On HR and Working/Leading in the public service
Dan Couture has been Deputy Assistant Commissioner for Canada Revenue Agency’s Human Resources Branch since 2013. This year, he won the Association of Professional Executives of the Public Service of Canada award for his leadership skills. The citation read that he was recognized “for his overall management excellence on numerous initiatives within his department and for his dedication to mentorship and coaching.” Born in Rimouski (Quebec) he studied Industrial Relations at McGill University before starting his career in the private sector. He started work in the Toronto District Office of Revenue Canada in 1990 and never looked back.
Q: To what do you attribute your success?
Sounds corny but I owe a great deal to my parents (Irish mother and French Canadian father) who have been married 57 years. My wife Rachelle (who also works in CRA) and my two boys Dawson (17) and Donovan (15) have been extremely supportive to me over the years. They understand that they will always be my priority but that sometimes it requires compromise.
The CRA has been supportive to me. It has given me the opportunity to re-invent myself several times and have in fact had multiple careers in one. I am so proud to be a public servant and am even more proud to be part of what I consider to be a leading edge organisation in the world of tax administration.
Finally, hard work and strong values. I invested in my professional relationships. I am a firm believer that every employee has a unique contribution to bring to the organisation and that no one should be judged by their rank or level in an organisation.
Q: Your current project is to create a more efficient and customer-centric HR function within the CRA. What were your priorities?
First, we worked extensively to simplify and streamline HR. For example, we have made it easier for managers to understand and apply HR policies by undertaking a thorough review of our policy suite through which we reduced the number of HR Corporate Policy Instruments by 75%. We have simplified our performance management by eliminating paper from the process, and standardizing language and terms. We also used the Lean methodology to simplify a number of other HR processes so we can keep pace with our clients’ needs.
Next, we reduced the burden on managers by making it easier for employees to access HR information and services. We launched MyHR, a modern hub for HR information that provides convenient self-service options for clients along with seamless access to new HR solutions. Third, we strengthened our capacity to provide expert advice. While browsing topics on MyHR users always have the ability to request support from HR advisors through our HR Service Centre. We are working to further establish our reputation as helpful solutions providers who know and understand clients’ business and help them resolve complex issues, and who are invited to the table when a client needs help because of their trust in the skills and knowledge that we bring.
Q: How are you monitoring the changes you’ve enabled?
Quantitative systems-generated data enables us to set benchmarks and measure the progression of our HR and workforce indicators. This will tell the true story of the benefits that these changes are enabling the CRA to realize.
We also make improvements to our solutions based on what we hear from clients. Nothing is implemented without having been tested with clients and we have various mechanisms in place to ensure a continuous feedback loop to enable ongoing improvement.
Additionally, our Board of Management has taken an active interest in our modernization efforts and we report to them quarterly on our progress.
Q: You are known as an exceptional mentor. Do you follow an example or did you reinvent the role?
I mentor folk from across the public service, not just CRA. For me, it’s basic: I make time for people. I have four rules in an unwritten contract: I respect confidentiality; I tell people up front that they are not signing on for life and can move on at any time; I usually give some homework and expect that mentees follow up. (It’s not just chatting); I ask mentees to pay it forward.
Q: What do you think is the most frustrating thing about being a public servant?
We often become frustrated with the slower pace of change and innovation in Government and are envious of the private sector. However, as public servants it is our duty to exercise proper planning and risk management practices. While we still have room to improve, initiatives such as Blueprint 2020 have inspired us to find new ways to foster efficient innovation across Government. Our success in modernizing HR is testament to this. We have accomplished in 18 months what, not long ago, would have taken a number of years.
Q: According to the 2014 Survey of Government of Canada employees, the level of satisfaction with senior management remains low (about 50 percent of respondents are satisfied on six critical issues). How do you react to these results?
We always need to be looking for ways to improve the way we lead at all levels. Obviously, this is a priority for us to address across Government right now. And steps are being taken. For example, I strongly believe that the implementation of TBS’s Key Leadership Competencies will help senior management earn back the trust of employees by developing a cadre of modern leaders who foster a public service that is collaborative, innovative, streamlined, high performing, adaptable and diverse.
Q: If you could make ONE change to the leadership structure, what would it be?
I would flatten our management structure. Based on our research I believe that in addition to enabling faster decision making, delayering our management structure would foster agility and innovation, improve communication, and provide management with more proximity to employees which would improve employee engagement and productivity. I also make it a personal priority to be visible and connected with my employees. In fact, last year I went across the country to meet all employees working for the CRA’s HR function and I was thoroughly impressed by the engagement and passion that they demonstrated in the many rich discussions I had with employees at all levels.
Q: What is your reaction to the triennial Employee Survey of Government of Canada employees?
I think it’s one of the great tools that we can use to gauge how we are perceived by our people. While we encourage our employees to engage with us in a variety of ways, through our daily interactions, and various meetings, the PSES is another useful way for us to measure if the work that we are doing to ensure a respectful, efficient, and modern organization is being felt by our employees. And if not, to identify the areas that require improvement.
Q: People are a lot more satisfied with their immediate supervisors. What’s your interpretation?
I’m encouraged that employees see their immediate supervisors in a positive light. Employees and their immediate supervisors have a different relationship than they do with their senior management. At the CRA we are focusing on giving our managers the support they need to provide quality leadership to their teams. Our CRA Managers’ Network provides our managers’ community with a platform to have their collective voice heard by senior management and facilitates collaboration and consultation. Our senior management recently worked with the Managers Network to develop an action plan that maps out the steps we will take to better enable our managers to focus on their people-management duties. We have also placed efforts in the CRA on developing a Young Professional Network (YPN) and more recently, the Executive Group Network (EXGN).
Q: The same survey shows that employees are still frustrated by how positions are filled. What can be done about improving hiring in the Government of Canada?
I am excited about the potential that HR data & analytics can bring to help us do more effective, evidence-based hiring. Finding out find out what makes the most productive employees successful in their jobs will help us objectively establish the right hiring criteria and evaluate candidates effectively. This will help ensure we hire the right people – those with the skills for the position, and the values and passion for a career with the public service. We have conducted a Lean exercise on our staffing process and have introduced technology to reduce red tape and streamline the staffing process, end to end.