EXecuTALK: Building Agility and Swift Mobilization Between Headquarters and the Regions (video)
Description: Join us for this EXecuTALK to learn more about the Government's emergency response during the COVID‑19 pandemic.
Date: May 25, 2020
[This EXecuTALK aired Monday, May 25, 2020]
[Host, Manon Fillion, interviews Christine Donoghue, Deputy Commissioner at the Canada Revenue Agency and Sylvie Bérubé, Assistant Deputy Minister at Service Canada, Western Canada and Territories.]
[Manon Fillion] Good day and welcome virtually to the Canada School of Public Service. My name is Manon Fillion and I'm a senior faculty member of the Canada School of Public Service. I'm pleased to introduce today's EXecuTALK entitled "Building Agility and Swift Mobilization Between Headquarters and the Regions".
On behalf of the School, I would like to welcome all of you to this event. Please log off of your VPN to help you experience the event at the fullest level. If you are experiencing technical issues, it is recommended to relaunch the webcast link provided to you. I would like to wish a warm welcome and introduce you to Christine Donoghue, Deputy Commissioner at Canada Revenue Agency and Sylvie Bérubé, Assistant Deputy Minister, Service Canada (ESDC), Western Canada and Territories Region. Welcome to our EXecuTALK. Christine and Sylvie will be our invitees today. And before we start the conversation, I would like to give you some highlights of the wonderful work that they achieve together.
So with the pandemic and the crisis, all of us know about the extreme demands that was put on these two departments to implement the massive financial aid package that was delivered. They have to mobilize public servants rapidly to improve and also abandoning the play it safe and rules driven, to put needs of Canadians first. So this is very important. And today, Christine and Sylvie will explain to us how they work closely with their own employees, but also working closely between the two departments and how they achieve that. So just to give you a magnitude of the work that was accomplished. The total Canadian emergency recipient benefits for both unemployment, EI and non-EI eligible. We received eight point one six million of applicants as of last Friday. Which is - sorry. This is unique applicants, sorry. The application received in total was fourteen point five. Seven. Fourteen point six million. And they have processed fourteen point five four. There's about 300 thousand to be processed. Ending in the processing funnel. The total benefits paid. Which is very I'm struck by the amount, which is thirty-eight point nine eight, which is close to thirty-nine billion dollars. So just as an example, in two weeks, they handled three point one billion application, which is normally is the workload that it's required to process a full year of application. So this is just to give you the magnitude and the task that was accomplished by my invitees today. So without any further ado, I'm going to ask Christine and Sylvie to share and describe the leadership exhibit to successfully deliver this government emergency program to help Canadians. So let's do it.
[Christine Donoghue] Thank you so much, Manon. Hi, everybody. I'm very pleased to be with you to be able to share this unprecedented experience, which is an experience that was lived, yes, between two departments. Well, actually, more than two, but primarily two delivery departments, but also an experience that was unprecedented within even our own organizations.
So I think what made the leadership really work well was the fact that we really put a lot of emphasis on communicating among ourselves and making sure that we understood what the objectives were and where were the commonalities and some of the differences/
Because as outlined in Service Canada and Sylvie's team were very much about delivering for the people that were EI eligible. And the CRA came in to actually stand up assistance so that we can actually deal with the people that were not EI eligible, which would basically assist Service Canada with the magnitude of potential applicants if they had to deal with both sides of the coin. So we needed to have a common view of the objectives. We need to basically find the way that we would be treating Canadians with fairness and equity in the context of both systems, and that we were on the same page as per timelines. And so the strategy moving forward had to basically be the same and understood and agreed between both departments, which required a lot of work from both our internal teams, from the I.T. perspective, from the program design perspective and actually from the overall leading this and making sure that we were working hand-in-hand in that context so that Canadians would not be confused within the two systems. So, Sylvie, did you have anything that I missed that you'd like to add?
[Manon Fillion] We'll turn over to Sylvie.
[Sylvie Bérubé] Thanks so much for queuing that up so beautifully and good. Good morning to Western Canadians. Good afternoon to those of you in another time zone. I'm going to add a little bit, Christine and I'd like to just dwell on some of the order of magnitude that both Manon and Christine have spoken to.
