Finding True North – Moving towards a purpose-driven culture - Canadian Government Executive
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March 13, 2017

Finding True North – Moving towards a purpose-driven culture

As Canada’s government agencies strive to improve delivery and efficiency under evolving circumstances, many are seeking to initiate customer-focused cultures that encourage innovation and collaboration. Such change, however, can’t be brought about by decree – here leaders must engage the hearts and minds of employees at every level and rally them around a common purpose.

Although significant, this challenge is being pursued successfully in a growing number of organizations that are adopting the Lean management system, many of which are doing so with limited resources. Because Lean depends on wide employee participation in continuous improvement activities, purpose-driven culture is a requirement. Successful Lean organizations, therefore, are excellent role models for any organization contemplating major cultural change.

One of the keys to Lean culture is a concept called True North, which establishes the shared purpose for all employees, regardless of rank. True North typically consists of three or four long-term aspirational goals that support the organization’s mission, and can be tied to specific measurements.

“True North is where we all start. Without it, we’re a rudderless ship,” says Dr. John Toussaint, CEO of Catalysis, a not-for-profit specializing in Lean healthcare.

An excellent example of True North can be found in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario at St. Mary’s Hospital. In 2010, Don Shilton signed on as the hospital’s new CEO with a mission to launch a comprehensive Lean transformation.

Shilton knew that culture would be critical, so the first step was to adopt a vision statement that would galvanize employees. The statement reads as follows: “St. Mary’s will be the safest and most effective hospital in Canada characterized by innovation, compassion, and respect.”

“That was a key element, because that was something that the staff could buy into,” says Shilton. “Many people go into healthcare because they want to help others. And so it’s that inner motivation that the vision helps capture.”

The next question was how to measure progress towards that vision. Shilton and his team decided on Hospital Standardized Mortality Ratio (HSMR) from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), an independent third-party organization.

With their mission and their method of measurement in place, the team then established the four elements that constitute their True North:

  • Quality and Safety: “Zero harm.”
  • Patient and Family Centred Care: “Zero wait.”
  • Our People: “100% engagement.”
  • Financial Stewardship: “Zero waste.”

Next, management launched a series of improvement targets using the True North as a roadmap. “We felt that if we were strong in each of those True North buckets, that would help us move towards the vision, and would help us be successful with that vision,” says Shilton.

Reducing patient falls, which was initially the hospital’s largest cause of patient harm incidents, was one of the early success stories. For the first year, management set a target of a 25% reduction. “We actually reduced it by 32%, and by 25% in each of the following two years,” says Shilton. These results came not from interventions crafted in a boardroom, but from literally hundreds of incremental improvements that were designed, tested, and stabilized by employees on the hospital floor.

For example, staff reviewed the data on patient falls and learned that these often occurred when patients got up to go to the bathroom at night. Then, using Lean tools, employees initiated a series of improvements – night lights were installed, room layouts were standardized to prevent clutter and obstacles, maps were installed for cleaners so they’d put objects back in their proper places. All these improvements were then audited by staff during random visits to ensure they were being maintained.

After the 50% reduction, falls ceased to be the largest source of patient harm. “Now hospital acquired infections is our biggest problem area,” says Shilton, “so this year, we’re focusing on that. At this point, 9 months into our year, we’ve got a 47% reduction so far.”

Today, St. Mary’s is the safest hospital in Canada, but the journey continues. In keeping with the “100% engagement” True North metric, a goal of one improvement per employee was set last year. “We have 1,300 employees and collectively they implemented 1,356 improvements,” says Shilton. “This year we doubled that goal and they’re ahead of target.”

A strong purpose-driven culture has been key here, Shilton notes. “We’ve really been able to capture the hearts and minds of staff, and they’ve risen to the challenge,” he says.

How True North Changes Culture

While True North objectives vary by organization, the basic idea is essentially the same.  Here are five ways in which True North helps create a purpose-driven culture.

  1. True North connects every employee with the purpose of coming to work.

Washington State, with 30,000 employees exposed to Lean methods, is one of the leaders in Lean government. The State’s True North metrics include areas such as a prosperous economy, sustainability, accountability, education, and health, all which are tied to specific measurements.

“True North is important for focus,” says Hollie Jensen, Enterprise Lean Leader for the State of Washington. “When the work of those closest to the customers is connected to the broader mission of the state, it helps them prioritize what they should be working on, and their engagement increases.  It simply helps provide purpose to our work.”

