It’s not just that executives are about to retire – it’s that the top four layers, from deputy minister through director, are retiring en masse at the same time. So the normal ascension from director to DG to ADM to DM won’t happen, as these feeder groups will be retiring instead of filling upper level vacancies.
That means governments will turn to Generation Y, whose leading edge is turning 31 this year, to begin to fill these vacancies over the next five to ten years – at a considerably younger age than their predecessors. Forty percent of the federal executive category is eligible to retire in the next three years. Not all will, but even half will create a significant gap.
This provides a unique opportunity to refashion the leadership profile for the next generation of managers. But what should that profile be?
Consider that the external environment will be very different due to the immense changes that have taken place over the past 20 years and will continue to shape public service – globalization, advances in information technology, Web 2.0, the international dimension to almost every job, the speed of communications, the demands for more immediate responses. The Canadian public has high expectations about the quality and responsiveness of government services. The preoccupation with accountability and declining trust leads to greater transparency, more reporting, and more focus on value for money.
The workforce now has more term and casual employees and contract workers. Many tasks involve more than one work unit. There is now a premium on the ability to manage people and relationships. Consensus building is more important with increased breadth of stakeholders. And there is greater emphasis on interdisciplinary work that requires managers to practice interpersonal skills that support the work of people who have different ways of approaching problem solving and service delivery.
The new generation of leaders is very different than those they are replacing. They want life-long learning and rapid career advancement; they embrace interaction and web-based technology. But they are as interested in lifestyle as they are in work challenges. They expect to be directly involved in decisions that affect them and, as a consequence, do not defer to authority like their predecessors.
Given the looming management challenges for the public service, the current leadership faces several interesting strategic choices that pivot on recruiting and retaining a new work force comprised largely of Generation Ys. The good news is that many governments have launched innovative recruiting programs to attract new managers. For example, the Ontario government has a youth and new professionals program and the British Columbia government has the “Where Ideas Work” program as its point of entry into the work force. The federal government has the Recruitment of Policy Leaders program and “Canada150” for new high potential professionals already in government.
And don’t forget the need for new ways to train employees in the technical skills they will require to master their jobs, and the most difficult task of transmitting the values and overall goals of the organization to a generation with a different view of the work world.
At a minimum, governments will have to be more explicit about their expectations and will also have to develop a work environment with a strong sense of purpose and belonging where performance is rewarded and underperformance is confronted in the interest of the work unit.
Developing the next generation of young public sector managers will be one of the most important public service activities in the next five years. A successful transition from one generation to the next will be needed in order to continue to provide Canadians with effective policies and high quality service.
David Zussman holds the Jarislowsky Chair in Public Sector Management in the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the Telfer School of Management at the University of Ottawa (firstname.lastname@example.org).