Dialogue with Senior Officials Report, May 2012

Dialogue with Senior Officials PDF version [341 KB]*

Table of Contents

Executive Summary

The National Managers’ Community (NMC) held a "Dialogue with Senior Officials" session as part of its annual professional development forum held in May 2012 in Winnipeg. This is the fifth consecutive year the dialogue format was used to facilitate discussion between managers and deputy ministers.

Nearly 1,100 delegates attended the forum, including managers, executives and aspiring leaders.

The dialogue session consisted of three phases:

  • Live electronic polling of the delegates;
  • Table discussions to generate recommendations and questions; and
  • A panel discussion, which was webcast to over 300 locations, reaching another 500 participants.

Four themes were used to guide the questions and discussions:

  • People and performance management;
  • Current and future work environment;
  • Workforce management; and
  • Workplace health and employee engagement.

Ross MacLeod, Assistant Deputy Minister of Governance, Planning and Policy Sector, at the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat facilitated the session. The following deputy ministers participated in the panel:

  • Claire Dansereau, Fisheries and Oceans Canada
  • John Knubley, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
  • Daphne Meredith, Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat
  • Suzanne Tining, Veterans Affairs Canada
  • Neil Yeates, Citizenship and Immigration Canada

Here are some highlights from the session:

  • There is notable improvement in the area of performance management from previous NMC dialogue sessions. Almost half of the delegates reported that they were dealing effectively with issues in this area.
  • Managers are confident that they will be able to lead and manage in a streamlined and modernized public service, but a majority felt uncertain about what it will be like to work in the future public service.
  • Less than half of delegates agreed that organizations are communicating effectively about budget decisions.
  • Learning how to manage competing priorities was highlighted as a key training need.
  • While managers are highly engaged, they anticipate that the biggest challenge in the next 12–24 months will be keeping employees motivated and engaged.
  • A majority of respondents are not comfortable managing the workforce adjustment (WFA) process.
  • To manage employee injury, illness and disability, managers indicated a need for access to disability management advisors.

The results of the electronic polling were shared with all deputy heads and discussed with the Deputy Minister Committee on Public Service Renewal on May 30, 2012. This report will be shared with deputy ministers of all departments and agencies, and will form the basis of NMC priorities and activities into the future.

Highlights

Highlights from the Electronic Polling Results

Approximately 1,000 delegates provided responses to 22 questions during the electronic polling session. Detailed results and analysis of the responses can be found in Appendix A. The following are some of the key findings from the electronic polling, under the four main themes.

People and Performance Management

  • Ease of dealing with performance management issues:
    • There is a notable improvement among managers in dealing with performance management, but the results indicate that there is still work to be done in this area;
    • Of those who are not comfortable dealing with performance management issues, the main reason is that they are not sure what they can or cannot do; and
    • Almost half of participants feel that their organization adequately equips them to do their jobs effectively (up from 24 per cent in 2011, but similar to results in 2010).
  • Scope to do the job has decreased:
    • Some 59 per cent of delegates said they have the freedom and authority to do what they are responsible to do (down from 64 per cent in 2011).
  • More participation in outside activities:
    • A majority of delegates at 62 per cent reported the ability to participate in outside activities (up from 55 per cent in 2011); and
    • Among aspiring leaders the percentage was even higher (79 per cent).

Current and Future Work Environment

  • Ready and willing to lead and manage in the future public service:
    • More than three quarters of respondents said they have the competencies to lead and manage in a streamlined and modernized public service.
  • Improvement is needed in communicating information:
    • Some 46 per cent of delegates agreed their organization is doing a good job of communicating information around the recent budget decisions; but
    • At the time of the forum, there were still departments that had not announced decisions from budget cuts.
  • More work needs to be done to prepare managers for the future:
    • Less than half of participants felt they had a good understanding of what it will be like to work as a manager in the future public service.
  • Some recognition of streamlining and eliminating rules and policies:
    • Approximately one quarter of participants said their organization is streamlining (similar results on this question in the last three years); and
    • Only 41 per cent of delegates indicated that their organization was not streamlining rules, compared with 52 per cent in 2011 and 68 per cent in 2010; nearly a third of respondents are unsure, compared with less than 10 per cent recorded in first year (2010).
  • Managers identified the support or tools they need most to deal with change:
    • Managing competing priorities (38 per cent);
    • Difficult conversations and conflict resolution (28 per cent); and
    • Workforce planning (23 per cent).

