Careers: Interviews
Paul Crookall: Award-winning, Internationally Recognized, Leading Government/Executive Thought Leader; Editor-in-Chief, Canadian Government Executive Magazine (CGE)

This week, Stephen Ibaraki, FCIPS, I.S.P., DF/NPA, MVP, CNP has an exclusive interview with Dr. Paul Crookall.

Paul CrookallDr. Crookall is a seasoned professional with a wide range of skills and accomplishments over a sustained career of considerable success and accomplishment. Specializing in excellence in the public service, leadership, and the criminal justice system, Paul draws on his experience to make significant and substantive contributions both nationally and internationally. His work is widely known and acknowledged for its innovation, integrity, and customer focus. More about Paul's extensive international reputation as a leading senior executive and award-winning professional, educator, editor, author, writer, researcher, and consultant, can be found at:

The latest blog on the interview can be found in the IT Managers Connection (IMC) forum where you can provide your comments in an interactive dialogue.

Index and links to Questions
Q1   Please profile some key stories from your remarkable history and deep lessons that you want to share with both business and IT executives?
Q2   Let's now focus on your current role as editor-in-chief with Canadian Government Executive (CGE) Magazine: tell us about your greatest challenges and how you are managing them?
Q3   What is your vision for CGE and how will you enable this future vision?
Q4   What particular stories will you address and what will be your focus in future issues of CGE and for what reasons?
Q5   From past issues of CGE, can you highlight best practices that are particularly compelling?
Q6   What are the challenges facing those in the IT industry today?
Q7   In your current role, what do you see as the biggest challenges in government at all levels and their solutions? How does this relate to business overall?
Q8   What are the biggest issues facing society, and what are your recommendations for meeting these challenges?
Q9   List your top resources for leaders?


Opening Comment: Paul, your record of accomplishment over a long and sustained career is most impressive both nationally and internationally. I would highly recommend our readers take a look at the link provided. With your very busy schedule, we are indeed fortunate to have you do this interview. Thank you for taking the time to share your deep insights, experiences, and wisdom with our audience.

Q1: Please profile some key stories from your remarkable history and deep lessons that you want to share with both business and IT executives?

A: I have been fortunate. I found my career by accident - literally. I fell asleep at the wheel while driving past Kingston. So I stopped to rest for a while at a friend's, and he suggested I apply to work with the correctional system there.

I started my career with three criteria in mind: to have a job that was interesting and challenging; that made a difference; and that provided a reasonable lifestyle. After that, it was just a matter of responding to challenges as they appeared. Someone looking at my career with a charitable view might say I was eclectic. Someone less charitable might say my career was unfocused.

When I retired a decade ago, I intended to become a mediator, building on my experience directing a national crisis management project and hostage negotiation training. But my mentor, and one of the best thinkers in the world on public management, Ole Ingstrup, asked me to help him research and write a book. The Three Pillars of Public Management became a best seller. Then I invited a colleague to lunch, he owned a publishing company. His editor had just quit that morning, so he asked me, out of the blue, if I would become his editor. A few months later, he died suddenly. I liked my job, so I bought the company from his estate. Now I have the great satisfaction of talking with and writing about some very, very interesting people. I just call up people who are my "heroes" like management authors Jim Collins (Good to Great) and Stephen Covey (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People), or public servants like Tony Dean, Paul Tellier, Denise Amyot, Michelle Di Emanuele, and talk to them about their stories.

Ben Barry is a young man I have mentored. He has been running a modeling agency since he was 14 years old, and was a force behind the very successful Dove Campaign for Real Beauty, who is trying to move society to a healthier, more realistic view of beauty. Last year he asked me to help him write a book on the beauty industry. Fashioning Reality resulted, and it too has become a best-seller.

From working inside the country's toughest stone-walled maximum security penitentiaries to traveling the globe seeking to understand how others have done well in implementing government reform, it has been a challenge, interesting, and many of the initiatives have made a difference. And I've had a great life.

Q2: Let's now focus on your current role as editor-in-chief with Canadian Government Executive (CGE) Magazine: tell us about your greatest challenges and how you are managing them?

A: Our greatest challenge is economic. Publishing is a tough business - right behind restaurants in terms of failure rates. We started as a free to subscribers magazine, living off advertisements. We are building a more stable base by adding paid subscribers - as the magazine has gained credibility, and we have become a primary source for many executives, we are now able to begin converting subscribers to a paid model.

We are a management magazine. Sometimes, it takes a while for people to realize that management is a discipline. They start as specialists, in IT, finance, HR, programs, whatever, work their way up, then head a unit of their fellow specialists, then sometimes head broader work units. They are experts in their discipline, but not in the discipline of management. We encourage them to read both within their first specialty, and within their second - management.

