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Notes for an Address by Kevin Lynch, Clerk of the Privy Council, at the ADM Forum

Check against delivery

April 11, 2006


Thank you for the kind invitation to address this year's ADM forum. And thanks to co-chairs, Karen Ellis and Marc Gregoire, for their warm words of welcome and their efforts, along with members of the planning committee, in preparing this event. The Forum plays an important role in confronting the ADM community with timely issues, challenging speakers and different perspectives- the hallmarks of healthy policy and organizational development. The theme and agenda of this year's forum "The New Agenda - Key Relationships" certainly meets these criteria.

Our task, as public servants, is to assist the new Government in implementing its agenda in the professional and non-partisanship way that is the essence of the federal public service. We serve Canadians by serving the government of the day.

But I think you would agree that the relationship with the government is one that requires a bit more special attention at times of electoral change. As is always the case, a change in government means a new set of ministers. With that comes a new agenda, new priorities, and new ways of doing things. Here is where the Public Service can shine. We are the continuity across governments, and as public servants we are called upon to help the new Government govern. And while we do this willingly, the key for me is how we do it.

There are many values that characterize how we serve the Government, with integrity and respect at, or near, the top of the list. Also high on the list is a commitment to providing the best advice we can, perhaps at times notwithstanding what a minister or government might want to hear. As ADMs, you are often on the front line when that advice is provided; not always the easiest thing to do. This important role makes you leaders in promoting these kinds of values in your organization.

Every successful Deputy Minister learns early on that their ADMs are crucial to the success of their departments. And every Clerk understands that the ADM community is central to the success of the public service. You help shape and implement the government's policy agenda. You run our programs and operations. You manage our 200,000 plus employees. And, to many outside government, you are the face of the public service.

In short, you play a central role in making the federal government tick. Clearly then, as Clerk, I count on your commitment to public service at this time of change, this time when our value to Canadians needs to be re-asserted and re- established.

And that is why I'm here today. To speak about the value of public service. To speak about the values of public servants. To seek your help in addressing the challenges we need to face and the opportunities we must seize, including:

  • Roles, responsibilities and accountabilities across government;
  • Teamwork and a culture of excellence in public service;
  • Renewal in the public service;
  • Focus on leadership; and
  • Longer -term strategic planning: getting ready today for the global challenges of tomorrow

Roles, Responsibilities and Accountabilities

Effective organizations need clarity of roles, responsibilities and accountabilities.

All public servants know that part of the job is dealing with ambiguity. We accept this when the factors are outside our control, less so when it is our own doing. What we need to do is remind ourselves that we have within our own means the power to be clear about what we do and how we do it.

Easy to say, but many in this room would argue that the reality in the public service is too often overlapping mandates, unclear roles, fuzzy responsibilities and shared accountability. I understand these concerns.

We need to provide departments with clear mandates, with the responsibility and resources to achieve these mandates, and with the clear understanding of being held accountable for results.

Consider the role played by central agencies. Central agencies should provide context, coherence, co-ordination and challenge. They set the fiscal framework within which the government operates. They set the accountability regime which shapes how the government operates. They set out the broad policy paradigm to guide how policy is developed. In this context, PCO establishes the priorities of the government for departments and then should let departments do their jobs, based on those priorities and complemented by a rigorous challenge function. But central agencies should not micro-manage or co-manage files. Central agencies should add value, not layers, to the process of policy making and government operations.

The federal public service we have today has been built up over many years by strong policies, solid practices and excellent people. But regrettably, as a result of a number of unfortunate events in recent years, public service writ large has lost some of the public's trust. This worries Canadians. It concerns every one of us even more. In his speech on "Accountability and the Public Service" on March 23rd, the Prime Minister of Canada indicated both his strong support for the federal public service and his government's focus on strengthening accountability. What the government plans, through legislation and related actions, is to set out a principles- based approach to clearer and stronger accountability - based government.

All of us are measured by the results we achieve with the resources we have been provided. We are accountable for those results. We must never lose sight of this. This must be part of the renewal of our organization - be focused; seek clarity in what we do; make sure we add value; and strive for results that make a real difference in the lives of Canadians.

Focus on a Culture of Teamwork and Excellence

One of the most important elements of any successful organization is the development of a culture of teamwork among all of the key players. Amidst all of the competing demands for space at the Government's table, we must never lose sight of the fact that we are all on the same team.

The new government puts a high premium on establishing a limited number of priorities, with a clear statement of purpose, well-defined objectives and clear timelines for implementation. The Government's focus on five key priorities has significant implications for the public service. While not everyone will be directly involved, all of us will collectively support these priorities. This is the essence of a culture of teamwork.