Workforce Management

  • Biggest challenge—employee engagement:
    • While 86 per cent of participants felt engaged or highly engaged, 57 per cent said their biggest challenge in the next 12–24 months will be keeping employees motivated and engaged.
  • Fairly high comfort level in hiring surplus employees from priority list:
    • Some 60 per cent of respondents who have responsibility for hiring are comfortable with hiring employees affected by workforce adjustment from the priority administration system.
  • Of respondents who indicated they have responsibility, only half felt adequately equipped to manage the workforce adjustment:
    • 30 per cent stated they did not have responsibility.

Workforce Health and Employee Engagement

  • Almost 60 per cent of managers are comfortable providing support to employees with mental health issues.
  • Managers need assistance in dealing with employee illness, injury or disability:
    • Some 41 per cent of delegates need access to disability management advisors to ensure effective case management;
    • 20 per cent requested policies and guidelines that support early intervention and active case management; and
    • 18 per cent wanted better understanding of roles and responsibilities for disability management.
  • There is a high level of engagement in the public service:
    • A majority of delegates at 86 per cent said they were engaged or highly engaged;
    • 76 per cent said their organization is engaged or highly engaged; and
    • 69 per cent said they feel valued at work and can ask for help when needed.

Highlights from the Table Discussions

Over 125 recommendations to deputy ministers and 90 questions were collected from response sheets at the table discussions, which were grouped into the four discussion themes:

  • People and performance management;
  • Current and future work environment;
  • Workforce management; and
  • Workforce health and employee engagement.

A thorough analysis and summary of key points and recommendations can be found in Appendix B.

The following are some of the key recommendations of delegates:

  • Managers are only effective in managing performance to the extent that they have senior managers’ support and leadership. Senior management should set clear expectations for all and lead by example.
  • Learn to say no and ensure that executives at all levels are aware they are encouraged to say no in order to better manage workload and expectations.
  • Trust your employees to meet their responsibilities and to do the work  you have hired them to do.
  • Ruthlessly eliminate inefficient processes to create time for managers to manage people and performance. Make better use of electronic approvals and technology.
  • Communication needs to be more timely and informative, and more transparency is needed around the budget process and workforce adjustment decisions.
  • Managers need to be more engaged in developing options for workforce management decisions.
  • With a large increase in people on the priority list, managers need better tools that market the priority people in a better manner.
  • While the electronic polling results indicate that managers tend to be engaged, their staff may not be, and managers have limited time and tools to engage staff.
  • Awareness sessions on mental health are needed.

Highlights from the Question and Answer Session

Participants in the room and those joining by webcast asked a total of 18 questions to the deputy ministers on the panel. Detailed questions and responses can be found in Appendix C.

The following are some key messages that the panel of five deputies gave during the dialogue.

  • Managers need to be flexible and adaptable, and they need to be active listeners. They will be at the front lines of change implementation, streamlining and workforce adjustment.
  • Performance management is an ongoing system that puts people in the centre of managers’ work. Managers need to own the system.
  • Managers are in an ideal position to suggest changes and improvements to streamline processes. They need to push for change and keep providing ideas for improvements and innovations, but they should not get discouraged if suggestions are not implemented immediately.
  • Many people will be retiring in the next few years; as people leave, our business will be changing. Losing some corporate memory can be an advantage to allow for new, fresh ideas. How we manage and engage employees during this period of downsizing will have an impact on our ability to recruit in the future.
  • We need to continue to have a diverse and representative workforce. A representative workforce makes good business sense, fosters innovation and helps bring new ideas and perspectives in all aspects of our work.
  • Horizontal work is challenging and time consuming. It works against the pull of vertical accountability, and systems need to be designed to allow for collective accountability. We are making progress, but more needs to be done.
  • Putting talent management processes in place is important, but we need to pay attention to people while they are in the job. The process does not end after an appointment is made.
  • Communication, especially face-to-face communication, can alleviate anxiety; communicating what you don’t know is as important as communicating what you do know. We need to create an environment where the message can come from the bottom up and people are comfortable bringing forward their points of view.
  • Managing stress and maintaining work-life balance is critical in times of intense change. Learning how to say no, setting priorities and building support systems are key points.

Appendix A: Overview of the Results and Analysis of Electronic Polling

At the NMC Professional Development Forum held in Winnipeg from May 7 to 10, 2012, delegates were electronically polled as part of the "Dialogue with Senior Officials" session.

Twenty-two questions were asked to about 1,000 participants during the session. Nineteen questions were on the following four themes:

  • People and performance management;
  • Current and future work environment;
  • Workforce management; and
  • Workplace health and employee engagement.

