A Public Service for the 21st Century

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Notes for an Address by Mel Cappe Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet at the Association of Professional Executives of the Public Service of Canada (APEX) Symposium

Ottawa, Ontario
June 6, 2001

Check Against Delivery


Introduction

  • I want to thank the organizers of the Symposium for having planned a very interesting agenda which provides a great learning opportunity over these two days.
  • I also want to add that I always make a point of speaking to APEX members; after all, - you are the largest single group of leaders in the Public Service that I get to talk to at one time.
  • Of course, the thing about always accepting the APEX invitation is that people who regularly attend this conference might start wondering:
  • "Is he going to say something new or is he going to tell us what he's told us before?"
  • Yes, I want to remind you of some basic points that I've made before, and yes, I want to go beyond that.
  • Part of my comments deals with the recent government initiative to modernize the federal human resources management system - I see this as a cultural transformation in achieving excellence.
  • Building a Public Service to serve Canadians in the 21st century will involve us all, and I would summarize my message to you this way.
  • Public Service reform will provide executives and all public servants with flexibilities through the modernized policies and tools that support your personal commitment to our values and to excellence.
  • Don't wait for it to happen - do it.

Excellence and Innovation - From Expectations to Results

  • I believe a diverse and innovative Public Service is what we have and we can strengthen it.
  • As Head of the Public Service, I see part of my job as defining and making linkages within the management agenda, based on the government's objectives as set out in the Speech from the Throne.
  • Some of you may say that from this corporate perspective - these "lofty heights" - it is sometimes difficult to appreciate the challenges on the front-line, in regions and directorates throughout this great institution.
  • But I have not forgotten because I too was there. So, I want to start by saying:
  • This is an exciting time to be in the Public Service of Canada.
  • But this morning on CBC Radio we also heard, in the coverage on the Symposium, that "it is tough to be a public servant these days".
  • Ministers are calling on us for courageous policy advice to deal with increasingly complex issues.
  • Canadians are calling on us for improved services, delivered in a timely fashion and in ways they prefer.
  • I want to also say that this is not an easy time to be a federal public servant mainly because we are in a time of transition.
  • We are moving into a post-industrial, knowledge-based society and economy.
  • We are in the midst of the changing world of government.
  • This is a world that demands excellence and innovation as never before.
  • The world and Canada demand excellence.
  • We have a duty to serve Canadians with excellence.
  • In fact, the Prime Minister made his expectations clear when he said:
  • "An activist government requires a first class public service. I am proud of our public service. The government will take all the steps necessary to ensure that we continue to have the talent necessary for a public service that is committed to excellence."
  • A competent, non-partisan, representative and modern Public Service for the 21st century, as your conference title suggests, is critical to our success not only as a country but also as a society.
  • By aiming for excellence and by seeking out innovation, we can help Canada and Canadians to do better in the global economy.
  • But I want to challenge you here before we go any further.

Can we really claim that excellence and innovation are obvious in everything we do as an institution and as leaders?

  • It's easy to say that our Public Service is committed to excellence and that we're all for excellence: we talk about it, but do we do it?
  • It's like the weather: everyone talks about it, but no one does anything about it.
  • This is largely due to the fact that it's no easy matter to stick with the principles of excellence and innovation - it's a tough, demanding job that requires a people-centred management style.
  • It's a very demanding job for all public servants.
  • And one that becomes particularly tough when we have to make tough choices - for example, to accommodate budgetary constraints - while serving the public interest.
  • Excellence isn't just our own challenge as leaders of the public service, as I have noticed in my discussions with leaders from the private and volunteer sectors.
  • In many organizations the first thing new managers learn is that one can be happy with "satisfactory" results.
  • So most of them set out on their careers feeling justified in sticking to proven models to avoid the risk of failure.
  • So what do we do if we really want to build a public service that is ready to meet the challenges of the 21st century?
  • We must begin by remembering that all organizations and all leaders have to face obstacles to achieve excellence.
  • And after that, always ask ourselves what we personally can do to improve the performance of our departments and build a modern, dynamic and innovative public service.

