In the January issue, Harvey Schachter reviewed Unlocking Public Value. This practical manuscript written by two Accenture consultants argues that public services can unlock the full value of their work by concentrating on the outcomes of their programs and the cost effectiveness of their efforts.
They argue that managers who clearly and consistently “articulate the intended outcomes of their organizations and programs and then measure their progress in achieving those outcomes will go a long way toward making their organization more accountable and improving their performance.” Outcomes are the key drivers because they are mission focused, action oriented and quantifiable to allow for accountability, as well as comprehensive, in the sense they reflect the functions and the values of their organization. This approach places service at the heart of public management.
Interestingly, the authors credit Canada for having taken an early leadership role in making a concerted effort to appreciate the importance of outcomes when it championed the publishing of program outcome measures. This was first done in 1999 with the publication of “Results for Canadians,” which reported on 18 key outcome measures, and then with the adoption of the government-wide Management Accountability Framework (MAF) that “focuses on management results, provides a basis of engagement with departments, and suggests ways for departments to measure progress.”
While their analysis makes a very compelling argument, it also needs to be linked to the leadership qualities that would encourage measuring cost and outcomes. Recent developments in Canada also argue for leadership attributes that are increasingly defined by greater personal and collective accountability, an aging work force and more complex policy challenges.
Fortunately, in a recent speech to 25 assistant deputy ministers, Richard Van Loon, a former senior federal public servant and president of Carleton University, provided the framework that could link the public value proposition to public service leadership.
Van Loon argued that although leadership is always situational, there are four crucial preconditions that define a successful public sector leader who is outcomes oriented. First, leaders need to develop a sense of direction and a mission for the organization. Van Loon emphasizes that the mission cannot be imposed on the organization but must be a product of those who work in it. This often means the mission statement may take longer to develop than expected and might also result in a somewhat different product than first anticipated. In any case, the mission statement should reflect the mandate of the organization that responds to the needs of its stakeholders.
The second element highlights the need for leaders to identify and hire the right people and place them in the right job. Getting the “right people on the bus” in the words of Jim Collins, the US-based management guru, means that leaders should spend a considerable amount of time seeking out talent and matching their skills against the job requirements. CEOs like Steve Ballmer of Microsoft have argued that good leaders spend more than 60% of their time identifying and managing talent.
Van Loon also asserted that, often, this talent could be found inside an organization if one is prepared to search everywhere. He buttressed his argument that leaders can be found in their own organization by pointing out that internal promotions are a great motivator and create a wave of promotion opportunities for others.
Van Loon’s third leadership attribute is that they need the resources to make things happen. All good ideas need some financial assistance and good leaders must be able to provide sufficient funds for managers to meet the obligations of their programs and policies. Fourth, he suggests that good leaders create the work environment that encourages employees to work together and take reasonable risks.
While these four attributes appear to be straightforward leadership principles, Van Loon did point out that, in the federal government, the current high turnover rate of deputy ministers makes it difficult to have much buy-in at the top since most do not expect to be in their current jobs for more than 18 months. It is simply too short a period to develop a sense of direction, find the right people, secure the funds and relations with clients, and to create the collaborative work environment to be truly effective.
At a minimum, Van Loon’s four criteria are powerful organizing principles that could have a cascading effect throughout an organization. As important, they could create the proper preconditions for establishing a high performing service model such as the “Unlocking Public Value” that could energize the public sector and provide Canadians with a first-class service-oriented public service.
David Zussman holds the Jarislowsky Chair in Public Sector Management in the Faculty of Social Sciences and School of Management at the University of Ottawa. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Jarislowsky Chair website is www3.management.uottawa.ca/jarislowsky.