Delegates were also asked to respond to three demographic questions.

A number of the questions asked in this year’s electronic polling were the same as last year’s, and some were designed to probe deeper into previous findings. Some of the new questions dealt with emerging issues.

The questions and themes were developed by the NMC with input and feedback from staff from the Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer at the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, Policy Horizons Canada and the Privy Council Office.

This is the fifth year that the NMC conducts this kind of session at its annual forum. The overall purpose of these questions is to highlight top-of-mind issues for managers and initiate a meaningful two-way conversation with senior leaders in the federal public service. Along with the deputy ministers who participated in the panel, a number of assistant deputy ministers also attended the session and took part in the interactive polling and discussion with delegates, who were mostly managers (78 per cent), executives (10 per cent) and aspiring managers (9 per cent).

Detailed Results

Demographics

Three demographic questions were asked to create a basis for comparing results across management levels, regions of work, and the delegated authorities of the delegates at the time of the polling.

The following is a summary of the results:

  • Some 78 per cent of the delegates identified themselves as managers or team leaders, which is down slightly from previous years when 81 per cent of delegates were identified as part of this grouping. Executives were at 10 per cent (6 per cent in 2011), and aspiring managers were at 9 per cent (12 per cent in 2011).
  • The largest contingent of delegates came from the National Capital Region at 44 per cent (47 per cent in 2011). This was followed by Western Canada at 30 per cent (10 per cent in 2011); Central Canada outside the National Capital Region at 15 per cent (28 per cent in 2011); Atlantic Canada at 11 per cent (14 per cent in 2011); and the North at 1 per cent (1 per cent in 2011). The biggest increase was from Western Canada, and the biggest decrease was from Central Canada. The change reflects that the event was held in Winnipeg this year and in Toronto last year.
  • Over half (52 per cent) of the delegates had authority for both human resources and finances, with almost one quarter (23 per cent) having authority for neither human resources nor finances.

Question 1

Q1: Which of the following best describes you?
Responses20112012
Manager/team leader 81% 78%
Executive or EX equivalent 6% 10%
Aspring manager 12% 9%
Other 1% 3%

 

Question 2

Q2. I work in:
The North (YT, NT, NU) 1%
Western Canada (MB, SK, AB, BC) 30%
Central Canada outside the NCR 15%
National Capital Region 43%
Atlantic Canada (NL, NS, NB, PEI) 11%

 

Question 3

Q3: In my current position, I have delegated authority for:
Neither Human Resources nor Finances 23%
Both Human Resources and Finances 52%
Human Resources only 8%
Finances only 17%

 

People and Performance Management

Four questions were asked on the theme of people and performance management. Questions 4, 5 and 6 were asked last year, and question 7 was new and intended to probe more deeply into why performance issues may go unaddressed.

The following summarizes the results:

  • Some 49 per cent of participants believe their organization adequately equips new managers with the competencies they require to do their job effectively, while 31 per cent disagree. This is a significant improvement over last year when only 24 per cent of respondents agreed with the statement and 56 per cent did not agree.
  • Some 59 percent of delegates agreed that they have the freedom and authority to do what they are responsible to do, but this is down from 64 per cent in 2011. Those who disagreed stayed fairly consistent at 27 per cent (26 per cent in 2011).
  • More staff (62 per cent) than in the previous year (55 per cent) said that their organization allows them to participate in activities outside of their core responsibilities that pique their interest. Aspiring managers were more inclined to answer in the positive at 79 per cent.
  • While almost half of managers (49 per cent) feel they deal with performance issues effectively, another 22 per cent are not sure of what they can or cannot do when addressing these issues.

Question 4

Q4: I believe that my organization adequately equips new managers with the competencies they require to do their job effectively.
Strongly agree 6%
Agree 43%
Neither agree nor disagree 20%
Disagree 25%
Strongly disagree 6%

 

Question 5

Q5:  I have the freedom and authority to do what I am responsible to do.
Strongly agree 13%
Agree 46%
Neither agree nor disagree 14%
Disagree 22%
Strongly disagree 6%
  100%

 

Question 6

Q6:  My organization allows me to participate in activities outside of my core responsibilities that pique my interest.
Strongly agree 16%
Agree 46%
Neither agree nor disagree 19%
Disagree 15%
Strongly disagree 4%
  100%

 

