Can the Millennial Generation Rescue Government?

By Beth Bell, Vice President, Canadian Public Sector, IBM Global Business Services

Connect with Beth Bell – email / Twitter / LinkedIn

Social Leadership
Beth Bell pictured with Andrew Treusch, Commissioner of the Canada Revenue Agency, as she presents him with the inaugural 2016 IPAC IBM Social Leadership Award for his inspiration and engagement of millennials and new professionals in the Public Sector

I recently had the opportunity to speak at an IPAC conference and share a thought leadership piece I had a part in writing. It was on a topic that is a point of passion for me – how does IBM help our public sector clients transform faster to meet the ever-changing needs of their citizens and employees?  As the leader of a large team, I’m faced with the differing needs and wants of many generations of employees.  So while it’s important to address the needs of all generational segments, I feel the Millennial generation has skills that can be encouraged by public sector organizations in new and innovative ways.

Despite significant efforts to transform government services through technology, it’s no secret that government organizations continue to trail behind the private sector in the digital revolution. Today, citizens increasingly expect government to provide them with the same conveniences and level of service they experience as consumers. This means having access to relevant information when, where and how they want it.

It’s also no secret that, as digital natives, Millennials can bring some unique skills and perspectives to any organization looking to stay relevant in this fast-paced digital era.

Recently, my team at IBM asked itself:  Can Millennials meaningfully help government to keep pace? Can they truly help lead the charge in transforming governments into this new digital era? In essence– Can Millennials rescue government?  While the title of the report is a bit “cheeky”, I think you’ll find that the findings are worth considering for your transformational projects.

Earlier this year my team embarked on some fascinating research in collaboration with the IBM’s Institute for Business Value which also included insights from an IPAC New Professionals workshop and a social media study.  It revealed that Millennial-aged government employees both can andwant to actively engage in transformation projects.

Our research was detailed in a report titled Can the Millennial generation rescue government? Leveraging digital natives in your transformation efforts which concluded that–while there is never just one quick fix to any complex transformation issue– there are a few key things that governments can and must do to better leverage the insights of Millennials to transform government for the better in this new digital era.  I encourage you to read the whole report, but here are the highlights of our recommendations:

  1. Use an approach that yields citizen-centered outcomes at speed and scale.

What successful digital transformations today really reinforce is that adoption of new technologies and processes is what really matters. Adoption occurs by appealing to the user and putting the user at the center of the design process. A design thinking approach, which focuses on user needs, provides a framework for teaming and action. It helps teams not only form intent, but deliver outcomes – outcomes that advance the state of the art and improve lives. This approach puts users’ needs first and uses multidisciplinary teams to collaborate across disciplines to move faster and work smarter. It also instills a discipline of restless reinvention. By optimizing systems and interactions for the users, we can truly transform how people interact and perform tasks to create a friction-less experience.

  1. Make sure Millennials are represented equally along with seasoned employees, users and citizens when staffing transformational initiatives.

Multidisciplinary teams aren’t just faster – they’re smarter. Seeing the world through each others’ eyes drives unique insights, advancing the whole team’s thinking. Put people new to the problem alongside those with deep working knowledge. Ensure all ideas are considered regardless of the seniority of the person tabling them.

  1. Ignore the traditional immovable objects – and consider wild ideas in the ideation process.

While issues of security, regulation and legislation must be considered, try not to encumber creative thinking by these policies – in fact, foster the wild ideas. While this might be considered heresy to most long-term government employees, it frees design teams from being tied to the way things are done today. This ensures that they look at all the best ideas when designing for the user’s needs and don’t discount the possibility of making security, legislative, or regulatory changes necessary to accommodate a transformational idea. Remember, industry disrupters like Uber are not concerned by the immovable objects – even though they realize these objects can and do appear. Disrupters focus on the user needs and experience.

  1. Re-evaluate hiring practices to make acquisition of Millennial top talent easier.

Faster paths to permanent positions based on value delivered to the organization, shortened hiring cycles, clear career paths, promotion and skill-building road maps, and the ability to make a difference from where they are in the organization will make an incredible difference in attracting and retaining top talent.

  1. Improve collaboration tools and transparency to enable greater efficiency within government.

Millennials use technology in their everyday lives and, in many cases, as a way to improve communication and efficiency. As an extension, they expect better technology and digital collaboration tools to help them do their jobs and connect with others. There is often frustration with the silo approach of many governments today. Millennials want to collaborate across government to deliver the best possible service to citizens and expect modern tools to facilitate that.

Embracing Millennials in large numbers, including them in transformation projects and embracing collaborative techniques and technologies in the business of government will bring fresh new thinking from a generational group used to rapid transformation. These disrupters, if embraced and leveraged for who they are, just might rescue government.

Ready or not? Ask yourself these questions…

Government organizations looking to harness the ability of Millennials to help “re-imagine” the way they engage with both employees and citizens alike would therefore be well-served in asking themselves these questions:

  • Is my organization actively recruiting and using creative approaches to retain top-talent Millennials?
  • Are we actively engaging and including the Millennials in our workforce in transformation projects?Are we fully leveraging their digital skills and fresh insights and ideas?
  • Are we embracing agile and design thinking approaches in our transformational projects to put the user at the center of our design?
  • Are we sufficiently enabling an environment of creativity and collaboration to help generate innovative ideas that may positively disrupt the way we provide services today?

For organizations that manage to get this right, the payoffs in terms of innovation and productivity can reap benefits for years to come. 

[IPAC invited Beth to guest blog after a series of workshops and conferences for IPAC garnered wide interest in the combined research and outreach that IPAC and IBM have partnered to produce. namely: the New Public Servant Survey by IPAC, the New professionals Workshops and Leadership Conference, the IPAC annual conferences in Halifax and Toronto, and the Social Leadership Award.Beth Bell is the Vice President responsible for the Canadian Public Sector IBM Global Business Services team. She is responsible for assisting government and healthcare organizations in Canada achieve their transformation objectives. Beth is a diversity champion within IBM Canada and speaks regularly on government transformation challenges and leadership.]

Beth can be reached by email at: bethbell [at]



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