While the authors do highlight some positive comments, this is the one that speaks to me. In general, they are the words to describe what it is like to work in government most of the time. Sure they are times when people are responsive, accessible, flexible, efficient and effective, but because of the system and the culture or the bureaucracy, it feels like most of the time they are not.
The word bureaucracy has a negative connotation. This reputation is well earned.
In plain language, it is largely because of two reasons:
1. How hard it is to get things done quickly and
2. How difficult it is for everyone to know what is going on at the right time.
If an employee at an officer or advisor level has a question or feels the need to raise an important issue, they do not go directly to the Deputy Minister and say: ‘I just wanted to point this out to you,’ at least not without reservations or even repercussions in some places. There are exceptions, but generally, most public servants will not recommend this practice. It is part of the unwritten code of conduct. Thou shalt not communicate directly with anyone higher up than your supervisor.
From the outside this notion may sound ridiculous. How could you possibly get anything done if you have to go through one person for absolutely everything? There are benefits to having one point person to go to for guidance, next steps and support. A good supervisor can give you exactly who you should talk to when and about what, especially if you are just beginning. A great supervisor will give you that if you need it but will also let you do the job – as long as you keep them informed of what you are doing. This sounds simple and it is, but it takes time and energy to keep people up to date. It is such an important part of being a communicator in government that it should be in the job descriptions.
On the inside, while some days you wonder, you realize that it is possible to accomplish plenty but that things are never done quite when you would hope them to be and they often seem to be less effective by the time the activities have been completed. For this reason, the operational role of communications can be a real nightmare.
So instead of going directly to the deputy minister, government employees realize they must communicate the issue to their supervisor only, hoping that the message will get up to the next level or two and back down again, or it will go up and over to a colleague and down through their organization to the officer/advisor level who will take care of it. Whether managers are good at communicating or not, this kind of silo-driven communications can dampen any effort. The issue can become either a moot point by the time it gets to the next person or it can suddenly become a bigger issue.
Whereas if employees were able to establish ongoing lateral communications with people at their level and including their supervisor and one or two levels up as well as the other side to where the message is going, everyone would find out at once. This approach would be much more effective in minimizing issues and in getting things done.