A perfectly managed Government event we can all learn from

The hall where the citizenship swearing-in takes place.

I complained about the difficulties of the paperwork of the application for Canadian citizenship in a recent post, but now I have to report that the officials of Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) have redeemed themselves by doing one thing perfectly. Some background: I have always found the typical client events (parties, sports, booth + food + drink) a waste of time and money. Socialization disguised as business seldom has concrete outcomes, unless you consider the exchange of business cards as concrete. Basically, event organizers want to create an impression, and get your contact details, rather than leave you with new insights or decisions. To do anything lasting will take many more interactions over a much longer period. Client events are actually about the benefits to the host, not the guest. So, when I was invited to the Citizenship ceremony to get my Canadian papers, I was skeptical.

An exceedingly well-managed event

How meaningful could a swearing-in ceremony be? It is, after all, ceremonial. I was worried it would be a long, boring waste of time to get a bit of paper, another pointless event. But. Big BUT: Let me tell you, the CIC has honed that occasion to such perfection that the emotional impact has the effect of a load of bricks falling on you. And it didn’t even involve food or drink.

It is so effective that it actually changes the way you behave – the way you think about yourself. In that moment, I realized I was home, in my new home, really, really home, in Canada. No more having to apologize or explain. Immediately afterwards, I did my first “Canadian” thing – I gave up my seat on the train for an ill-looking old man, and when a teenager tried to push in and take the vacated seat, I did not allow it. Ha! The old man sat down, I felt I had behaved properly.

Give credit where credit is due

I wrote the presiding swearing-in judge, Mr. Lu Fernandes, Director General of the Passport Program Integrity Branch of the CIC, a letter afterwards, with my thanks.

His response to me was another example of how the CIC cements the sense of belonging of new Canadians for their new country. I can assure you, no South African government official would ever have written me like this. (Mind you, no South African government official would likely have delivered such a precisely honed speech either.) If it were all fakery, Mr. Fernandes’ response would’ve differed from the tone and quality of the event, and his speech, but it did not. His speech was sincere, the officials at the event were sincere, and his response to my letter was sincere. Very sincerely yours. Everything in the process, before or after the event, was consistent and congruent. As he put it in his response to me, my letter reminded him that “…our work really does have an impact on others”.

Want an event that has an impact?

So, if you want a client event that has a similar impact, then remember; everything, every tiny detail, has to be designed to achieve maximum affect, every moment during the event has to be immaculately managed, and moreover, everyone involved has to be sincere and focused on the audience – the client, not yourself.

My thank you letter

Dear Mr. Fernandes

I was one of the happy crowd of new Canadians at the swearing-in ceremony in Vancouver, Expo Boulevard, on ____ 2018.

I would like to express my appreciation and admiration for the way you handled the event and the address you gave the candidates.

I listened carefully to what you said – including your coming to Canada at the age of five years, like Prime Minister John A. Macdonald. I understood your sentiments about this being our new home, and about us being able to contribute to the country, now our country.

I think you understood, from the nature of your work as well as your personal experience, that the process of adopting new citizenship is a long and daunting process, which has less to do with paperwork and legalese – though those are tricky at the best of times – and more with establishing a complete new life and mentality.

Often, during this process lasting many years, I thought about others who are less fortunate than myself, with more problems, who must be feeling a great deal more desperate, with a greater sense of urgency, than I ever have. During the ceremony I realized yet again that my husband and I are the lucky ones.

With this in mind, and seeing the people around me, of all ages and from all economic strata, in the hall that day, I was hoping that whoever addressed them would take the event seriously, would mean it with their whole heart and would be happy with them. You were. It was wonderful. I had quite a lump in my throat.

I found it interesting that something so abstract – taking an oath – could be felt so viscerally and have so many concrete applications. All aspects of the event, from the music in the hall, to the words of the officials, to the handouts we got, were well-managed and impressive.

You had a kind word for everyone as you handed out the certificates, you showed a gentle sense of humour in your address, and you gave the event the dignity we all craved. As you no doubt noticed, and I guess it’s the same every time, people were really very relieved, cheerful and excited. It was the happiest crowd I’d ever been in!

Warmest regards, and again, many thanks

M_____, Canadian, and M_____, husband and soon-to-be-Canadian

Response from Mr. Lu Fernandes (email)

Mr. Lu Fernandes – he really is a most charming man.

Dear Ms ______,

Please accept my thanks for the letter that accompanied the beautiful card that you sent! I received it this morning and was stunned (in a good way!) when I read about your experience at your Citizenship ceremony in Vancouver on _____. Your words touched me deeply.

While I have attended a number of ceremonies, that was the first time I have had the opportunity to preside as a judge. I was very grateful for the chance and enjoyed myself immensely. I was hoping that all new citizens and their friends and family members who were there that day understood that it is both a solemn event but also a time for celebration. I am thankful to know that you felt the way that I did. As you mentioned in your letter, for many in the room, citizenship may have represented the end of a very long and difficult journey. The choice to come to Canada and leave others behind would never be an easy one. That they have chosen to become citizens of this wonderful country is testament to what we, as Canadians and Canada, has to offer.

I am so happy that you chose to go down the road to citizenship yourself! I can only hope that your husband, M____, enjoys the ceremony he will attend when his turn comes around. Nonetheless, and regardless of how his actual ceremony turns out, remind him that the important part is that he will be joining you and I and about 33 million others as a citizen of this amazing country!

Once again, my heartfelt thanks for taking the time to write such a beautiful letter. I will keep it close as a reminder of how our work really does have an impact on others.
All the very best,
Lu

Lu Fernandes


(Awwww. Bless him. I think he has singlehandedly restored my affection for the CIC.)

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