Leadership
May 7, 2012

Giving permission to lead

CGE Vol. 14 No.5 May 2008

Shelly Jamieson was appointed Secretary of the Cabinet and Head of the Ontario Public Service on January 6, 2008. She joined the public service as deputy minister of transportation in January 2006, after six years as president of Extendicare Canada. She has an urban planning degree and is a graduate of the Ivey Business School Executive Management Program. She spoke with Editor-in-Chief Paul Crookall.

For the past decade, Ontario has been on a “transformational journey” with the torch being passed from one Secretary of the Cabinet to the next, with the clear understanding you are building on the past while preparing for the future. Where will you be focusing?

Some of the elements of our transformation journey have been implemented, but are not entrenched. So we need to strengthen them. It’s still too easy for staff to become cynical and think, “I want to be involved, but should I bother? Will it be sustainable?” I don’t want that. I want people to feel they’re on a journey and to keep focused on being a really high-performing team.

Take talent management, for example. We’ve had a formal system in place for three years. And we’re starting to see a return on our initiative. We’ve expanded the program to include more staff each year. Next, we want our people to see it as a gift of useful information, rather than a task – to use it to make decisions on a week-to-week basis, not just annually.

Another area we’re focusing on is diversity. We are fortunate to live in a diverse society. But we could be better at recognizing and encouraging diversity. So we are taking some dedicated steps to ensure diversity is understood, represented and involved at all levels of the organization. Last week, we launched a mentoring program with deputy ministers, so they will look through the lens of diversity when making decisions.

We also have some IT challenges with renewal of legacy systems. We are addressing these by developing more cost-effective and reliable I&IT solutions, and right-sizing service delivery. We’ve put 70 percent of our key services online and have organized the work of our IT organization into eight clusters.

Finally, a big piece we’re focusing on is policy delivery. The Premier has made it clear he’s eager – and “impatient” – to move forward, and that this mandate is all about “getting things done.” His government remains focused on strengthening education and skills, health care and the economy. They’ve just released a spring Budget, outlining a multi-year fiscal plan for their mandate. And they’re moving forward on key files such as climate change and poverty reduction.

My job is to provide strategic advice to the government in implementing this mandate. I am responsible for ensuring that resources are aligned, and that we get the job done.

Two great examples are climate change and poverty reduction. We’ve brought together resources from several ministries to provide top-notch support on these important issues. And we’re committed to achieving real results.

How do you make the public service an attractive place to work and why should young people come and work for you?

One of the stunning things about the public sector is the breadth and depth of topics, talent and opportunities we have to offer. If you like to play in a diverse world, this is as diverse as it gets. On the other hand, if you want to become a world expert on something, you can specialize. We have world-recognized experts in pavement construction, emergency management and on hundreds of other topics.

But being an attractive employer is about differentiation. Today’s young people look at boomers and say: “That’s interesting what you do, but I’d never do that. I don’t want to work that way.” I interview the perfect candidate who says: “By the way, I need 10 weeks off a year to work for this charity in Nepal. And if you can’t accommodate that, I can’t work here.” Well, right now, I wouldn’t know how to say “yes” to that. There’s a different “psychological contract” between employers and employees today. And as employers, we have to understand what we’re offering.

I feel strongly about work-life balance. Some people work hard, productively, all day – and then also most evenings and weekends. I worry about them because there are terrible consequences. They burn out, get sick, and dislike the organization. We must be able to ramp up when needed, but we should not demand this regularly. We need to be mindful of what we ask of people, make our expectations clear and actively coach people to understand their own responsibility for workplace hours. This applies to both ends of the spectrum – the ones who work every day and every night as well as those who don’t put in a full day.

Let’s talk about performance management.

Each person should come to work, every day, on a journey of self-improvement. Most people are invigorated by feedback. And the organization gets better. However, large organizations have a tendency not to give honest feedback about performance.

It’s easy to say: “Thank you for your contribution.” But harder to say: “And here are two things you should be working to improve.”

So we now teach managers how to give constructive performance reviews. I tell staff: “If you’re given a performance appraisal – and your manager doesn’t tell you two areas where you can improve – ask ‘what can I do better?'”

Of course, we could talk about institutional barriers to dealing with low performers. But I’m more interested in a cultural shift. I find people want leaders who are having a good time and achieving the mission. If you can create that environment, people who have been coming to work but have not been engaged, will re-engage.

Another area we have to work on is accountability. For example, someone drafts a letter for me with three paragraphs, but then several people add a bit here and change a word there. By the time it gets to me, it may not be any good. Think about the person who started with the blank page. They think: “What’s the point of doing a good job when it will just get re-written?” That’s not helpful to anyone. So I’m more interested in creating an environment where the person who starts with the blank page knows they’re accountable. And will want to do it well in the first place.

Your own sense of value is driven by your contribution. And if you can’t figure out what you’re responsible for and how you’re doing at it, it’s hard to have a sense of self worth. A positive sense of team, contribution and value comes from performance management.

How is Gov 2.0 affecting the OPS?

One of the things we’re doing is modernizing our communications machine. Giles Gherson, our Deputy Minister of Communications and the former editor of the Toronto Star, has helped us understand that we’ve been communicating the same way for 60-70 years. To some, that’s fine. But, the truth is, government functions differently today. The Queen is on YouTube. Over 70 percent of Ontarians are online. And more citizens are using new media – podcasts and social networking sites – to connect with their governments. So we have to change our way of doing things, if we want to stay relevant.

Another way we’re embracing 2.0 is by working horizontally. Last week, I asked someone to name an initiative that resided in just one department. They couldn’t do it.

The world is more complicated now and many issues, such as climate change and poverty, don’t fall naturally in

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