The eighth report of the Prime Minister’s Advisory Committee on the Public Service coincides with two significant initiatives underway at the federal level that promise to have a significant impact on the next generation of public service managers.
The Committee’s current report is one of the most interesting commentaries on the state of the public service, possibly explained by the fact the committee is now comprised entirely of private sector executives. The report has a new tone arguing the need for more visible outcomes and directed activities related to change management.
Moreover, the advisory committee used the report to appeal to senior management to be more forward-looking by implementing new business processes and sustaining its on-going efforts to reform the over-regulated work environment that, in recent years, has taken so much of the innovation agenda out of play.
This latest report was issued in the midst of the most extensive consultative exercise undertaken to renew the federal public service. Blueprint 2020 is the most recent effort by the Secretary to the Cabinet to lead a systematic and fundamental review of the public service. By my count, there have been seven earlier efforts over the past 25 years to address the dramatic changes that have been taking place in the work world in both the public and private sectors.
Much has already been written about Blueprint 2020 and the way in which managers have been engaged in conversations about the challenges of managing in the federal government today. This work continues in an environment that has created high expectations and with a very broad change management agenda that includes creating a networked working environment, a “whole of government” approach to service delivery, smart use of technology, and the creation of a confident workforce using the diversity of its talent base.
As well, about the same time that the advisory committee submitted its report to the Prime Minister, the Treasury Board (the management arm of the federal government) issued its new Directive on Performance Management. With this policy, the government has responded to a long-standing problem of failing to manage the performance of individual employees.
The Treasury Board directive builds on the principle that excellence in people management produces a high performing public service, which, in turn, builds Canadians’ trust in and satisfaction with government. In this new policy, it is clear that the government wants to establish a regime that results in a consistent, equitable and rigorous approach to performance management in its organizations. It is an obvious effort to wring more productivity and performance out of the public service.
The expectations for this new policy are a healthy workplace, more productive employees, the provision of excellent service to Canadians, the expeditious treatment of unsatisfactory performers, the establishment of an environment where managers feel adequately supported and where they can demonstrate that they have the skills required to manage challenging cases of employee performance.
Since the deputy heads within the federal government were first appointed accounting officers to their departments, the central agencies have ladled more and more responsibilities onto their “managerial plate.” At this juncture, the new policy directive makes it explicit that the government wants the DM community to “strive for performance excellence,” to “understand the mission and goals of the government” and to “understand the consequences of unsatisfactory performance.”
The Advisory Committee Report, Blueprint 2020 and the Directive on Performance Management all are working on making the public service a better place to work and to be more productive. However, a reading of the three initiatives suggest that, with the multiplicity of objectives, it is possible that the mid-level managers, who are the culture carriers in the bureaucracy, are being asked to work simultaneously on too many significant changes in their work behaviour.
These worthwhile but separate strands of activity are the recipe for policy overload and they carry with them the risk that they might run head on into one another with the resulting collision of good ideas leading to too much uncoordinated activity. It would be a pity if these well-intentioned initiatives did not meet their objectives due to innovation overload.