Public service renewal has become a major priority of the federal government and many provincial governments. The interest in renewal is driven by a number of diverse but converging factors:
· Canadians expect increasingly higher levels of service from their governments and greater transparency. Consequently, the skills that are required to be an effective public servant have changed to respond to these new circumstances.
· To compound the renewal challenge, the public service brand “is less clear and less positive in the public’s mind” and there is an increasing competition for skilled labour as the Canadian economy continues to grow and expand. As a result, the government sector must renew itself or, according to Kevin Lynch, Clerk of the Privy Council, it risks “becoming less relevant, less useful and less respected as the years go by.”
· Public servants are significantly older than they were 20 years ago because little hiring was done during the high deficit years when government payrolls were being downsized and services were downloaded or outsourced. The executive cohort and the feeder group are about ready to retire.
In response to these pressures, Lynch has unleashed a number of initiatives to “put some wind in the renewal sails.” The most visible activity to Canadians is the work of the advisory committee announced by the Prime Minister. The Committee is co-chaired by former CEO and Secretary to the Cabinet, Paul Tellier, and former Minister during the Mulroney years, Don Mazankowski. In their first report the Committee has emphasized the importance of sound business practices by calling for more effective processes that “integrate human resource management with business goals, and aligns talent with priorities.”
Exciting renewal efforts are taking place in the provinces. An outstanding example is the Government of British Columbia. More than 45% of BC’s managers will have retired by 2015. The BC government sees themselves in a fiercely competitive environment with the private and not-for-profit sector for the same kinds of skilled workers.
Using the slogan of “Being the Best,” the BC government has set about rebuilding its management capacity by anchoring its reform efforts around three key human resource goals:
· The first is building internal capacity by investing in their existing work force. In practical terms, this means providing a wider range of work experiences, cutting back on the contracting out of “interesting” work, and creating more challenging entry level jobs.
· The second is to improve their competitiveness as an employer. This means taking a far more aggressive stance in the labour market through better marketing techniques and establishing bridging programs between post secondary institutions and the provincial government. They have also adopted the Australian model of opening all job competitions to external candidates
· The third is to manage for results in the human resource sector. This means being more productive and innovative in the workplace through the introduction of technology and modern service standards by creating a more positive work environment and seeking greater employee involvement in improving workplace practices.
Citizens expect and deserve the highest levels of service from their governments. It is important that governments take the initiative to find the most cost-effective ways to recruit, train, plan for succession and develop human resource systems. Private sector organizations that know the crucial value of a first class workforce see the costs associated with these activities as worthwhile for achieving their “bottom line.” This principle should also apply to the public sector.
After all the recent efforts to increase accountability in government, attention is now shifting to renewal agendas – focused on service to citizens by developing new ways to attract and retain a new generation of public servants. Over the next few years, as renewal strategies are implemented, it will be critical to identify best practices from the Canadian experience and from other jurisdictions that permit public servants to take measured risks in order to implement the kind of renewal strategy that is argued for in the work of the Prime Minister’s Advisory Committee.
David Zussman holds the Jarislowsky Chair in Public Sector Management in the Faculty of Social Sciences and School of Management at the University of Ottawa. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Jarislowsky Chair website is www3.management.uottawa.ca/jarislowsky.