Clerk’s Remarks at the 2016 APEX Symposium


June 1, 2016

Check against delivery.

Thank you for that welcome and introduction Donna.

Thank you very much. And thank you Michel. I would like to start by recognizing that we’re meeting on traditional territory of the Indigenous peoples of the region. We thank them for the opportunity to meet here today.

It's very nice to be here today. I will try to be concise and keep you on track. There are just a couple of themes I am going to touch on among so many that we could talk about.

I will begin with some acknowledgements. First of all, to thank Marie Lemay and Bill Pentney, co-champions and partners of APEX’S administrative board.

So thank you very much Marie and Bill for your support for the group.

I would also like to highlight the efforts of Michel and his team, who have organized another stellar event.

Thank you very much to the team from APEX, both the board and the staff. You always put on terrific events and you're a great partner. So thank you very much.

I will acknowledge Michael Wilson and Bill Wilkerson, two people who I had the pleasure to get to know in different contexts. Bill has been an important part of the mental health conversation which you'll see later this morning why he's an important advisor to the public service on these issues. Michael Wilson was my minister a long time ago, and I remember sending briefing notes up, lots and lots of notes from the Department of Finance saying no to other ministers, which I guess came back to haunt me later in my career when I was trying to get things out of the Department of Finance. But anyway… That's another story.

I do also want to start on a note of thank you to you, executives of the public service, and through you to the rest of the public service. Obviously the signature event of the last year, since last we had a chance to talk, was the election of October 19th, and a change of government, and all that that entails. And I think it's… the biggest proof-point I have of the excellence and professionalism and non-partisanship of the Public Service of Canada was how smoothly and successfully we went through that transition.

It started with a lot of work before hand. It started with a lot of discipline during the election campaign, and it certainly created a lot of work afterwards on-boarding a brand-new government, a new group of ministers many of whom are new to being ministers and being members of Parliament, and all of the issues associated with transition and start-up.

Transition is the period from campaigning to governing, and it's over when you've hit your speed and you're governing and making choices. And we came through that very, very quickly and very smoothly. And I think it's a testament to the public service as an institution.

But it’s also because of you. It’s the work that you accomplished with your teams that served both Canadians and our political system so well.

So I want to say to you – and please to your teams – an enormous thank you.

Thank you very much.

So let me also thank APEX as an institution.

I've had the pleasure of working with APEX for quite a while in different contexts, as a deputy head, as deputy clerk, and clerk. APEX has played an important role in the conversation about workplace well-being. In many ways, you were the trailblazers, those of you that are veterans. The work that was done by APEX about the health and well-being of executives really was the breakthrough work in many areas of workplace well-being, the surveys, the conferences, the workshops opened a conversation about workplace well-being, about stress, about work habits, about work organization, and many, many other aspects which is now propagated to the broader public service, and the quarter million men and women who serve in it. So I do want to thank APEX for that. There are still very specific issues to the executive community that you'll be talking about today, and that's a conversation which will continue for years to come, but I think given where we are, it's important to acknowledge the contribution that APEX and this community has made on behalf of the rest of the public service.

And I would say that it is a, you know… APEX also plays a role in a very practical way. So I'm sure you've had some of the commercials and some of the announcements but let me just stress that APEX itself has an advisory service for executives that you should make use of if you're running into personal situations and circumstances, and it's a terrific vehicle for peer support and peer learning. So please make full use of the organization, which is a very important partner to us.

One more thank you, if I can, which is around Blueprint 2020. As you know, we started a very important conversation among ourselves with our workplace and with our teams a few years ago about what kind of public service we aspire to become.

And there was a very deep and broad engagement with the public service, and there has been a lot of work done identifying themes and work programs and aspirations, reports, engagement, and activity. Through this whole period, one person has been the tireless champion of Blueprint 2020 among colleagues and among the deputy minister community. You may wonder what deputy champions do, but I want to acknowledge the contribution of Louise Levonian as Blueprint 2020 champion. She has been, on top of very busy day jobs, playing an enormous role in Blueprint 2020. The Prime Minister, on my advice, has given Louise one of the biggest jobs in government at Employment and Social Development and I have given her a break and let her move on from her responsibilities as Blueprint 2020 champion. But I would ask you to join me please in thanking a tremendous advocate and champion for a better public service. I don't even know if she's here, but please let's thank Louise.

