms as well as they should.
Professor Jeannette Taylor, Professor Lotte Andersen, Professor Jim Perry, thank you so much for your time. Thank you so much for your energy and thank you for being friends of not only the public service writ large but of, for at least this past hour, the public service of Canada. All our very best and thank you for spending this time with us. Greatly appreciated.
James L. Perry: Thank you, Taki.
Lotte Bøgh Andersen: Thank you
Jeannette Taylor: Thank you. Thank you, Taki.
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