Choosing Change

In 1998, the Ontario Public Service (OPS) laid out a new vision of government. At the heart of this vision was an organization that was customer-centred, focused on its core business, streamlined and integrated, and accountable for delivering results. Technology was seen as a primary enabler of the transformation, captured in the document Using Information Technology to Transform Government for the 21st Century.

The new strategy included a $110 million investment in I&IT, meant to enable business applications and drive down per unit costs by (a) developing government-wide I&IT policies and standards and (b) providing the new I&IT organization with the right governance and accountability measures. In the initial phase of the new strategy, an Industry Sector Panel advised the government that the success of the new organization would largely hinge on its ability to attract, direct, organize and retain the right number of qualified IT leaders and staff. As a result, a separate Human Resources and Change Management Branch (HRCMB) was established in the Office of the Corporate Chief Information Officer, with a mandate to ensure the development and implementation of a smooth transition to the new I&IT organization. It was also expected that the branch would take the lead in supporting the transformation of the I&IT organization.

This issue of CIO Governments’ Review begins a three-part look at the HRCMB, with a report on the creation of the new organization and the lessons learned in the development of a cluster-based organizational structure which sought to be customer-centred and streamlined.

Ontario’s I&IT organization has recognized the importance of stakeholder relationships from the time the organization was established in 1998. Lisa Sherin, director of the Human Resources and Stakeholder Education Unit, stressed the importance of stakeholders: “It is critical for us that the business side of the OPS understands what I&IT can do to leverage the transformation agenda. This understanding and acceptance of I&IT will be a critical factor in the continuing success of implementing the next stage of the I&IT strategy.”

The unit undertook a series of strategies to engage key stakeholders, developing a Stakeholder Education Program (SEP) and moving to improve the IT literacy of senior managers in program areas of government. The idea was to help I&IT leaders take a strategic approach to educating stakeholders in and outside government about the government’s I&IT agenda. The program included a series of education tools on various subjects as well as planning guidelines and tactics.

The overall goal of SEP, according to Sherin, is to ensure that messages about the I&IT agenda are consistent and timely across the entire OPS. “If all stakeholders receive good, reliable,and consistent information, and we do a good job educating them on the government’s I&IT directions, then we can help our business partners make good and informed business choices about I&IT.”

Greg Georgeff, corporate chief information officer, has found the SEP to be a key tool with potential across clusters. “The stakeholder toolkit was put together, and piloted successfully,” he said. “The feedback indicated that it provided good value. I now want to see it used throughout the I&IT organization to help other areas promote their own stakeholder management.”

To improve the IT literacy of senior government leaders, Sherin’s group has been developing a training program for program and policy executives and managers across government. Dorothy Cameron, a manager in the branch, said that “all senior government leaders will need to have a certain degree of IT related knowledge to be able to engage in meaningful discussions with members of the I&IT community.” The branch is collaborating with the Centre for Leadership, a central agency that supports Ontario Public Service senior managers.

Other tactics to engage stakeholders include a series of educational breakfasts, a semi-annual progress report on e-government to deputy ministers, the hosting of delegations throughout the world, presentations about the strategy to both internal and external groups, and articles published for employees and the public.

The I&IT organization has also sought to engage its own employees, on grounds that it was important to understand how this transformation – one of the largest public sector change initiatives in the country – was affecting those who were actively involved in implementing it. Over the past five years, three employee surveys have been administered.

In the first survey, the results clearly indicated that staff did not adequately understand the I&IT vision or agenda. This led the unit to develop a series of events to help senior leaders understand the I&IT vision and provide them the tools to promote it to the entire organization.

The second survey was conducted in the spring of 2000. A total of 1,383 employees completed the survey, representing approximately a 55 per cent response rate – about 20 per cent higher than the expected response rate for employee surveys. The survey asked employees for their input in several areas such as communication about the I&IT strategy, leadership, organizational culture, and learning and development.

The results from the second survey indicated that communication and learning and development were still areas of concern. The survey also found that frontline IT managers were unclear on the organization’s vision and future direction. Action plans were developed across the organization to address both corporate and cluster specific priorities emerging from the survey.

The unit also developed an employee survey resource kit for all chief information officers and IT managers to help them share the survey results with staff, set priorities and develop action plans.

A third employee survey was conducted early this year to continue measuring the progress in transforming the I&IT organization in four key areas – strategic communications, leadership, organizational culture and learning and development.

The survey response rate increased from 55 per cent in 2001 to 62 per cent in 2003, indicating a higher level of trust by employees that their views are being heard and an expectation that changes will be made based on the findings. Almost 90 per cent of respondents agreed that their work is interesting and challenging – which is significant, given that this is frequently cited as the number one factor in attracting and retaining employees. The survey showed that there is a greater understanding of the I&IT vision and future direction. The biggest gain was in learning and development, where 63 per cent of staff surveyed felt they had support for their training and development needs, up from 46 per cent in 2001.

While there were modest gains in leadership development and organizational culture, the I&IT organization will continue to focus on developing leaders, working horizontally and improving communications both within and across corporate boundaries.

The overall employee survey process has been seen as a successful way to engage I&IT employees. Joan McCalla, corporate chief strategist for the I&IT organization, commented that the survey has provided insights that the change is being sustained in the organization. “We are really starting to see results and see the payoffs in our efforts to create a new organization and with a new culture.”

Vince Molinaro ( is a specialist in leadership programs with GWS Consultants of Toronto.