Question 7

Q7:  Of the following, the main reason I might not address performance management issues is:
I do not have Performance Management responsibilities. 11%
I deal with Performance Management issues effectively. 49%
I cannot risk losing the employee as they have significant skills for the team. 5%
Not able to give employees training and support. 10%
I am not sure of what I can or cannot do when addressing these issues. 22%
I try to avoid conflict as much as possible and do not take action or take action too late. 4%

 

Current and Future Work Environment

Six questions were asked on this theme, with the following notable results:

  • Less than half of participants (46 per cent) felt that their organization was doing a good job of communicating information around recent budget decisions; 40 per cent of delegates disagreed or strongly disagreed that communication was effective.
  • Some 41 per cent of respondents indicated that their organization is not streamlining rules and policies, or eliminating unnecessary ones. This question was asked in 2011 and 2010, at which time 52 per cent and 68 per cent respectively responded in the same way. These results may indicate that some progress is being made; however, those who responded that they were unsure rose over the years, while those who responded positively stayed fairly consistent.
    • While executives’ responses on the positive side were consistent with that of other respondents at 27 per cent, their responses that their department was not streamlining rules and policies were much higher at 53 per cent.
  • Respondents identified three key areas for training to help them cope with current and anticipated changes:
    • Training on managing competing priorities (38 per cent);
    • Training on having difficult conversations and conflict resolution (28 per cent); and
    • Training on workforce planning (23 per cent).

    Note: In previous years, a similar question was asked about what managers needed most to help them deal with managing performance, and they indicated that training on having difficult conversations was most needed.

  • While 50 per cent of respondents said they were aware of the policy and implications of the use of social media tools, 35 per cent said they were not.
  • Some 48 per cent of respondents said they have a good understanding of what it will be like to work as a manager in the future public service; 29 per cent said they did not, and 23 per cent were unsure. Executives were significantly more sure at 65 per cent, and aspiring managers were less sure at 37 per cent.
  • 77 per cent of respondents said they were ready to lead and manage in a streamlined and modernized public service. Only 7 per cent said they were not.

Question 8

Q8:  My organization is doing a good job of communicating information around recent budget decisions
Strongly agree 14%
Agree 32%
Neither agree nor disagree 13%
Disagree 21%
Strongly disagree 19%

Question 9

Q9. Is your organization streamlining rules and policies or eliminating unnecessary ones?
ResponsesYesNoUnsure
2012 27% 41% 32%
2011 26% 52% 22%
2010 24% 68% 8%

 

Question 10

Q10. What support or tools do you need most to cope with all the current and anticipated changes?
Training on Work Force Planning 23%
Training on managing competing priorities 38%
Training on having difficult conversations and conflict resolution 28%
Better understanding of EAP services 4%
Training on stress management 7%

 

Question 11

Q11. As a manager I am fully aware of the policy on, and possible implications of, the use of personal social media tools such as Facebook or Twitter.
Strongly agree 21%
Agree 29%
Neither agree nor disagree 15%
Disagree 21%
Strongly disagree 14%

 

Question 12

Q12. I feel I have a good understanding of what it will be like to work as a manager in the future Public Service.
Strongly agree 10%
Agree 38%
Neither agree nor disagree 23%
Disagree 23%
Strongly disagree 6%

 

Question 13

Q13. I believe I have the competencies to effectively lead and manage in a streamlined and modernized Public Service.
N/A, I do not manage employees 3%
Strongly agree 24%
Agree 53%
Neither agree nor disagree 12%
Disagree 6%
Strongly disagree 1%
  99%

 

Workforce Management

With the recent priority on deficit reduction and downsizing of the public service, the following four questions were designed to gauge managers’ comfort with issues around this theme.

The following key points were noted:

  • Some 57 per cent of delegates said their biggest concern over the next 12 to 24 months will be keeping employees motivated and engaged. Many managers (13 per cent) are also concerned about keeping a positive frame of mind.
  • Of the delegates responsible for hiring, 61 per cent are comfortable with hiring employees who have been affected by workforce adjustment (WFA) from the Priority Administration System.
  • Only one in three respondents (33 per cent) feel comfortable with managing the alternation process; 23 per cent do not have responsibility for hiring, and 20 per cent said they are not comfortable. The executive level has a higher comfort level (55 per cent), but there are still 27 per cent of executives who are not comfortable managing the alternation process.
  • Of delegates who have responsibility for WFA, about half (50 per cent) feel their organization has adequately equipped them to manage the process; 27 per cent of those with responsibility disagreed, and 23 per cent were unsure.

