‘Speak from the heart’, review tells government agency in New Zealand
New Zealand’s government agency responsible for hiring and training senior officials should “communicate with passion” and articulate messages to civil servants “from the heart, not from an email,” a review of the agency has said.
Although the Follow-up Review of the State Services Commission (SSC), published last week, praises the commission for making “tangible and positive” progress towards achieving greater collaboration between senior officials across agencies and work towards better “citizen-centred” public services, it makes a number of recommendations for how SSC can improve.
It says that, while SSC has made significant progress in the field of communication since its initial review in 2013, “some dissatisfaction remains.” There is among senior civil servants, a “perception that SSC is not as cohesive or unified as it should be” and that “SSC does not ‘understand’ the real world in which state servants operate,” the document says.
To counter-act these impressions, the review says that “there needs to be much more emphasis on clear communication – both within SSC and also to the state services and to ministers”, adding that “this communication should frequently be either in person or by video link rather than always by email, which can add to the feeling of remoteness.”
To be effective and transformational, the commission should “communicate with passion,” the review says, noting that the “most effective form of communication is ‘authentic’, where the message given is clearly articulated and is seen to be from the heart, not from an email.”
It adds that In his role as head of SSC, state services commissioner Iain Rennie “must communicate with and for all state servants.”
There are, it says, “several avenues for this communication, email being the least effective.”
The review also makes a number of proposals for how SSC should improve the way it manages chief executives’ performance.
All chief executives – the most senior civil servants in New Zealand’s government typically in charge of ministries – should be given the opportunity to use a mentoring system.
“For example, a first-time chief executive could be mentored by a current senior chief executive; and a more experienced chief executive might be better supported by a former chief executive or a professional business coach,” it says.
Equally, the review states that additional “support could be provided to new ministers in particular through the use of senior advisers such as former senior State servants who could be contracted to Ministers’ offices for six or 12 months.”
These advisers, the review adds, could help ministers to “develop effective connections and understanding of their agencies and the sector and system reform requirements that they must deal with.”
Rennie thanked lead reviewer Dame Patsy Reddy “for her approach and her constructive engagement throughout the follow-up review” and said that SSC is taking steps to implement the review’s recommendations.
These steps include developing a “better understanding of the needs of internal and external audiences to ensure that we both engage and communicate more effectively” and “putting in place a new process for integrating all aspects of our engagement with chief executives.”