So before COVID-19, we could anticipate getting around seven thousand five hundred claims on a daily basis. March 16th, seventy-one thousand applications. March 18th. By March 18th, we had over one hundred and thirty thousand applications. So when you compare seven thousand five hundred a day to like, just there's no way we will be able to do the same things we've always done to be able to address those volumes. And so when I say claims, we're talking about Canadians. We're talking about people who lost their income from one day to the next. And we really needed to mobilize to be able to support them and really one of the toughest times that they will have faced. So the major external disruption really caused us to pull together. And Christine has already alluded to this. But what it feels like I'm going to go a little deeper and say, OK, this meant that we needed to have our policy teams working closely together, legal teams, regional operations, I.T. specialists, financial expertise programs. It really took everybody pulling together to that common objective that Christine has spoken to.
And of course, we worked in partnership with CRA and Shared Services Canada because we really went from handling things in a way that worked for traditional volumes. We needed to move digital. We needed to do it quickly. And we needed to get equipment out into the hands of our employees and that we hadn't ever faced previously.
So the part I'd like to elaborate on as well as we also stood up a brand new call center. And so not only are we talking about the benefit itself, but we stood up a whole new call center within nine days, end to end. Fifteen hundred employees on our side who were mobilized from different business lines, who weren't providing critical services. Train them, get the equipment out to them from across Canada, so that they be able to answer the questions from the new recipients of the benefit.
So my final point, before I turn it back to you, Manon and Christine, is that while that we did launch Canada's Emergency Response Benefit, at ESDC we also launched other services at the same time. So while this is a really important one, the ground was shifting beneath us while we were finding ways to be as client-oriented as we could, move digital, but also find alternative ways to serve our more vulnerable clients and vulnerable
communities. So perfect storm. But man, we rose to the occasion and I couldn't be prouder of the result, and what we've seen come forward from all levels.
[Manon Fillion] Merci. Thank you very much, Sylvie. Thank you, Christine. Maybe before we move to the other topic, I'm a little bit. I'd like to chase a little bit or tease you a little bit more about how you exercise your leadership to involve your employees. How - and I'm taking your example, Sylvie. You took and stood up a call center in nine days. How did you achieve that and how did we make that happen? And I've been a public servant for twenty-nine years, and I never and then we're not the one or the most fast to implement things in government. How were you successful and how did you involve your employees to make that happen?
[Sylvie Bérubé] Well, Christine talked about it. She talked about risk-taking and we couldn't do the same things we'd always done. So it meant that we needed to be agile in terms of bringing in our employees, bringing in and recognizing that good enough was a good start. We couldn't seek perfection. What usually happens is when traditional processes, it goes to various governance committees, it comes back down. It goes back up. We just knew that that wouldn't be possible. So there was an effective mobilization of our departmental crisis management team with our four deputies at the table. All our ADMs. There were DG committees from across Canada who helped to shape the development of the benefit, but also to infuse operational reality into what was being proposed, because what can look to work from what part of the country may not be the same in the rest of the country. And so there is how we brought in voices from - maybe not traditional voices all the way through, and we were able to be agile and adjust and come at it very quickly in the communications aspect with our employees, newsletters, tweeting. Informing our managers so that they were aware of what was going on and could reach out to them. It was really a multipronged effort. And it still is. I'm talking in the past, but I really shouldn't be. It's a gargantuan effort that is still underway.
[Manon Fillion] Christine –
[Christine Donoghue] What was amazing for us is that people generally don't realize, but the CRA had never dealt with employment or EI issues. That is not part of our mandate. We deliver benefits in other sectors. But we had never done it in the context of the employment issues. So we had to stand up a system from zero. We basically had to rely and understand and get the expertise of what it meant. And in employment insurance system from Service Canada and ESDC.
And so we stood up a system from zero with the design from a digital standpoint, and we needed to ensure that we were doing things clearly because the systems had to be, like I said earlier, you know like acting the same way. But at the same time, being clear about the distinction about what Service Canada was who was dealing with and who we were. So we needed to basically tell our staff that they could, that they needed to be solution-oriented. They needed to be solution-oriented. They needed to be creative. And we needed to let them do their jobs with the expertise that they had, because we did not have the time to test and to start over and to design a plan A, a plan B and a potential Plan C. So that meant letting people do their jobs and doing it with the expertise that they had. And they knew that they had the ability to work with thinking outside the box. And we said, listen, this is basically a pilot test going live from the start. So this was never, it never happened before. It's probably one of the best-lived experience, because you realize that that you can create a system and that you ensure that you have the mechanism and that you give the right to people to build a mechanism to course correct. And the
communications was really, really an honest and transparent communication with Canadians because it was about telling them, listen, we've never done this and we're doing this on your behalf. And we actually called out to be able to fill our query centres with volunteers because we had a lot of people that were at home. And so seven thousand five hundred people from the CRA raised their hands to want to basically help in our call centres. And the amazing thing is that we also worked outside the norm of the systems that we worked before. We made a call out to Amazon who helped us stand up a call center, which gave us a lot more flexibility and also using the existing system we had.
