Over the past months, a number of teams within the federal government have been diligently working on fashioning a new vision for the public service under the banner of Blueprint 2020. This exercise comes at a good time given the strains and stresses being experienced by most federal government employees. By all accounts the downsizing exercise that was part of the Deficit Reduction Action Plan (DRAP) that anchored the 2012 federal budget was well managed, but it left the workforce much less confident about its job security and less certain about its future role in delivering on the government’s agenda.
The exercise is being championed by the Secretary to the Cabinet, Wayne Wouters, and led by a task force under the leadership of Louise Levonian, Chair of the Subcommittee on Public Service Engagement of the Board of Management and Renewal. Recognizing that approximately 100,000 new public servants have been hired over the past 10 years, Blueprint 2020 has been soliciting the views of government workers, using various forms of social media. The conversation has been structured around four operating principles that serve as guideposts for the public service of the future.
These principles are: creating an open and networked environment that engages citizens and partners for the public good; taking a whole-of-government approach that enhances service delivery and value for money; creating a modern workplace that makes smart use of new technologies to improve networking, access to data and customer service; and, developing a capable, confident and high-performing workforce that embraces new ways of working and mobilizing the diversity of talent to serve the country’s evolving needs.
Judging from many failed efforts to reform large complex organizations like the federal government, there are two common shortcomings of such change management exercises. The first is that change managers do not recognize how long it takes to change the culture of an organization. This is especially true in those organizations that have been recently downsized or had a significant shock to the way in which employees relate to one another.
The second is failing to appreciate the importance of previous organizational changes that may have some positive or negative long-term impact on the day-to-day operations of the organization.
With regards to the federal government, it is worth recalling that Blueprint 2020 follows a 10-year-long effort to modernize the human resources functions in government. The extent to which these modernization efforts have been successfully implemented will undoubtedly have a significant impact on the degree to which employees respond to Blueprint 2020.
The Public Service Modernization Act was passed with great fanfare in 2003 and, at the time, was described as the “single biggest change to public service human resources management in more than 35 years.” The PSMA came about as a result of two task force investigations into human resources (HR) management that were conducted in the early 2000s, followed by an equally honest assessment of the HR regime from the Auditor General. Given the litany of problems with the HR system, the PSMA was designed to transform the way government hires and manages its employees. The transformation was to be accomplished by modernizing staffing, offering more learning opportunities for employees, fostering collaborative labour relations, and clarifying managerial roles.
In 2011, recently retired deputy minister Susan Cartwright led a task force review of the PSMA to evaluate the effectiveness of the legislation after five years of operation. After acknowledging that the legislation had been fully implemented, the task force had a very sober assessment of the progress and impact that this significant effort had on the HR regime. The task force concluded that there was not enough progress made in modernizing the HR function because the effort was not sustained, especially at the senior levels. The lack of leadership resulted in little cultural change and a failure to create productive relationships within and among departments that were two of the cornerstones of the 2003 legislation.
The objectives of the PSMA go to the heart of the goals of Blueprint 2020. How employees perceive the way in which their peers and superiors treat one another, the level of interpersonal trust, and the manner in which individuals are held to account are important elements in the management regime in any large bureaucracy. The degree to which employees feel that Blueprint 2020 builds on the efforts behind the PSMA will largely determine the extent to which the Blueprint 2020 exercise will resonate with the more than 250,000 employees of the federal public service.