Pop Kanjanakantorn, Director of Business Operations at the Institute of Public Administration of Canada (IPAC) Victoria chapter, joined Cascadia Report for a chat about the work IPAC does for the community. We also spoke about his role at the BCDevExchange at the BC Ministry of Citizens’ Services, along with some of the adventures he had along the way.
IPAC’s mission is to promote the study and practice of public administration, facilitate the building, share knowledge and celebrate innovation and excellence. In his position as the Director of Business Operations, Pop sees the importance of an organization that creates a platform for individuals to connect with professionals in your industry, discuss topics of interest and share best practices and career opportunities.
“It takes a lot of courage moving to a new city alone, not knowing anyone, especially if you are a job seeker; this can be very daunting anywhere you go. Having gone through this experience myself, I feel that organizations like IPAC do not discriminate, welcoming any individual with open arms and provides the support/confidence you need to pursue your goals.”
Alongside the business operations role, Pop also works with the New Professionals in Victoria. IPAC defines ‘new professionals’ as someone who has five years or less experience in the BC Public Service or any individual considering a career in public sector.
“New Professionals is a committee under the IPAC Victoria Board of Directors that plays an essential role in supporting/running the organization’s events, programs and services. The New Professionals committee allows individuals the opportunity to grow and develop their skills by working on tasks such as event creation, data and financial analysis, leading teams, policy drafting, project coordination, strengthening stakeholder relationship and seeking sponsorship.”
One of IPAC's strategic goals in their ‘Vision 2020’ policy document was to enhance their relevance and value. Pop’s drive for helping people achieve their goals in government is clear, but in particular he speaks passionately about helping new members take their first steps into public service.
“We feel obligated to everyone in our organization and the public to deliver a return on investment. As an organization, we constantly find ways to keep and grow talent. Here in Victoria, BC I believe you are only two or three degrees of separation away from someone who is working, has worked for, or are currently working with the BC provincial government. The sole purpose of the provincial government is to serve the citizens of British Columbia to the best of their ability, and to do so you must have innovative, talented and passionate individuals.”
In Victoria, there are many employers from different industries; a large portion being the BC provincial government. The work of many individuals, including Pop’s work with IPAC, is vital to our local economy.
“A return of investment is something we are focusing on to showcase our work. Some are easier to measure and report such as finances, the number and type of events and attendees, survey results, etc. Relationship mapping and career growth and succession road maps make up some examples that are harder to measure.”
Quantifying the results of teaching people soft skills and making introductions is always a tricky task. While IPAC Victoria is keen to analyze the data and derive actionable reports, it is often better to look at the bigger picture.
“We are still investing most of our time and effort on providing learning and networking opportunities, which I believe is more valuable than any report we are capable of producing at this time.”
IPAC held a policy pitch in February 2020 where anyone is invited to pitch ideas on how to improve government policies, services and programs. We asked what Pop would pitch to improve government operations in British Columbia.
“I would pitch an innovation hub like the BCDevExchange for each ministry, a space where teams can test new ideas, products, services and have equal say in a safe environment that promotes collaboration, openness, transparency and failure. I believe that sometimes we are so afraid of failing that we tend to stick to status quo. In order to better serve the public, there should be room for continuous improvement.”
The government of British Columbia has led the way with progressive, agile methodologies in their digital transformation efforts. The BCDevExchange partners inside and outside the government to design and deliver solutions to the public; to improve people’s lives, address the province’s priorities, improve the public’s experience of government and support teams by providing tools to respond to public priorities and to build better public services. However, Pop recognizes that change do not always come at lightning speed.
“We have many unique teams here at the BCDevExchange. One team in particular is the Digital Policy team, which is composed of Research and Policy Analysts that are integrated in our community of developers, executives and operations. Teams here at the lab work in an agile way, meaning they possess a fast and flexible approach to project management based on principles of collaboration, adaptability and continuous improvement. On the other hand, government tends to work in a waterfall way, which requires detailed planning at the beginning of a project. For example, all the steps are often laid out, dependencies mapped, and you move to the next stage only after completing the previous one. Of course, I am not saying that one is better than the other. There is a place and time to use either methodology. In this case, it is very unusual for a non-technical project such as policy to work in an agile way delivering work every sprint or every three weeks, which has proven to be successful.”
