The 2005 centennial celebration of the Alberta Public Service was also a time to begin the review and creation of a common vision and values to guide the development and delivery of high-quality programs and services: “proudly working together to build a stronger province for current and future generations.”
Over the past year, APS employees have been incorporating that belief into their day-to-day work.
To be connected and involved, people need to have a clear understanding of where their organization is headed and how their work contributes to achieving those goals. Vision and values are the foundation. They foster employee commitment to their work and the organization.
“Developing a values-based organization, where employees know that management will support the decisions they make and the work they do if it is consistent with core values, was something we focused on from the start of this initiative,” says Ron Hicks, head of the Alberta Public Service and Deputy Minister of Executive Council.
“The previous public service vision and values were developed and introduced a decade ago and while they served us well, our public service and our province are in a different place today. Organizations that are committed to building a culture of service and business excellence need to revisit the vision and values guiding their conduct as individuals and an organization from time to time.”
It also helps attract people with the right fit, Hicks notes. “We know that governments are facing challenges finding employees, and the vision and values can help us attract and retain staff. What many young employees are looking for is an employer whose values are in synch with their values and a work environment where they can make a positive difference in people’s lives.”
A common vision
The initiative began during a meeting in late 2005 when DMs and HR directors from across government agreed it was time to review the vision and value statements. Two months later, executive committees from ministries across government discussed vision and values.
The process to be used to develop the vision and values was an important discussion point at the first two meetings. Consultation with all employees was vital. A core group responsible for guiding the initiative was needed. A ten-member DM steering committee and a working group of employees were established to provide support.
Employees were invited to provide input into the development of the vision and values starting in early 2006. Small group discussions were held with frontline employees in communities across the province to get their thoughts. The focus group feedback spawned vision and value statements that every employee was asked to comment on in a government-wide employee survey in spring 2006. Over 4,000 employees provided input during the statement development phase.
“One of the things we considered with the focus groups and the survey was the go-forward plan if there wasn’t a strong consensus,” says Eric McGhan, deputy minister steering committee co-chair, and Deputy Solicitor General and DM of Public Security.
Shirley Howe, also a co-chair, and Public Service Commissioner, observed: “It was an affirmation when the survey results showed such consistency across the public service. It was clear that no matter where employees were working or what kind of work they were doing, there were common themes and beliefs that all employees shared and could relate to. The process showed us how this initiative could make a difference.”
Over 80% of employees who completed surveys agreed the vision should be based on the themes “working together”, “making a difference”, and “building a stronger Alberta.” Over 90% of survey respondents agreed the core values of respect, accountability, integrity, and excellence guided their work.
The new vision and values were presented to employees in June 2006, followed by sessions in seven communities, hosted by Hicks. About 5,000 employees attended the sessions.
Leadership as a driver
Discussions between deputy ministers and employees highlighted the importance of ensuring that living the vision and values started at the top. Employees stated, quite passionately, that in order to be meaningful, they needed to see the values modeled by their managers. They needed to see them “walk the talk.”
Hicks believes that the commitment from managers, starting with DMs, has been a key to success. Deputies have led employees in activities to incorporate the core beliefs into ministry business, including replacing department-specific vision and value statements with the shared vision and values in business plans.
Managers and supervisors have also been encouraged to demonstrate the vision and values. Many divisions and branches have completed team charters that provide principles and processes to guide their integration into the workplace.
Leading by example is a cornerstone, agrees Jae Cooper of Elevate Consulting, who assisted with the employee consultation. “From the outset, this initiative had the necessary level of commitment from senior leadership. It’s been wonderful to watch the willingness managers and employees have to be held accountable for ensuring the vision and values are modeled by all staff.”
When new Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach introduced his five priorities on taking office, he pledged to build a stronger province and promised to govern with integrity and accountability. “Having our vision and values line up so well with the priorities set by the Premier gives us a further opportunity to take advantage of the benefits of having a common vision and values,” Hicks observed.
The first statistical evidence that the vision and values were successfully permeating through the organization came from the results of a survey of the Alberta Public Service in November 2006. Questions measuring how aware employees were that a single vision and values guides their work, and the level to which they believe the values have become embedded in the daily work of the organization, were added to the Alberta Government 2006 Corporate Employee Survey.
Three quarters of employees surveyed said they were aware of the public service vision, while the percentage of those agreeing they were informed of the values reached an average of 80%. Those surveyed were also asked about the extent to which the values have been modeled by colleagues in their work area, by their immediate manager, and by senior managers in their ministry. Results ranged from 79% to 67%.
The DM steering team is now focusing on continuing to demonstrate the vision and values. Efforts are currently underway to make them part of discussions when employees are recruited and integrating them into orientation and training programs for staff.
While there is much reason to be pleased with how the vision and values have been embraced by employees, there is also recognition that a cultural shift in an organization as large as a provincial government public service takes time.
Hicks knows: “If one thing is going to continue to make our vision and values initiative successful, it’s employees understanding that we all play a role bringing the words to life.”
Indications to date are that the vision and values have been a step in the right direction in building a mor