Interview: Tatiana Janeckova, Head of the Civil Service Office, Government Office of the Slovak Republic

By on 12/07/2017

For over two years Slovakia has been quietly pursuing a radical set of civil service reforms, with the goal of creating a more professional, skilled and motivated workforce. The programme’s architect Tatiana Janeckova explains how the programme is progressing

In November 2014, responsibility for overseeing the Slovakian government’s workforce passed from the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs to the Government Office of the Slovak Republic – a move designed to support a major civil service reform agenda led by Tatiana Janeckova, head of the latter’s Civil Service Office.

In post since 2012, Janeckova is – under the new Civil Service Act – now responsible for remuneration, union relations, training, disciplinary systems, complaints, anti-corruption work, recruitment and promotion across Slovakia’s government employees. Here, she explains the reform programme’s goals and sets out the progress made so far.

Q: In which previous jobs did you gain the skills and experience that you are finding most valuable in this role?

I gained my experience  and skills gradually, but in particular whilst working as an MP’s assistant, as an adviser to the former deputy responsible for minorities and European matters, and as a deputy to the head of the Government Office.

I’ve probably learned most of all in my current job though, leading the Civil Service Office. Here, I’m the main negotiator in collective bargaining with the Confederation of Trade Unions, tackling pay and working conditions, and I’m delivering our 2015-20 HR management strategy and implementing the Civil Service Act.

In this role I’ve been developing my skills as a negotiator, mediator and facilitator, and building my expertise in leadership, effective communication and coaching. At the core of both my professional and my personal life, though, are some core skills around building good relationships and working with people – respecting values such as trust, sincerity, openness, dignity and honour. I always try to listen to others‘ opinions and views, and to open conversations on the challenges we’re facing and the possible solutions.

Q: What was the purpose of giving the Slovak Government Office new responsibilities in November 2014?

The goal was to provide central coordination of state service management, allowing the introduction of new standards and systems across the workforce and improving our HMR management.

We want to professionalise the civil service. So, for example, new laws provide a definition of political and non-political roles and ensure that people can’t be removed from their roles without a valid reason, limiting turnover when a new government is elected. They also set out that senior managers must undergo a full selection process, involving their evaluation by a central assessment centre. And they require that all civil service vacancies must be advertised through a central jobs portal. These changes will provide much greater transparency and easier access to information on vacancies.

Q: Which skills and capabilities does the Slovak civil service most need to develop to address today´s challenges?

Today, citizens demand high standards in public services; and this in turn demands changes in public administration to boost staff performance. Following the OECD’s recommendations on coordination and HR management, we are acting to reduce turnover linked to the political cycle, to improve strategic direction and analytical capabilities, and to improve selection procedures, career development, training and remuneration systems.

We need to create a truly professional state service that can adapt to the 21st century’s social and economic conditions. When the new laws come into force on 1 July, the state services will be underpinned by a set of core principles: political neutrality and stability for state employees; efficient and cost-effective management; transparent selection procedures and remuneration systems; a highly skilled and expert workforce; and a central information system encompassing all government employees.

Q: What are the core elements of your programme to improve civil service recruitment, training and career development?

We are building this programme around a set of values and principles designed to ensure that civil servants focus on pursuing the public interest above all else. So it works to support integrity and common ethical values, principles and standards, recognised across the workforce; and to create a basic regulatory framework governing state servants‘ behaviour towards citizens.

Core among these values are honesty and the pursuit of the public interest; a focus on citzens’ needs; high quality performance and results; public accountability; equal opportunities; and transparency.

Q: Can you name one lesson or idea from abroad that’s helped you or your colleagues?

In the course of creating a new Civil Service Act , we were inspired by best practice from the EU countries; we have drawn from these systems to create new tools to improve effectiveness, professionalisation and recruitment in our state services. We want to make public service more attractive to graduates, and have introduced recruitment pools to help and encourage skilled young people find jobs.

We have also learned from some countries about the difficulties of implementing civil service reforms, leading us to arrange training and lead a dialogue on the delivery and monitoring of individual elements of our reform programme.

And we are keen to avoid the burnout syndrome that can affect employees. To help reduce it, we have introduced instruments including sabbatical leave and tools to improve people‘s work-life balance.

Q: Are there any projects or innovations from Slovakia that might be valuable to your peers overseas?

The Government Office is, in connection with our new Act, setting up the Assessment, Testing and Methodological Center for Human Capital. Here our goal is to increase the proportion of state servants with competencies in key areas around leadership and motivational skills; to provide professional support for new recruits; and to master advanced methods of skills verification.

Q: When you look back on this job in future years , how would you like to be remembered ?

The first thing to say is that I feel deep respect for all my colleagues who’ve worked to help me reach our common goals. I already feel great satisfaction with our progress so far, because we have already been positively evaluated by the European Commission. The commission has highlighted our new Act and recognise the value of its provisions. I’m filled with joy that our work has not been in vain.

However, we’re at the beginning of a long journey to build a truly effective and professional state service. Our achievements here must be for citizens to judge; I hope that they’ll soon feel the benefits of our work.

This job has been a big professional and personal challenge for me, and our progress has been uneven but continually enriching. I am the kind of person who always tries to see the positive sides of a problem first, then to motivate and lead people to achieve our goals. This helps me make something new and useful. But I am very close to this work; and I am curious myself as to how I will perceive this phase of my working life in a couple of years’ time.

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About Matt Ross

Matt is a journalist and editor specialising in public services, policymaking, government and management. He was the editor of trade title Civil Service World from 2008 to 2014, serving an audience of senior UK officials; and the features editor of weekly news magazine Regeneration & Renewal between 2002 and 2008, covering urban regeneration, economic growth and community development. He has also been a motoring and travel journalist, and now combines his role as editorial director of Global Government Forum with writing for other publications including The Guardian and Planning magazine.

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