But like Service Canada, we were also delivering other types of assistance to Canadians while we were actually inventing from zero. This new system for the crisis, Emergency Response Benefit.
[Manon Fillion] Christine, I think this is very good information and sharing good practices. So based on that, how can we leverage this new way of doing business and staying agile and work and collaborate, still continue to work collaboratively after the pandemic. What's going to be left after that? Why do we have to go back to where we were? From your perspective, what should stay?
[Christine Donoghue] We have been monitoring our staff who have worked in a context that gave them that space to actually do their jobs, and the experts that they are. And when we actually talk, because I've spoken to all our people in the Regions, because you have to understand this was not just headquarter-driven. We have blurred the lines between not only other departments, but our own regions and our headquarters. Everybody came forward to basically contribute to this work. And that is one thing that everybody's saying that they want to see continue. They want to continue to be able to contribute, to be able to take chances, to be allowed to take some risks, intelligent risk. And we actually even had our audit an evaluation team side by side with us so that they could inform us on, did you think about the critical control? Because we couldn't let it - it wasn't a free for all, either. It needed to have the quality of programs from the Government of Canada. So we needed to know. So what we want and the expression that staff has used, they're so afraid that the elastic will that has been stretched will snap back to where it was. So that is the commitment that we made: is keeping the lessons learned. We've documented everything and we realize that we can do way faster with way more and we can actually do more quick decision making. And sometimes that's what we have to think about. Often when it's slow and it's difficult, we do it to ourselves. So basically it's about being clear about what's the outcome and then letting people do their work. And that's what people are asking us to do in headquarters and in the regions. And what has been amazing is that they've discovered each other and realize the skill sets that we have and how they can actually share and basically think in this context. . And so what we want to do is not go back.
[Manon Fillion] Wow. Very inspiring. Sylvie, give us your talk. And how are you going to continue to move in that direction?
[Sylvie Bérubé] Right, of course and everything that Christine has said, I couldn't agree with more. I think that something to underscore, something that (unintelligible) response that we've seen.
[Manon Fillion] Is it me or did we lose Sylvie?
[Christine Donoghue] Yes, I think we lost Sylvie. Ok. I can go on and on and on, if you wish.
[Manon Fillion] That's OK. I think she agreed on that and we'll just continue to have that conversation when she's going to try to join us back. And we can take it from there.
[Christine Donoghue] And Manon if I can add one thing. You know what? It was really funny, the day of launch, D-Day, as we called it, right. We did in five weeks, 18 months worth of work. So when we were launching, we had a war room that was joint war room with SSC, ESDC, ourselves and the system went live. The two systems went live simultaneously. And they stood, and they worked. And we had within hours thousands of Canadians that were applying and everything continued and nothing failed. You should have heard the celebration in the war room. It was incredible.
[Manon Fillion]] Oh, my God. You're just telling me. And I have goosebumps. And honestly, because this is I think, when we are public servants, this is what we want. We want to act fast. We want to contribute. And, you know, everything that you mentioned, I think that's the key to make public servants and our employees increase the satisfaction at work and feel that they are really, really contributing. So that's very interesting. So I thought Sylvie was back. Sylvie?
[Sylvie Bérubé] May I ask if you can see me now. I'm not sure what happened.
[Manon Fillion] That's OK, we can hear you. We cannot see you, but –
[Sylvie Bérubé] I still look the same as I did four minutes ago. So if you don't mind, I'll just persevere with my comments and perhaps the camera will turn on. Does that work for you, Manon?
[Manon Fillion]] Yes, absolutely. We want to hear from you, Sylvie.
[Sylvie Bérubé] All right. Well, here's what I wanted to, where I was going with the asymmetric response. Is that what we need to continue to see is the ability for us to bring in that local knowledge of response to local conditions. But that becomes factored into the broad national approach. So that is something that we absolutely must keep. And we've seen that we've risen to that occasion.
Telework, I don't know if that's where you were. I need to touch down on teleworking. The fact that we keep most our employees without them being able to telework. We never would have been able to deliver the benefit, nor would we have been able to stand up the call center. And so by giving tools for employees and teleworking, which was a challenge in my department previously, because of Protected B information, we want to protect the information of Canadians. But we found a way to address it. So that's something that we want to keep and keep as we go forward. And my final point is just over on this, harnessing the full strength of the team and to shorten that transmission period. So that we're not putting up that, you know, the perfect product or the perfect benefit and that's taken us years. It's like we try it, we adjust it, we tweak it. And that's working. And we need the risk and innovation aspect of what we need to continue going forward.