True North might remind a worker, for example, that a grant application is really about the underprivileged children who will benefit. “Often, we see government objectives in some sort of bureaucratic language,” says Craig Szelestowski, Founder of Ottawa-based Lean Agility. “True North is really about making that emotional connection with staff.”

  1. True North is about improving the work, not just the results.

HermanMiller, maker of the familiar Aeron office chair, was one of the first American companies to learn Lean methods directly from Toyota, and has become a classic Lean success story. Early in their journey, they discovered that their focus on tools and results was causing workers to be overwhelmed.

“The ‘aha’ moment for leadership was that they needed to ask, ‘what are you doing to make the work better for people?’ says Matt Long VP of Continuous Improvement.

“Morale improved dramatically, but what we didn’t expect is that all of our other metrics did too. That was a big cultural change moment.”

Improving the work is now entrenched in their True North, which is depicted on a mural in their visitor center that illustrates their-20 year journey. “What we learned from Toyota is that there are two aspects for True North,” says Long. “There’s the aspect around employees – things like safe work environment, struggles in the workplace, job security, and then there’s the customer aspect – reliability, quality, shorter lead times, and that sort of thing.”

  1. True North provides questions, not answers.

True North metrics are intentionally left open to interpretation. “The leadership says ‘what’ but they don’t say ‘how,’” says Shilton. “Those who are closest to the front line are the ones who will figure out how to do it. It wouldn’t make sense for me to tell nurses on a certain floor, ‘well you need to start doing things this way,’ because I have no idea if that’s going to work.”

“I think it’s important to keep the metrics at a high level with True North,” says Toussaint, “not necessarily deploy a specific metric to the front line, but ask the question, ‘how might you impact that metric in your daily work?’ That open-ended questioning gets people to think about mistakes, accidents, and how we eliminate those sorts of things.”

  1. True North helps support strategic alignment.

In large organizations, it can be challenging to get people reading off the same page. As part of the Quebec Government’s strategic healthcare and social services initiative, participating agencies are adding facilities to support stronger dialogue around goals and objectives.  These include dedicated strategy rooms, tactical rooms, and departmental display boards that track daily progress against the desired metrics.

“We have organizations that employ nearly 20,000 people and have over 100 sites,” says Sylvain Landry, Professor of Logistics and Operations Management at HEC Montréal: “So we need something to guide people so that everyone can relate to where the organization is going, and have a sense of what they’re doing and how they are contributing to that goal. To me, this emphasizes the importance of True North.”

  1. True North is always present in the workplace.

Unlike strategic objectives that reside in the executive suite, True North is constantly referred to when projects are planned, decisions are made, or customers are served. “True North helps us manage all of our daily actions in order to achieve the performance expected by government,” says Jean-Francois Robert,  Senior Consultant, Continuous Improvement and Performance, University Health and Social Services Centre, National Capital Region. “So we use True North in all our routines and problem solving. If we start a project, we ask, ‘how will this action connect to the True North and its dimensions?’ This helps us ensure that we are doing the right things.”

The bottom line

Culture change is never easy, but the experience in successful Lean organizations proves that employees will embrace the opportunity of working together towards a common purpose.

“I realized we were truly transforming our culture a couple of years ago,” says Shilton, “when one of our nurses said to me, ‘What I really like about Lean is that you want me to tell you when things aren’t working. In the old days whenever I did that I felt like a whiner or complainer but now not only do you want me to tell you when things aren’t working, you also want me to tell you how I think we can make it better.’”

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A landmark Supreme Court ruling has paved the way for some 600,000 Metis and non-status aboriginal people with no affiliations to specific reserves to get out a jurisdictional limbo that has prevented them from accessing government services and pursuing land claims. Canada’s top court yesterday issued a unanimous decision that tens of thousands of Metis...
 
Years and years ago when I was unemployed, being able to speak with a live person at the employment office was important to me. Waiting for nearly an hour in line or on the phone queue was a given, but I still believed that connecting with a real person was the best way I could...
 
Local job figures blew away expectations as records indicated that 41,000 new jobs were created in March. Alberta led the pack, adding almost 19,000 jobs last month, pulling down the jobless rate down to eight points to the national average, according to Statistics Canada’s Labour Force Survey.  While Alberta still has fewer people employed than it did...
 
At first glance, the title may seem counterintuitive. By their very nature, high potentials (HiPos) are assumed to be, or even defined as, very engaged. Yet, when we look at the evidence, this is not necessarily the case. A 2009 study by the Corporate Leadership Council (CLC) discovered that 25% of HiPos were planning to...
 
