When Alberta’s public service leaders gathered at a hotel on the banks of the North Saskatchewan River in early June 2012, little did they know that their way of doing business was on the brink of substantial change.
It had been eight months to the day since Alison Redford was sworn-in as Alberta’s 14th premier, and there were rumours that along with the usual changes the public service comes to expect with a switch at the helm, this was going to be different.
And it was on that sunny, early summer morning in the Empire Ballroom of the Fairmont Hotel MacDonald, when Redford approached the lectern.
“We have a clear mandate to change how government works so that it better reflects Albertans’ needs and the realities of the province in today’s world,” she began, stressing that the Alberta Public Service (APS) has long provided meaningful programs and services to Albertans and “that we must seek continuous improvement ensuring government employees are as effective and efficient as possible.”
Led by Peter Watson, deputy minister of the Executive Council, the Reaching Our Full Potential initiative launched immediately. Two assistant deputy ministers were seconded to the project, and in July a call was issued for volunteers to assist with creating actions, strategies and initiatives that would support making a difference in the lives of Albertans, working with purpose and pride, achieving success through innovation and collaboration, ensuring the Alberta government remains a great place to work, and developing future leaders within the public service.
Almost 500 members of the APS stepped forward, all wanting to contribute in a meaningful way with their enthusiasm, creativity, trust and honesty. Over the following months, well into the fall of 2012, task teams met to develop a map of strategies, actions and initiatives. Over 40 recommendations were tabled for discussion, recommendations that would assist the public service to focus on everything from policy development to frontline services, while creating a sense of personal accountability and risk-taking.
According to popular belief, December 12 (12-12-12) is a lucky date that brings good fortune. And it was on that date that the 500 volunteers met with the Alberta public service leaders who heard from Premier Redford six months earlier. “We will continue to confront the challenges that we face in this province. We’re growing bigger every day and it’s becoming a more complicated place to live,” said the Premier. “Alberta is home to 3.7 million people and is still growing by 100,000 people every year. That’s why Reaching Our Full Potential is truly an important road for success, not only for the Alberta Public Service, but for Alberta as a whole.”
Watson stressed the initiative is now for the APS to own. “We’ve created some momentum. We’ve created some excitement. We’ve created some enthusiasm. We’ve made some commitments. We’re going to make more commitments, and we’re not going back. We’ll continue to move forward.”
Now province-wide conversations are underway. Deputy ministers are logging hundreds of miles, meeting face-to-face with the Alberta Public Service, discussing the recommendations, determining how every member fits in their own way, and defining a culture that will evolve over the next decade. Employees are being encouraged to take risks, and they have permission to start today by challenging the status quo, accepting individual accountability, looking for ways to lead change and collaborate, embracing innovation, and working with purpose and pride.
“The journey of reaching our full potential, the journey of this transformation of our public sector, will take time,” said Watson. “With our continued enthusiasm, commitment and collective actions, we will accomplish great things and reach new heights. And we’ll support each other in doing that.”
Barrie Harrison is the manager of internal communications for the government of Alberta.