Question 14

Q14. As a manager, my biggest workforce challenge over the next 12 to 24 months will be:
N/A - I do not have people responsibility 8%
N/A - I do not anticipate significant impacts in my organization 15%
Keeping a positive frame of mind (personal mental health) 13%
Keeping employees motivated and engaged through the period 57%
Running a process for Selection for Retention and Layoff 2%
Providing employees affected by WFA with advice and support 5%

 

Question 15

Q15. I am comfortable with hiring employees who have been affected by workforce adjustment from the Priority Administration System.
N/A - I do not have responsibility for hiring 18%
Strongly agree 16%
Agree 34%
Neither agree nor disagree 16%
Disagree 12%
Strongly disagree 5%

 

Question 16

Q16. I am comfortable with managing the alternation process.
N/A - I do not have responsibility for hiring 23%
Strongly agree 7%
Agree 26%
Neither agree nor disagree 23%
Disagree 15%
Strongly disagree 5%

 

Question 17

Q17. My organization has adequately equipped me to manage Work Force Adjustment.
N/A - I do not have responsibility for WFA 30%
Strongly agree 11%
Agree 24%
Neither agree nor disagree 16%
Disagree 13%
Strongly disagree 6%

 

Workplace Health and Employee Engagement

There were five questions in the category of workplace health and employee engagement with the following notable results:

  • Some 85 per cent of delegates attending the forum consider themselves engaged or highly engaged. This is consistent with the responses of 29,763 managers who responded to similar questions in the 2011 Public Service Employee Survey, in which:
    • 86 per cent  of managers said they like their jobs (down 1 percentage point from 2008) and 81 per cent indicated they get a sense of satisfaction from their work (down 2 percentage points from 2008); and
    • 92 per cent stated they are proud of the work they do, while 96 per cent said they are willing to put in extra effort to get the job done.
  • While the scores of different levels of management were relatively close, the executive level at the forum reported a much stronger result in the engagement level (93 per cent).
  • The number drops only marginally to 76 per cent when respondents were asked about their organization’s level of engagement.
  • The majority of delegates (69 per cent) said they worked in an environment where they feel valued. Managers (72 per cent) and aspiring managers (68 per cent) responded more positively than did executives (61 per cent).
  • 59 per cent of delegates said they feel comfortable providing assistance, advice and support to employees who experience personal or mental health issues that affect their well-being at work; 22 per cent indicated that they were not comfortable; and 11 per cent were unsure.
  • Overall, delegates identified having access to disability management advisors as what they most need to help them manage employee illness, injury or disability (41 per cent). Managers and executives responded quite differently to this question, with managers (45 per cent) seeking access to advisors and executives (32 per cent) looking more for access to policies.

Question 18

Q18. Please rate your level of engagement based on the following scale:
Not sure 5%
Actively disengaged 1%
Disengaged 8%
Engaged 50%
Highly engaged 35%

Question 19

Q19. Please rate your organization’s level of engagement based on the following scale:
Not sure 12%
Actively disengaged 1%
Disengaged 11%
Engaged 58%
Highly engaged 18%

 

Question 20

Q20. I work in an environment where I feel valued, can acknowledge problems when they occur, and can ask for help when needed.
Strongly agree 28%
Agree 41%
Neither agree nor disagree 11%
Disagree 13%
Strongly disagree 8%

 

Question 21

Q21. I feel comfortable providing assistance, advice and support to employees who experience personal or mental health issues that affect their well-being at work.
N/A - I do not have employees reporting to me. 8%
Strongly agree 17%
Agree 42%
Neither agree nor disagree 11%
Disagree 16%
Strongly disagree 6%

 

Question 22

Q22. As a manager, in order to effectively manage employee illness, injury or disability, I would benefit most from:
N/A - I do not manage staff. 8%
Access to data to better manage absence due to illness or injury (e.g. sick leave usage (with or without pay); claims incidence,… 7%
Benefits and services that support remaining at work or returning to work when it is safe to do so 7%
Access to disability management advisors to ensure effective case management 41%
Policy and guidelines that support early intervention and active case management 20%
Better understanding of roles and responsibilities for disability management 18%
  101%

Appendix B: Overview of the Table Discussions

This appendix presents a summary of the over 125 recommendations to deputy ministers and the 90 questions collected from response sheets at the table discussions, grouped by the four discussion themes:

  • People and performance management
  • Current and future work environment
  • Workforce management
  • Workforce health and employee engagement

The highlights of the recommendations under each theme are as follows.