Pop is quick to praise the leadership and team at the BCDevExchange, describing them as ‘very cross-functional and collaborative’. The culture there is based on open communication without any traditional barriers of title or seniority. Gaining perspective from a wide range of people in different positions with different backgrounds is valuable in any work environment. While Pop may have missed the in-office collaboration due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems that the team have managed to stay in touch and maintain the culture of the workplace.
“Because we work in an agile way, we are constantly adapting and improving everything we do, so telecommuting did not pose as a challenge. Personally, I love working from home and am very familiar with the concept due to my side international consulting projects. I do, of course, miss the in-person interaction at the Exchange Lab.”
The ability to be agile and ready to embrace change means the BCDevExchange has been perfectly positioned to help the government deal with challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Pop explained that the team there has also benefited from the culture that’s been created and a genuine willingness to provide services that help people and improve their daily lives.
“I believe that most of the people in the public sector are individuals that are truly passionate about in making a difference and help respond to the public needs.”
Due to his father’s work with the United Nations Peace-Keeping Operations taking him to numerous countries, Pop is fortunate as to been immersed in diverse cultures at a young age and has had the experience of living, studying and working in North and South America, Asia, Europe and the Middle East. Working with people every day in his various roles throughout his career, Pop says that those experiences have been invaluable.
“The unique experience to see the world really opened my eyes and gave me the ability to connect and establish relationships with just about anyone. Having great relationships in and outside work is truly valuable and really shapes your reputation. With the rapid growth of globalization and multinational companies in addition to my curiosity about how culture influences individuals, I pursued a degree in international business and psychology and have worked in every aspect of business, including: accounting, communications, entrepreneurship, finances, human resources, marketing, public relations, operations, strategy and supply chain to understand business from different angles and learn to speak the different languages.”
Having been so fortunate to have seen the world and experienced different cultures, we asked Pop why Victoria, BC? He explained his connection to the community and a genuine desire to make a positive contribution to the world around him.
“To be quite honest, Victoria was a place that I did not expect myself to choose to live and work. It was not because of any bad experience or reputation but simply because I never heard of it before. I fell in love with Victoria after spending a couple months exploring the city and meeting people. The city gave me a sense of belonging and community that supports my ambitions and goals in life. Victoria also has the best weather all year round out of all other Canadian cities.”
Beyond his position with IPAC and the BCDevExchange, Pop has found another way to engage with the community through Leadership Victoria, a community-based organization committed to developing, supporting and celebrating community leaders who help make our city great. In these unprecedented times, leaders are facing many business challenges. Additionally, there is also the human challenge of how to lead people who are learning to cope with the situation.
“I truly believe these unprecedented times have triggered a test of leadership and the strength of culture in any organization. Are you leading when you are needed? Are you providing transparency and openness? Are you doing what you can to protect your team? Are you listening to your team? How well do you know your team? Do you inspire others? These are some questions I ensure to ask myself regularly to ensure I am being the best leader I can be."
We asked Pop if he could go back in time and give his 21-year-old self three pieces of advice: what would they be?
- Involvement. To be more involved in a variety of organizations or causes sooner. I bet that everyone at least once in their life asked themselves the question, “what do I want to do in life?” Some people know the answer already and some don’t. I figured being more involved and doing it sooner would allow me to know what I want or don’t want to do.
- Commitment. To be committed to what you say and to always follow-up with actions, as actions speak louder than words. Sometimes you may realize later that you are not passionate about it, but it is important that you finish what you started and if you decide to leave, ensure you leave something behind you are proud of.
- Community. Always give back to your community, as your community is the one you are living in and are a part of. Your community will give back to you in ways that you could never imagine and will get you through life’s ups and downs.
You can find out more about Pop Kanjanakantorn here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/pxkanjanakantorn/