Change Management
May 7, 2012

Learning outside the box

CGE Vol.13 No.6 June 2007

Learning and development are best achieved if they are based on real life. Living Leadership: The Executive Excellence Program is a hands-on application of that principle.

It takes government executives outside their comfort zones, to a new level of public policy and service delivery understanding, and combines plenary, small-group, one-on-one sessions with facilitators, and access to high profile academics and practitioners, merging the classroom and the workplace.

Participants identify a real-life issue (in consultation with their departmental sponsor) for discussion. In an “action learning group”, probing questions are asked to help develop their coaching skills while challenging and expanding their way of thinking – no advice is given. Group members continue to support and challenge each other, reflect on what they do, act on their commitments, and practice their leadership.

They also join forces in a live case exercise. The case allows participants to observe and work in a setting different from their day-to-day world. As they encounter both successes and breakdowns, they learn from experience.

Below are the experiences of 25 public service leaders from a variety of backgrounds who came together at the Canada School for Public Service between mid 2005 and mid 2006 to complete various assignments.

Communication
“Where there is no vision the people perish.”
Proverbs 29:18

The live case assignment involved the implementation of the 2004 Canada-Ontario Memorandum of Agreement and the framework it provided for further bilateral arrangements in various sectors. Participants were tasked to identify broad considerations for such agreements with provinces and territories; to propose operating processes; and to comment on optimal strategies for addressing Canada-Ontario priorities.

They met citizens and leading figures in public, private, non-governmental and industry organizations, as well as more than 150 professionals in fields ranging from immigration to the automobile industry.

They observed that where communication channels were open and vigorous, all aspects of any initiative worked better; where channels were unclear, everything suffered.

Everyone the team met at the provincial level involved in the MOA negotiations was on the same page. Ontario’s Secretary of the Cabinet acted as a champion while a secretariat coordinated activity and helped to develop the provincial position. At the federal level, the Clerk of the Privy Council acted as a champion but there was no equivalent coordinating body. Working out the particulars in various sectors was left to individual deputy ministers. Due to the nature of the project, it was not always possible to share information readily with the regional offices.

When both governments came together, it was important that each had a clear sense of where it stood and advanced coherent positions. Everyone on each side wanted to have ironed out internal differences beforehand.

The team found a vacuum in communication with some stakeholders. Some NGO and private sector people had no knowledge of the Agreement or of its implementation even though they stood to be most affected.

The team observed that a single person can make the difference: one who communicates regularly with colleagues, counterparts and client groups. In essence, communication is people talking to people.

Engagement
“What I do best is share my enthusiasm.”
Bill Gates

Expectations should be clear and supported at all levels. When participants visited Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, a UN award-winning collaborative project, they learned how the governments of Canada, BC and Vancouver came together out of a crisis in 2001 to develop a lasting relationship with NGOs, police, social welfare and health communities. Their joint commitment helped vulnerable neighbourhoods address issues of drug abuse, unemployment and other social challenges concretely, efficiently and compassionately.

The governance model had ministers from all sectors, the mayor and community representatives around the table, providing strategic focus and support to operations and communications committees.

Governance
“If you need to get across an idea, wrap it up in a person.”
Ralphe Bunche

An effective management structure, inclusive of all parties and designed to facilitate decision making, is key to the sustainability of any intergovernmental partnership.

The Plan St.Laurent was initiated in 1988 to reduce pollution in the St. Lawrence River, from the Quebec limits to the Gulf; the current agreement is the fourth in a series. Political will has been at the heart of the initiative, and sufficient funding has been provided. Both governments have joined forces to achieve clean-up objectives and plans. There is shared branding for the action plan and a distinctive logo. Roles and responsibilities are laid out clearly; and there are measurable objectives. Each goal is linked to indicators that are assessed regularly through a program called Suivi de l’état du Saint-Laurent. Results are reported by the media. Industries, municipalities and ZIP Committees (zones d’intervention prioritaires) participate in the consultation and decision process, ensuring true support for the project in the field.

Coordination between federal departments and agencies is another requirement. In a case study on immigration, partners including immigrant advocacy groups and organizations that provide integration services to newcomers, spoke of a lack of such coordination and its adverse effects on services and citizens. In spite of its good track record, one service organization was subject to more than twenty audits and evaluations from different sponsoring departments. There were no shared indicators on which to rate performance; that meant that beneficiaries had to complete numerous reports on any given initiative.

Relationships
“An invasion of armies can be resisted, but not an idea whose time has come.”
Victor Hugo

People, and especially leaders, are an essential ingredient of success. Emergency preparedness was a case in point. A crisis is not the time to be exchanging business cards. Roles and responsibilities must be known clearly and all players must develop trust and confidence in each other well beforehand, not just at the individual level but also across organizations.

As observed during the negotiations surrounding gas emission rates in the automobile sector, a broken relationship of trust can be more damaging than no relationship at all. Negotiations can break down if one side backtracks to accommodate competing internal interests, or if budget or policy announcements invalidate a hard-won compromise.

Context
“Only connect.”
E.M. Foster, Howard’s End

Knowing the context means taking advantage of what could be beneficial for a situation even if it is not perfect. Events in connected fields can influence collaboration and outcomes.

This lesson was learned in the Northwest Territories where people spoke of seizing the momentum created by a November 2005 meeting with First Ministers to negotiate their share of a booming economy. The visit revealed the challenges of negotiation, self-government, as well as education and training. The class concluded that N

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