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Prime Minister’s Advisory Committee on the Public Service - Ninth Annual Report

March 2015



Message from the Co-chairs

Dear Prime Minister,

This is our first report as co-chairs of your Advisory Committee. We enjoyed our first two meetings with the new Clerk of the Privy Council and we look forward to active engagement over the coming years with some of the most pressing issues in public service management.

We are conscious, as are all the members of the Committee, of the essential role of the Public Service as a national institution and a key part of what might be called the ‘human infrastructure of civility’ in this country. We are also aware of the many important contributions made by public servants to the Canadian interest. We believe that renewal of the Public Service begins with recognition of its essential role in sustaining a prosperous country and a humane, productive and free society.

As you know, the members of the Committee bring to the table a broad range of experience in government, business and the university world. While we all have a deep interest in public policy, our mandate is focused on the effective functioning of the Public Service as an institution. This means concentrating on people, structures, leadership and systems for decision-making and accountability–all with a view to getting the best out of the many thousands of dedicated Canadians who constitute the federal Public Service.

We care about efficiency and we care equally about effectiveness, particularly in service to the public. Federal public servants serve Canadians well in thousands of ways every day. It is important to celebrate success, recognizing that there is always room for improvement. To do what Canadians need and expect of them, public servants require modern tools and modern skills. Most importantly, they need talented managers and management structures that will equip and empower them to do their jobs effectively. Policies require effective implementation to reach their intended goals.

As we have written to you, we see four major elements on our agenda, some of which we have already begun to discuss:

  • Operational pace and the effective implementation of government decisions, including reducing cycle time and introducing modern project management techniques;
  • Making optimal use of the middle management cadre;
  • Recruitment, and career and leadership development; and,
  • Client-focused service delivery.

This is a substantial agenda and we look forward with enthusiasm to our work.

Signature of Hugh Segal
The Honourable Hugh Segal, C.M.

Signature of Rick Waugh
Rick Waugh, O.C.


Table of Contents

  1. Part I Introduction
    1. The Committee
    2. Our Role
    3. 2015: An Important Year
    4. Blueprint 2020
  2. Part II The Committee's Work over the Past Year
  3. Part III Some Specific Issues
    1. Blueprint 2020
    2. Social Media
    3. Engaging Employees
    4. Recruitment and Career Development
    5. Culture and Values
    6. Implementation: Delivering Results
  4. Part IV Our Forward Agenda
  5. Part V Conclusions
  6. Appendix: Members of the Prime Minister's Advisory Committee on the Public Service

Part I Introduction

The Committee

Since its creation in 2006, this Advisory Committee has had the privilege of active engagement on the management and forward direction of Canada's Public Service. The Committee is a forum where members meet at regular intervals in full-day sessions with the Clerk and Deputy Clerk of the Privy Council, and annually with the Prime Minister. We also meet deputy ministers and other senior officials who are playing leading roles on issues and initiatives central to the management agenda of the Public Service.

Discussion in these sessions is open, frank and always substantive. Officials talk about what they are doing and about the challenges they face in meeting the expectations of the Government and the public for efficient, high-quality programs and services. We give our advice to them in person and we give it in writing to the Prime Minister and the Clerk. Through our annual report, we are proud to share that advice with the members of the Public Service and all those who care about it.

Our Role

We know that if the members of this Committee are to make a difference to Canada, we must be focused in our work. The federal Public Service is too large and complex an institution for a single committee to deal with all the important issues facing managers and employees today. Our challenge, as it has been since the creation of the Committee, is relevance and impact. Our responsibility is to offer ideas and advice that will make a positive difference to the management of one of Canada's most important institutions.

We know that we are an advisory committee, not a management board. Our job is to offer ideas and advice, to bring experience and an outside perspective to the important challenges facing public servants and their senior leadership. It is up to the Prime Minister and his Cabinet colleagues, with the support of the Clerk and other deputy ministers, to make decisions on what is most important, what to do about it, and where to invest. We are advisors who have had to make similar decisions in our own working lives, whether in business or elsewhere, on priorities, strategic direction, institutional change and resourcing. Our duty is to identify anomalies, address challenges to clarity and accountability, and point to parts of the system that are not working well–and recommend appropriate action to the Prime Minister and the Clerk.

