Of leaders and learning

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 continues a three-part look at the HRCMB, with a look at the leadership framework which proved essential in developing the initiative.

The changes that have unfolded in the Ontario government over the past five years represent one of the largest public sector transformations in Canada. From the beginning, it was clear that if the government was to succeed in transforming itself into an e-government, it would need strong IT leadership with a broad range of complex competencies – strong change management skills as well as the ability to partner with stakeholders, according to Dorothy Cameron, manager of human resources planning and organizational design.

With that in mind, the unit consulted with senior leaders of the organization and developed a competency framework for IT leaders centred on four core competencies: Strategic communication, collaboration & teamwork, innovation and management of human & financial resources.

Over the years, the leadership competency framework has been used to guide the development of performance and learning plans for all levels of managers within the I&IT organization. Performance contracts and incentive programs were also built around the behavioural competencies.

The Unit put in place a variety of development opportunities to enhance the IT leaders’ competencies. It partnered with the Centre for Leadership of the OPS to ensure that learning programs supported the I&IT leadership competency framework. Leaders were also offered a variety of external learning programs through universities. Cameron reports that officials continue to build on the competency framework; “we are leveraging our partnerships with other areas to develop our integrated capacity development system including competencies, assessment tools and guides.”

I&IT Leadership Events

Another strategy was a series of leadership events for IT leaders. The first were launched in 1998 when the organization was first created. They were called, Leadership Breakfasts and involved all the senior leaders of the I&IT organization. Over the years, these events evolved from monthly two-hour sessions to quarterly meetings featuring presentations from OPS executives and external speakers and experts.

These leadership meetings have initially provided I&IT leaders with an opportunity to understand the organization’s vision, celebrate successes, gain insights and network with colleagues. Today, they serve as a primary vehicle to help connect leaders across the organization and discuss how they can better work together to drive the government’s IT agenda. The results of an employee survey of the organization’s I&IT employees, conducted last February, clearly show an increased awareness and understanding of the organization’s vision.

Greg Georgeff, corporate chief information officer, says the leadership events “have worked out extremely well and they appeal to our management team as a forum where they can get the goods on what is happening in the organization.”

Des McKee, chief information officer for the government’s Land and Resources Cluster, has found the events invaluable. “The leadership events have created opportunities for the I&IT community to come together, to share ideas, talk with one another, and network. I think we need that. Too often it is overlooked in the rush of all the issues that we are working on in our own areas. It is easy for an IT community to get caught up in the technology.”

Lisa Sherin, director of the Human Resource and Stakeholder Education branch, said the events have made an important contribution to the leadership capability of the I&IT organization. “At first there was resistance to having numerous, scheduled events with the leadership group. That’s understandable. People are busy with the day-to-day priorities. But our evaluations from the events consistently show that they are very highly rated and people really appreciate the chance to network, to share ideas across the organization.”

Succession Planning Process

The Branch also implemented a succession planning process to begin to address current and future leadership requirements of the I&IT organization. The process began by identifying high potential candidates from senior management ranks and their feeder groups to ensure leadership continuity and capability within the organization. The Branch is now beginning to develop a leadership development curriculum to guide the development of high-potential leaders.

An open nomination process was used to identify individuals in the organization who demonstrated potential to either move laterally to a more complex role or to be promoted over time. A series of events have been held with the high-potential leadership group to provide them with strategies to better manage their career development process. The key strategies available included project leadership opportunities, leadership assessment tools for developmental purposes, profiling high potentials for visibility, executive coaching (internal and external), external and internal learning opportunities,and feeder group mentoring. The Unit plans to further develop the succession planning program by implementing a more rigorous leadership assessment process to identify a shorter list of high-potential candidates. These individuals would then be available for targeted leadership development opportunities.

The experiences of the I&IT organization in building leadership capability yield several insights for IT professionals. First, building leadership capability must be an organizational priority, not an afterthought. The organization must commit the necessary resources to build the infrastructure needed to enhance leadership capability. The I&IT organization’s efforts in building the leadership competency framework were a critical piece of their overall strategy. Finally, building leadership capability needs to provide leaders of the organization the opportunity to network and connect with one another. Regular events such as the Leadership Breakfasts have enabled I&IT leaders to come together as a leadership team to discuss common issues and challenges and build a shared leadership culture.

Vince Molinaro ( vmolinaro@gswconsultants.com) is a specialist in leadership programs with GSW Consultants in Toronto.