The leadership capacity of the British Columbia Public Service depends on having qualified, capable leaders to fill the gaps created by retiring executives, shifting demographics and pressures brought to bear by the job market. In 2009, the BC Public Service took up the challenge of developing and implementing a strategy to build leadership capacity within our organization, particularly at senior levels.
The strategy, known as Leading the Best, proposed a proactive approach to executive succession planning by conducting biannual corporate reviews of all executive employees, and then of employees in the Strategic Leadership band, comprised of pre-executive employees. The two objectives of the reviews were to establish a corporate baseline of data about performance and potential and to provide useful feedback to support performance and career development.
In 2012, the BC Public Service Agency coordinated the initial comprehensive corporate review of the Strategic Leadership band. From the 557 strategic leaders in core government, 400 participated; 88 participated in an interim review in 2013, which assessed those unable to participate in 2012. Strategic leaders were excused from the review only if they were new to their roles, within a year of retirement or on temporary appointments.
With the addition of the data from the 2013 interim review, the information from these reviews established a baseline of information about the performance of these leaders and the potential within the group. The commitment was to update the data on a regular basis by reviewing the entire cohort every two years. (The next corporate biannual review is scheduled for early 2015).
The reviews began with the preparation of a performance and career profile with input from the supervisor of each strategic leader. The supervisor and strategic leader then had a one-hour dialogue to discuss the strategic leader’s background, performance, career highlights, and aspirations. The supervisor then presented the profile to a review panel of assistant deputy ministers. After discussion, the panel came to consensus on a rating of both performance and potential, and offered leadership development advice, which was recorded in a report to be shared with the participant by their supervisor. To ensure consistency of the data across all ministries, the ratings were calibrated to ensure a consistent rating approach across all panels before the reports were released.
What we are learning
After analyzing data from the 2012 review, an advisory committee of assistant deputy ministers identified six competencies common to strategic leadership roles that could be used to assess leadership performance from a corporate perspective.
1. Building strategic alliances;
2. Vision and goal setting;
3. Creating and managing change;
4. Solving problems creatively;
5. Promoting empowerment; and
6. Executive presence.
These core competencies refined the existing broader set of Hay Group definitions of leadership competencies already in use in the public service. They provided the basis for a new learning and development framework, including a full curriculum of competency-based learning programs for strategic leaders, and a new online 360 degree performance assessment tool (currently in pilot phase). They also provided a basis for more consistent ratings, with fewer adjustments required when the results are calibrated.
As you might expect, the reviews have generated valuable feedback and suggestions, leading to improvements to the initial review process including changes to build the panels around executives who are most familiar with the strategic leaders being reviewed. Increasingly, executives regard the reviews as opportunities to provide one another with collegial support, and are embracing their role as talent spotters and mentors to high potential employees in the Strategic Leadership band.
In assessing potential as well as performance, the reviews identified individuals close to readiness for promotion to an executive position. These strategic leaders were invited to participate in an accelerated executive development program and receive additional support and advice. Some of these strategic leaders have applied successfully to executive positions.
The reviews are tracking a moving target; there have been 80 new hires to the Strategic Leadership band since the 2013 interim review. Panel chairs have developed expertise in facilitating the panel process, and most supervisors have experience in debriefing the reports. As a result, the quality of feedback in the next biannual review is expected to be more consistent and of a higher quality.
While progress to date is encouraging, our ongoing and evolving reviews of the Strategic Leadership band are critical in strategic succession planning, identifying professional development requirements and providing leadership stability within the BC Public Service now and in the future.