Managers National Professional Development Forum

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Remarks by Kevin G. Lynch,Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet

May 1, 2006
St. John's, Newfoundland


Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen and thanks very much for the invitation to address you today as part of the 2006 Managers' National Professional Development Forum.

Let me begin by congratulating the organizers of this conference, not just for the challenging agenda, but also for holding major public service forums of this sort across Canada. It is important for us as public servants to reach out to our colleagues and clients in all parts of our country. It goes without saying that, for any conference held in Newfoundland & Labrador, the hospitality will be extremely generous and the welcome very warm indeed.

You have chosen an interesting title for your Forum, "Managing the Iceberg", which conjures up the image that the bulk of the challenges we face as public servants lie below the surface. Continuing this analogy, it suggests that good managers understand they must delve more deeply than the surface perspective, that the devil is in the details, and that successful implementation requires sustained focus. To "move the iceberg" requires insight, a game plan and constant, steady attention to the priority at hand.

As the Clerk of the Privy Council and the Head of the Public Service, I understand this challenge. How we address issues, how well we understand what it takes to "move the iceberg", determines how well we make a difference in the lives of Canadians and in the people who work for us.

Your organization brings front-line managers together from across the country. People who share a key commitment to developing and enhancing management skills. People who are key contributors to a strong and effective federal public service.

I want to talk to you today as part of an ongoing dialogue with public servants at all levels, in all departments and across all regions about renewal in the public service.

To date, I have had the opportunity to begin this dialogue with Deputy Ministers, Associate Deputy Ministers and Assistant Deputy Ministers at the ADM Forum in early April. I have met with nearly 15 departmental management teams in their headquarters, and will visit the remaining departments and major agencies by the end of June. I've had very interesting sessions with federal regional councils in three provinces to date, and will continue this outreach over the coming months. And, I will have the chance to discuss public service renewal at the upcoming 2006 APEX Symposium in late-May.

In short, I believe renewal is a priority for the public service of Canada, and it is something we have to commit to together, and implement as a team.

Public Service - Serving Canadians with Pride

Today, I would like to talk about the value of public service, the value you add as managers in making the public service more efficient and effective, and how we can help renew the Public Service of Canada so it can continue to meet the needs and aspirations of Canadians in this rapidly changing world.

What does it mean to be a public servant? Many values define how we serve the Government and the people of Canada, but for me they are founded on integrity and respect. As public servants this means providing the best advice we can, carrying out the decisions of the government with excellence and treating colleagues and Canadians with respect. As leaders, it is your responsibility to promote these kinds of values in your respective organizations.

This Forum is an opportunity for me to seek your support in addressing the challenges we face and the opportunities we must seize in several key areas:

- Accountability; 
- Teamwork; 
- Excellence; 
- Renewal in the public service; and, 
- Leadership.


A priority of the new Government is strengthening accountability. We understand this-both in terms of the Government being accountable for its decisions, and public servants for theirs. You, as public service managers, appreciate the importance of accountability in maintaining the public trust, and understand the role of accountability in doing your jobs, day in and day out.

Effective organizations need clarity of roles, responsibilities and accountabilities. Easy to say, but many of you 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 and agencies with clear mandates, with the responsibility and resources to achieve these mandates, and with the clear understanding of being held accountable for results. Strong management is clearly part of such mandates.


The public service of Canada is a large, complex organization, and we have to make it as agile, innovative and flexible as possible. Teamwork is part of this. Underlying a culture based on teamwork is a simple idea: a management approach that is flexible, informal, and based on sharing information will simplify our work and make us more effective. We know from experience that organizations work best when they work together. The public service is no different.

But, as we also all know, there are many practical challenges to working together seamlessly. We have to look for new ways to work better together. This is essential if the public service is to be both accountable and innovative in responding to the current social, economic and security needs of Canadians, for keeping pace with those needs as they change, and for delivering on the Government's agenda over its mandate.


Beyond a culture of team work is how well we do our work, and what benchmarks we set for ourselves. Here attitude matters. The basic questions are simply: are we aiming daily for excellence in public policy and public service? And, are we today as excellent as we can be? I believe we should make excellence our quest. A bronze medal should not be the goal.

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.

Here, I believe managerial excellence is crucial to our success as a public service. Too often we have undervalued the importance of management to the achievement of our objectives. We're missing the message of your iceberg analogy. Strong management skills and practices have to be an integral part of achieving excellence in the public service.

The Renewal of the Public Service

The renewal of the public service is one of my priorities. This is not about launching yet another new initiative, but instead about achieving measured, constant progress. It is about excellence. It is about recruiting and retaining the best and brightest Canada has to offer, from all regions and all backgrounds. It is about making sure we pass on as strong, vibrant and vital a federal public service as we joined. It is about strengthening public confidence in 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 diagnostic 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.

Leadership Matters

In conclusion, I think there is no better time to be a federal public servant. The challenges are just that, but the opportunities are underappreciated. As Clerk, I count on your commitment to public service at this time of change, when our value to Canadians needs to be reasserted and reestablished.

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, we will all have a part to play in collectively supporting these priorities. And you, as managers, have a key role not only in making these priorities a reality but also in delivering the vast majority of government business that does not change from year-to-year. Management really matters.

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. 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.

We will be rethinking how we do business on an ongoing basis, trying to do it better each day. 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. Branding matters, and excellence should be our brand.

Working together, I know that we can deal with these challenges. You, the members of the National Managers' community, are part of the leadership community. Public servants need strong support from their managers. As all of us know, we work best when all elements of the team are working in unison. My role to help create the conditions that allow you and your employees to produce the kinds of results expected by Canadians. I will do my utmost to make this happen. You can count on me; and I know that I can count on you!

Thank you and enjoy your conference and the wonderful hospitality of St. John's!