Three decades ago, the federal public service was proportionately larger, generally younger, and – relative to economic growth – enjoyed bigger budgets. The country has changed, and so has its public service.
Today the public service is leaner, more knowledgeable, and more affordable. It has successfully weathered massive fiscal and demographic changes while continuing to provide high quality public service – a feat by any measure.
But change is the new normal. The most recent turn to deficit reduction means that federal departments must review staffing plans and re-examine how they do business.
Complicating matters is a once-in-a-generation shift in demographics. In 2010-2011, there were more than 8,500 retirements in the public service of Canada. Sixty percent of these retirees had 30 or more pensionable years of service. The loss of so many experts, the hiring of new employees, and the planned reductions in expenditure will combine to create great ambiguity. Nimble, agile and responsive teams are more likely to succeed where red tape-oriented organizations fall behind.
In short, whether or not we’re ready, the process of business transformation in government is beginning to take form.
In this process, the federal government is supported by more than 50,000 managers. These individuals are responsible for delivering thousands of programs, overseeing crucial human resources, and reporting to senior officials on billions of dollars in expenditure. They are, in the words of the Clerk of the Privy Council, “the carriers and creators of corporate culture.”
Their plates are full and will soon be overflowing. Training a new generation of analysts, officers and assistants, in addition to supporting up-and-coming executives, will require innovative, affordable and high-quality training.
In 2011, the Clerk opened the Annual Professional Development Forum in Winnipeg by telling managers, “Professional development should not stop during times of fiscal restraint…You and your teams need to continue to actively build the skills and competencies that will position you for success in the future. These investments will also help our organizations meet the demands of a new age.”
The National Managers’ Community began in 2000 as a grassroots initiative to support managers. We provide managers with the opportunity to continue to develop and practice their leadership skills and to collaborate on solutions. We ensure they receive affordable, essential training as they advance the federal government’s short- and long-term priorities.
Over the years, the NMC has sought to support the process of business transformation. We have expanded our active network to more than 12,000 managers and delivered more than 250 learning sessions in 2011.
Our 2012-2015 Strategic Plan recognizes the current fiscal reality and outlines the NMC’s goal “to be a leader in the positive transformation of government.”
To this end, we have aligned our programs with managers’ needs by maintaining regular “pulse-checks.” In November 2012, the NMC conducted consultations with more than 200 federal managers in over fifteen Canadian cities. Although it does not come as a surprise, we discovered that managers rate competing priorities, mental health and wellness and performance management as some of their major areas of focus and concern. An in-depth analysis of our findings will soon be released online.
The NMC reflects the ethos of the public service. It is an important time to understand the distinctive character, attitudes and spirit not only of the 50,000-strong manager community but also public servants generally.
Public service managers lead with values and ethics, have an opportunity to be creative in using informal authority to show action, and move transformation with the specific goal of improving the lives of Canadians. There is a greater demand on managers to be adaptable, create more avenues for innovation, and continue to motivate not only themselves but also their teams through this rapidly changing environment.
This is a big responsibility and something to reflect on as we experience not only large transformation initiatives but also our own professional and personal challenges. It’s important to remember not only why we became public servants in the first place, but why so many of us have worked hard to become managers.
At the NMC, we recognize that government is changing. The managers who staff key positions, hold responsibility for everyday spending, and ensure that senior officials are well briefed, will be the real drivers behind this process.
We hope to support them long into the future, and, in so doing, promote excellence in the public service.
Sarah Cox is the executive director of the National Managers’ Community. Follow NMC on Twitter at @nmc_cng.