Before I went on an extended hiatus, I used to try and string together a few posts into a series. In that same vein, I thought I’d start another one of those, but I won’t specifically string them together by appending “Part 1, 2, etc.” on the end, nor will I necessarily link to previous posts in the series. It’ll be more like an anthology series, in that each post would be able to standalone. This series, the “How Might We…” series is a way to inspire us to think broader. To think blue sky-y. Imagine the possibilities.
OK. With that aside, let’s move onto a bit of pedantry. I spent far too much time hemming and hawing over using the subtitle “Incent Information Sharing” or “Incentivize Information Sharing.” Incentivize is one of those words that’s been unnecessarily created (the verb from incentive is incent, there’s no need to go on and add an -ize). I very nearly stuck with “incent” because its very definition (i.e. rewarded for doing something) is what I meant to be discussing. In the end, it felt more important to use accessible language (i.e. incent is a tad jargon-y). Alright, so let’s dig in.
I saw a tweet from Scott Galloway (see below) the other day that made me want to reflect on the idea of “information hoarders.”
Scott’s keying in on managers and it’s certainly important for managers to be more forthcoming with information, but there are far more non-managers than there are managers. Couldn’t it subvert the problem if there were incentives for employees to be sharing information within their teams? How about… within their divisions? What about… across silos?
From a private sector standpoint, one could argue that the information-sharing might stop at the company’s edge, but for folks who work in government, as long as you’re not divulging any secret/protected information, is there any reason why we can’t be more openly sharing information between departments? That’s not a rhetorical question, I’m actually asking.
To my mind, I think the frame we have is all wrong. Everything starts as being close to the vest and then we decide what we’ll share after-the-fact. I can understand why things would have begun this way, but I don’t necessarily think that it’s in our (both the government and the Canadians we serve) if we continue this way. What if we flipped the switch and everything were open tomorrow (gasp!). OK, that’s a bit off-the-ledge, so let’s frame it this way. What if, starting tomorrow, everything we did started from a frame of being open? Meaning, if something were meant to not be shared, then we’d have to specifically identify it as such (a little bit of behavioural economics, eh?).
I have no doubt that there’d probably be accidental goofs, but would the tremendous amount of openness allow the government to better realize efficiencies within itself? I bet that there are things that some folks might now in one corner of some department that would be helpful to some other corner of a completely different department, but that there’s no obvious way for the information to get from A to B. Simply opening things up won’t necessarily mean that there’ll be a connection, but there’s a far greater chance that it would, than if there weren’t openness.
Sure, maybe it’s easier for me to propose an idea like this because I don’t currently have any vested authority to implement this kind of an idea and that’s why I want to key in on that first pedantry discussion — incentives. While it’s possible that an executive might, out of sheer principle, decide to swing open the doors and ask everyone to share openly, I don’t expect that that will be the prevailing opinion. Instead, we’ve got to find a way to make it halfway required — incentives. Incorporating this into a performance management agreement might be a good place. If one will be evaluated on one’s openness, then one is probably far more likely to be open (at least, that’s how the theory goes).
So, what might this look like in practice? Well, let’s start with a simple, relatable example — Outlook Calendars. Have you ever added peeked at someone’s calendar to try and plan a meeting with them? Of course — I’m sure nearly everyone has. My guess is that when you were doing this, you noticed that their calendar only showed you busy/free times, unless you happened to have been given special access to ‘view’ the subjects/locations of the meetings. And, if you’re super-lucky, you might even be able to OPEN those meetings and see the agenda/content. What if, hmm, what if, the default was that our calendars were open? (Gasp!) Would that be scary at first, sure! Maybe you don’t want people to know that you have a bi-weekly meeting with your podiatrist? OK, so what can you do? Well, fortunately, Outlook has a way to make those meetings “private,” so even someone with “access” to view your calendar wouldn’t be able to see it.
And I know, this idea isn’t new. I’m sure that others have proposed it and even tried to implement it within their teams or with the executives in their reporting line. The difference here in what I’m suggesting is that there’s an element of ‘requirement’ by way of a performance agreement.
I don’t expect this to change overnight, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if you take a new job in a new department and when you get there, you’re able to view meetings on your Director’s and your Director-General’s calendar!? Wouldn’t it be so cool to know that one of your executives is meeting with an executive from a different department on a subject that you know about because of your time in a completely different department, so you tell your manager, who tells the executive and then you find yourself in the meeting, too, because your perspective is invaluable?