People and Performance Management

  • Give managers the ability and authority to manage. Streamline processes and reduce bureaucratic/administrative burden.
  • There needs to be buy-in for streamlining. Consider how you can make this happen.
  • There seems to be a discrepancy between the results of electronic polling and the reality of the working environment, especially regarding performance management, morale, and clarity of roles and responsibilities.
  • Regarding communications identify which departments are doing well and which are not. Select the ones that will set the example, and champion best practices.
  • Managers need clear direction on how to provide service excellence within budget constraints.
  • Performance management should be a mix of performance and talent management to enhance the talents and skills of employees.
  • Just because 50 per cent or so of the responses are positive, this does not mean success. If 30–50 per cent are neutral or negative, this will be a huge concern and a challenge to moving forward. Notably, the question on processes was skewed negatively.
  • Managers are only effective in managing performance to the extent that they have senior managers’ support and leadership. Senior management should set clear expectations for all and lead by example (by managing performance). Support managers when they do manage performance.

Current and Future Work Environment

  • Develop tools to prepare managers to manage in the future.
  • Learn to say no and ensure that executives at all levels are aware they are encouraged to say no in order to better manage workload and expectations.
  • Be mindful of the erosion of corporate management support in the regions, on top of the consolidation efforts brought about by the deficit reduction action plan (DRAP).
  • There is a risk of losing young, bright people. Departments are closing ranks.
  • Lack of information regarding the organization’s plans for DRAP may be why managers feel unprepared for the future. The more information people have, the better they can plan overall.
  • To the best of your ability, reduce the period of uncertainty for people. Don’t keep them in limbo. People will adapt to whatever decision is made about their position because it allows them to plan. The uncertainty is what is hard on people.
  • Simplify the way information (procedures, guidelines, tools, etc.) is currently organized.
  • Trust your employees to be responsible and to do the work you have hired them to do.
  • Ruthlessly eliminate inefficient processes to create time for managers to manage people and performance. Make better use of electronic approvals and technology.

Workforce Management

  • Communication needs to be more timely and informative.
  • More transparency is needed around the budget process and workforce adjustment decisions.
  • Managers need to be more engaged in developing options for workforce management decisions.
  • Managers need more access to human resources (HR) services.
  • Regional resources are very limited, i.e., alternation does not work in most regions and smaller communities. It is more feasible in the National Capital Region given the larger pool of resources.
  • There is a stigma attached to priorities. With a large increase in people on the priority list, there is a requirement to improve the tools available to hiring managers to market the priority people in a better manner.
  • Communication to employees who are not affected is equally important. This would help reduce ambiguity.
  • Provide managers with a global perspective. Also recommend that procedures be as standardized as possible for issues common across departments.

Workplace Health and Employee Engagement

  • While the electronic polling results indicate that managers tend to be engaged, their staff may not be, and managers have limited time and tools to engage staff.
  • Although electronic polling results indicate that managers feel equipped to deal with workplace health issues, the results also indicate that respondents want more access to HR advisors on matters related to managing return to work.
  • While existing support for managers is good, there is room for improvement to existing processes. Inroads could be made, especially in training new managers and in supplying tools to managers so they can improve or affect employee engagement.
  • Awareness sessions on mental health are needed.

Appendix C: Overview of the Question and Answer Session

Five deputy ministers participated in the panel for the in-person dialogue session:

  • Claire Dansereau, Fisheries and Oceans Canada
  • John Knubley, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
  • Daphne Meredith, Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBS)
  • Suzanne Tining, Veterans Affairs Canada
  • Neil Yeates, Citizenship and Immigration Canada

The following is a summary of the questions asked and the responses provided by the deputy ministers.

Q1. Workforce adjustment decisions were made at corporate level, with no input from front-line managers. How can managers be better engaged during the implementation phase?

Daphne Meredith 
Strategic and operating review proposals were tied to the budget approval process and could not be shared widely. The creation of the proposals varied depending on departments, but their implementation can allow for engagement of managers.

Q2. What is the vision of the manager of the future, and how does it differ from the manager of today?

Neil Yeates 
Pace of work and technology are key factors that require rethinking processes and approaching problems in a new way. Managers will still need fundamental skills like adaptability and flexibility.

Q3. Will TBS be streamlining the rules surrounding classification and pay?

Daphne Meredith 
TBS is attempting to reduce the number of rules and reporting burdens and is simplifying classification in the Program and Administrative Services group and the Computer Systems group, to better tailor to the work of the future and make it more manageable. We should not underestimate the value of generic job descriptions.

Q4. It takes time to implement changes and streamline. How can managers accelerate the process of policy change?

John Knubley
Managers are in a better position than deputy heads or senior managers to identify change, and they should keep pushing for innovation, creativity and change.