For me, the challenge is the opposite - my doctorate is in management and leadership, so I must struggle to learn about IT and the other fields, so we can select meaningful articles. We do that through partnering with credible organizations, including CIPS and DPI, by seeking out thought leaders, like Don Tapscott, and leading practitioners like Ron McKerlie, Ken Cochrane, and by asking our readers for their ideas.

Q3: What is your vision for CGE and how will you enable this future vision?

A: Our mission is to contribute to excellence in public sector management, while enjoying what we do.

To enable that, we have expanded to online, with a website that will soon be interactive, and with weekly newsletters. We are now conducting seminars that bring thought leaders and leading practitioners to public managers, and that promote discussion, learning and networking.

And we are helping other organizations with their publishing needs and helping build a body of good practice on how to get the many success stories in the public sector out to the public.

Related to your audience, we are working to improve the awareness and management of IT by non-IT managers - at the deputy minister and assistant deputy minister level in particular. We interview and get articles from shared services and citizen service initiatives. And we want to support the integration of the IT function and the people who work in IT into the mainstream of the organization.

Q4: What particular stories will you address and what will be your focus in future issues of CGE and for what reasons?

Beginning this fall, we will be adding two series of stories. The first is what public executives want and need from their political masters in terms of leadership, and how politicians (ministers, mayors, prime ministers, premiers) think they should be leading the public service.

The second is a public-private sector dialogue - hearing from private sector CEOs on what they think of government and what the public service can learn from them, and from public executives on what the private sector can learn from our experience. We need to make the boundaries among public sector, private sector, and academia more permeable. So we can share experience.

And we will continue our ICT stories, with case studies and theoretical pieces.

We will continue to track success stories. There is a role for telling the bad and the ugly, but there are enough media doing that.

We believe people learn from success. What you learn from failure, as best-selling author Marcus Buckingham points out in Go Put Your Strengths to Work and First Break all the Rules is that "Failure and success are not opposites, they are merely different, and so they must be studied separately." What you learn from mistakes, at best, is how not to make that mistake.

We will continue our focus on managing IT.

We have upcoming articles from Ron McKerlie, CIO for the Province of Ontario, Holly Fancy, CIO for Nova Scotia, and Ken Cochrane, CIO for the federal government.

Q5: From past issues of CGE, can you highlight best practices that are particularly compelling?

A: I feel somewhat inadequate to summarize four years of editorial in one question. Some keys are:

  • Hire for a career, not for a specific task.

  • Scan the environment, and network. Learn what is good practice in other organizations and countries, adapt it to your needs, and implement it.

  • Pay attention to outcomes, the end result for society - including the unintended negative side effects.

  • Pay attention to productivity issues.

This is a timely question. We have received several requests for reprints. We are now putting together a "Best of CGE on leadership" - look for it in September.

Q6: What are the challenges facing those in the IT industry today?


  • I overheard two CIOs talking about how they should try to align their objectives with that of their organization. That isn't the challenge. IT objectives are the objectives of the organization. So the challenge is to understand that, then work with the organization to better understand how that can be done.

  • Project management. The Desautels task force in Ontario a couple of years ago laid out a blueprint for how to better manage IT projects.

  • Become change management experts. I have just returned from the Sapphire Conference, where IT execs from around the world who use SAP shared experiences. The biggest impediment to success was not program failure, but implementation failure. Not enough attention is paid to the fact that change management is a professional discipline, with well known rules and a body of knowledge of what works. Yet time after time that is ignored, as people muddle through with their own approach to implementation. One of the conference presenters (a Canadian Crown Corporation) proudly spoke of their change process. It took ten times the resources estimated. And they had a list of "lessons learned" that they thought would be great to share. The problem was, almost all of what they learned by trial and errors was already encoded in a change management guide that the Treasury Board Secretariat had published, to guide change projects. That Guide had been ignored. In an earlier age, we would have called it "Reinventing the wheel." Technically, IT is about not reinventing the wheel, it is about sharing data, using open systems, building enterprise architecture. But within IT, within the management of IT, those same principles are too often ignored.

  • Focus on productivity. In the 1990s the mantra was "Do more with less." That's somewhat authoritarian and uncaring. At the same time, we need to realize that private sector productivity in Canada is 22% less per worker than in the USA, and that we are about in the middle of the pack when compared to other OECD countries. There are no figures on public sector productivity, but IT must realize one of its prime objectives is to increase its productivity, and help other departments increase theirs, so that savings can be transferred and used to achieve program goals.

  • Translation. Many executive committee members are not familiar with IT. CIOs need to translate organizational objectives into the heart of the department, and translate the heart of IT into the executive committee.

