Does motive matter?

Is it about motive or outcomes?

Regular readers will know we appreciate guest posts, and recently have been lucky enough to have a number of these sent into us. If you’ve got something you would like to send in you can always find us at Todays guest post poses a very interesting question around motives and ethics, and we’re looking forward to hearing what you think about it. Of course, that means you’re going to have to read it first…

I am a fraud.

To be clear about this, I’m not saying I commit fraud, merely that I am one. I found myself considering this after several meetings with officers and councillors recently regarding my area of work. I spoke with them all at length over the course of several meetings, looking at a range of projects and trying to get their buy-in to my plans as well as to excite them about the potential outcomes. Through my one-to-one meetings with my manager and informal feedback from others I heard that I was developing a very positive reputation, with people particularly appreciating my commitment and enthusiasm.

Of course, I am pleased with this, except for the simple fact that what I am being praised for isn’t real. Well, not entirely anyway. You see, I actually don’t really care about these projects. My enthusiasm and commitment is required to get the tasks I have completed and deliver successful outcomes. The perceived passion is actually a tactic to achieve my end goals. Machiavelli would no doubt approve.

Let me start by going back a little. I didn’t get into this job for the pension (despite what some of the papers may say about public sector workers), I didn’t go into it for the high pay, I didn’t even particularly do it for the sense of pride and achievement that providing public services engenders. I originally came into the public sector because they offered me a job. It roughly matched what I was doing before, paid similarly and was a little bit of a change. Fast forward on many years, several internal role changes and a couple of promotions and I’m still in the public sector providing similar ranges of services as before.

Has my attitude changed in this time? Have I developed a sense that the public sector is the only place for me, and that I need to stay here in order to serve the public and deliver vital services for our communities and for vulnerable people?

Well, not really.

My career path and the number and range of successful projects I have been involved with or responsible for shows a degree of competence, and over the course of the last decade or so I have directly or indirectly supported a huge number of individuals, organisations, teams, services and communities. I know I have made a real difference because the projects I have run have been proven by others to have made a real difference, and I know that I played a key role in all of that. I am not saying it wouldn’t have happened without me, but I’d like to think that I made a positive contribution or two along the way.

But at no time have I considered myself a dyed-in-the-wool public sector worker, proud above all else to be involved in this field and passionate about the work I do.

Many of the projects I eulogise about, bring people together for and whip up enthusiasm around are actually things that I wouldn’t do if I had a choice. Some admittedly do cross over into areas where I find genuine personal interest, but the majority I do because that is what is expected of the role. I deliver them and deliver them well, but lack the fire of conviction that my public reputation appears to support.

My question is simple: does this matter?

Does it matter that I deliver the required projects to the best of my ability even if deep down I don’t really have any interest in them or really care? Does it matter that I look on with envy at those who seem to have found their calling and their place in the grand scheme of things? Isn’t the important thing that these projects achieve or surpass their targets, that I am able to encourage the others that I bring along the way to believe even where I do not?

Perhaps I may be over-egging the pudding here, but hopefully you get my meaning. Many public servants do so for the love of the sector, for the love of their roles and for the love of the difference they make. Others, however, work just as hard and achieve equally remarkable things, all whilst honestly doing it because they need to earn a living, and if a job matches skills even if it doesn’t match interest it will allow them to earn a wage and perform as well as they can.

I know many will not agree with this view, and will instantly leap up to defend themselves and shout from the rooftops about how true passion shines out and makes them go above and beyond the call of duty time and again. I don’t argue with this; indeed I applaud and envy such a truly laudable and noble attitude.

But please don’t think any less of me just because the fire in my belly is more a case of central heating rather than flaming brimstone. I’ll do all I can to be the best I can at whatever I do – for now that’s delivering projects in the public sector, in future it may be the private or perhaps a return to the voluntary.

Who knows, eventually I might just find something I care about and would do in my free time. They say you never work a day in your life if you find a job you enjoy: when I know I’d keep turning up at work even if I won the lottery, maybe then I’ll accept that my days of being a fraud are behind me.

Until then I’ll keep the mask on and keep clocking in.

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8 Comments on “Does motive matter?”

  1. Tom Phillips Says:

    Great piece. Needed saying. Still too many people pretending theirs is a vocation, or trying to persuade others that they should see their own jobs as one. Note “jobs”. Whole concept of a “career” in local government is now an absurdity.

  2. UleyGirl Says:

    You are right. I work in the public sector and I love the work I do, probably because it’s public sector but not entirely. I’d like to think I do a great job on some policy issues that I don’t even agree with, never mind enjoy, but that’s my job so I do it. It’s the same in every sector surely? We do a great job because we’re paid to. Otherwise they’ll pay someone else!

  3. localgovalso Says:

    What I do find slightly depressing is that we’re in a position where vocation is seen as a grubby word or where competent people are left feeling like a fraud because they’re not a bright eyed LG Lifer (and I feel honestly sorry for the writer of the article if they’re left to feel like that).

    If people have, and are willing to give a natural enthusiasm to their job, then who cares if they think of it as a vocation? likewise if they are competent and effective who cares if they’re in it for the money (on one level everyone is, we have to be)?

    I’m not sure that pointing the finger at anyone who wants to do a good job in the public sector, whatever the motivation, is a sensible thing to do.

  4. Will Says:

    Really thought provoking and very well written post. I think motivation is very important be it simply professional, financial or vocational. Often it’s a combination of factors. What is hard is how do you encourage and motivate those to develop vocational or emotional motivation (say in the care sector) where they are essential in delivering quality service.

    To the guest poster, don’t do yourself down too much I think professional enthusiasm is possibly more sustainable in the end and so long as your effective does it matter?

  5. Mark Stanley Says:

    Excellent post.

    I’d love to run a team full of effective workers who think they have found their calling.

    …but what I *need* is a team full of effective workers. If they have found their purpose in life then I’m really happy for them, but we get judged on achieving outcomes, not inner peace 🙂

  6. I’ve worked on projects that a don’t particularly believe in, and taken pride in doing them well even if I wouldn’t have initiated them myself. But your beliefs and values come into play when you find that you’ve been asked to do something that your professional knowledge tells you will do harm – especially if it will do harm to those who are particularly vulnerable.

    There’s a value in doing things right. There’s greater value in doing the right thing.

    I have huge respect for competent, effective people delivering what’s expected of them, whatever their underlying motivation may be. But where is the value in competent effective delivery of a programme that harms those we are meant to serve? Sometimes public service requires us to serve the public by resisting a demand. Sometimes, when resistance doesn’t work, we have to blow the whistle, or walk away.

    • Mark Stanley Says:

      @Itsmotherswork – very good point, and you are absolutely right. I think it’s especially true for local govt, which has to deal with the unintended consequences of policy makers and strategists. I’ve worked with people in Housing for example who are deeply passionate and knowledgeable on the subject – far more so than they need to be to do their job “effectively”. And these are the people who can see problems that others cannot and avert disaster.

      I don’t think the guest author was saying that they weren’t bothered about the harmful impact of their actions though.

      Most people have a moral line they won’t cross juwst to earn a wage. I don’t think you need to be passionate about your job for this, you just need to be a half decent human.

      Apparently this isn’t a prerequisite for banking 😉

  7. […] a vote on the thorny issue of council prayers. However, our top post of the month was entitled ‘does motive matter’ and asks the important question of whether we need to have a public sector ethos to excel at […]

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