Q5. Dr. Mark Federman [a forum workshop presenter] said that performance management agreements are an outdated paradigm for a modern organization. What do the deputy ministers think?

Suzanne Tining
Performance management agreements can be a "ticking-the-box" paper exercise that doesn’t get to the core of what managers need to do with performing and non-performing staff. Managers need to own the performance management system and realize it is not a once-a-year exercise.

Neil Yeates
A performance management agreement system must be part of a larger strategic planning and reporting regime. Without that, it will always appear out of context.

Claire Dansereau
Performance management is an ongoing system that puts people in the centre of a manager’s work. The focus needs to be on the people as much as on the work itself.

Q6. How does the panel see changes for the executive of the future?

Claire Dansereau
Executives of the future will be an extension of the managers of the future – flexible, people-focused, and capable of listening and learning from their teams.

Suzanne Tining
The goal of executives is to translate government priorities into reality for the organization so that decisions make sense.

John Knubley
Managers and executives of the future must support their people, especially during times of major change. Active listening and being attentive to responses from your staff is key.

Q7. How do you see workforce management occurring – hiring, retention and succession planning – in five years’ time?

Daphne Meredith
Within five years we will again need to attract and retain new public servants. How we manage our people during downsizing will have an impact on our ability to bring in the people we will need in the future. Our workforce is 86 per cent indeterminate staff, and we need to ask whether that’s the right proportion to enable flexibility in the future.

Claire Dansereau
The downsizing of today should change how we do business so that in five years, if there are future expansions or contractions, it won’t be as large of a shock to the system. We need to build resilience into the system. Flexibility will become a way of life.

Q8. Is the current structure of the public service well suited to meet the policy and service demands of Canadians in the 21st century? Do we need to move toward a more horizontal structure to empower managers and employees, while respecting accountability and maintaining the public trust?

Neil Yeates
This is a huge dilemma confronting the public service, and there is no straightforward answer. Horizontal work is challenging, time consuming and works against the pull of vertical accountability; systems need to be designed to allow for collective accountability. It is a key question facing the public service.

John Knubley
There is huge opportunity to do more horizontal work in the back office and in interfacing with citizens. We have made progress, such as the creation of Shared Services Canada. As managers, we’ll be asked to do more horizontal work.

Suzanne Tining
Creation of Shared Services Canada is one sign that some of the structures are starting to shift. We don’t yet have an answer to how it will happen, but we recognize that moving to a horizontal structure must happen. We need to find a way to use technology to meet the needs of the public.

Q9. How can we ensure that the public service is representative of the citizens we serve? 

Suzanne Tining
Diversity brings different points of view to the table, and employment equity is being considered as part of selection for retention and layoff processes.

Daphne Meredith
All departments have to set employment equity objectives and report on them. This will not change with downsizing.

John Knubley
Diversity – just do it! It is good business and fosters innovation. Diversity of people is also about diversity of ideas, and it is essential.

Claire Dansereau 
Diversity is a portion of merit, and every manager is accountable to ensure we have a diverse and representative workforce.

Q10. What support is available to empower managers in dealing with unions during a period of downsizing when HR and labour relations specialists are overwhelmed?

Suzanne Tining
In recognition of the pressures on HR, budgetary cuts in Veterans’ Affairs for HR have been deferred to meet the increased need for labour relations capacity to support managers as they go through the initial downsizing.

Claire Dansereau
We need strong labour relations at all times, and doing so is not an HR function. It is a management function to work well with unions.

Daphne Meredith
Capacity will be constrained, and attempts have been made to put labour relations advice on the TBS website. Lists of frequently asked questions are available to ensure wide access and allow all departments to operate as a single entity.

Q11. We hear about putting the right people in the right job at the right time. What’s the approach to facilitate that, and is it a common one across departments?

Suzanne Tining
The way people are selected and developed will vary, but the outcome is the same across departments. It is our responsibility every day.

John Knubley
All departments have moved toward regular talent management exercises at the EX levels and are bringing them to the lower management levels. We will be doing talent management now for surplus and affected employees, and need to focus on these impacted employees.

Neil Yeates
It is easier said than done. Talent management is as much an art as a science, and we need to be aware that jobs change over time.

Claire Dansereau
Putting talent management processes in place is important, but we need to pay attention to people while they are in the job and to catch mistakes as early as possible to ensure that people have what they need to succeed. The process does not end after an appointment is made.

Q12.  How is the Clerk measuring deputy ministers on collaboration? How has the Clerk expressed his expectations of collaboration to DMs?

