Renewal
May 7, 2012

Trust, transformation and technology

Allan Seckel joined the British Columbia public service in 2003 after a career in civil litigation and class action practice and was recently named Deputy Minister to the Premier and Cabinet Secretary after serving as Deputy Attorney General for the province. He takes over the position as the B.C. government celebrates progress in public service renewal and improved service delivery, yet faces challenges as budgets tighten. In this interview with editor Toby Fyfe, he explains that he intends to continue moving forward on renewal and service transformation and discusses his views on leadership and trust.


What are your three priorities?

My predecessor, Jessica McDonald, launched our public service renewal initiative under the banner of “Being the Best.” Jessica succeeded in leading us to be one of Canada’s Top 100 employers. My first goal is to build on her success, to continue to focus on improving employee engagement. I know that’s going to be a challenge in this economic environment, but we can’t really waiver in our commitment to that goal.  

The second priority is to take the approach that Jessica adopted for public service renewal and apply it to the question of how government uses technology. Just as public service renewal was a plan for our workforce, we need to create a plan for technology and transformation that addresses how we will work in the future. The same demographic challenges that caused us to focus on the HR side of the public service also require us to think of the tools we use to provide government services. This will be a parallel track to the public service renewal initiative, and I think that it can be a further source of engagement as we focus on the workplace and the tools we have to work with. We hope to deliver a first iteration of such a plan later this year.

My third priority is to build trust within the public service, not just externally but internally. I believe that trust is among the greatest motivators. It is especially important in large organizations where there is really no one person who can follow every issue, every transaction. This can be an especially difficult thing in government, as government lives with a level of scrutiny that no private sector organization ever has to face. So building trust is an important goal. And by that I mean not just trust in me, but trust throughout the organization.

Picking up on what you’ve said, you’re obviously building on the extended transformation that the B.C. public service has been going through. Does this mean the organization hasn’t moved as far as you would like and that more needs to be done to get there?

I can’t say it hasn’t moved as much as I would like, but I would say there is still room to improve. I think we have done a lot by focusing on the personnel side of the equation. It’s exactly the right choice when you are thinking about the future to focus first on your people, working on programs and policies that affect your employees and making sure people are engaged in their workplace. That gives you the solid foundation of an engaged workforce and lets you start to think of the other aspects of what the future will bring and what you think the future is going to look like.

For example, I think the future will require us to re-think how we deliver services to the public, partly because of the demographic changes, partly because I think the public is going to expect to engage with government differently. My own view is that so far we’ve focused on how to take things that government is already doing and make them more efficient through technology: you used to be able to fill out a form in paper, you can now fill out the same form online.

As the future unfolds, we’re going to have to think about whether we should do things completely differently with people and with technologies. Maybe you don’t need that process or that form at all. Or maybe there is some other way of doing that business. So some of the processes we have are going to need to be fundamentally different.

Have you had success using technology that way? Are there examples?

Yes. I come from the justice sector which successfully created and operates a case management system for criminal case processing and also has online court filing for civil cases. B.C. also has two very heavily used websites. One is DriveBC which offers information about road conditions. It’s the most visited government website. It’s a means by which people can interact and start to get information from government in a different way.

We also have something called GeoBC, which provides geographic data and pairs it with Google Earth to let you get online maps with the data. I could mention a number of other places where we have systems that work well in a particular sector. I think we have been quite innovative in dedicated applications. But these all exist in pockets within government. They are often great individually, but they are not connected. As a citizen or user you might have to login at 12 different places to get services from government, as opposed to being able to go to one place to get access to the services you need. So I think there’s a lot of work to be done to improve the customer experience.

You’re also head of the B.C. Public Service, and you’ve alluded to the fact that the organization is preparing itself for a human resources future with fewer public servants serving more people. You’ve had layoffs in the last while. How is this going to affect the service challenge you are referring to?

I think the challenge is to come up with a way of using technology appropriately. We’re not trying to displace employees so much as we’re trying to make sure we use employees at their highest talents. We want people to be doing work that is highly engaging as opposed to doing things that citizens would prefer to deal with using technology or the internet. There is always going to be a demand for highly engaged professional public servants to do the tasks that require us to have personal relationships with citizens. But there are also all kinds of transactional things where people just want to get something from government – whether it is their driver’s license or their CareCard – where we can find better ways to access those services. Or, where we’ve got them done well in isolation, of finding the ways of learning what we’ve done so we can provide that same experience across the various places where the public engages with us.  

Describe your leadership style.

My preference is to rely on good people to do the job and not to micromanage them. What really good people want to have is a degree of autonomy. So the first goal is to make that work. I’m lucky to have inherited a team of really good people, and not just among deputy ministers, but generally speaking in the public service. I’ve been very impressed since I came to government with the extremely high quality of people who work very hard for the public service.

