The number one thing I’m looking for in a new job is integrity.
A few of you are likely reading that and nodding your head. It seems like a good choice. Except it doesn’t mean only what most people think it does. For me, integrity is about far more than simply the personal integrity of my bosses. In fact, that isn’t even the biggest part.
First and foremost, I need to know there’s the integrity of the mandate. I need to know there is a clear link between the actions of the Department and the outcomes they are trying to achieve. A plausible connection that they can actually achieve something. Going back to an earlier post, it’s one of my challenges when looking at a Department like Indigenous Affairs or Status of Women. Both departments have great mandates, but there is no particular vision behind either one that makes me believe they can achieve their mandate. I’m not even sure they are going in the right direction. But equally important to me, I don’t know if anyone who works at those places knows it. Without the mandate, vision and levers, it’s tilting at windmills. And while I have a lot of respect for windmill tilting, I don’t want to do it for my career.
Second, I need to know there is the integrity of the policy. A clear line from the evidence to the instruments chosen. I am not a statistician, nor do I believe a lot of the so-called “evidence” tells us what to do — I think it tells us a lot about the problem and some hints about which of several instruments may help, but there is still a lot of room for Ministerial discretion. I’m not naïve, that is a part of our government system. We’re not automatons, nor are our leaders. They even have the right to be wrong. But ultimately, I need to know that the mandate is being approached with a policy lens that actually has some rigour to it. A colleague I respect went to work at DFAIT (now Global Affairs Canada), and was surprised just how little real “policy” work they did. It didn’t surprise me, I had seen it in action. People there would take four or five initiatives, throw it together into a storyline, and call it “policy”. But at most it is policy coordination, it isn’t program policy or policy development. True policy work requires some analysis, and ultimately, some hard choices — do we go left or right, and why? It is one of the most frustrating parts of working in policy coordination or working on things like Cabinet notes. The people who do it are touching multiple files per day, with no real-time to focus on the content. They are often called “policy people”, but it is the most administrative form of policy. It’s storytelling, sure, and often strategic policy or macro policy ends up being about storytelling. But it to is not what I want to be doing with my life. I’m a good storyteller, but I actually want some meat to the story.
Third, I insist on the integrity of the process whenever I can. It is one of the reasons why I work on corporate files. Because there are a lot of people out there who want to play fast and loose with processes, just as the DG at CIDA did when doing his Treasury Board submission. The end doesn’t justify the means, but neither does means justify themselves. I’m not embracing all audit controls, or a red-tape nightmare to dot Is or cross Ts. I don’t want anymore process than is needed. But once those processes are in place, I think they should be followed or at least when they are not, it should be transparent. When I was at DFAIT, and they were playing with the contracting rules in order to keep me on the team, they were at least doing it above-board, completely transparently with documentation across the board. A bending of the process rather than a complete violation. At CIC, I wasn’t a slave to the rules that procurement processes had to be followed perfectly, but at least we could document when things were changed so we had the paperwork to justify changes.
Fourth, I try to maintain a culture of integrity, including myself, my team and even my bosses. Sometimes that is a real challenge against values and ethics. Like transparency when I’m not allowed to share certain information. Or being part of situations that are uncomfortable and not being sure what to do.
One time at DFAIT, it was after hours, my Director and a sleazy officer were having a late-night drink in the Director’s office. I was about to head out and needed to touch base with the Director after a long day of missing each other with other priorities. We were talking about some upcoming logistics for the summer, and we were wondering about who we could get because I wasn’t going to be able to cover all of it. We discussed quick pros and cons of various candidates, including a co-op student from the previous year. Young, female, attractive. And out of nowhere, the sleazeball made a very crude comment about her appearance. Trump-like, almost. Both my Director and I paused, looked at him like he had two heads, looked at each other, and said, “anyway, moving on…”. I know the director said something to him after I left, as the officer apologized later, but really? It told me all I needed to ever know about the guy. And I’d never work with him again under any circumstances.