John Knubley
The Clerk expects deputy ministers to work as a team. All DMs participate in horizontal committees on common issues such as the economy, the environment and talent management, and DMs are formally evaluated on this. Intra- and inter-departmental collaboration is expected at all management levels.

Suzanne Tining
There are many inputs into performance measurement of deputies – ministers, central agencies, COSO [Committee of Senior Officials] and chairs of DM committees. There are multiple angles to evaluate DMs on collaboration.

Q13.  What advice do deputy ministers have for highly talented casual and term employees, who tend to be young and dynamic, in view of reduced opportunities during this time?

Daphne Meredith
Opportunities for advancement are more limited during a time of downsizing. Hiring will not stop, and the job market within the public service will be much more promising in 18 months.

Suzanne Tining
Many people will be retiring in the next few years and as people leave our business will be changing. Losing some corporate memory can be an advantage to allow for new, fresh ideas. The future is not bleak.

John Knubley
Young employees should not "lay low." We need people to step up and rethink how we do our jobs. This is an exciting time. Canada is an economic leader, and the global context is changing.

Q14.  How can managers improve employee engagement when there are real or perceived barriers to the process from the centre? 
John Knubley
We need to focus on good people management, including communicating and active listening. It is particularly important for senior managers to talk with their staff and to listen to them, not to find solutions but just to be present with staff.

Claire Dansereau
Communication, especially face-to-face communication, can alleviate anxiety. We need to make constant efforts to improve our communication, while at the same time respect what people can and cannot say within the roles established by our democratic system.

Suzanne Tining
One of the biggest challenges we face is that the people best placed to bring about change are the ones doing the work, not those in senior leadership. It's not just the message we send from the top down. We need to create an environment where the message can come from the bottom up and where people are comfortable bringing forward their points of view.

Daphne Meredith
Communicating what you don’t know is as important as communicating what you do know.

Q15.  As a leader, how did the process of DRAP affect you personally, and how are you coping with the impacts?

John Knubley
Creating deficit reduction proposals at Agriculture and Agri-Food took up a great deal of time. The goal was to focus on transformative change and the core mandate of the department. On a personal level, it was extremely stressful and always on my mind. Different people will accept change at different rates, and we need to address both what people are doing and how they are feeling. We need to be attentive to ourselves as much as to our staff and colleagues.

Claire Dansereau
As DMs, we need to recognize that the changes being made are profound transformations for our staff. But for DMs, transformational change is core to our work. We need to recognize that the people who work in our organizations aren't always in the same frame of mind. Sometimes we need to slow down the pace of change. It's helpful to have a self-supporting team to get through tough times. One of the lessons of a deputy head is that it's hard for DMs just like it's hard for line managers.

Suzanne Tining
Sustained effort to transform the department takes its toll on all of us, whether we are impacted by the change or are involved in driving the change. At the same time we are facing public and media scrutiny. One source of strength is to focus on our commitment as a public servant.

Q16. Where is the holistic analysis and action plan to use technology more effectively, recognizing the limits of technology to interpret information and facilitate collaboration and discussion? 

Neil Yeates
We need to ask where our intellectual capital is housed. In most organizations, this information is hard to locate. Technology can be a vehicle for collaboration, but in an increasingly complex environment it is too easy for technology to bring information without analysis, and it is too easy to get buried in information.

Q17.  What are the deputy ministers’ views on work-life balance, particularly for front-line managers?

Suzanne Tining
We all have to learn how to say no, how to set priorities. We need to focus on what's most important and where we bring added value. Learn when and where to say no.

Neil Yeates
It is important to have a normal life with activities outside of the workplace.

Daphne Meredith
Family can be a healthy distraction from work, and collegiality in the workplace can help manage stress.

John Knubley
Managers are the key to change, and managers need to walk the line between innovation and stability, between change and continuity.

Claire Dansereau
At work, having a network of colleagues is important so that you can get the information needed to make decisions. We need to be focused and organized, so that we do not bring our work home with us.

Q18.  What are the real costs and benefits of integrating services like IT and HR, and how will return on investment be calculated and evaluated? What mechanisms are in place to allow for course corrections along the way?

Neil Yeates
Many common services are internal "utilities", and departments do not need to be experts in running a utility. Service standards are important, along with regular reporting of problems. Even for departments with solid and reliable IT infrastructure, there are benefits to joining a larger infrastructure.


* If you require a plug-in or a third-party software to view this file, please visit thealternative formats section of our help page.