So I'm going to talk about a couple of themes hopefully linked to mental health. You will get a chance to talk about the mental health and workplace well-beings of yourselves as a community. I'd like to try to touch a little bit on the impact you have on the other 240,000 public servants, and the very strong link between your leadership, your management skills, the kind of workplace environments you contribute to and help shape and create, and the broader theme of workplace well-being.

It's not just the well-being of executives, but the impact executives have on workplace well-being, which is the topic I'd really like to focus on this morning.

But I do want to be clear on a couple of messages. And hopefully you've had a chance to skim through the report I was able to submit to the prime minister a few weeks ago. Every generation or cohort of public service leaders struggles and wrestles with particular contexts, particular issues. Some of us have been through many waves of this. It may have been the program review of the 1990s. It may have been national unity issues. It may have been security and the reaction to 9/11. It may have been piloting organizations through DRAP a few years ago. Whatever it may turn out to be, there does often seem to be a dominant theme which is the subject of conferences like this.

It's very clear to me what the dominant theme is for the next couple of years. And it is generational change and demographics. And it's going to affect this community a great deal. The sheer numbers at an aggregate level are quite worrying. We have, through a series of decisions and non-decisions about recruitment, retention, departures, how we work, how we develop people, we've got old – not just me, but we have got old as an institution. We have now reached a point where almost 40% of the public service are over the age of 50. And an executive community, which is over 6,000 people – it's smaller than it used to be but it's well over 6,000 people – we are old. We have 1,660 executives over the age of 55. We have almost 400 over the age of 60.

Now, individually, you make tremendous contributions and you provide leadership and continuity, and it's not about you as individuals. But collectively it is a problem. And I think the dominant challenge of the next two years is moving as smoothly and as orderly as we can, the baby boomers like me, off the stage, and recruiting and developing the next generation of public service leadership. That is an enormous challenge, and the trick in this, as I said in the report, is to preserve the knowledge and the values of the public service and pass them on to that new generation while capturing the creativity, the innovation, and the energy that new leadership and new talent will bring to the public service.

So that is the take away. Baby boomers, it's time to go… myself included.

So one of the challenges I have to you as executives is: what are you doing with your organizations? What are you doing personally to deal with succession, with passing on those values, with engaging your staff on values and ethics issues, with learning, with knowledge? If you're clinging to your job because you feel nobody else could do it, what are you doing to develop succession, to document and train other people, to find people that can step in? You're not going to be here forever, so I think that is a big challenge for executives. Succession, development, continuity of values, and ethics. And of the kind of workplace that you create.

I don't hire very many people – I can see a few of them at the front tables – you do the hiring, you make the choices, you set the terms of the selection processes, you decide whether you paper them up with a large number of experience criteria or whether you take a risk. You're the ones who decide whether you're going to go and pool with other managers and recruit and staff collectively or in teams. Or are you clinging to individual customized processes and trying to pick particular outcomes? You will make the difference in the diversity of the public service, and a public service that will look more like the cabinet that I sit in, or more like the country that we serve.

So I have challenges to you in terms of recruitment, selection, a passing on of knowledge and values that are going to be very important in the year ahead.

There's a lot we can do together though, and I do give you my commitment that the senior leadership is going to do everything it can to make sure the rules, the structures, the policies are enabling and empowering, that we get rid of bureaucracy and process for processes sake, rules for rules sake. That's easier said than done, we all know that, and I'm not naïve about that. But that is a big challenge and an opportunity that we have, I think, with the start of a mandate, and clearly a government that cares about government and public service, and wants it to excel and be better in the future.

So my personal challenge to you is simple – and I've said this before – be the executive you wish you’d had earlier on in your career. Be the colleague that you need right now to other executives. For the seasoned, experienced, and wise members of this community, what are you doing personally to mentor, to coach, to develop teams, to find succession, to identify young talent, to bring people in, to create the room that will be listening to somebody else four or five years from now as we move into the next transition period?

Engage with collaborators, with colleagues, stakeholders, and partners. One of the big changes or opportunities that we have as a public service is we've always wanted to have more room to engage with stakeholders, with the academic community, with partners, to get out there. We have that opportunity and we have to seize it. These are particular skills. You can't just run out there and be good at consulting and engaging.

I think it’s a challenge for us to learn how to work in the modern context—how to use modern technologies, how to listen, rather than simply communicating Government or corporate messages.

Partnership is a real skill set. It's learnable, teachable, and we have to get much better at it.

