APEX, the Association of Professional Executives of the Public Service of Canada, has a new CEO. The independent, not-for-profit association, now 29 years old, is governed by a volunteer board of directors of federal executives. Lisanne Lacroix, its new CEO, Nadir Patel, board chair and assistant deputy minister, Corporate Planning, Finance and Human Resources and Chief Financial Officer, Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, and Donna Achimov, board vice-chair and chief executive officer, Translation Bureau, Public Works and Government Services Canada, spoke with editor-in-chief Toby Fyfe.
Lisanne, as the new CEO, what are your priorities for the future?
Lacroix: My very first priority is to take the pulse of the EX community across the country. We are a national association so it’s important to understand what EXs are thinking and feeling from one part of the country to the other.
In terms of what I would like to accomplish, I’d like to ensure that APEX provides support to all EXs, but particularly to new executives, executives who join the public service in mid-career, executives in the regions, and future executives. And when I talk about support, I mean support at the individual level so EXs can be effective in the workplace, and then support to them as members of the greater public service.
Nadir, the government is going through significant change. What are the new challenges facing the executive community that APEX will have to respond to?
Patel: For the board of directors, managing change and developing the leadership capacity that the public service needs now and well into the future are key challenges. In addition, how to influence a culture shift in the public service that includes modernizing how we deliver services, innovating processes, and managing performance. These challenges bring an opportunity to reshape and refocus in support of the executive community. We’re looking at the current time and environment as an opportunity to contribute to the re-shaping of the public service.
We’re focused on leadership excellence by developing a national community of leadership best practices not only from within the government but also by importing practices from outside the public sector. We’re looking at competencies, career development and leadership programs. We’re also talking about health and wellbeing.
Donna, there is a growing number of younger people who are moving into the EX community. Has that posed special challenges for APEX?
Achimov: I think it poses huge opportunities. APEX has really put a focus on supporting new executives through one of our premier events, which is a new executive induction ceremony. That’s an opportunity to network and to expose new executives to leadership at the federal level. We have a huge turnout of senior officials including the Clerk and the DM community, and for us it’s an opportunity not only to welcome, but really to start thinking about the necessary support for, development and engagement of, new executives.
APEX is also offering meaningful networking opportunities where people can bounce ideas, where they can look for opportunities to partner and work horizontally. One thing we’re doing is following executives after their first year. It allows us to grow as an organization, to understand what the emerging needs are, and to focus our efforts and energies.
Lacroix: We’re going to be starting a new series of breakfast learning sessions called “So You Are an Executive: Now What?” The first one is called “Stop Doing and Start Leading,” the second “Managing Performance” and the third “Creating a High Performance Organization.” We’re also going to start action learning groups where EXs can bring issues that they’re struggling with in the workplace to APEX and discuss them with other EXs and a coach.
Patel: APEX is very much about building the management capacity that’s needed to lead today. Training and learning are fundamental to what we do.
APEX meets regularly with deputy heads. Why?
Patel: The objectives are multiple. We’re an organization that can offer a lot of value to departments and so we meet with DMs to get a flavour for what some of their needs are. An example of one of the things that has come out is what we’ve already talked about – an ongoing focus on new executives. Some other examples include ensuring that there’s a good connection with the regions. We’re also talking about health and wellness.
The APEX fourth Work and Health Survey for Executives has been done. Are the trends going to indicate that issues of stress and mental health remain paramount for senior public servants?
Patel: I would be reluctant to speculate too much right now, but health and wellness remain an area we should continue to focus on. This whole area is not just about analysing results, but also identifying best practices and ways in which we can mitigate some of the concerns that have been raised to increase the productivity of the leadership cadre. There are a lot of positives to having trend data over a 20-year period: you can see where things are improving and where things need further emphasis or attention. It’s how we and organizations act on the data that will matter the most.
Achimov: APEX is committed to looking at high performing organizations and how they can help us influence the future direction of the public service. We do not shy away from benchmarking. As a matter of fact, we’ve looked at best practices and leading practices in high performing organizations, whether they’re at different jurisdictional levels, the private sector, or overseas. Our hallmark product is the health survey. It’s important to note that other countries are also looking at what APEX is doing, particularly in the area of executive wellbeing.
We’re not afraid to ask some of the tough questions. What we’re finding is that it’s not in traditional ways that we’re going to benefit and grow our leaders, especially our future leaders. And, I think the benchmarking exercises position APEX well. They allow us to have very candid dialogue with our senior decision-makers in setting the framework to enable the public service to succeed and evolve.
What is the theme of May’s APEX Symposium?
Lacroix: This year the symposium is called “The Edge of a New Beginning.” The quotation that we feel represents everything that the symposium is about is from Leonardo da Vinci: “Learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else.” The subtext is courage, agility and action, because we feel that those are the key attributes that are going to be needed by executives to shape the public service. This learning symposium – our premier training and learning event – is going to focus on the changing economic and social realities that the public service is going through and that we need to embrace in order to move forward and shape the public service of tomorrow.
The co-chairs are Janice Charette, the deputy clerk of the Privy Council and associate secretary to the Cabinet, and Daniel Jean, the deputy minister of Canadian Heritage. The Clerk of the Privy Council will be there as a keynote speaker.
Lisanne, as new CEO, what’s your management style?
Lacroix: I’m very inclusive. I think it’s important, especially in a small organization, to use every single resource that we have both inside and outside the organization. So, I plan to work with permanent staff, with visiting executives, with members of the board, with EXs across the public service, with the DM community, with central agencies, and with partners. I think it’s very important to listen to what people have to say and then to put them in touch with others by making connections between issues so we can advance the interests of the community as a whole.
I’ve had a tremendous career in public service and I believe deeply in the federal public service. My goal is to support EXs, but with a view to maintaining the excellent public service that we have. It’s a vital, national institution and one of the best in the world. I’d like to transmit that passion I have for public service to other executives.
Visit Apex at www.apex.gc.ca.You can reach Lisanne Lacroix at firstname.lastname@example.org.