Each of us has the opportunity to address this issue in many ways. And one of these is diversity: never lose sight of the importance of ensuring that the team is deep and wide. Good public policy is helped by a diversity of views - linguistically, geographically and culturally, developed by a team made up of difference perspectives. As we renew our organization and recruit the next generation of public servants, we have an opportunity to increasingly make diversity a strength of the federal public service.

Beyond a culture of teamwork is how well we do our work, and what benchmarks we set for ourselves. Here attitudes matter. The basic questions are simply: are we aiming daily for excellence in public policy and public service? And, are today as excellent as we can be? I believe we should make excellence our quest.

Help me to deepen and entrench excellence in the culture of the public service and the everyday work of public servants. Together, let's make excellence the benchmark by which we judge ourselves and the work we do. By setting a standard of excellence, by managing to this standard, by recognizing employees who do exceptional work, we will not only improve the pride of our employees in what they do, but also improve public esteem for public service and public servants. Branding matters; and excellence should be our brand.

Renewal in the Public Service

While our demographic challenge of an aging public service is well known, less well appreciated is the opportunity renewal presents to excite younger Canadians about making a difference through public service. We have the opportunity to sell the next generation of Canadians on the enormous and gratifying possibilities of public service.

I am here today to appeal to you, as colleagues, for your help in the renewal of our public service. We need better recruitment, better retention, better succession planning, and better knowledge transfer. The diagnostique is well established, and the challenge is clear. Our approach now should be pragmatic, focused and results-oriented. The objective is not to raise expectations but to achieve demonstrable progress.

We must recruit the best possible candidates from Canada's post-secondary institutions and mid-career candidates from the private sector. We must retain them by giving them work experiences that take advantage of their skills and expertise. We must support them by human resources and training policies that meet their professional needs. And we, in all departments and agencies, must emphasize a culture of renewal that offers younger staff members the opportunity to assume greater levels of responsibility reflecting their experience and potential. In short, we need to achieve a generational shift in the public service as we renew a critical Canadian institution.

Leadership, the most important characteristic of a senior public servant

As we make our way in the 21st century, we need to acknowledge that now, more than ever, Canada's public servants are being asked to do ever more complex jobs, in an increasingly complex global economy. The 24/7 world is a global reality. What does this mean? For senior public servants it requires a strategic focus on where to engage. Rather than trying to be all things to all people, we must concentrate on doing a few things and doing them very well. Our goal must be an agile and flexible public service. But most importantly it is about leadership.

Leadership is not about working longer hours, or harder or taking on more responsibility. It is about engaging employees and clients, setting the agenda, taking risks and being a role model. To quote Henry Mintzberg, professor of management studies at McGill University: "I think of true leaders as engaging. They engage others with their thoughtfulness and humility because they engage themselves in what they are doing, and not for personal gain." Strong and effective leadership is essential to an excellent public service. Leadership is the most important characteristic we bring to our roles.

Longer-term Strategic Planning: Being Ahead of the Curve

Lastly, a few words about the importance of longer- term strategic planning in the public service. In a world where daily events often seem overwhelming, and a week resembles an eternity, we need always to take a longer term view. Tomorrow's trends should not be a surprise to us today.

By most measures, Canada is an extremely prosperous and successful country. But such outcomes are not preordained, nor should they be taken for granted. They depend on the quality of our policies and our institutions as well as the quality of our human resources and our national endowments. And, in a profoundly globalized world, they depend not just on the direction of government policies and business strategies, but also their flexibility and adaptability.

How do we stay ahead of the global curve? How do we make the Canadian economy more competitive and more productive over the coming years? What will it take to increase Canadian productivity growth on a sustained basis with the objective of closing productivity gaps vis-a vis our main trading partner. And thinking further ahead, how do we ensure we can compete with China and India in the coming decades? Improving our human capital through education and training, with the objective of having one of the best educated societies in the world may be part of the answer. So too may be building a world class research and development capacity to create new ideas and new products. But whatever the answer, these are the sorts of longer term strategic issues we need to tackle.

Conclusion

In conclusion, colleagues, I think it is an exciting time to be a federal public servant. Now more than ever, we have the opportunity to play a key role in helping move Canada forward.

We are on a journey together as public servants, with both challenges and opportunities before us. We will be rethinking how we do business on an ongoing basis, trying to do it better each day. We will balance long-term policy development with addressing real-time practical needs, and do it together as a team. We will work to enhance the image of the Public Service by assuring Canadians that we know how to combine practical common sense with innovative thinking and a constant focus on excellence.

I accepted the Prime Minister's invitation to become Clerk because I believe in the value to Canada of a strong and effective public service. I take my responsibilities as head of the Public Service seriously, and with humility. We must never lose sight of the noble challenge before us of strengthening the institution for which we work - the Public Service of Canada. In this endeavour, I know I can count on you. Know too, that you can count on me.

Thank you.