What Must Change and What Must Remain

  • The recent APEX survey showed that over the next ten years, 75% of today's executives will have retired, and many of us have probably thought about our "Relève".
  • We should be actively mentoring the leaders of tomorrow on our teams. I know some departments have programs to enable those nearing retirement to share their experience.
  • In our jobs, we leave something to the organization and the people around us at every level and in every job - we are also in the business of institution and people - "building".
  • Part of this "building" is urgently needed now in terms of the cultural change which you will need to lead today, without waiting for the legislative change which will result from the modernization of human resources management before us.
  • Our management and our legacy challenge has to start from this question:
  • What has to change and what should remain the same in the 21st century Public Service?
  • When I first spoke to you at APEX in 1999, I concentrated on public service values - and those will not change, they remain our bedrock.
  • In his report on Values and Ethics the late John Tait said it clearly: "it is through leadership, above all, that values are transmitted, nourished and reinforced".
  • He stressed the importance of role models and leadership by example through our democratic, professional, ethical and people values.
  • You know that our personal and professional values fundamentally guide our choices as managers - the stronger our own values, the better and more transparent our decisions as managers will be, and the more trust and teamwork we will gain from our staff.
  • The long-standing values of this Public Service go beyond the values of any one person - they are the "glue" that connects us all, built by those who joined the Public Service after the Second World War, and which continues to be reinforced in the Public Service today.
  • These values even sustain the climate that we need in order to attract, recruit and retain staff, and to achieve quality results.
  • Now what has to change?
  • Last year, I built on the basic foundation of our values to talk about "Fonctionnaires sans frontières" - on our need to learn to work very differently in a world of E-Government, and in a world where we went beyond the boundaries of our thinking "in the box".
  • The transformation to E-Government is more about people than it is about technology.
  • It is a world where our values of merit, competency, fairness and inclusiveness remain solid, but where we are more open to creativity in finding innovative ways to meet the needs of Canadians and of the Ministers who look to us for advice and support.
  • As I pointed out last year, part of the challenge is how we handle the cultural changes triggered by connectivity, especially when Canadians expect answers, services and information right now.
  • What has to change are our management commitments to our staff in support of risk-taking, creativity and a focus on people.
  • Our teams have to see that managed risk-taking is supported and that testing new ideas is valued.
  • But you have to know which risk to take.
  • I would rather see creative failures than stupid successes.
  • Clearly, risk management also involves paying attention to lessons learned from both successes and failures.
  • In terms of our legacy and our values, we need to be able to ask ourselves:
  • Did we attribute, recognize and reward excellent ideas and practices?
  • Did we create a more diverse workforce in terms of the backgrounds and ideas of the people we work with?
  • About two years ago, an important American study on retention among many of the Fortune 500 companies concluded that most people don't leave organizations because of the organizations or even the workload; most people leave because of their managers.
  • This is about human resources management - not just how we treat people's work and ideas, but more fundamentally how we treat the people doing that work, with those ideas.
  • Excellence flows from this - good people managers are those that bring out the best in their employees and in their teams.

The Challenge of Improving Human Resources Management

  • I don't have to remind you that there's nothing to equal a career in the Public Service.
  • After all, one of the reasons that prompted most of us to come and work here in government was having a job where we would get a chance to make a difference as well as serve the public interest.
  • But these reasons are not enough to attract and keep the talented employees we need to meet the challenges of the 21st century.
  • for one thing, other governments, the private sector and the volunteer sector, which are our partners, but with which we also compete, attract people with the same kind of reasoning;
  • and the private sector is always able to outbid us.
  • However serving the public interest demands higher standards from each of us than the private sector appears to require of its employees.
  • This is why we have to set ourselves high standards to meet the needs of our employees and to modernize the Public Service.
  • By focussing on innovation and excellence, we remove the barriers that today still prevent us from attracting and retaining the best employees and helping them make the best possible contribution.
  • And it starts with issues as basic as our staffing processes, and works through to how we treat people while they are in the Public Service to when they leave.
  • In terms of retention, if we have employees who enjoy getting up and coming to work in the morning, we will be able to attract others.
  • The best recruitment strategy is one which ensures that we treat our current employees well.
  • One compelling case for modernization is that we will need to recruit thousands of new employees a year over the next decade, and we just cannot afford to make job offers three months after our potential recruits have given up on us!
  • To underline the need for change that will liberate us from overdoses of process, I want to quote a Government report that I read recently.
  • "Today, departmental personnel spend far too much time handling paperwork and manoeuvring within the existing controls, or circumventing them where necessary by ingenuity or personal connections."
  • Are you surprised to know that this is from the 1962 report of the Glassco Royal Commission?
  • I spent the weekend reading some government reports. I'll just summarize the messages from three of them:
  • The Glassco Royal Commission back in 1962 said - "Let managers manage".
  • The Lambert Royal Commission back in 1979 said - "Make managers manage".
  • The Auditor General just this year said - "Please... manage!".
  • Are you surprised that essentially the same point has been made in most studies since then?
  • Human resource issues have been a central challenge for a long time in the Public Service.
  • The difference today is that our need to modernize human resources management is greater than ever because it is inextricably tied to positioning Canada as a global leader in the 21st century, and to positioning the government as an effective and attractive player in the competition for talent with the private sector.
  • Another difference today is that there is substantial support for this work from the top.
  • There is a clear commitment to Public Service reform in the Speech from the Throne.
  • "The Government is committed to the reforms needed for the Public Service of Canada to continue evolving and adapting. These reforms will ensure that the Public Service is innovative, dynamic and reflective of the diversity of the country - able to attract and develop the talent needed to serve Canadians in the 21st century."
  • As you will hear from Mme. Robillard, herself a strong supporter of reform, the Prime Minister and Cabinet are behind our work.

