[IPAC-List] The lights finally go on

Mark Hammer Mark.Hammer at psc-cfp.gc.ca
Mon Aug 16 17:20:59 EDT 2010

Many thanks, Jeff.

Yup, "best" IS a problematic word. If I'm a hungry 16 year-old, the
"best" meal that my mom makes may be very different from what my mom
thinks is the "best" meal. We'll both expect something edible and
flavourful, but mom will be thinking about using up all those things in
the fridge that threaten to go bad in a few days, getting vegetables
into me, what involves the least amount of cooking and cleaning up
afterward, and that won't enter into my adolescent thinking at all.

I've probably retold this one a million times, but in 1998, I heard
Neil Schmitt give a talk at SIOP about perceived fairness of selection
systems, and that whole "applicant reaction" thing. Schmitt noted that
he lived and worked in Michigan, where the big 3 automakers were
situated (this WAS 1998, keep in mind), and that many thousands each
year applied to them for jobs. He noted that while not everybody got
one of those jobs, he was pretty sure that a lot of them drove/owned
cars, and that their eventual consumer choices might well be predicated
on how they felt they were treated by a given manufacturer during their
pursuit of employment there. Applicant reactions can have practical
repercussions, especially those of unsuccessful applicants.

A big part of what motivates efforts towards diversity within the
public sector is the desire to foster "citizen engagement" and trust in
government. The working assumption is that if I get solid service from
a government agency that doesn't look like or reflect me, I will have
less trust in it than a government agency/outlet where it DOES look like
me. I become more confident that they have my interests and
circumstances in mind. Not in any sort of biased way, but in the sense
that their reasoning and policies are more balanced and thoughtful. Is
it actually more balanced and thoughtful? Beats me, but with more
citizen trust that it IS, it becomes easier for that agency to do its
job. So seeing somebody at the district taxation office that looks like
their from MY tribe makes me feel like I'm in good hands. Here I turn
to Larry Terry's distinction between the authorities that a public
bureaucracy has, by law, and its authoritativeness. It's the perception
of authoritativeness - that these folks know what they're doing, and are
conscious of what they're doing - that is instrumental to an agency
being able to accomplish its mandate.

Again, from the *manager's* perspective (although more often from the
perspective of those in the manager's organization who hand down the
edicts), diversity, and having a representative workforce, IS
contributing to merit, because it hypothetically fosters public trust
and lets that agency do its job better, via that public buy-in. The job
might be done just as well if everyone looked like Don Draper, but
unless you have buy-in (especially if the agency is of the
regulatory/enforcement variety) you'll be met with resistance and the
job will be that much harder to do.

And that's the difference between *job* performance, and
*organizational* performance.

Back to Neil Schmitt's point, though. The over-arching goal of many
diversity-focussed measures is to foster trust, but when they are
mismanaged (and that includes not being properly communicated and made
transparent), there is the risk that they *compromise* that trust,
rather than enhance it. And that certainly seems to be the case in some
quarters where we hear complaints that "preferential hiring" has trumped
merit. If I'm applying for a job, I'm not interested in what I do or
don't contribute to the organization (and even if I was, how could I
know?); I'm interested in getting the job.

Now that you got me thinking about it, the same sort of clash of
perspectives comes up when candidates expect to be assessed on the basis
of the job as it exists NOW, but the selection is based on the job as it
might evolve in the future. The manager may be privy to some vision of
the evolving organization, and what it demands, butyour average candidate is privy to that same information. Kevin Murphy
has written some things on that topic, IIRC.


(P.S.: Jeff, having watched a few old George Carlin concerts lately,
should I be cuffed soundly about the head for placing "strategic HR" in
the same category as "military intelligence", "jumbo shrimp" and "tight
slacks"? :-D )


This e-mail message is intended for the named recipient(s) and may
contain information that is privileged, confidential and/or exempt from
disclosure under applicable law. Unauthorized disclosure, copying or
re-transmission is prohibited. If you are not a named recipient or not
authorized by the named recipient(s), or if you have received this
e-mail in error, then please notify the sender immediately and delete
the message and any copies.
Ce courriel est destiné exclusivement au destinataire mentionné en titre
et peut contenir de l'information privilégiée, confidentielle ou
soustraite à la communication aux termes des lois applicables. Toute
divulgation non autorisée, toute reproduction ou réacheminement est
interdit. Si vous n'êtes pas le destinataire de ce courriel, ou n'êtes
pas autorisé par le destinataire visé, ou encore, si vous l'avez reçu
par erreur, veuillez le mentionner immédiatement à l'expéditeur et
supprimer le courriel et les copies.

More information about the IPAC-List mailing list