In mid-2011, concerns about New Brunswick’s deficit and the province’s increasing demographic challenges were raising questions about the government’s long-term ability to provide the services its residents rely upon.
As a result, in 2011, the government launched an initiative called the “Performance Excellence Process” (PEP), which, it hoped, would encourage a culture change within its bureaucracy to increase efficiency and accountability, improve services to the public, streamline administration, and drive continued improvements.
Jane Washburn was recruited to lead the initiative, and the public service quickly started to shift its focus toward formally aligning the performance of the organization to deliver on strategic priorities.
Washburn’s experience as vice-president of human resources and corporate services at NB Liquor, a Crown corporation, was a factor in the PEP’s success. She introduced leading business practices, including Balanced Scorecard and Lean Six Sigma. The former is a managerial concept that focuses an organization on delivering improvement results, and the latter works to eliminate waste and improve services.
“Lean Six Sigma is a results-oriented, data-driven approach that helps to identify and sustain improvements inside organizations by increasing client satisfaction and eliminating waste and variation from processes,” said Washburn. “It has been used successfully by governments, health care organizations and private sector companies.”
Washburn’s team partnered with deputy ministers, who appointed alignment champions, responsible for driving the execution of the initiative in their own departments. Together, they also selected process improvement facilitators, all of whom became black belts in Lean Six Sigma, and reported to the alignment champions.
Washburn and her team also trained over 300 employees as “waste walkers.” These employees were tasked with looking for day-to-day waste in their departments, which they then reported to their executive teams every 30, 60 and 90 days.
Combined with performance reporting based on Balanced Scorecard methodology, the arrangement enhanced accountability among all involved departments.
Involving employees for success
“The way we look at this management system is that the principles are the same, regardless of the sector that you’re in,” said Washburn. “All organizations need to improve to be sustainable and to grow. The purpose of government isn’t to make money, like it is in business, but governments need to fund programs and services for citizens in an effective and efficient way.”
Washburn and her team knew the government’s priorities and strategy had to be in line with the customers’ – in this case, the taxpayers’ – needs and wants.
Washburn and her team also recognized the importance of getting employees involved in transformation, so that change was done with them rather than to them. This way, when employees are promoted through the organization, they can help sustain the culture change as they go.
“We didn’t want to force this down people’s throats, mostly because we want people to choose to do this so that we can have mutual success,” she explained.
An excellence culture
The transformation process was helped along, in part, because Washburn and her team encouraged a culture change within the organization.
“We need to communicate and measure performance excellence as a strategic priority,” she said. “Employees need to understand that it’s a priority. We need to celebrate and recognize success, which is sometimes hard to do in government.”
Managing improvement through the Performance Excellence Framework has contributed significantly to the government having been under budget on expenditures since 2011. Additionally, the return on investment in Lean Six Sigma, as of the second quarter of 2013, is 3:1.
Lean Six Sigma projects across the government have generated more than $15 million in savings, with the largest project saving almost $1 million. Among these projects, the government has reduced employee mileage and rental expenses by $999,487, bank interest costs by $719,900 and veterinary pharmaceutical inventory waste by $270,995.
It also marks the first time the province has had a central, prioritized inventory and tracking of improvement initiatives related to the government’s overall strategy.
In 2013, the government of New Brunswick was awarded Progress Media’s “Innovation in Practice” award for public sector innovation in Atlantic Canada.
At the Canadian Government Executive Leadership Summit in February, Washburn received a CGE Leadership Award in recognition of her work with the government of New Brunswick.