Modernizing Human Resources Management - The Task Force

  • Achieving human resources management excellence is important because it governs some of the most important decisions we make as managers.
  • Not the values that motivate us, like merit, but the way we implement those values in everyday management tasks like hiring people, enabling them to grow in the job and supporting their development.
  • Where the protection of merit can be undermined by the rules made to protect us.
  • Merit can be undermined by inefficiency.
  • And the need for a different approach has been clear for some time, even going back to the Glassco Commission.
  • They pointed out, "A distinction... must be made between the merit principle and the "merit system". The merit system, in many of its current practices, frustrates the attainment of the principles; in its name many absurd procedures are tolerated; the system has become an end in itself, overriding the need to "get the job done".
  • As I said in my recent Annual Report to the Prime Minister on the Public Service, even today, we have a system of human resources management laws that, "do not allow us to move quickly enough on the transformation to a modern, people-centred Public Service."
  • We are not really at the beginning of that transformation.
  • We have made progress over the years within the existing framework - we can make even more progress.
  • But, now, we need to change the framework.
  • It is the kind of cultural change that in my Annual Report I noted was "moving away from a traditional model of a public service based on hierarchical, directive management" to a values-driven and knowledge-based people management - the kind that many managers and employees have been asking for.
  • Fairness, efficiency and flexibility can co-exist - I do not believe that to gain in terms of merit, we must necessarily sacrifice efficiency. Nor does achieving efficiency mean having to bind ourselves in rules. We need to achieve all three to "get the job done".
  • Minister Robillard plans to talk to you a little later about the Task Force on Modernizing Human Resources Management in the Public Service of Canada, but I still want to touch on a few aspects of that process with you.
  • In its work to come up with a new legislative framework for human resources management, this task force led by Ranald Quail will rely on some guiding principles based on the values of the Public Service.
  • The first and foremost of these principles is the need to uphold merit, non-partisanship and competence in a representative Public Service.
  • The second principle is that management has to be responsible for human resources management - with all that the word "responsible" implies;
  • The third principle is to place responsibility for human resources at the lowest possible level of management, depending on the circumstances, in each organization;
  • And finally, the fourth principle is to ensure that managers are accountable for their management of human resources.
  • The new bill should be tabled in the summer of 2002.
  • I have established a co-ordinating committee, chaired by Ronald Bilodeau, Associate Secretary to the Cabinet, and made up of executives from the central agencies to ensure that our efforts complement one another and all point in the same direction.
  • I am looking forward to the successful progress of the reform initiative and I am expecting Deputy Ministers, Assistant Deputy Ministers and all executives to contribute to the fullest extend possible.

Modernization: Moving Towards the Future

  • Modernization should help us address many of our human resource-related priorities.
  • Among those is meeting our commitment to diversity and to official languages.
  • A few weeks ago I appeared before the Commons Standing Committee on Public Accounts to discuss human resources issues. It was a very positive experience and we spent a lot of our time on diversity issues.
  • MPs were interested in our progress on improving the representation of people from all parts of Canadian society in our workforce.
  • They were well-versed in the results of recent studies like the Embracing Change Report written by Lewis Perinbam and the Task Force he headed. The Parliamentary Committee wanted to see results in terms of the government's response.
  • My own commitment on diversity is simply this - a diverse Public Service will generate better service to the public and better advice to Ministers.
  • We need a diversity of backgrounds and of ideas to improve our services and our advice.
  • Diversity is important not just to reflect Canadian society but because it strengthens both our society and the Public Service.
  • Our commitment to diversity is based on a recognition that Canada faces complex challenges both within and outside our borders.
  • And the more we can bring the richness of different ideas, different experiences and different perspectives and backgrounds to the table, the more we can generate better solutions and excellence in results.
  • Diversity is just one of the results that we need in modernizing our human resources management system, along with.
  • Allowing "managers to manage" - with more choices, using competency-based staffing, through open, fair and simple processes.
  • Having a more effective and responsive labour relations in the workplace.
  • Investing in people to promote opportunities for personal learning and growth - if you look after your people, they will look after you.
  • Welcoming outside expertise and diverse ideas because there will be career public servants, and there will be those that come and go, bringing with them new skills and knowledge.
  • I want people to join us for the experience - some will stay for a career.

