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Public Service Renewal - Are those A's or F's?

Debra Sunohara

February 2nd, 2011 has come and gone. Deputy heads should have submitted reports on their overall progress against the four pillars of the 2010-2011 Public Service Renewal Action Planto the Clerk of the Privy Council:


Integrated Planning – implementation – reporting on results

Recruitment– targeted – coordinated - efficient – diverse

Employee Development– talent development – performance management – learning

Renewing the Workplace– collaboration – new technologies –streamlining rules and reporting - innovation – knowledge and information management – risk management – public service ethics and values


So the question is… did everyone get straight A’s or is there still a lot of room for improvement? We’ll surely have to wait a little while for the results (that’s a lot of marking for Wayne Wouters after all) but in the mean time… whether you are a seasoned executive or a brand new manager, there are specific initiatives which you can undertake to help you to continue to meet and exceed expectations regarding the Public Service Renewal Agenda and Strategic Review Process. Here is a Leadership Framework which can guide you straight to an A+ in Public Service Renewal:


Conduct a Strategic Organizational Review


1.    Clarify your contribution to Government of Canada priorities.

2.    Align your Program Activity Architecture with your strategic and operational objectives.

3.    Reallocate resources to the highest priority activities.

4.    Identify and implement process improvements.

5.    Align your governance structure for maximum effectiveness.


Focus on Performance Management and Employee Involvement


1.    Implement your Leadership Development Framework and foster leadership at all levels.

2.    Increase your efforts and build employee engagement – Have you met the Chief Human Resources Officer expectations?

3.    Interpret and act upon your 2008 Public Service Employee Survey results.

4.    Promote a continuous learning environment with high flexibility, capacity for innovation and a tolerance for change.

5.    Create and maintain a positive working environment, improve your targeted employee retention rates and attracting new hires.


Talent Management or Manage your Talent


1.    Integrate your business and human resources planning processes.

2.    Develop and implement recruitment and retention strategies.

3.    Meet your targets for workforce quality and diversity.

4.    Complete your implementation of the TBS Policy on Learning.

5.    Manage the retention of knowledge as your employees reach retirement.

6.    Succession plan.

The framework may seem a little bit daunting at first and does include a total of 16 action items. So, if you have to prioritize and choose one to tackle first, which should it be? In my opinion there is one logical choice that stands out: Employee Engagement.

Employee engagement needs to be treated as a strategic priority


Grades blackboard-320x239According to the Conference Board Report, employee engagement has been linked to:

  • Performance – individual, group and corporate
  • Recruitment, retention, turnover rates
  • Customer service and loyalty
  • Growth in operating and profit margins and revenue growth rates


A Gallup Management Journal (GMJ) 2006 national surveyof U.S. workers (1000 employees surveyed quarterly over a 2 year period) looked at the effect of employee engagement on team-level innovation and customer service delivery and found that there is a connection between:

  • Employee engagement and an organization that encourages new ideas and thinking out-of-the-box
  • Employee engagement and customer engagement
  • Employee engagement and creating service innovation
  • Employee engagement and workplace friendships promote innovation – Having a friend to share and bounce ideas off of increases idea generation and fine tuning.
  • Employee engagement and positive responses to team member’s creative ideas
  • Employee engagement and ‘contagious creativity’ – The number of new ideas is multiplied in a team setting.

Company leaders who want to drive growth through innovation should first create an environment that welcomes new ideas -- and should make engaging employees a key component of that strategy. (Gallup)


Whether you use Gallup’s ‘Engagement Ratio’ or Conference Board’s recently developed ‘Global Barometer for Measuring Employee Engagement’ to measure your level of employee engagement, you can measure your organization’s health interms of engaged versus actively disengaged employees. Gallup proposes a 9:1 ratio of engaged to actively disengaged as a benchmark for ‘best in class organizations’.

Once you have calculated a baseline measure of employee engagement the question remains, what is your target engagement ratio and how will you reach it?

Download our white paper, Measuring Employee Engagement:A Strategic Priority for Deputy Heads in the Canadian Public Service to learn more about interpreting and acting upon your 2008 Public Service Survey results.

