Public servants are used to secretaries of cabinet promoting projects to renew, reinvent or reinvigorate the public service. Since 1993 when the federal Clerk of the Privy Council became the head of the public service, there has been a steady stream of reform efforts including PS 2000 and la Réléve.
Over the past year Kevin Lynch, the current Clerk, has been driving a renewal action plan. The breadth and the energy behind the exercise seems to be giving life to this most important initiative. Lynch listed the challenges, which all governments face, in an interview with CGE: demographics; technology; competition for people; and changing demands for efficient, effective services with accountability and transparency.
The demographics will have predictable consequences. First, it will open up many management positions in every hierarchical organization in Canada. Sometimes the vacancy will offer new challenges to less experienced but keen replacements. In other cases, it will create significant holes in the organization that cannot be filled by less experienced people (for example, regulators, scientists and health administrators). Second, it gives those that remain an opportunity to remake the culture of their organization by taking advantage of the new skills being offered by younger managers, their attitudes towards work and home life, and their comfort level with technology and globalization.
Organizationally, the federal government has created a new agency, suitably called the Public Service Agency, to “ensure that the public service continues to have a world-class workforce.” In general terms, the Agency operates in three functional areas: promoting leadership; providing services to promote excellence; and maintaining the integrity of the human resource management system through annual assessments of departmental performance.
It will be many years before we can judge its effectiveness. However, under Lynch’s direction it is clear that this new agency is quarterbacking some of the most significant renewal efforts ever tried in Ottawa.
Having seen so many earlier reform efforts crash and burn around elaborate work plans and half-hearted implementation, Lynch has aimed his renewal efforts at the deputy ministers and heads of agencies. Deputies are being asked to have their plans finalized by January 2008; the information provided will form the substance of the Clerk’s annual report to the Prime Minister.
The Clerk has structured renewal around an accountability regime that directs DMs to produce significant changes in human resource practices in their areas of responsibility in four distinct areas: human resources planning, recruitment, employee development, and the creation of an enabling infrastructure.
Human Resource Planning
Lynch has told DMs and agency heads to prepare a plan that is coordinated with the business planning cycle in departments, and to distribute it to employees and post it on the organization’s website.
Some ambitious markers have been set to attract the next generation of leaders. For example, by March 2008, the DM community has been tasked to make 3000 permanent job offers to post-secondary graduates. This would be a 43% increase over last year’s recruitment effort and would signal that the system is responsive to the needs of the public service. Special efforts will be made to recruit new employees in functional areas where there is an immediate need, including HR and IT.
There is new energy being invested to ensure employees have learning plans in place by March 2008 (the target is 90% compliance). Developing a performance measurement scheme that emphasizes people management will complement these plans and all executives (including DMs) will be assessed on their ability to manage people.
The Clerk is asking the Public Service Agency and the Public Service Commission to help increase the organizational capacity within the human resource community by: reducing the time it takes to access second language testing; improving the transfer of human resource records from one department to another; finding innovative ways to expedite fast-track hiring; and developing generic job descriptions to speed up the hiring process to compete more effectively with the private sector.
It is always tempting to declare victory well in advance of any tangible results. Lynch’s strategy is bold and highly innovative; he has made his objectives clear to the public service, and, more importantly, he has made the DM community directly accountable to him and the Prime Minister for these initiatives. The federal government has some catching up to do since many provinces have already successfully launched their own renewal effort. But the emphasis on performance and accountability is a combination that gives the most cynical reader a reason to cheer on this latest effort.
David Zussman, Jarislowsky Chair in Public Sector Management, teaches in the Faculty of Social Sciences and the Telfer School of Management at the University of Ottawa (firstname.lastname@example.org).