The Liberal government’s first federal budget laid out $11.9 billion over five years for new infrastructure spending and the move was met with approval from some mayors of the country’s largest cities. Ottawa plans to spend $29.4 billion this year, $29 billion in 2017, $22.8 billion the following year and $17.7 billion in 2019-2020. The...
 
The Liberal government is expected to announce on Tuesday a new federal budget with a deficit in the area of about $30 billion. There’s been a lot of concern about that huge deficit but a number of economists calculate that Canada could actually absorb a much larger deficit and that it may not be even...
 
A leader’s credibility begins with personal success. It ends with helping others achieve personal success. – John Maxwell In 1966, U.S. Senator Robert Kennedy made an influential visit to South Africa. He offered words of hope to opponents of apartheid in his famous “Ripple of Hope” speech at the University of Cape Town: Related posts: Knowing the cost of everything and the value of nothing...
 
Monday was the final day for Canadians to donate money to overseas relief efforts for Syrian refugees in order for the funds to be matched by the federal government. But the money donated by Canadians fell short of the maximum $100 million which the government promised to match. Related posts: Senators urge government action on issues faced by Syrian refugees BC Hydro’s Site C dam project and indigenous rights Strategic Procurement in the Age of Deliverology...
 
Huawei is bringing back to Canada and expanding its information communication technology-focused student exchange program. Seeds for the Future will once more provide 20 third-year engineering students from Canada, the opportunity to visit Beijing and work in the communication technology provider’s headquarters in Shenzhen, China. This is only the second year of the program in Canada. Huawei Canada is now receiving...
 
Many women entrepreneurs in Canada struggle to access capital, technology, networks and training. Cisco Canada has launched a program called the Cisco Women Entrepreneur’s Circle which aims to bridge this gap. Cisco is working with Women of Influence , a community dedicated to the advancing women professionals; Completely Managed , a managed services provider; the Business Development Bank of Canada ; and Communitech , and industry-led innovation centre based in...
 
Written by Tim Wacker Almost a quarter century ago, when most municipalities were rummaging through file cabinets and sifting through folders for specific documents, and the internet was still in the future (to say nothing of “cloud computing”), the District of Mission in British Columbia became an early adopter of an electronic document management system...
 
Written by  Brady G. Wilson You may not realize it, but your organization is home to an incredibly powerful operating system (O/S). Think outside the realm of technology. What has the potential to engage and energize your employees, bring teams closer together, and create a high-performing workforce? It’s conversation. Conversation is the common denominator behind...
 
Continuous, life-long learning is the future of the public service. Building the capacity of our workforce to meet new expectations and new ways of doing business is key to public service renewal. Large scale organizational learning efforts must be supported to make the leap from current to future state. Related posts: Coach or mentor: Which one do you need? Professional development for the CIO Survey: Professional development...
 
Mega-ConnEX is an annual speed networking event organized by the Health Canada Young Professionals Network which connects young professionals and public sector senior executives. This event, loosely modelled on the ‘speed dating’ process, allows participants to network with senior executives in rapid succession. Related posts: Coach or mentor: Which one do you need? Infinite development pathway Survey: Professional development...
 
Canada’s contribution to development and humanitarian assistance is recognized around the world. Its official development aid is $5 billion annually. Related posts: APEX Symposium: Making change happen The art of the possible: Open government From Procurement to the Commissioning of Public Services...
 
Deliberations and negotiations in the United Nations are intensifying on what the successor framework to the Millennium Development Goals should be as the MDG end date – 2015 – approaches. There is broad consensus that the post-2015 framework should include goals, targets and indicators, as is the case with the MDGs. Related posts: Millennium Development Goals: A sprint to 2015 and the way forward Post-2015 MDG framework: The world we want...
 
The UN consultations on the post-2015 development framework are focused on what the UN Millennium campaign aptly calls, “The World We Want.” What do we want to achieve in a generation? What do we want to achieve in our lifetime? Related posts: Millennium Development Goals: A sprint to 2015 and the way forward Canada post-2015: Confronting our own development challenges...
 
At the turn of the millennium, the international community made a major commitment to address pressing development challenges and combat poverty. The United Nations (UN) Summit in 2000 saw leaders from 189 nations endorse the Millennium Declaration, which led to the establishment of eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Related posts: It's good for what ails your organization Post-2015 MDG framework: The world we want Canada adopts U.N. declaration of rights of Indigenous peoples...
 
Budgets are statements of political will and power. They are performance agreements that give expression to government’s priorities and expected outcomes....
 