Social media is obviously changing everything and we are never going back. So some of us have seen the introduction of the Internet and government online and news cycles and news channels and social media, and it is intruding into the way we do business, and it can be a real pain sometimes. But it's an enormous opportunity as well to communicate directly and to listen and to engage, not just Canadians, but our own workforces as well. So learning and mastering the skills of social media, how they affect policy, program, regulation, delivery, international negotiations, representation, inspection, this is also one of the big challenges for this generation of public service leaders. And it's not about taking 1970's work processes and automating them, or putting them on cool gadgets. It's about rethinking the work processes.

Which takes me to the mental health and well-being issue, hopefully with a little bit of coherence. And I want to thank Bill for his work on this.

Mental health, workplace well-being, healthy respect for workplace, are inextricably tied with how we work, how we manage, and how we lead. And so every one of us, collectively and individually, can make a difference. I accept the challenge, and I know that the President of the Treasury Board does as well, to do what we can to create the enabling environment and the supports that public service leaders will need.

There's nothing too complicated about a mental health strategy which we'll be unveiling and rolling out in the months ahead. Part of it is changing culture, getting rid of stigma, creating dialogue, creating conversation, creating a culture in which mental health and workplace well-being issues, harassment, discrimination, other aspects, are discussable and are dealt with. And we have set the norms and the values clearly.

The second pillar is going to be around building capacity – training, learning, development, teaching middle managers and senior managers how to deal with these issues, how to understand the root causes, practising a bit of sociology in mental health, and learning a lot about that. And we will. We’ll do everything we can to create the support for you as leaders.

And the third pillar, of course, which is the flavour of our times, is being clear about objectives, measuring, reporting, learning, and improving. Measurement, reporting, and continuous improvement is the other pillar. So that… we are not going to get it right the first time. We're going to learn as we go. We're going to discard things that don't work, and we're going to strengthen the things that do. And for that, we're going to need your feedback, and we're going to need your engagement and your participation.

So I'm quite confident that this will be a breakthrough year for mental health and workplace well-being issues in the public service. It's also going to be a year of dramatic demographic change as us… we baby boomers leave the stage and new people come in with their talent and energy.

So it's an exciting time to be a public service executive, an exciting time be part of the Public Service of Canada, period. There's an excitement about watching the kind of government that Canadians choose find their feet, make their choices. To deal with governing is not easy and we’ve helped them develop the skills. And I know you've played an enormous role in that, and the feedback I will give you from the ministers, who I see a lot of and I'm phoning almost all of, I have phoned almost all of them about performance reviews for their deputy ministers, is that they feel tremendously well-supported. I don't know what their expectations were when they were out on the campaign trail, and they probably read too many articles in the Ottawa Citizen from former this and former that, but they recognize the quality of the public service, individually, collectively, and in their own organizations. They feel very well supported. They respect you – in many cases they like you…

… too much in some cases, but... they have bonded with you and, as I said earlier, as an institution important to Canada, a little tiny country, 2% of the world's population, 4% of [the landmass]… it's important. They realize the national asset that the Public Service of Canada can be for them, and through them of course, to Canadians.

So, specific to executives, I'm working closely with Anne-Marie and with Yaprak at the Treasury Board and OCHRO. We hope to be able to roll out some important initiatives in the coming weeks. I'll give you at least a teaser that we are working on an improved program for bringing public service executives into academic institutions for a year or so of thinking and reflection, a broader public service engagement with the academic sector, and we are putting the finishing touches on leadership programs. There has been a great void created by the disappearance of the old Advanced Leadership Program and AXDP, and we will be revamping and putting in place new programs for senior leaders and for intermediate managers, and we hope to get them up and launched this fall.

So that’s my big announcement for today. Can I have a little applause for that?

Yaprak and I had to fight pretty hard for that, so…

 And there will be other things. So we recognize that the success of all of these endeavors is going to be what the old folks used to call vertical and horizontal. There are a lot of things we will do across the public service.

There are policies, rules, structures that we hope to announce in the coming weeks. There are investments. We have already seen the beginning, the start of this, in the last Budget… important investments in the capacity and structures of the public service.

But it's also what each of you can do. Each of you has stewardship and carriage of a team of men and women who come in every day to make a difference to their country, and how you lead them, how you organize your work, the kind of environment you create, the kind of leadership you exert, is going to make an enormous difference on 250,000 men and women who come in to serve Canadians and make a difference in Canada and the world.

So I'm going to thank you in advance for that contribution, but I also want to convey that it's a daunting challenge to meet all of the pressures and expectations that the government and Canadians have on us. But I know you're up to the challenge, and I am immensely, immensely proud to be your leader and your spokesperson.

Thank you very much.

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