“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”
This quote from management specialist Peter Drucker should be the mantra for every senior executive. It communicates a simple, yet essential idea: No new strategy will survive within a corporate culture that is risk-averse, resistant to change or simply protective of the status quo. If you want to embrace change and encourage innovation within your organization, the first step is transforming your culture.
And transformation has become an absolute necessity for the public sector in Canada. We find ourselves in the midst of an age of disruption. The demographic makeup of our country is changing, entire sectors of our economy are being upended seemingly overnight by the introduction of new technologies and citizens’ expectations are on the rise while global competition is intensifying. Public services are now expected to do more with less.
The public sector can no longer rely on the status quo to deliver the services our citizens depend on. We have to be ready and willing to adapt to constantly changing circumstances. However, as Peter Drucker eloquently points out, transformation requires a cultural shift. And a cultural shift within an organization must be driven from the bottom up, not dictated from the top down. In other words, if you want to drive innovation, you must be willing to let your employees take the wheel.
The Ontario Public Service has a long tradition of adapting to continually shifting conditions and delivering public services in new and innovative ways. And as the pace of change accelerates, we must accelerate our efforts as well.
This February, we released the discussion paper Transforming the Ontario Public Service for the Future, which was developed following consultations with our staff members in all regions of Ontario. Across the province, we heard the same feedback: we need to transform our organization by collaborating with each other and with stakeholders to create a new long-term vision for the OPS.
This discussion paper launched our Public Service Renewal (PSR) Project. Designed with the goal of engaging our employees from every level across our entire organization, this active employee engagement will drive cultural change to ensure that our workforce has the opportunities, skills and leadership capacity to encourage innovation and meet citizens’ growing expectations of a public service that matches, or exceeds, the service levels provided by our private sector counterparts.
Through in-person engagement sessions led by myself and our Chief Talent Officer, Diane McArthur, internal discussions led by senior leaders and deputy ministers, and our online engagement portal we are building our vision. As of June 30, 2017, we have received over 16,500 web visits, over 260 online submissions and over 2,300 OPS employees have participated in town halls.
The feedback we have received thus far has been very insightful for co-designing the OPS for the future. Our employees have highlighted the need to empower staff to take more calculated risks by embedding risk-management into every level of what we do at the OPS. They want to take accountability for their work and have the trust and confidence of their leaders, and they want to create a working environment that fosters a culture of knowledge sharing, brainstorming and collaboration.
Our employees have also identified the need to create spaces where new ideas can be tested, and welcome innovative solutions that allow for agile course corrections when necessary. They want to establish a more responsive service delivery model based on the public’s needs, they want to leverage new technology to drive smarter decision making and work with entrepreneurs and the private sector to help create a more dynamic and innovative economy.
The early results of these engagements repeatedly demonstrate that our employees are highly motivated for change. They understand the new demands that we are facing as a public service and have ideas about how we should best respond to them. They understand the need to incorporate new technologies to become more efficient and effective in the work that we do. And they understand that a culture of accountability, collaboration and risk-taking is needed to properly embrace innovation.
So as our public service renewal project goes forward, the priority for our senior leadership is to put the policies and practices in place that will allow our employees to execute on their vision for what the public service of the future should be.
This new vision will touch every aspect of what we do and who we are. Our success is contingent on creating a diverse and inclusive workplace where everyone is free to bring their whole selves to work. This will impact our talent recruitment and retention policies as we work towards removing unconscious biases to attract and recruit the best and brightest. This vision will also help us transform the way we work with one another by improving collaboration across ministries and with stakeholders to tackle the biggest challenges we face as a province. And it will allow us to apply design principles to put citizens at the centre of the development process as we create policies and services.
Across the OPS, we are putting these principles into practice. Through our Red Tape Challenge, public servants are crowdsourcing solutions from businesses and industry associations to find and fix outdated, unclear, redundant and unnecessarily costly regulations while protecting the public interest.
Our new Ontario Student Assistance Program combines a number of programs designed to financially assist students attending post-secondary education into a single grant. Through the new OSAP, we have simultaneously reduced the complexity of the application process while allowing one-third of all full-time college and university students in Ontario to receive tuition, all without spending any additional money.
And the recent redesign of the Environmental Registry, a legislated web-based tool used by the Government of Ontario to communicate and consult with the public on issues related to the environment, was built around the experience of the registry’s most frequent users. Through research, the Ontario Digital Service team built personas for the registry’s most frequent visitors and beta-tested the site’s design, its language and its interactivity with stakeholders.
These are just a few examples of where our public servants have made the citizen the centre of design and policy. On every team, in every department and throughout every ministry across the entire public service, our managers are enabling employees to take the lead in shifting our culture to become more innovative, more integrated, more diverse and more inclusive.
Through their responses to our employee surveys and our PSR engagement, members of the OPS have demonstrated that they are ready and willing to disrupt the way that public services are designed and delivered in our province in order to create better outcomes for the people we serve.
When it comes to cultural transformation at the OPS, our employees are in the driver’s seat. I can’t wait to see where they take us.