Decades of reform in developing countries point to four enduring dilemmas: Reforms focus on changing rules and behaviour by design rather than on changing practices during implementation;… Related posts: From past to future: Contrasting perspectives on public sector management...
 
The Lough Erne Accountability Report states that the G8 has played a constructive role in promoting better governance in the developing world. It cites the G8’s 70 percent funding of the Africa Peer Review Mechanism to promote democratic processes, citizen rights, and the rule of law. Related posts: Spanning boundaries … Globalization...
 
While there can be no singular solution for good governance, building common strategies that can be locally adapted is important in achieving development outcomes....
 
it’s not the most original saying...
 
With the demographics of an aging workforce and a significant number of pending executive retirements facing most organizations, are governments prepared to manage the transition and invest in the right type of leadership development?...
 
Shakespeare’s “dark comedy,” Measure for Measure, deals with the issues of mercy, justice and truth....
 
Reform is almost always about developing the capacity of government to manage, deliver and renew public services. The capacity deficit is pronounced in developing countries, where basic services are just beyond reach....
 
CGE Vol.13 No.3 March 2007 Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine is promoting a vision for eliminating poverty i...
 
CGE Vol. 14 No.5 May 2008 Before dawn on Monday, 18 February 2008, just as an international conference was about to commence on the We...
 
CGE Vol. 14 No.4 April 2008 “What is a Foreign Service for? Where should it focus its energies?” Prime Minister Gordon Brown asked las...
 
CGE Vol.14 No.3 March 2008 Most observers expect more than 40 percent of the executive cadre of the public service to retire in th...
 
CGE Vol.14 No.3 March 2008 The Commonwealth Secretariat convened the first Commonwealth forum of ministers responsible for public...
 
If you want to understand someone else’s position, walk a mile in their shoes, so the saying goes. To better prepare its future leaders, the Alberta public service has put that chestnut to the test. In 2005, Alberta c...
 
What makes a perfect mentor? Is it age and seniority? Perhaps it is years of education and experience?...
 
Often, decisions about how to recruit are made based on habit – doing what the organization has always done without much consideration of unique job requirements or labor market conditions....
 
It has been said that if everything is important, nothing is important. As a leader, what are the two or three things that are most important to you? What are your passions? What legacy do you wish to leave?...
 
The Mosaic Index, by Professor Richard Florida, which measures the percentage of population who are immigrants, indicates that Canada outperforms the United States, just as Ontario outperforms its peer jurisdictions on diversity. Canada has 20 percent imm...
 
Government policy agendas have long been fraught with complexity....
 
Looking at all the engineering diagrams overlaid on maps on the wall at the band office, I see a hand-drawn picture of a berm, a smiling moose cartoon on the pipeline, and an arrow beside it. "What does that represent?" I asked the engineeri...
 
Gérés efficacement, les conflits peuvent favoriser la résolution conjointe des problèmes, améliorer la communication, rehausser le moral et accroître la connecti...
 
Popular wisdom holds that the public service will need to recruit a large number of young professionals, mostly recent grads, to replace soon-to-retire baby boomers. Of course, there is nothing wrong with following an unoriginal renewal strategy, as lo...
 
CGE Vol.14 No.2 February 2008 As I mentioned previously, one cannot underestimate the importance of educating program executives,...
 
CGE Vol.13 No.9 November 2007 What is the toughest job in government? Try head of the public service in Iraq – mediating between three factions with t...
 
CGE Vol.13 No.9 November 2007 Growth can mean opportunity. Significant increases in population can lead to a stronger workforce, a...
 
The subtitle of this report, prepared by the U.S. National Governors Association (NGA) Centre for Best Practices, is called “Using Arts and Culture to Stimulate State Economic Development.” The report puts to bed the argument that arts are...
 
We can learn from archetypes. They can help us lead, if they are clear and practical enough...
 
Improving leadership development is widely recognized by HR leaders and senior managers as a key priority for any high performing, modern organization....
 
Natural Resources Canada is accustomed to nurturing, protecting and growing Canada’s most precious resources. Now it is also able to nurture and grow its young policymakers....
 
In an increasingly competitive and complex global marketplace, both employers and employees who display creativity, knowledge and imagination are at a premium....
 
The transition from the private sector into an executive role in the federal public service is not easy....
 
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Have you ever had a stellar employee on your team, but were unable to turn their contract into a permanent position because someone returned from their secondment, or because their position opened up to competition? Perhaps you have been in a similar situation at some point in your career, and you might be able to...