With over two decades of service and multiple stints across different government agencies under his belt, Mr Patrick Yee, now People Management and Development Director at the National Library Board (NLB), is a true Public Service veteran. These are his tips to navigating a successful Public Service career.

Develop a sense of empathy

Matter-of-factly, Patrick declares that he has made many difficult decisions, especially in the realm of policy implementation. “When you look at the data and it’s not doing well, as a policy person you just have to be objective,” he advises.

He reminds officers it is easy to rely on authority to bulldoze the way through, especially if you have a good handle on data analytics and evidence is on your side. But “we’re dealing with people, there are emotions involved, they have expectations and commitments. “The way we implement has to take these into account,” he says, adding that the more important question is often not “if” but “how” it should be done. To do the best for their organisations and for the people, he urges officers to balance objectivity with equal empathy – especially when decisions get tough.


Develop a heart for learning

There was a time when a librarian could have a 30-year career just specializing on cataloging. In contrast, today, a librarian’s job scope includes many learning and reading activities such as community outreach and conducting library programmes. Versatility is important, Patrick says, because with shorter business cycles, greater volatility and uncertainty, as well as a shrinking labour market, companies “value people who are able to move quickly and do various roles at a time.”

Also, he quips: “if you only have one solution, be prepared it is not going to work!” So whether fresh graduate or a mid-career switcher, the only way to stay abreast of changes is to be ready to “learn, unlearn and relearn”.


Develop an interest in others

Today, books that are returned to libraries are sorted by a machine and collecting reserved books can be done anytime at the automated lockers. These innovations have brought convenience and improved how NLB serves the patrons, but they were inspired from entirely different industries: logistics industry and postal service.

Patrick explains that these are examples of what NLB calls “trans-discipline thinking” – a mindset that advocates looking beyond one’s limited domain of expertise to the larger ecosystem for solutions when solving business problems. In short, he says: “be kaypoh” and open to what others are doing, why they do it and assess if we could adopt it.

Develop a thicker skin

Patrick recalls a boss who never calls anyone by name when scolding them. Instead, she refers to their department or division as a whole. He explains that this is to differentiate between bad work done and a bad person.

Since you can’t count on all bosses to do this, and mistakes are inevitable, Patrick firmly believes you need the ability to say: “this is my professional self, if it’s not good let’s do something about it. My personal self is still intact.” Success in differentiating the two will build resilience to carry you through difficult times. Without which, he warns, you are at risk of doubting your career choices and making poor decisions once failure comes knocking.


Develop trust

There has been many a time Patrick has been given a posting or a task by his bosses and skeptically thought: “are you sure I can do it?” Each time, he has been surprised to realise he can. 

He believes this is because his bosses have seen him across different portfolios and have a good understanding of his abilities, noticing areas that he, himself, is unable to. With this in mind, he encourages officers to take postings with an open mind and to trust the recommendation of their superiors.

After all, he says, he has found there are many bosses in the Public Service who are vested in their staff’s development – “if they tell you where to go and give you a posting, they are usually right!”

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