[Manon Fillion] Yeah, that's very, very good advice. So now we're going to continue. And because now you're talking to executives and this forum is really for executives. How and what kind of advice can you give executives to continue, or to start creating that culture
change? Because it's a real culture change about what you were explaining, Christine, the risk-taking approach. So, what kind of advice? And it's really just the two minutes each. And then maybe we'll start with you, Sylvie, or we can wait until you have your camera back. I'm going to go to Christine.
[Christine Donoghue] All right. So as executives. The best advice I could give you. First of all, is communicate with people. Make sure that you're in touch with how they're feeling, because it is stressful. Don't underestimate the number of hours that people have put in. But at the same time, be there to listen if they need you, be there to guide them if they need you. And I do emphasize the if. So, quick decision making. Bottom line, it comes down to trust. Trust the teams that you're working for. Make them understand that you have risk tolerance, that you're not going to basically expect them to explain everything. And that you're going to let them work. So, bottom line, my best advice to you guys is guide them, but know when to get out of the way.
[Manon Fillion] I think that's very, very good advice. So Sylvie's back. We can see her. So I don't know if you hear it properly, but advice to our executive to continue and to start building that culture change and embrace new, not new because I think those competencies and those elements were part of our management. But I think machinery and institution was a little bit heavy. We had a lot of like I was saying, you know, rules driven, a lot risk-averse. So how can, what is the advice that you would like to provide?
[Sylvie Bérubé] So where I'd like to go with this, is that talent exists across Canada. And what as leaders, I challenge us all to consider whether geographic boundaries or assumptions that we've made have led us to really not bring the diversity in our workforce that we could. And so that's a real challenge because that's a reflex reaction I've seen. I've been managing staff across employees across provinces for many years. I don't mean that line of sight. I'm comfortable with it. There are others who they real - you know, we've seen that you don't need that immediate line of sight. And with that, I think is very liberating around like we've got talent that we could be bringing in. And as executives, we need to be thinking around how do we do that? What measures do we put in place? How do we support them in that? Do they have the tools? Do you have the tools to help your managers to be able to lead in this way? And I'll just before I go back to you Manon, Christine the point you made around mental health and wellbeing is just so important. We're living this as in the moment. I've got some employees, as would you, who have had challenges within their family. How with COVID-19 or the child bearing responsibilities and it's a challenging environment that we're living in. And as leaders, if you're used to dealing with things from the neck up, here's where you need to take a risk, perhaps, and be thinking from the neck down around how you relate to your employees and also with all those that you work with. Be honest. Be authentic, and it will be welcome.
[Manon Fillion] Wow, I think they are very, very sound advice. So we're almost at the end of our session. I know 30 minutes is not a long, long time to have lengthy conversations about a very exciting subject. But if I recap and if I and I think you've been very inspiring with your speech and like I said, you gave me some goosebumps. Sorry. My English, the expression is very, very nice. But you gave me some some feelings about how when I was when you were talking about what to achieve. So basically, if we want to be the leader and the executive for the next 10 years, we need to trust our team. We need to give them space to do their work. We need to leverage the talents and employees that we have across the country with no boundary and also leverage the technology and feel that, you know, if they have the right tools, they can be very efficient and productive, even if it's
teleworking. You don't have to be located in the same building. And so I think it's very, very good advice.
And the fact that you're also giving them the space just to take maybe more risk and be more agile and take quicker decisions, will improve the public servant culture and even the workplace as a whole. This is my personal overview, not overview, but thinking. So that's interesting because, for executive that are with us now, there was in an article this weekend. Actually May 23, where it was window of opportunities for government and how COVID-19 could reshape the federal public service. And basically, that's quite interesting because you touched almost all the points that were in the article. And one that is very important for us, like it's Michael Wernick saying, you know, it's not that the crisis is forcing us to reshape the public service, but the post-pandemic world could be the window of opportunity is a necessity to accelerate and renewal and reform in our institution, which I think it's bang on. So that was very rich from my perspective. I think that was, like I said, that was short. But I think we were effective and we gave good advice to executives. Again, thank you, Christine, Sylvie.
[Christine Donoghue] Thank you.
[Manon Fillion] Thank you.
[Sylvie Bérubé] Goodbye, everyone.
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