Official Languages

  • In the last annual report I submitted to the Prime Minister I indicated our major priorities for the year to come: human resources management, E-government, an improved policy research capacity, financial management and official languages.
  • I want to focus our efforts on official languages because this is an enduring priority that needs to be revitalized.
  • We are talking about legislation that was passed more than thirty years ago and which still represents a challenge today.
  • Over the years we have changed the culture of the Public Service by implementing laws and policies in support of official languages. We have made some progress, especially in terms of encouraging the equitable participation of both linguistic communities, and in serving Canadians in the official language of their choice.
  • But we have clearly not achieved all the objectives we had set for ourselves.
  • As managers, we must ensure that our workplace actively fosters the use of both official languages, not only because the law requires it, but also because it is part of the respectful way we treat our colleagues.
  • These are some examples of the challenges that await us and highlight the importance of modernizing our human resources management.

Executives Have the Opportunity to Lead the Way

  • As managers, we are developing tomorrow's leaders.
  • As I mentioned before, although we are preparing for tomorrow's human resource laws and regulations, we need to move to get results today; we need to change our attitudes and demand excellence.
  • After all, a true test of leadership in our culture is the number of future leaders who make headway by emulating your example.
  • The greatest contribution you can make is the leaders which you can provide to the future Public Service.
  • If we want the people in directorates or branches or regions to be innovative and strive for excellence, then we all must be visibly doing the same.
  • We need reform, but also immediate action on people management issues.
  • Because people and their talent often "make or break" our overall performance and results.
  • Because people-centered management can tell employees in small and big ways that their interests and views matter - this is key to retention.
  • For you as leaders, this can mean actions as simple as going out of your way to personally welcome new staff to your team, or personally signing letters of offer.
  • Ask yourselves: what can I do to encourage people to come and work with me? How can I encourage them to grow?
  • Have I planned and identified my recruitment needs so we can be on campuses before the competition?
  • Am I working on the results of the last Employee Survey to create a more inclusive and productive workplace?
  • These are all simple, little things, but they are precisely the kinds of actions that speak volumes about our commitment, as managers, to our people.
  • We cannot allow ourselves to wait for legislative change, and this is why the central agencies and departments have already taken some important measures.
  • They are actively trying to increase the participation of members of designated employment equity groups in institutional programs, such as the Career Assignment Program.
  • Meanwhile the Treasury Board Secretariat and Public Service Commission are looking at ways of getting more flexibility into existing rules and processes and delegating to Deputy Ministers and managers.
  • I believe the results of the latest APEX survey were published today.
  • The results reveal your dedication to the Public Service and to continuous learning, and these are two key factors for setting the knowledge workforce on the road to excellence.
  • This also shows that you are proud of your work - and you should be proud.
  • The balance between private life and professional life remains a major priority for each of you, whether you are planning to work in the Public Service for another 5 years or 15 years.
  • So just as I know that you have to be concerned about the needs of your employees, I know that the Deputy Ministers and I should be doing as much to satisfy your various professional needs.

Conclusion

  • I want to conclude my remarks today by summarizing that our Public Service faces a wide range of challenges.
  • To build a workplace in the Public Service that attracts and brings out the best in all the people who work here.
  • To develop innovative responses to current and emerging Canadian public policy priorities.
  • To meet rising service delivery expectations in a world where people want service on their own time and at the fastest speed possible.
  • My discussions with public servants in the regions and with middle managers, as well as with Deputy Ministers and Assistant Deputy Ministers all point to the same thing: that each of you plays an important role in the modernization of our institution.
  • As leaders, you can take concepts like "innovation" and "excellence" and actually translate them into meaningful actions in your daily work for citizens and staff alike.
  • As I said at the beginning, I believe Public Service reform will provide executives and all public servants flexibilities through modernized policies and tools that support your personal commitment to our values and to excellence.
  • This means taking "ownership" of people - centered management right now.
  • For me, this also means we are all contributing as "builders" of reform.
  • I am personally committed to this reform, and my children deserve it.
  • I'm going to end with a Yogi Berra story - because it's baseball season and summer is here.
  • Anyway, Yogi was managing the New York Yankees when a reporter asked him about a player on his team, Don Mattingly.
  • The reporter asked "Has Mattingly exceeded your expectations?"
  • Yogi replied, "I'd say he's done more than that."
  • I know that, together, we can exceed our expectations.
  • And know that when we do it, we will also be exceeding the expectations of the public.
  • We can be leading teams that people want to join; teams in which they want to stay.
  • I want to be part of a Public Service focussed on excellence and innovation.
  • We can be achieving the results that Canadians expect from us through excellence and innovation.
  • Thank you.