Friday, February 06, 2009

Staffing in Three Weeks and Missed Opportunities

“With a nod to Albert Einstein, we can't change the system by using the same kind of people we used to create it.”
- LeadingBlog

Big news this morning. Apparently, the Canada Public Service Agency will be “dismantled” and much of the blame is assigned to the inefficiency of staffing in the public service. As an indicator, the national average duration to carry out an internal staffing process in the federal public service is 22,8 weeks. As it can be expected, nearly everyone is pointing the finger at the "system", but…

…Meanwhile, my small organization (which operates in the same “system” as all the others) has steadily completed each of its last 26 internal advertised appointment processes in three weeks - that's 4,5 months less than the national average! (Three weeks being the amount of time between the release of the poster on Publiservice and the release of the first notification of consideration for appointment. )

As I have said before, it’s not the system – it’s what people do with the system. (If you haven’t read this particular post in its entirety, please do. I would also recommend reading the full document I produced in which I explain how we do staffing in three weeks - French version also available. While we're at it, you may also be interested in the following documents: "Beyond the Staffing Values: Communicating with Applicants and Managing Expectations Under the New PSEA" and "Innovative Practices in Staffing". Please note that all these documents are accessible to federal public servants only.)

There is no question that the public service has missed a great opportunity, and the negative consequences are huge. That being said, I firmly believe that managers and senior executives are the ones mainly (if not solely) responsible for the current situation. Here’s a recent example.

As I have mentioned in a previous post, I was in a Montreal just a few weeks ago for a meeting of all the senior executives of my Department – just over 300 of them to be exact. The topic of the panel I was part of was talent management. During the question period, a person in the audience asked: “How can we manage talent when it takes so long to run a staffing process?”. Nearly everyone in the room was nodding in approval. I seized the moment and told the crowd about my organization (which is part of the same Department) systematically doing staffing in three weeks.

Although my comment sent a shock wave through the (incredulous) crowd, not a single person came to me afterward to enquire about how we were doing it. I took this as a clear indication that the senior executives in the room either didn’t believe it, had no intention of changing their habits, or preferred not to enquire too much about how to do staffing in three weeks as it might shed light on everything that is really preventing them from being more effective (i.e. their own actions - or inaction!).

Then this Monday, I received my first enquiry about three-week staffing. Interestingly, the request didn’t come from a senior executive, but rather from a Management Training Program (MTP) participant who was in attendance at the meeting and was curious to find out more about staffing in three weeks because she thought there might be an opportunity to improve staffing in her unit. Isn’t it amazing that the only person to ask a question and to believe improving staffing is possible was not an EX?

Since receiving this email, I have been debating whether I should try once again to promote how we do staffing in three weeks. I am quite hesitant, because 99% of the people I have told about staffing in three weeks have responded by either:
  • Telling me all the reasons why this would never be possible in their organization;
  • Invoking (false) reasons to justify why my organization is able to staff in three weeks;
  • Suggesting or implying that there’s probably something we are not doing right and must therefore be breaching the PSEA.
But no one ever wants to acknowledge the real reason why we're able to do staffing in three weeks: we make staffing our absolute number one priority. I guess it's not stylish enough!

Back in 2007, I had tried to make the document I wrote about how we do staffing in three weeks available to all federal public servants. It took a full nine months to get it approved and published on the PSEA Best Practices website (and this was done only after it was announced that I was going to receive an award for my work on staffing!).

I’d be really curious to find out from someone at the Public Service Commission how many staffing processes have been initiated in the federal public service since July 17 2007, just to get a better appreciation for the scale of the opportunity that was missed by not sharing with Departments and Agencies how it is possible to do staffing differently...


D Bastien said...

I should get in touch with you about getting a guide out on this. The CSPS can disseminate it.

We currently have a "collective staffing guide" we're updating:

Maybe we can collaborate on this using GCPEDIA?

Etienne Laliberté said...

That might work.

The Collective Staffing Guide features some of our earlier attempts at staffing (the section about "DFO" is mostly adapted from this document:

I am currently in talks with CSPS to come deliver my presentation "Living Renewal" for an Armchair Discussion, and I would go into some of the details of the 3-week staffing (in addition to what is already explained here:

It might give people some ideas for turning this into a guide.