  • The care and feeding of IT professionals. The major job satisfiers for public servants are the diversity of the job and the opportunity to make a difference on important topics. Make sure that IT staff can see how they can do the same, not just write code and be locked away on a separate floor from program and policy staff.

A recent cartoon shows a middle-aged mother telling her teenage son "your Dad has finally figured out how to play the DVD - but he can't figure out how to rewind it." Public executives have, in the past, treated information technology as a tool to be wielded in the back office by IT warriors. And some IT staff have not understood their role as contributing to achieving the organization's mission. We need to integrate.

Q7: In your current role, what do you see as the biggest challenges in government at all levels and their solutions? How does this relate to business overall?

A: Rather than my opinion, let me give you the experts. The Institute for Public Administration of Canada has surveyed federal and provincial deputy ministers and municipal chief administration officers.
They have found six key challenges:

  • Managing the demographics and generational shifts, replacing the outgoing boomer generation and rebuilding the organization to meet the needs of Gen X and Y.

  • Improving accountability and results-based performance management.

  • Cost-effective service delivery (aka productivity).

  • Adjusting programs and policies within fiscal constraints while cooperating between jurisdictions.

  • Infrastructure renewal.

  • Strengthening trust and confidence in government

Paul Tellier, who I interviewed for our current issue of the magazine, has been appointed by the Prime Minister to co-chair an advisory committee on Public Service. The Committee has determined that the key challenges include:

  • Human resource issues: recruitment, retention, pay, the amount of attention paid to HR matters.

  • Increasing public awareness of the value of the pubic service.

  • Dealing with the web of rules and the post-Gomery effects

The solutions? Well, as my Grandmother used to say, you don't fatten a sheep by weighing it every day. This almost obsessive-compulsive pursuit of accountability for how money is spent needs to be balanced with attention to what is being achieved. And with attention on how to create a culture in which honest people can thrive while the culture and the processes promote identifying and correcting, earlier on in the process, when things are going wrong or when individuals are acting dishonestly.

Managing the demographic shift and the retirement tsunami. The average top level public CEO is aged 55 and their average retirement age is 56. The next level's average age is the same. The top four levels all have an average age of 53 or more. There was a great hiring of Baby Boomers in the 1970s, and much less hiring after that. The public service's age profile is more skewed to the older levels than the private sector. They need to replace these soon to be retirees. But the Boomers who grew up saying "Don't trust anyone over 30" have somehow morphed that into "Don't trust anyone under 30." The development of young staff into managers and executives is not happening, in most jurisdictions. They seem to have forgotten that a generation ago the establishment took a chance on them, and promoted Boomers quite rapidly.

Kevin Lynch, head of the federal public service, told us "Making mistakes is part of doing things." As long as decisions are made "for the right reasons and with the right degree of openness and a focus on excellence" and within the values and priorities of the government, the fallout is limited. But we need to overcome that fear which is paralyzing the public service.

Another is recognition. Paul Tellier was head of the public service of Canada, the largest and most important organization in the country. Then he headed up CN, where he was voted CEO of the year, then Bombardier. He told us "in business, if you want good people, you have to pay them. Politicians need to be able to stand up and defend competitive salaries." Personally, I think private sector CEOs are paid too much, and top public executives, of large operational units, paid too little.

We need to build better understanding of what the public service does right, of its key contributions to society.

We need to accept that renewing the public service will be an ongoing task.

Thomas Friedman, author of The World is Flat, wrote "One of the most important and enduring competitive advantages that a country can have is a lean, effective, honest civil service." The business sector needs to be more aware of, and more respectful of that fact. The challenges facing government are challenges the private sector needs to be aware of, and be supportive in their resolution. It is in their best interest, as citizens and business people.

Q8: What are the biggest issues facing society, and what are your recommendations for meeting these challenges?

A: We need to get to the point where we recognize that the public, private, and non-profit sectors need to respect each other and work together, learning from each other. We need to lead more, beyond our borders -- to realize we have a distinct personality, as a country, a distinct style of leadership, that we can and should make a greater contribution in the world - and not through grants.

Predictions: If we continue, as a society, to focus only on the sensational failures of IT, of government, we will reinforce the risk aversion. Get the message of how to do it right out there, and accept that mission-focused mistakes will be tolerated (and corrected).

Q9: List your top resources for leaders?

A: Most of the leaders I interview, and my own experience as well, is that they learned leadership from a good supervisor. So the best resource is to find a good manager and work with him/her. Another great resource is listening to your staff and your peers. And, well, reading our magazine can help a little too, to connect you with the thoughts of good leaders.


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