Written by George Fripley
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Tuesday, 3 November 2009

The 5 Paradigms of Government

The mysteries of the public service and other bureaucracies have often exercised the mind of those not privileged to work within their well-developed structures.

The five paradigms of government developed by Obstrucius, provide a path, which if followed, leads to a comfortable existence in a bureaucracy. Once you have mastered them there is very little that will prevent you from having a long and rewarding career. You may come across times where you can ignore a paradigm; however, you should only do this where it allows you to implement one of the other paradigms. Public servants who have mastered and memorised these paradigms can be assured of a steady, if unspectacular, rise through the ranks of government.

1.Don't Make a Decision

The first thing to realise in government, or any bureaucracy for that matter, is that making decisions is inherently dangerous and that 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 Arse

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 ramifications, 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 palaver 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 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 in the arsenal of weapons 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, and secondly, that other public servants avoid you when they realise that they cannot compete with your skills in avoidance and procrastination. Good jargon is an art form, and 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 difficult 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.

The story above is a satire or parody. It is entirely fictitious.

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