As advisors from outside government, we recognize that government is not business and that lessons from the private sector must be applied with care to the Public Service. At the same time, we also believe there is much to be learned about performance management, leadership development, process efficiency, service quality and service improvement from the experiences of organizations outside government–be they corporations, universities or entities in the not-for-profit sector.

2015: An Important Year

The year 2015 marks an important juncture in the history of Canada's Public Service. The budgetary reductions of the past five years have now been almost fully absorbed by departments and agencies. A younger generation of public servants, equipped with new skills and a technological literacy that would have astounded their predecessors, is now present in the workplace. And significant changes have been made in the information technology infrastructure of the federal government that will enable government organizations to provide better, more responsive service to Canadians.

2015 is also an election year. The federal Public Service must be ready to serve whatever government is formed after the election. It must be ready with ideas and a renewed commitment to professional, loyal and non-partisan service to the government of the day. This traditional responsibility reinforces the importance of continuing investments in policy and analytical capacity to sustain a modern, high-quality Public Service.

Blueprint 2020

In 2013, the Public Service was launched on a process of modernization and renewal–Blueprint 2020–aimed at re-engineering this national institution for success in the 21st century. We were pleased to see that the new Clerk has endorsed this initiative. The Committee will be following its progress closely over the coming years.

The manner in which Blueprint 2020 was developed reflects the best lessons from broader experience with organizational change. Blueprint 2020 is principles-based; it was developed through active engagement with employees; it builds on the specific change agendas of each organization; and it commits to specific, measurable targets for success. Effective governance of this comprehensive reform initiative is clearly one key to success.

Central to this renewal agenda are recognition and exploitation of the new information technologies that have transformed life and work today, not only in government but also in the broader society served by government. This Committee has been in regular dialogue with senior officials on the development and implementation of Blueprint 2020. We understand and endorse the vision that underpins it, particularly with respect to the application of new technologies (notably in making better use of social media) and investments in people. We know from our own experience how important this is.

Part II The Committee's Work over the Past Year

The Committee held three meetings over the past 12 months. Although discussions ranged widely over management issues in the Public Service, a number of common themes emerged:

  • The issue of ‘operational pace’, a term referring to the speed at which departments and agencies are able to anticipate and respond to the needs and expectations of Canadians and of the Government. This is a matter of concern both to Ministers and to officials at all levels, especially given the speed at which the challenges and opportunities facing Canada and the Public Service are emerging today.

    We agreed that improving the operational pace of government is not a matter of ‘doing more with less’; nor is it a matter of advancing the interests of managers over those of employees. Indeed, it is front-line employees themselves who are frustrated by the unnecessary delays, excessive layers of approval, and general red tape that stand in the way of their doing their jobs more effectively.

    We strongly believe that the right kind of process improvements (what we would call in the private sector ‘reducing cycle time’ and introducing modern project management techniques) are in everyone's interest, and certainly that of the Canadian public. We recognize that there are parts of the government that perform both accurately and efficiently. We also believe that not every part of government meets this high standard.
  • The ever-increasing complexity of issues and associated accountabilities. Complexity in public policy is not new, but what is perhaps less appreciated is the cost of the complex and often contradictory accountabilities within government. In previous years, the Committee contributed to clarifying and simplifying those accountabilities in human resources management. Similar work in other areas would be of great benefit, both to government and to those who deal with it.
  • The need for a more agile and responsive Public Service, one that is positioned to implement the priorities of the Government into the future. This is another theme that resonates very well with the views expressed by individual public servants in the development of Blueprint 2020. Agility is not just a quality of individuals and teams; it is also something that can be developed at the institutional level, notably in terms of agility in the strategic re-allocation of people and resources.
  • The need to get better at measuring performance and results. This is an area where considerable progress has already been made, but much more can be done. One area of significant progress has been in strengthening accountability through the introduction of performance assessment at all levels of the Public Service.

    While these are useful steps, we would urge departments and central agencies to do more about measuring the effectiveness of client service and identifying ‘outcomes’ as a metric for assessment, drawing on the best experience and tools from the private sector.
  • A subject of enduring concern to the Committee is the importance of attracting, developing and retaining talent in the Public Service. This is one of the most important responsibilities of senior managers in every organization, whether public or private sector. It means not only attracting the right people to the Public Service, at all levels, but also making the most of those who are there already through appropriate, targeted investments in training and certification of staff over the full cycle of a career.