I think after that you have to create clear objectives so that people exercise autonomy in a way that meets the objectives of the government. It’s autonomy, not anarchy. Sometimes this can be hard in government because directions and expectations can seem to come from many different places. Part of the role for me and my fellow deputy ministers is to make sure we have clear goals on projects and clear operational objectives in clear HR, technology and business

About this author

0 comments

There are no comments for this post yet.

Be the first to comment. Click here.

Renewal
 
In this issue of Canadian Government Executive, our lead story is...
 
Written by Jason McNaught Former Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page doesn’t...
 
Like all governments, the federal public service faces increasing demands for...
 
As a new assistant director in the Human Resources Branch at...
 
John Manzoni, the head of the U.K. public service, will be...
 
What is the central challenge facing government institutions and societies in...
 
Last September the federal government announced a small business hiring credit....
 
We hear it often about the digital era: “Everything has changed.”...
 
I don’t think governments have changed fundamentally since Al Gore made...
 
Last September Netflix refused the Canadian Radio and Telecommunications Commission’s (CRTC)...
 
Go ahead. Read the comments that anonymous users post under online...
 
There’s something happening here. It might not warrant the protest cry...
 
Blueprint 2020 continues to be the key driver in the federal...
 
On October 7, 2014 the World Bank Group (WBG) opened its...
 
Barring an early federal election call fraught with risk, our next...
 
Well, there is little doubt that on the public sector front...
 
Most public sector conversations around the impact of digital refer to...
 
Since joining the federal government just over two years ago, there...
 
In the U.K., reform of the public sector has been a...
 
“Do you believe public servants are too politicized?” This was the...
 
I call today’s youth the Net Generation. Born between 1977 and...
 
I call today’s youth the Net Generation. Born between 1977 and...
 
they tend to gloss over the substantial range of public servants...
 
Commitment to social justice can erode in times of austerity, change,...
 
Francis Fukuyama is best known for his book, The End of...
 
while there is something very good to be said about consistent...
 
but it’s an important distinction that the marketing needs don’t overshadow...
 
A year ago, the 7th annual report of the Prime Minister’s...
 
While the gist of the 7th annual report of the Prime...
 
If there is one thing governments spend a lot of time...
 
After seven years in the public service it was time to...
 
One of the challenges facing the public service is recruiting and...
 
Middle managers are emerging as the true change makers and disciples...
 
APEX suggests that some public servants do not appear to appreciate...
 
Public sector leaders face an environment characterized by complexity, shifting demographics...
 
The second annual CGE Leadership Summit was held yesterday in Ottawa....
 
Departments and social media platforms within the government have been encouraging...
 
In 1996, Pacific Rim Commonwealth countries shared experiences in managing complexity...
 
The changes that the public sector is going through are well...
 
December was the six month check-in for Blueprint 2020, the current...
 
Prime ministers matter when it comes to public service reform. In...
 
If you’ve read Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, you...
 
Blueprint 2020 follows similar efforts of previous Clerks who were trying...
 
The push for government cutbacks is running up against growing public...
 
It should come as no surprise that citizens who suffered the...
 
According to Booze and Co., change management, “because it is predicated...
 
Some of us are old enough to remember the New Public...
 
There has been no shortage of change initiatives driven by federal...
 
The Blueprint 2020 process is historic because it engages employees across...
 
Many nations look to the Canadian public service as a model...
 
Throughout the Blueprint 2020 campaign, I’ve heard one thing again and...
 
Over the past months, a number of teams within the federal...
 
Collaboration is the new mantra for how governments can work more...
 
In June, the Clerk of the Privy Council, Wayne Wouters, launched...
 
As government departments and the GoC Twitterverse continue to respond to...
 
To adapt to the forces of change reshaping our world and...
 
Dramatic transformations to historically stable institutions are creating exciting opportunities to...
 
Just had a fascinating discussion with Paul Macmillan about the new...
 
the message on the sign starts to sound juuuuust a little...
 
I was not surprised to hear one individual advise Louise that...
 
Today we are launching a CGE blog. So, you might ask,...
 
There is no denying that today’s students are the future of...
 
The government of the United States of America is starting to...
 
National Public Service Week’s theme this year is “Proudly Serving Canadians.”...
 
As part of its Big Society initiative, and linked to Prime...
 
I used to be a proud public servant. Now I’m not...
 
In the Twentieth Annual Report to the Prime Minister on the...
 
The Clerk of the Privy Council spoke at the APEX Symposium...
 
At this time of global uncertainty, Canada has strong frameworks: a...
 
The best sand castle I ever built was constructed on top...
 
Yesterday the Auditor General released his spring report. The media played...
 
It is interesting that when you ask people why they work...
 
No one can predict the future. In a world of rapid...
 
The commentaries on Margaret Thatcher have focused on her determination and...
 
There are very few countries in the world where public sector...
 
Too often those implementing change in the public sector can get...
 
If you are a senior leader interested in adopting the Community...
 
I often refer to reports and information on government from the...
 
