Renewal remains top of the agenda for the Public Service of Canada, sharing the podium with implementation of the new budget and the government’s priorities.
Paul Tellier and Don Mazankowski co-chair a committee that advises the Prime Minister and the Clerk on the public service. The advice in the last report, reduced to a sentence, was: simplify the HR system, improve its effectiveness, and focus on performance management. Tellier was head of the Public Service of Canada from 1985 to 1992 and then went on to a distinguished executive career in the private sector, as CEO of CN, CEO of Bombardier, and member of several high profile boards.
Michelle D’Auray was appointed Chief Human Resource Officer, a newly created position in response to the report, in March 2009. D’Auray was DM at Fisheries and Oceans since 2007, and Chief Information Officer for the Government of Canada from 2000 to 2004.
They spoke with editors Paul Crookall and Robert Parkins.
Performance management doesn’t seem to be getting a lot of attention in the media. The emphasis seems to be on re-structuring as a response to your reports. Is that what’s actually happening?
It is very important that people understand how well or badly they are doing, so we spoke about making sure there is a rigorous process in place. Last year, the Clerk reacted positively and we are satisfied today that, at the deputy minister level, this is done very professionally – probably as well as it is done in the best run corporations. The objective now is to push it down. It’s being done this year at the ADM level and, of course, it will have to continue all the way through the organization.
The matter of dealing with non-performers is also crucial. It’s not a question of establishing quotas, and removing the bottom ten percent each year, but of taking individual actions as needed. Our Task Force is diverse; we have people who run hospitals, universities, a bank and so forth. We were all shocked, and I don’t think “shocked” is too strong, that there were so few people terminated in the public service within the management rank. The worst thing about non-performers is their impact on the morale of the staff. So we asked that a termination policy be put in place. The Treasury Board has been working on this. There are some people who do it. I once had a very senior economist and he was not performing and he happened to be a visible minority and he thought that I would never take him on. It took me a long time. But too many people, and this is what was shocking for us, too many deputies and assistant deputies say, “Why bother, it’s going to take so long and the minister’s office will get involved or the local MP and so on.” This is the mindset we’re trying to change.
David Zussman says the big problems are going to be getting deputy ministers to buy in and getting HR professionals to have an attitude change. Do you agree with his assessment?
This is true in the sense that, for many years, the culture and history was that deputy ministers were first and foremost policy advisors and, secondly, implementers. I think that this has changed. But there is an executive mindset: “Well, we’ve got a problem, personnel will look after it.” The Clerk is very much determined to make sure that deputies are assessed on their managing of human resources. This is not going to happen overnight, when a deputy is running in four different directions and the minister wants to see him after Question Period and he’s got to appear before a parliamentary committee. Very often, performance management did get to the bottom of the pile. That’s exactly what we’re trying to change. The Prime Minister is there; we have discussed that with him.
“Mistakes will be made,” you wrote at the start of your report. You encouraged taking more risk. Finance Minister Flaherty repeated that publicly and the Clerk has repeated it. But then the Auditor General says, well, in your rush to implement, be careful to follow the rules, guys, or I’ll be on your case.
The Auditor General has her obligations as an Officer of Parliament. Our committee spent a lot of time with her. In her latest reports, she recognizes the government has too many rules. The Federal Accountability Act and the overall response to the Sponsorship Scandal created a mindset, a culture of risk aversion, and if this is not changed, this is going to be to the detriment of Canadians. For example, the young woman who coordinated the evacuation of 75,000 Canadians from Lebanon during the last war, had to lease aircraft and ships, buy food – without a Treasury Board submission. She cut corners, acted on her best judgement. And she got the job done. In Afghanistan, where I visited, some of the red tape that the people in the aid program had to go through was just plain ridiculous.
At the start of my career, I was teaching constitutional law. A Supreme Court Justice in the U.S. had brought a very relevant article to my attention. I wanted to use it with my class – but it was from Playboy Magazine. There was a risk that the Dean would say, “Paul, what the hell are you doing?” Wherever you are, to do your job, there is a need for innovation, to do something where the rules do not provide for the solution. This is especially important for quick delivery on the programs in the current budget.
It was pure coincidence that Flaherty and I said the same thing; we hadn’t planned that. But we both recognize that if every single public servant involved at the municipal, provincial and federal level insists that all the “t’s” are crossed, there is no way that the stimulus budget is going to have the impact that is required. So, that’s basically what we’re trying to do.
And on performance management, it is very important to take a positive approach. It’s not a question of firing people; it’s making sure that people are assessed, fixing the problems, and relocating them if necessary. In most cases, they respond, they’re grateful. So don’t put the emphasis on firing, put it on performance management.
What problem is the new Office of the Chief Human Resource Officer intended to solve? What are your mission and mandate?
Fundamentally, this is meant to highlight that the deputy ministers are the primary authorities for the management of people, and are responsible for the planning of human resources in their organizations – that is directly tied to how they deliver their mandates as heads of departments, organizations or agencies. It is to signal that the centre is getting smaller, and the rules will be reduced. It is a response to the Mazankowski/Tellier report, which identified too many organizations, too many people and too many rules. That’s the snapshot.
How does your office support the four pillars of the Public Service Renewal Plan?
As an office – not an agency – we are more like the Office of the Comptroller General, which is also within Treasury Board Secretariat. We support deputy ministers in doing their job. DMs and central organizations working on human resource or people management issues have mandates and obligations to deliver against these four pillars. So, basically we’ll be trying to refine our contribution to help DMs build capacity and commitment to integrated business and human resources planning. That needs to