Leadership
May 7, 2012

Mutual respect: Alberta’s public leadership

As part of our ongoing series of conversations on the relationship between public service and elected government, Alberta Clerk of the Executive Council Brian Manning spoke with editor Robert Parkins on how the province is meeting its mission and mandate.
What does a deputy minister, or Clerk in particular, expect from ministers as they go about their work?  What kind of leadership do you look for from politicians?

What I would expect from ministers would be the same as other deputy ministers within the Alberta Public Service. We would look for direction and guidance from our elected officials. We would expect decisions from them on a timely basis and I would look for the minister to support his or her deputy minister and senior officials.

What sort of values and what skill sets do you need to do that? That’s changing a bit. For example, you need to be more aware of technology than you would have been 30 years ago.

In my mind, deputy ministers have three main responsibilities. The first one would be to manage their ministry or department. The second would be to provide direct support to their minister. And the third would be to provide support to my office, and through my office participate in cross-ministry corporate initiatives that transcend many ministries within the public service. We are a values-based organization of approximately 28,000 people. Our vision is working together to build a stronger province for current and future generations. From our vision, we have four main values: respect, accountability, integrity and excellence. So for a skill set, I would expect deputy ministers to reflect the vision and to model our values.

Chris Baker in New Brunswick talks about choice  – public servants can choose to be governed by rules or they can choose to be governed by values. Do you think that’s a valid point of departure, that kind of a choice?

When you’re a large and complex organization, you have to have rules. Having said that, if you look at our organization, we’re guided by our vision and the values. Our values underpin our organization and they serve as guide posts for staff on how they conduct themselves and interact with colleagues and Albertans on a day-to-day basis. We have to have certain rules in place, but I view the Alberta Public Service as a values-driven organization.

Where does performance management play with your deputy ministers? How do you gauge their performance?

Well, there’s a specific assessment process in place for deputy ministers. They each have a performance contract that includes specific goals for the department and for themselves. I meet with each deputy minister for regular performance reviews and developmental feedback. And, I meet with the minister to get their feedback and discuss the department’s results. From those discussions, an overall assessment is done at the end of the year as to each DM’s performance.

If you look at performance management in general, one of my interests is to make sure that each employee can identify the responsibilities of their position, and their responsibilities within our business plan so that they can say at the end of the day, that’s where I fit within the Government of Alberta’s (GOA) business plan. And that’s a challenge to ensure that all staff can see where the job they’re entrusted to do fits within our business plan. I think that starts with performance management. You have to know what you’re responsible for and you have to know how you fit into the bigger picture.

Then, when you look at that, we have certain performance management processes in place and they align individual performances of a staff to the business results. So now that I know how I fit within the GOA business plan, I also know that there are processes in place to measure how I contribute overall to the business results. That’s consistent across all the ministries. We have a workforce plan that builds on the knowledge, skills and expertise we have within the Alberta public service.

The GOA has a competency model that identifies the core competencies for all positions. We have over 500 different types of positions. We also have role-specific competencies for specific jobs. So we identify core competencies needed for the Alberta Pubic Service, and we identify the role-specific competencies to fill certain positions. Then we have the skill sets that we can measure and evaluate on how well you do in the course of that particular fiscal year.

I’ll be in this position a year come early September, and I’ve probably talked to 7,500 staff over the past year. I say to them, “Just imagine what 28,000 people can do, what they can achieve when they are motivated and working towards a common goal.” That’s an astounding ability when you have that many people working towards a common goal. And performance management identifies whether or not you’re achieving the goals that we’ve set out to achieve for that particular fiscal year. That’s how you do it.

We hear a lot in Ottawa about the web of rules, accountability concerns, auditors-general, transparency, openness, all of that. Is there a web of rules in the Alberta Public Service?

I don’t think so. To me, a web of rules tells me that it’s probably too many rules, it’s constricting, it probably impinges on staff’s ability to accomplish things. Again, I go back to the fact that we’re a values-based organization; how we relate here to Albertans in providing programs and services is driven by our values. Sure, you do have to have rules in an organization. But a web of rules tells me that that’s probably negatively affecting the ability to provide programs and services.

Everybody has an auditor-general now that they didn’t have 50 years ago and that means an extra-parliamentary function. It must make a difference on how public servants do their jobs?

It does to a degree. My sense is that [Alberta] is different than the federal system. In the federal system, the Auditor-General’s recommendations are enacted upon, I believe, around 50 percent of the time. The Alberta Auditor-General, I believe, will tell you that the recommendations that he comes forward with are enacted and implemented over 90 percent of the time.

There’s a huge set of issues in Alberta around oil generally and climate change, as well as environmental issues. Do they take a disproportionate share of energy and imagination and creativity in the public service?

The oil sands is a huge economic resource not only for Alberta but for all of Canada. It will be one of the main economic drivers for Canada for years to come. In fact, I believe the standard of living for many Canadians will be dependent on the oil sands and the economic growth that comes from that. It will also provide energy security for Canada as we move forward.

On the question of the oil sands and policy development, it’s a key policy issue that Alberta is dealing with at the moment but, no, it’s not disproportionate. If you look at Premier Stelmach’s government, my sense is that for the first 16 months, we’ve had more major policy initiatives come forward than any other previous administration – major policy pieces, not only on oil sands, not only in the energy sector, but right across the board. This spring we had 50 pieces of legislation come forward to underpin or support those major policy initiatives.

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