Of Time & Transitions

Even at the best of times, change is difficult. Until 2015, the members of Alberta’s Gen X and Millennial cohorts experienced one reality, both politically and economically. This is the first downturn they’ve every known. Most Boomers saw and experienced the  slide of the 80s resulting from too rapid expansion, a world wide economic recession and then a steep decrease in oil prices in 1986. Despite current media noise, things were worse and Alberta rebounded.

Globally a transition is occurring as we enter the Fourth Industrial Revolution, where shifts and disruptions hold the potential of great promise and great peril. Simply another stage in humanity’s development, it is challenging because we are the ones living through it. Upheavals in society are comparable in degree to those experienced during the emergence of the Industrial Age, when rapid, significant changes took place due to the introduction of power driven devices and new sources of energy. Now new technologies are fusing the physical, digital and biological worlds, influencing all disciplines, economies and industries.

Things may not return to what they were. Emerging technology continues to generate shifts. Canada’s economy is commodity-based and our primary trading partner is the USA. Despite decades of talks about diversifying, both provincially and nationally, this did not occur. After 10 years of extremely rich oil prices, Alberta was left with little in the bank. During the same period Canada’s GDP grew by only 1.77%.  The combination of a strong American dollar, economic instability in other countries (some are even putting forth negative lending rates) and a marketplace being flooded with cheap oil,  upset the apple cart. The lack of a big picture perspective accompanied by a fear of unknown that accompanies such times created a dangerous dissonance. Extremists are threatening peace and security not only abroad but at home. Some politicians appear aligned with these sentiments by not taking a firm stance to stop them.  Their inaction highlights a lack of leadership qualities plus no vision for creating a stable, peaceful Canada. They may incite a noisy fringe; however, eventually the majority of supporters will walk away because this is not the essence of who Canadians are.

Leadership that does not hold onto the past but rather look towards the future is needed. Innovation and adaption will strengthen the country in the days ahead aiding the escape from these turbulent waters. A nation’s growth rate is dependent on economic productivity and the size of its labour force. Millenials (15-35 year olds) now compose the largest portion (35%) of Canada’s workforce.  They are the next generation of leaders. As they are empowered to do that job, it is important to recognize that their life experience, goals and values may differ significantly from previous generations.  The challenges they encounter may be greater than those Premier Notley is facing.

Leadership transitions are difficult at the best of times. Some say this can be the most difficult time in a leader’s life. Smooth ones demonstrate a plan that includes open communication, mentoring and most importantly time. The paper-shredding incident at Alberta’s legislative buildings immediately after the vote was announced provides proof those previously responsible felt little or no long term commitment to those they represented. It was difficult for bureaucrats who operated in an environment where individuals postured for political position and sought favour by making promises to constituents without consolation or input from those with any expertise. This surely created a lot of scrambling by civil servants across the board, along with growing distrust, lack of engagement, etc.

A vision and a plan are important. Premier Notley and her democratically elected caucus thus far have stood by several things committed to while campaigning. They explained their platform and vision then. A difficult state of affairs was inherited from the Conservative Party. Missteps occurred due to lack of experience (remember one party governed for 44 years.)  TIME is required to turn a massive ship and even more time when the ship is experiencing problems both externally and internally. Only by building a collaborative team, which once again requires time, can there be any hope of survival.

When you took on a new position or a new job, were you delivering your best within the first 8 months? I know that I never have. My performance and delivery of results were good but not my prime. Elected officials, like anyone in a new position, need time to LEARN and acclimate themselves to the culture of the organization, to the key players both within and without on many fronts, the organization’s strengths and weakness, etc. in order to develop plans to effectively address needed changes. One individual will not resolve Alberta’s economic woes because it is simply not within their power. Individuals opposed to change are voicing unrealistic expectations and exhibiting bullying behaviour.

As the world is posed to enter the Fourth Industrial Revolution,  it is valuable to recognize that turbulent times stretch far beyond Alberta’s borders. Historically oil and gas is always boom and bust. The current ride is not as rough as it may get, so people hold on and look for ways to become part of the solution.


Originally posted in The Newsy Neighbour – February 2016, P 36