For the DG at CIDA who played fast and loose with TB rules, he offered me a job before I knew the full story. But I knew enough to know I didn’t want to work with him. I just didn’t like the way he did business. He created a giant global initiative with another guy, worked on it with two international contacts for a few months, and “accidentally” forgot to tell anyone in the Canadian government he was doing it. Until Italy found out and reamed out our G8 rep for not telling them when they were the G8 chair and this was a major possible deliverable. And the G8 rep didn’t have a clue what they were talking about…what global initiative? Someone at CIDA? Even the CIDA minister hadn’t known about it. Later in my time at CIDA, I was in a position to review some of his materials coming through and even flagged them for a friend to keep an eye out, not in a nasty way, just to be extra vigilant. I didn’t care WHAT he was doing, that was beyond my purview, I just cared about HOW he was doing it.
Another project came to me at CIDA and I ended up with two significant integrity questions. First and foremost, we had always managed this file fairly transparently across the government. It was an annual thing, relatively low-key internally, but would get some press. One year when I was managing the file, it was NOT going to be a good news story and PCO slapped a lid on all communications. I wasn’t allowed to share drafts with ANYONE. Not even with the people at HRDC who would have to write a bunch of briefs and comms materials on very short notice when the event happened. I wasn’t supposed to tell them. Which I felt was not only stupid, it violated every professional fibre of my being for how we work in partnership. If I didn’t tell them, the relationship built over the previous ten years between the two groups would be destroyed. In the end, I shared some info and gave them heads-up so they could plan better for the event. It kept things stable, even if it wasn’t strictly within the letters of my formal orders.
On the same file, I received a call from an old contact at DFAIT. The senior executive who was now director-level approximately, the same one who told me I was a glorified file clerk and to whom I had said I wouldn’t be stupid enough to work for him again. That had been in August of the year I moved to CIDA, and I had only seen him twice since that point — once at the Summit in Vancouver, but with little interaction, and once at a Christmas party. One of those awkward conversations where you both turn around and you’re suddenly face-to-face, and you have a conversation. He sort of smirked at me, and asked how everything was going at CIDA, was I getting “more responsible” files now? I told him it was going great, and fortunately, the management at CIDA was so much better. My friend standing nearby couldn’t believe how we threw such daggers at each other before moving off. No love lost. Yet here he was calling me and asking for advice for his Ambassador and the upcoming event. He had two options — let’s call it going left or going right. Without the information I had, which I wasn’t allowed to share, he was struggling to make a decision. For me, I knew the right answer though. If he went left, it would blow up in his face, the Ambassador would be pissed, and karma would be delivered a helping hand. If he went right, the Ambassador might be a bit disappointed, but no other real downside. The question was simple — should I tell him to go right and avoid the problem or say nothing at all and let him get reamed? I so wanted to say “go left”. I did. I really did. But I told him that perhaps this year was a good time for us to “go right”, even if I wasn’t allowed to share the info with him that he was searching.
I’m confronted with these issues often, and it is part of management. I mentioned earlier that ethical questions are not the elaborate scenarios that they share with you in training classes, it’s the day-to-day stuff. And for me, I need to be able to control enough of my work and outputs to ensure that my personal integrity is intact. When the DG from a previous example was cursing and swearing at me, that was too much. I couldn’t be part of it any longer. When I saw bad HR processes, I decided not to openly challenge them, but I had to at least register my disagreement with the approach.
I need to see it in myself, of course, but also reflected in the actions of my bosses. I need to know that they aren’t doing fast and loose things just to get something done. Or if they are, that they are at least transparent about it. And I try to make sure the same “culture” exists in my team.
In my personal life, it’s a huge precept for me. Not only have I chosen to do the right thing, I actually have in some cases only done it if it was for the right reasons. Something that might have been good for me, but for the wrong reasons, I chose not to do. In some cases, things that most people wouldn’t even think about avoiding.
For work, my approach to HR is a bit like that. I am perfectly fine telling people they should apply for lots of jobs, try to make pools, etc. But for myself, I will only compete for a job that I actually want. The federal system actively encourages you to compete just to make a pool and then get pulled for another job, but I won’t do it for myself. The right thing for the wrong reasons, so I won’t do it. I’m fine if others do it. Just not right for me.
Last but not least, I need to know there is integrity in delivery. It’s all well in good to have the right stuff upfront, but if it is going to hell in a handbasket on the delivery side, what’s the point?
And it is why it is my highest point. And really, if I wanted, I could group almost every other element under this heading.
#01. Integrity – Integrity of mandate, integrity of policy, integrity of process, integrity in delivery and a culture of integrity.
That’s not easy to find everywhere.