The mysteries of government processes have often confused those not privileged to work within these well-developed structures. Now this is all about to change. A secret file, discovered by when it was left on train last week, outlines the five paradigms by which all governments are run. The classic, but little-known philosopher Obstrucius developed these five paradigms that, although widely rumoured to exist, have now been confirmed as real.
This file shows a path that, if followed, promises an easy existence in government. Once you have mastered the paradigms there is very little that will prevent you from having a long and rewarding career. You can be sure of a steady, if unspectacular, rise through the ranks of government. I can now reveal what these five paradigms are.
1. Don’t Make a Decision
The first thing to realise in government is that making decisions is very dangerous. This sort of activity should be left to those who have enough experience to make them safely. This is, perhaps, the most important of the paradigms of government and should be memorised by all public servants.
Not making a decision is not a deliberate way to make outside institutions, companies, or individuals unhappy, it is a tried and tested method of ensuring that you do not inhibit your career path within government. Making a decision could be a seriously career-limiting move, particularly if you get it wrong. Nobody remembers correct decisions, but everybody remembers who made a bad decision!
If you make a decision, the status quo may change and this could potentially lead to the need for actions to be undertaken. You may therefore increase someone’s workload, most worrying of all, your own.
2. Cover Your Tracks
If you are forced into a corner and find yourself required to make a decision, you need to make sure that the decision, and its potential consequences, cannot be traced back to you. This applies no matter how small the decision is, or how insignificant the consequences may appear to be. You never know when a seemingly small issue will blow up into a huge disaster that sucks in your Manager, the Director, the Chief Executive Officer, or even the Minister. The less attention that comes your way, the less chance there is that you will be the subject of criticism. So, how do you work to ensure that little attention comes your way? One of the tried and tested ways is to implement the third paradigm.
3. Show No Initiative
Initiative is a dangerous thing, and showing it is very close to decision-making in its potential to inhibit your career. So always follow the established processes and procedures. Things are done the way they are for a particular reason. This reason may simply be because they’ve always been done that way, but to try and change, or even improve, procedures is likely to cause confusion and additional work for other people. It will therefore win you no friends and bring you unwanted attention and notoriety. Your supervisor will certainly not look kindly on you for the trouble you cause him, and this can seriously affect your career prospects.
If word gets out that you have tried to change things, you may also find that other areas within government avoid you and appear reluctant to employ you. It is far better to follow the standard procedures, no matter how arcane or impractical, and ensure that you fit in with your work colleagues.
4. Use As Much Jargon As Possible in Your Communications
Jargon is an essential tool carried by the public servant. When properly used it can cause total confusion, will sound as though it is plausible, and is likely to send people off with a feeling that you know far more about a subject that they do. The more contact you have with people outside of government, or even within government (as there are those within government who will do their utmost to have you break the paradigms in their own push to avoid career-limiting moves), the more likely it is that you will be forced into a position of decision-making. Therefore, contact, whether it is in-person, on the phone, or through written communication, should contain as much jargon as you can manage in order to maintain your aura of knowledge and expertise.
This has two effects. The first is that the external stakeholders get a feeling that you really do know what you are talking about, and are working on the situation. The second is that other public servants leave you alone when they realise that they cannot compete with your skills in avoidance and procrastination. Good jargon is an art form. Expert practitioners will rise rapidly in government. See the chapter on jargon for some examples of its use.
5. Make Sure Nobody Really Knows What You Do
If you can keep your job as vague as possible, you will avoid the need to justify your position, and you will therefore be able to pass on almost all the work requests that you receive to other people with more defined roles. This reduces the need for decision-making, makes covering your arse easier, removes the need to deal with issues and potentially show initiative, and reduces the number of people with whom you will have to communicate. Where you do have to carry out tasks, the use of jargon, either written or verbal, will add a delightful vagueness to whatever you write or say. It will also keep everyone guessing about what it is that you actually do, and this is the surest way to avoid difficult decisions.
Master these 5 areas and you can relax and enjoy the public service ride.
George Fripley is an experienced civil servant and author of You Can't Polish a Turd - The Civil Servant's Manual. He blogs at www.dregsofhistory.blogspot.com