New Zealand’s top civil servant pledges to meet more people, send fewer emails

By on 29/10/2015 | Updated on 25/09/2020
Iain Rennie is in charge of hiring and developing New Zealand’s 30 top civil servants as well as driving reform across government.

New Zealand’s civil service chief, Iain Rennie, has pledged to speak more directly with senior leaders in government, after a review urged his organisation to “speak from the heart” and swap emails for face-to-face meetings or video links.

State services commissioner Rennie, who is driving a reform programme highlighting the need for senior officials to collaborate across departmental boundaries, was told in a September review conducted by lead reviewer Dame Patsy Reddy that effective communication is key to the programme’s success, with “email being the least effective” means.

Rennie, who is in charge of hiring and developing New Zealand’s 30 top civil servants as well as driving reform across government, told Global Government Forum that he has “taken the message on board”, adjusting his schedule to make time for more meetings with chief executives – the most senior officials in departments.

However, he added that this is only one aspect of the changes: “The review highlighted the need for us to speak more directly, which, I think, has a number of dimensions to it: we not only need to use more face-to-face meetings; we also have to make our written content more direct, more plain speaking. All those things add to the authenticity of the messages that we’re trying to convey within the system.”

He also said that, while he had previously divided chief executives’ performance reviews in a 60/40 split with his deputy, he will in future carry out all performance reviews himself. “Again, it’s that personal contact,” he said. “People want the opportunity to sit down with me and talk about their performance, and that matters to them.”

Rennie agreed with the review’s main findings on the importance of strengthening personal contact with top leaders, commenting that “when you’re in a significant period of change, as our state services are, then the manner of your communication matters as much as the content.”


See also:

Our full interview with Rennie

Top New Zealand official moves to head off further sexual harassment scandals


About Winnie Agbonlahor

Winnie is news editor of Global Government Forum. She previously reported for Civil Service World - the trade magazine for senior UK government officials. Originally from Germany, Winnie first came to the UK in 2006 to study a BA in Journalism & Russian at the University of Sheffield. She is bilingual in English and German, and, after spending an academic year abroad in Russia and reporting for the Moscow Times, Winnie also speaks Russian fluently.

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