Culture change takes time and requires the dedication of employees and leaders at all levels of the organization. Without a focus on building the workplace culture we want, we are not going to find the savings we need.
The cyclical nature of the public sector is to build and grow then cut and trim in ever shorter cycles. This trend is not only unsustainable, it also prevents us from meeting the ever increasing expectations of citizens. As public servants, the onus is on us to move away from this approach to one of transformational change.
With an eye to the bottom line, organizations, both public and private, are seeing the impact of culture as a low- or no-cost driver to support this approach. In the Ontario Public Service (OPS) we believe that by establishing an enabling workplace culture, we will encourage innovation, build higher levels of performance and productivity and ultimately deliver better public service through cost savings and improved service quality.
What does an enabling culture look like? A workplace’s culture is a complex alignment of tangible and intangible components that come together to define how a workplace operates. In the OPS, we can drive higher levels of productivity, performance and innovation by creating a culture where there is a sense of community, empowerment, engagement and leadership at all levels. The core components include:
• Openness to change and new ways of thinking and doing;
• Highly engaged leadership that sets the tone and models the behaviour being sought;
• A focus on the client and the right outcomes; and
• A common purpose based on shared values.
We started on this path by defining the barriers. We learned that there are behaviours in the organization that need to be removed or changed, behaviours that should be discouraged. At the same time, there are organizational behaviours that need to be encouraged to support the culture we want.
We are taking a two-pronged approach. First, reduce the behaviours that discourage an enabling workplace culture. We call these pull actions. Second, increase activities and behaviours that support our organizational values and encourage a foundation for an enabling workplace culture – push actions.
The Centre for Innovation and Workplace Culture is responsible for a number of enterprise programs that allow us to build a foundation for this desired culture. Our current “push” work is focused on understanding meaningful recognition in our workplace. It’s also about how to support employees in their volunteerism efforts to help build their capacity as well as shape a more collaborative culture.
On the “pull” side we are beginning to remove barriers inhibiting innovation and creativity. These include rigid and lengthy processes, unhealthy levels of hierarchy, physical workspaces not conducive to collaboration, pronounced generational differences, and sticking to tradition without evolving or growing toward new ways of thinking and doing.
Helping us break down these barriers is our focus on four themes:
1. Trust: Creating a focus on improved outcomes rather than on existing processes and output measure.
2. Motivation: Ensuring we are incentivizing the right attitudes and behaviours in the workplace. What gets rewarded gets repeated.
3. Building capacity: Fostering a generation of public servants who have the capacity to tackle the wicked problems of tomorrow.
4. Nimbleness: Ensuring we remain agile in our work to better reflect the changing nature and attitudes of citizens.
Ontario has shared its framework with other public sector leaders at a recent conference organized by the Conference Board of Canada and with the Uganda Public Sector as they hosted their first innovation conference. The innovation conference was attended by the head of the public service, over 120 senior leaders from Kampala and around the country, members of their young professionals’ network, and politicians. Their Prime Minister gave impassioned opening remarks to the delegates on the importance of building a culture of innovation in their organization.
Though not easy to implement, it is time for the public sector in Canada to commit to culture change as a way forward in these fiscally-challenging times.
Ontario believes that a shared vision based on common values will create a workplace that not only drives higher levels of productivity, performance and innovation, but also creates greater public service value for citizens at reduced costs. Engaged employees, improved outcomes and cost savings – a winning formula all around.
Karen Prokopec is manager for the Centre for Innovation and Workplace Culture in the government of Ontario.