New Zealand’s State Services comprise 31 percent of GDP. State servants play a critical role in delivering frontline services to New Zealanders and play an important role in delivering sustainable social and economic benefits to the long-term future of the country. How well these agencies perform, and how well the State Services as a whole perform, is determined by how well we address a range of short and medium term challenges.
Probably the most important challenge that New Zealand’s State Services face is the high and rising level, and increasing complexity, of citizens’ expectations of service access and delivery. The global and domestic economic downturn makes delivering against these expectations even more difficult and will require a significant shift in managerial innovation and performance.
There are a number of dimensions of performance that can be improved. Stronger public sector performance will be assisted if all three Central Agencies (Treasury, Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, and the State Services Commission) ensure that there is a high degree of alignment of our work. The framework for this alignment is the Development Goals for the State Services, launched in 2005.
Each of the six goals focuses on an area of improvement which the Central Agency chief executives see as a priority for lifting the performance of the State Services overall:
- being an employer of choice: making sure we attract, retain, and develop the talent and skills needed for providing quality services;
- having networked state services which acquire developing information technologies and use them to improve services;
- ensuring value for money services which make the best and most economical use of taxpayers’ money;
- having coordinated state agencies so that the total contribution of government agencies is greater than the sum of the parts; and
- accessible and trusted state services mean that we are effective from the point of view of the public and worthy of the trust of the community.
The challenge over the next few years is to prioritize the areas of improvement and to translate them into the context of individual agencies or sectors.
A major priority in improving performance is to better understand what New Zealanders think of their public services and what drives their views. This has led SSC to institute a research program, New Zealanders’ Experience, which is designed to measure, and keep on measuring, the changing level of public satisfaction with public services. Using the same methodology as the Canadian Citizens’ First research, this performance feedback is intended to identify where departments and agencies can improve.
Citizens increasingly expect more of their State Services, and research in 2007 showed that the most important driver for satisfaction is that the service experience meets their expectations. To improve levels of satisfaction, we need to deliver more personalized services and on terms that better suit the service users.
We see considerable potential to broaden this aspect of public sector reform in coming years. A number of jurisdictions overseas are making more use of these approaches, such as providing clear information about service quality to service users, building partnerships between users and professionals around the delivery of services, and introducing greater choice for citizens around the delivery of government services. There is scope to consider experimenting with similar innovative approaches in New Zealand.
There are more than 220,000 State servants. By independent assessment, we have the most corruption-free public sector in the world. Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index and the Gallup Worldwide Corruption Index consistently rank New Zealand at either first or second in their annual surveys. We haven’t arrived at this position by accident, and we are unlikely to remain there without investing significant effort in a trusted State Services.
Maintaining trust with the people we serve means measuring and understanding that trust. As part of the New Zealanders’ Experience Research programme we ran the Kiwis Count survey in 2007. We asked how much they trusted their State Services. Only 29 percent agree that they trust public services, and just under half (49 percent) are neutral about their trust in public services. Interestingly, New Zealanders trust individual public servants and services more highly than public services overall, with 67 percent indicating that in their last service experience the public service could be trusted to do what is right.
Revitalizing the trust agenda is a key priority for SSC. We will continue our work with agencies to emphasise the importance of integrity, and of maintaining a politically neutral State Services.
Better leadership, higher productivity
One of the drivers for improved productivity and better service delivery is an engaged and committed workforce. SSC is leading work on several fronts to develop our people capability. The first is our work on Employee Engagement, the level of commitment demonstrated by an employee to their job and employing organization. This is exemplified by an excellent work ethic, superior levels of productivity, and a highly positive and cooperative approach to others in the workplace.
Literature, based on private sector evidence overseas, suggests that higher levels of employee engagement fuel performance. It also helps us to manage costs such as those associated with staff turnover. We estimate that the one percent increase in turnover in the public service from 2007 (up to 15 percent) resulted in NZD13m in direct costs. So, reducing average turnover across the system, through higher employee engagement, could lead to significant savings.
SSC is encouraging agencies to adopt a common employee engagement tool that measures the level of engagement within an agency. The results of these surveys can be used for benchmarking across the State Services, and as a guide to driving change within each agency.
Levels of employee engagement also provide some insight into the level of management capability. The development of leadership capability is a critical focus of our activity around people and productivity. This includes drawing on the full range of leadership talent available, where we have a relatively low proportion of women, MÄori, Pacific and Asian senior managers when compared to their representation in the workforce. We are also focussed on identifying new opportunities for the development of high performing, high potential individuals across the State Services.
Refreshing structures and systems
The performance of agencies is also affected by the structural arrangements (the number and configuration of distinct departments) and by the systems that are used both within organizations and between organizations.
SSC acts as the government’s principal advisor on the machinery of government. My statutory responsibilities in this regard are to review the machinery of government across all areas of government, including:
- the allocation of functions to and between departments and other agencies;
- the desirability of, or need for, the creation of new departments and other agencies and the amalgamation or abolition of existing departments and other agencies; and
- the co-ordination of the activities of departments and other agencies.
In some areas, better results for government priorities require existing government agencies to align some of the activities (e.g., planned investment programs) much more closely. In other cases, structural change, particularly to reduce the fragmentation of the State sect