Remarks by the Clerk at the 2017 Executive Leadership Development Program 


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October 20, 2017

Good morning everyone, it is a real honour to kick off your proceedings today.

The first thing I would like to do is reinforce this important message: “do not be a passenger”. Take charge of this experience, and “lean into it”, as the Prime Minister often says. Take charge of your own learning and development, and use this forum for networking. I know that the people that have gone through Executive Leadership Programs in the past have formed strong professional and personal bonds, and it is an opportunity to get to know some remarkable public servants and Canadians. Take full advantage of this opportunity.

An important theme that I often revisit is that of continuity and change, and the balance between the two. This is something we wrestle with as leaders in the public sector. I was speaking at a Start-Up Canada conference yesterday, and I immediately gave the disclaimer that I have a job that has existed for over 400 years and we expect to last another 400 years serving a Parliamentary system that goes back at least 700 years. We are not in the business of start-ups and incubators. We cannot shut ourselves down or sell off to our competitors. We pass on institutions which are really important to the country and have been around for 150 years, but we have to constantly renew how we go about things and adapt to the environment in which we operate. We have to be constantly learning and changing.  The Public Service is made up of complex organizations, and what passes for management and leadership evolves over time. It is a very different public service than the one I joined many years ago.  The kinds of opportunities for reflection and growth provided by the Executive Leadership Development Program are really important.

You are part of a family of over 300 different organizations with about 260,000 dedicated employees.  In the context of Canada 150 celebrations, we had some interesting reminders this year of where we have come from and where we are today. I am quite pleased with these, and I would like to go through some of them.

There is a tendency in these kinds of events to focus on the leading edge of what is an irritant, what is a problem and what needs to be fixed.  Although it is important to have those conversations, we sometimes lose sight of what we have done right.

There was an attempt to do rankings of civil service effectiveness by a think tank in the United Kingdom, looking at over 30 public services in a variety of countries and societies, and the public service ranked as the most effective public service on the planet is ours. That is quite amazing. We scored particularly well on inclusiveness, human resource management and policy-making.

Similarly, the World Bank just published governance indicators, looking at government effectiveness, which is perhaps a slightly larger construct, and Canada placed in the 95th percentile with only a few decimal points separating us from being number one.

There is a forum—Global Government Forum—that looked at about 25 public services across the G20 and evaluated them through a lens of gender parity and gender equity. Again, we were number one. I could posit a correlation that a public service with higher gender parity is probably a more effective public service.

The World Economic Forum has looked at countries that have influence in the world, and across 25 nations, surveying almost 18,000 people across the world; and the country seen as having the most positive influence on the world is Canada. I am sure you see where I am going with this brief analysis.

I also came across yesterday - and you can Google all these - the Edelman Trust Barometer, which ranks trust in institutions, government, business, media and the non-governmental organizations. Canada has the highest trust in its private sector businesses of the 28 countries surveyed.

Perhaps you are now wondering why I went through all those?  Partly because it is to impress upon you, that you have the responsibility to carry all of that forward. We need to continue to be effective as a public sector because that makes for a more prosperous and safe country in many different ways, and the kind of country that really is the envy of many parts of the world. There is something really special about that partnership between an excellent non-partisan public service and the people who get elected to make the decisions in the cabinet room and in the Parliament every week. When it breaks, as it has in some other countries, you have seen what can happen.  "You don’t know what you’ve got ‘till it’s gone", as Joni Mitchell once said. It takes constant replenishment and renewal.

I think one of the reasons that we have achieved such high rankings, is the momentum of people that have come before us and what they have built. It is also because of the partnership we have between the elected side and the public service, which I think is generally quite healthy. While it has gone through its ups and downs, and stresses and strains, it has been there generation after generation and has to continually be renewed.

Another dimension is learning and development.

We question ourselves. You know what it is like to have the feedback loops of officers of Parliament, Parliamentary committees, media, Opposition critics and stakeholders. There are plenty of people telling us what we could have done better and should have done better. I am not saying this to complain. While it may be a grind sometimes, it is a feedback loop that constantly pushes us every time there is an issue. We must respond, learn from it and know it will not happen again because we are making the necessary improvements.

This pushes us to get better and better while facing the tide of rising public expectations, and we are all learning to operate in a much more open environment. This trend continues to grow. You will be leading in a much more open environment than the one in which I was an Assistant Deputy Minister some time ago.

We have all kinds of internal processes to challenge each other and challenge ourselves to learn and be better. This brings me back to the reason why we are all here. For as long as I can remember, we have put a lot of effort and intention, in different ways - sometimes with mixed results - into talent management, learning and development, and identifying leadership competencies. We have also asked ourselves questions about the leadership skills that we were looking for. We have identified people and grew them, nurturing them, promoting them, moved them out if they were not performing.

As you know, whether in the public sector, private sector, non-governmental organizations or universities, everybody says the same thing: at the end of the day, those are the most important decisions you make. Who you select? How you grow people? How you promote them? How you deal with the under-performers? These are the things that can make or break an organization.  That is why we have put considerable effort into learning and development. The fact that we are sitting here in this school is a great example. We are the envy of other levels of government, but we still have work to do, especially partnering with post-secondary institutions and other learning providers.  We have to move to an online 24/7 environment. Again, even the way we learn has to evolve in the modern context.

We have always invested in our people, despite ups and downs, and I am really pleased that we were able to restore the two executive learning programs. It was not a hard sell to the Prime Minister. He understands that when you have a big ambitious agenda for the country, it involves all kinds of activity by various parts of the public sector and you need excellence in advice and in implementation and execution. It is worth investing in the people that are going to lead public sector institutions.  

The Prime Minister is very interested in nominations and the state of the Public Service. As you all know, I wear three hats, Deputy Minister to the Prime Minister, Secretary to the Cabinet, and finally Head of the Public Service. I am very proud of this role, which is very focused on developing senior leaders, as well as overall working conditions for the Public Service. 

To you the torch is passed. Congratulations! The fact that you are here already demonstrates that you have leadership skills and competencies and now, it is just a matter of developing and improving them.

Whether you move on or up or finish your careers in the Assistant Deputy Minister community, these are high-impact positions. Deputies will often say that you have no idea the impact you have on the people around you, on people that you may have barely ever meet or see. They imprint your tone, your energy level, and your values. You have an enormous influence.

Everything deputies try to do to lead their organizations, singly or collectively, depends very much on that interface between the senior leadership and employees—certainly the frontline supervisors, and the Assistant Deputy Ministers in particular play a really big role in that. I would just ask you, to borrow a popular phrase, to be very mindful of what you project to your teams and what kinds of signals you send. There are tricks and trades and techniques and tools that make you more effective or less effective, and that is a big part of what you will learn in program. But it is also just about how you engage with people.

Again, I would like to congratulate you and urge you not to waste the opportunity you have been given through this program. There are many people who would like to be in these chairs. You have been given a special opportunity and should take full advantage of it.

Thank you. 

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