Federal public servants south of the border are, of course, concerned...
 
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about a U.K. National...
 
Culture change takes time and requires the dedication of employees and...
 
The U.K. government public sector reforms, as outlined in the 2011...
 
The world today seems to be changing significantly faster than ever...
 
Many think the traditional Westminster system of public management is on...
 
Choice. It seems like such a simple thing, to choose to...
 
In Monday’s Globe and Mail, Donald Savoie wrote an op-ed piece...
 
I recently had the opportunity to attend Mega-ConnEX – a government-wide...
 
Minister Tony Clement, President of the Treasury Board, was preaching to...
 
Countries, particularly in the western industrialized world, are coming under increasing...
 
Henry Mintzberg observed in a 2007 CGE interview that management and...
 
The new Secretary of the Treasury Board of Canada, Yaprak Baltacioglu,...
 
Last night in Toronto the head of the Ontario public service,...
 
It’s all very well to talk about making government smaller. But...
 
The question is: when will governments wake up and figure out...
 
More and more, money alone doesn’t cut it to attract and...
 
During the mid 1990s Canada gained a reputation internationally for public...
 
The U.K. has released its Civil Service Reform Plan, and anyone...
 
What do new professionals (NPs) need to better engage, contribute, and...
 
At the APEX Symposium last week, the President of the Treasury...
 
Wayne Wouters spoke at the APEX Symposium yesterday, and reiterated two...
 
CGE Vol.13 No.5 May 2007 Karen Ellis is Vice-President of the...
 
CGE Vol.13 No.1 January 2007 What exactly do federal public servants...
 
Renewal is an ongoing process demanding hands-on commitment across a broad...
 
CGE Vol.13 No.6 June 2007 Public service renewal has become a...
 
CGE Vol.13 No.3 March 2007 Kevin Lynch is Clerk of the...
 
In the April edition, the Federal Youth Network wrote a memo...
 
When I was hired into the federal government in 2003, I...
 
Un demi-millénaire après le premier contact entre les Autochtones et les...
 
En Nouvelle-Zélande, la fonction publique représente 31 % du PIB....
 
Pour concrétiser tout véritable effort de renouvellement, la fonction publique devra...
 
New Zealand’s State Services comprise 31 percent of GDP. State servants...
 
Any truly meaningful renewal of the public service will, by necessity,...
 
CGE Vol.13 No.10 December 2007 Public servants are used to secretaries...
 
Treasury Board President Tony Clement is leading the federal government”s Strategic...
 
Allan Seckel joined the British Columbia public service in 2003 after...
 
In November, Canadians came face to face with the reality of...
 
On March 22, Federal Budget Day, the Harper government authorized the...
 
As promised, the advisory group on the future of the Australian...
 
While the Canadian approach has been piecemeal and incremental, some countries...
 
On March 31, the Clerk of the Privy Council Office submitted...
 
An interview with Deputy Minister Cassie Doyle....
 
Une entrevue avec le vice-ministre Cassie Doyle....
 
In October 2012, the Commonwealth Ministers Forum on Public Sector Development...
 
Is there reason to hope? Once again, the federal government has...
 
Chairing two national networks from Prince Edward Island can be challenging....
 
Recently I had the opportunity to be part of a panel...
 
Over the next five to ten years, the private and public...
 
Recognizing that the federal public service must evolve to keep pace...
 
With cuts anticipated in the upcoming budget, many public servants are...
 
The Canada School of Public Service is playing a significant role...
 
As canada@150 approaches the one-year anniversary of its final report, we...
 
Wicked issues? What does that mean? It means that traditional solutions...
 
We would like to share with you our ideas on how...
 
The economic meltdown has crippled governments already challenged by global warming,...
 
Join us on a trip around our planet as we explore...
 
The Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner was created by...
 
Many young Canadians have joined the public service to serve their...
 
Best practices are a way of accomplishing a business function that...
 
The public service today has been enduring a barrage of criticism...
 
Thanks to demographic shifts, climate change, energy shortages, global economic meltdowns...
 
À cause de l’évolution démographique, du changement climatique, des pénuries d’énergie,...
 
Dans son quinzième rapport annuel au Premier ministre sur la fonction...
 
In the fifteenth annual report to the Prime Minister on the...
 
Mes amis, vous avez fait un bon choix. En entrant dans...
 
La Direction de la conservation et de la protection (C&P) est...
 
Conservation and Protection (C&P) is the enforcement arm of Fisheries and...
 
When the National Managers’ Community gathers in Montreal in March for...
 
When someone I meet for the first time asks me the...
 
Although the value of Canada’s professional and non-partisan public services is...
 
As a new public servant, I sometimes think about the future...
 
Some title Some author
Some excerpt
 
Some title Some author
Some excerpt
 
Some title Some author
Some excerpt
 
Some title Some author
Some excerpt
 
Some title Some author
Some excerpt
In this issue of Canadian Government Executive, our lead story is...