Or, for more on the impact of management and leadership in fostering innovation, download our white paper Building Effective Management and Leadership Practices to Enhance Organizational Innovation.


In my experience, the necessary measurements mitigate establishing against cultural conditions necessary for engagement, involvement and innovation. Calculations and thorough, detailed plans aren’t conducive to intrinsic innovative motivation. Some kind of ontological change is required, but the usual accountancy-profit-driven business methodologies have to be jettisoned fast.

By 1Alevin on 2011/02/08

I really appreciate your response, however, I must say that I don’t agree with your thesis.

It is not my experience that measuring these things - or the act of pursuing profits - creates a culture that inhibits innovation or employee engagement.

Organizations like W.L. Gore, Patagonia, SAS, and Zappos provide just a few examples of for-profit firms that foster innovation, they foster employee engagement, and they are remarkably successful while measuring and tracking these metrics.

These are the performance indicators that organizations must be concerned with in order to succeed and be competitive in the new, global economy.

I would agree that change is required - particularly in the approach and attitude of the senior managers.  However, it is impossible to disentangle leadership from employee engagement, and as such any real chance of being successful in such a large and pervasive change initiative requires that the upper management champion the way.  History has shown repeatedly that change driven from the top down has a greater opportunity for success.

By Debra Sunohara on 2011/02/09

My experience tends more to Debra’s views. However, I see the point you make regarding detailed planning as no cure-all to attaining someone’s engagement—especially if it is nothing more than managers telling workers what to do. I see Peter Drucker’s old dictum that you manage inventories but lead people. To me this means that a leader’s key task is to understand the challenge thoroughly, to consult employees on their views of the issue and their aspirations regarding their work and to establish goals to move the organization forward. Those goals should include encouragement, training, recognition, and rewards.

In addition, it is critical for leaders to continue providing strategic direction and to remove impediments preventing employees from getting on with job.

By Alcide on 2011/02/09

I couldn’t agree with you more, Alcide and thank you for your thoughtful response.

I think that Jim Taggart also summed it up nicely:

“Execute through leadership: This is where leadership really kicks into play, where YOU as the leader must now enroll and align your people towards a shared vision. And the only way this is going to happen is if you give people the space to be themselves, to create that special one-on-one relationship with a particular client, and to empower themselves to create and to make extra-ordinary things happen. Innovation.”

(Leading for Success: How to Create a Culture of Innovation by Following 10 Leadership Behaviors on the Delta blog)

By Debra on 2011/02/09

If I understand the first comment by 1Alevin correctly, you are suggesting that the discipline associated with measurement is incompatable with innovation because it squelches engagement and involvement.  I have two comments on this point:

1.  Whether or not this is true depends largely on the nature of the relationships involved.  In situations of unequal power, where one party gets to impose discipline on another, innovation-promoting engagement is impossible.  I believe that research has shown that the quality of the relationship with the immediate manager is the single most important determinant of the level of employee engagement.  An open, respectful relationship is quite compatable with a healhy, consensual discipline.

2. Concerning the (ontologically determined?) incompatability of measurement discipline with innovational engagment, I prefer to think of it as a creative tension that needs to be managed with as much self-awareness as possible.  I guess this is what I would call Leadership.

By Greg Tricklebank on 2011/02/09

Thank you for your insightful comments, Greg.

The question that comes to mind is the following; if “Leadership” is the leading determining factor affecting employee engagement then should we not use employee engagement measurements to measure leadership?

By Debra on 2011/02/10

A piece that is very relevant to the current Public Service organziational climate and business reality.
A useful tool to enable managers to do some serious thinking on where they should focus their effort.

By Ian Jackson on 2011/03/11

Thank you for your assessment, Ian. I do hope that managers will see this as a useful tool that can help them assess where they currently are, what they have already done, and what they still need to do to get to where they actually want to be.

By Debra on 2011/03/11

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Posted by Debra Sunohara
Posted on February 8, 2011

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Categories: competitiveness, innovation, leadership, public service renewal