Part III Some Specific Issues

Our conversations to date touched on a number of themes and issues that will be of particular interest to the Committee over the coming months.

a) Blueprint 2020

As noted, our Committee has been engaged from the outset with the Blueprint 2020 initiative and the resulting Destination 2020 report. In this context, our responsibility as a committee is not so much to recommend new measures as to contribute to the advancement of the multi-faceted process of renewal currently underway. We cannot help but note, however, that a number of the themes prominent in Blueprint 2020 were championed in previous reports of this Committee, including such things as investments in technology and skills development; mobility between the Public Service and the private sector; fostering institutional agility and responsiveness; and a commitment to innovation in the workplace. We have no doubt that these subjects matter as much to individual employees as they do to senior management.

b) Social Media

Other vectors central to Blueprint 2020 such as the use of social media are matters of keen interest to this Committee. We saw in our latest meeting how the new electronic tools enable closer engagement by public servants with the broader Canadian community. By expanding networks and enabling immediate feedback, these tools can also facilitate internal communication and coordination. The challenge is how to optimize their use while respecting fundamental political authorities and accountabilities. Legitimate concerns over protecting citizen privacy and the integrity of government records and files need constantly to be addressed.

c) Engaging Employees

An important role of the Committee is to encourage the Clerk and deputy ministers to maintain momentum on initiatives that we regard as central to successful renewal of the Public Service. To take but one example–Blueprint 2020 is unique in the degree to which it was informed from the bottom up by the views of more than 100,000 public servants. Their ideas and concerns are reflected in the overall plan and in specific initiatives now being rolled out by departments and agencies across the government. No less important is keeping up the dialogue between senior management and employees at all levels of the organization. Our experience has shown that an organizational commitment to transparency, open dialogue and regular communication–both up and down–are essential to fostering the culture of innovation and confidence that is the goal of Blueprint 2020.

d) Recruitment and Career Development

As noted, another area where our concerns intersect with those of the Clerk is the importance of continuing to recruit top-quality people, across the government. In recent years, the preoccupation with managing downsizing has had an impact on operational morale and has resulted in an aversion to even modest recruitment of new talent. This is where top-down direction and a shared commitment by deputies to renewal are especially important. The Public Service cannot afford to generate a demographic hole that will lead to problems in the years ahead. Only by continuing to offer satisfying careers to young graduates, and promoting people on the basis of merit, can the Public Service deliver high-quality advice and support to Ministers and high-quality programs and services to Canadians. Maintaining programs aimed at recruiting top-quality graduates as future leaders should continue to be a priority. There should also be a commitment to increasing the number of secondments, at all levels, to and from the private sector, an interchange that will benefit all concerned.

e) Culture and Values

Another of the Committee’s major concerns relates to culture and values. As we see it, the only way for the Public Service to respond successfully to a constantly changing public environment is to create an institutional culture where change is the norm and a commitment to innovation–rather than risk aversion–is a value. This is one of the insights behind Blueprint 2020 and it is something we know from our own experience. We also know that this kind of culture cannot be sustained unless the management ethos is values-based rather than rules-based. Making this shift is a long-term process that will involve profound changes in the management of the Public Service.

f) Implementation: Delivering Results

Mission-effective implementation of policy goals, meeting regulatory requirements, and the exercise of lawful and appropriate discretion are all vital for a Public Service that serves the public effectively and efficiently. Contradictions that often exist between fairness and uniformity, efficiency and due consideration of regional and linguistic difference, due process and speedy service need to be confronted and addressed.

The Clerk has noted that effective implementation of government decisions is critical, and we endorse efforts in this area wholeheartedly. Introducing something as simple as building team skills in project management would make a difference. This is an issue to which we intend to devote attention over the coming months.

Part IV Our Forward Agenda

In 2015, we intend to pay particular attention to the issues of operational pace and the effective implementation of Government decisions, notably by reducing cycle time and introducing modern project management techniques into government organizations. We know that change is not easy inside government, but we have seen evidence of progress and we know that more is possible.

We will be following closely the Clerk’s commitment to the continuing recruitment of talented younger Canadians to positions in the Public Service, as well the related issues of career development and leadership development.

The Committee had previously commissioned in-depth work on the size and proper utilization of the middle management cadre, an important component of any well-functioning organization. We will see the results of that work in the coming months and we expect to return with conclusions and recommendations in our next report.

Another priority for 2015 is client-focused service delivery. We spent a good part of our last meeting on this issue because we want to better understand what has been done inside government so we can determine how best to apply relevant lessons from private sector experience. We will want to focus on specific cases to learn what works best. One thing we know is that understanding the various clients served by government, and getting their feedback, are essential to service improvement.

If we have a single bias as a committee, it is toward clarity and simplicity in organization and operations to ensure the effective execution of policy. We are troubled by the complex hierarchies of authority and accountability in government, and we want to do whatever we can to simplify matters.

Part V Conclusions

We have said this before, but it is worth saying again–a high-quality, high-performing Public Service is essential to Canada's competitiveness in today’s globalized information economy. Canadians have high expectations of their Public Service, and so they should. They are entitled to expect services that are as efficient, timely and accessible as those they receive from business. Canadians also expect that Ministers will be served by well-trained, highly motivated professionals who can deliver the analysis and advice Ministers need to fulfill their responsibilities in governing this country. They expect, as we do, that federal public servants will work closely with provincial counterparts in identifying and resolving problems that cut across jurisdictional boundaries.

Prime Minister, all this will require the commitment of the highest levels of government–from you and the Cabinet to the Clerk and deputy ministers, a commitment that you and the Clerk have already confirmed to us. Your support for the Public Service will foster confidence in employees and public confidence in government as a whole.

This is an uncertain period in the global economy. We know that resources are limited and that every public sector organization will need to innovate to meet the expectations of Canadians. We also believe that successful innovation and efficiency gains should be rewarded. In our experience, changing desired outcomes requires changing incentives. Business case-based reinvestment in modern systems for improving productivity in service to Canadians will be crucial to success.

We enter the Committee’s ninth full year of operation confident in the essential role and the enduring values of Canada's Public Service. We also appreciate that this role and those values cannot be sustained unless the Public Service can renew and modernize itself to take full advantage of 21st century tools and 21st century people. The goal is agile, innovative and responsive organizations that can proudly serve Canadians and their governments now and into the future.

Signatures of Committee Members

Appendix: Members of the Prime Minister's Advisory Committee on the Public Service

  • Dominic Barton, Global Managing Director, McKinsey & Company
  • Monique Leroux, C.M., O.Q., Chair of the Board, President and Chief Executive Officer of Desjardins Group
  • R. Peter MacKinnon, O.C., Q.C., President, Athabasca University and former President and Vice-Chancellor, University of Saskatchewan
  • John Oliver, Independent Chairman of the Board, Kinross Gold Corporation
  • Susan Paish, Q.C., President and CEO of LifeLabs Diagnostic Labs Inc.
  • Eugene Polistuk, founder and former Chairman and CEO of Celestica Inc.
  • The Honourable Hugh Segal, C.M., Master of Massey College
  • Rick Waugh, O.C., Former Deputy Chairman, President and CEO, Scotiabank

Endnotes

  1. The “Federal Public Service” refers to the Core Public Administration (CPA) - departments and agencies for which the Treasury Board is the employer - and separate agencies (principally the Canada Revenue Agency, Parks Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and National Research Council Canada).  Data are primarily provided by the Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer.
  2. Departures include movements from the Core Public Administration (CPA) to separate agencies.
  3. Information presented is based on indeterminate employees only, including employees on leave without pay.
  4. Workforce availability (WFA) for an Employment Equity designated group is the percentage of citizens working in occupations in the Canadian workforce that correspond to occupations in the Federal Public Service (FPS), with the data being derived from the 2006 Census statistics.  WFA estimates for the FPS and the Core Public Administration (CPA) are based on the 2006 Census.  All workforce availability data are based on the indeterminate population and term population of three months or more.  Some small separate agencies were not included in the FPS data because of missing information.
  5. CPA EX includes the representation levels and WFA for both the Executives and the Law Management occupational groups (LC group) altogether in the Core Public Administration.