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Chapter 3: Exposing the root causes of the irritants

In brief

Enabling interdepartmental collaboration

In Phase II, TBS established interdepartmental working groups comprised of both “rule makers” and “rule followers” to perform a deep dive into three areas: procurement, staffing, and internal processes for grants and contributions.

To mark the launch of Phase II and serve as a first step toward addressing the key findings of Phase I, the Tiger Team held a one-day forum that brought together 72 participants from 26 departments, all working on projects related to these areas. The Forum also brought together policy specialists in the three areas from Treasury Board Secretariat (TBS) policy centres and the Public Service Commission to provide expert advice about the rules. Participants also included a cross section of users: hiring managers and public servants with experience in contracting. The purpose of the forum was twofold:

  1. to gather representatives from across government who were working on process simplification projects in these areas, in order to learn from each other’s experience, share best practices and explore different approaches to problem solving; and
  2. to identify individuals and departments interested in working with the Tiger Team as they moved forward to the second phase of the initiative.

The core of the day’s activities had participants working together to address common challenges, while learning design principles to help them think more broadly about how to reduce internal red tape. These learnings were then used to work together on common areas of interest.

The results of the forum’s collaborative activities formed the three-stream basis for Phase II: Exposing the Root Causes of Irritants:

The Tiger Team established Interdepartmental Working Groups in each area. Through an eight-week workshop series, participants applied user-centred design thinking tools to identify the root causes of irritants and expose the pain points, as experienced by users of the processes being examined. In general, participants gathered critical information through interviews with program officers in participating departments, as well as by identifying stakeholders and mapping out the processes associated with the task. In doing so, Working Group participants were able to expose the root causes of internal red tape in each area and design possible solutions to move forward.

The methodology used during the workshop series is explained in the Methodology section of this document.

Common root causes of internal red tape

The departmental participants working in the three streams were drawn from various functional areas and a broad range of departments. They began by identifying the legislative and policy drivers – in most cases, each stream was subject to diverse legislative and policy imperatives. As the work progressed, it became clear that the root causes of the internal red tape shared common characteristics.

Of note, departmental processes and procedures were more elaborate and restrictive than required by either Treasury Board or Public Service Commission policies. Instead of using the flexibilities that existed in the policies, departments interpreted and applied policy requirements in the strictest sense. Transactions often followed the same internal process, resulting in a level of scrutiny that often outweighed the risk.

In many cases, departments had limited tools to support the process. Although basic policy requirements remain stable, there is a perception that they are constantly changing because of constant adjustments to rule-related procedures and paperwork. Clients often lacked knowledge in the area (e.g., procurement or staffing) because it was tangential to their day-to-day work and become overwhelmed by procedures and paperwork. Fear of audit was repeatedly cited as the driver for increased procedures and demands for documentation. This encourages a risk-averse culture where the functional groups play more of policing function rather than a client service provider role.

Finally, both functional specialists and clients reported being numb to the process and feeling powerless to change the system.

Procurement stream findings

Procurement Stream Findings
A heading image with “Procurement Stream Findings” overlaid on a twisting red tape graphic

Participating Departments

Central Agency Partners

Scope: Procurement of a low dollar value (LDV) service contract under $25,000


A majority of service contracts (89%) issued by the federal government in 2013 were valued at under $25,000, even though they only account for 8.7% of the total value of all contracts of the year (including goods, services and construction). Although not required, 53.7% of all contracts under $25,000 are awarded through a competitive process.

A series of policies, standards and guidelines applies to the area of procurement. Treasury Board’s current Acquired Services and Assets policy suite includes 20 mandatory instruments (one framework, eight policies, five directives and six standards) as well as 16 non-mandatory ones, for 36 policy instruments in total. Refer to Table 1 for a list of policies under the Acquired Services and Assets policy suite.

The main Treasury Board policy that governs procurement is the Contracting Policy, which has been in effect since 2006 and is currently under review. Many other policies that impact procurement have been put in place over the years and add new requirements, depending on the nature of the goods to be purchased (e.g., controlled goods, fleet) or the services to be acquired (e.g., security, intellectual property, official languages). There are also a substantial number of trade agreements, which include legal obligations on competitive tendering, time limits for bidding, performance-based specifications, the use of electronic tendering, and bid dispute mechanisms. Likewise, there are other legal agreements that are meant to promote socio-economic benefits for certain social groups (e.g., Land Claim Agreements, a Procurement Strategy for Aboriginal Business), industrial regional benefits, and measures to create opportunities for small and medium enterprises.

Not including internal departmental policies and guidance, there are over 35 different types of legal and policy instruments affecting procurement. Policies on the management of projects, real property, investment planning and other Treasury Board (TB) policies, such as the TB Policy on Government Security, also have an impact on procurement. As a result, procurement officers must navigate through complex and overlaying rules, many with specific social or economic policy objectives. However, there is one area of procurement in which the rules are simplest: LDV procurement.

The problem: Low return on investment on low dollar value service contracts

In general, procurement process steps are similar among departments and are already lean. Participants identified 11 common steps for a LDV service contract procurement, entitled “The Procurement Journey” In Service Design (Figure 7). That said, an examination of the cost to a department of an LDV service contract in 2013 suggests that far too much time and effort is spent on implementing this type of contract.

Step 1: Identify Need
An excerpt from a journey map, showing the step identify needs and to contact a procurement officer.

Using Purchasing Activity Report (PAR) data as well as estimated time (touch time and cycle time as per the Lean method) provided by participating departments, the cost (in $ and FTE time) of an average service contract in a department is as follows:

Figure 4: Key Finding about the Average LDV Service Contract in a Department
A chart of the key findings for an Average LDV service contract: 7 people, 8 days touch time, 15 weeks to complete, and 39 documents produced. The average contract $ value is $4846.99 and the cost to contract is $1846.00.

Root causes

Same requirements for million dollar transactions are applied to lDV

Many of the same steps that apply to multi-million-dollar value services are also applied to LDV services, with the same levels of controls in place. The accountability and authority that is expected to be delegated to the manager or director in reality is not, as many levels of approvals are required. This becomes more apparent when the value of the contract is above $10,000 and, as a result, is subject to proactive disclosure. The amount of work and level of scrutiny outweigh the potential risks associated with LDV transactions.

The process for procurement is already lean, as confirmed by the Interdepartmental Working Group members. The complexity of the procurement process is, for the most part, driven by the various rules that apply to procurement, depending on the nature of the service to be acquired, and other provisions including the method of procurement, the credentials of the supplier, security, IT, intellectual property, and the like, which must be taken into consideration as part of the procurement process.

Roles and expectations are unmet

Both the procurement officer and the client have to navigate complex paperwork that requires a substantial amount of time and effort, particularly in the early stages. There are too many “exceptions,” depending on the nature of the service required or the method of supply selected. A “fear of audit” (internal audits, audits performed by the Auditor General of Canada, horizontal audits and others) further drives the need to document every step of the process, which, in turn, drives the heavy paperwork, all in paper format.

Key to a seamless procurement process is a positive working relationship between the procurement officer and the client. Procurement officers see themselves as experts. They receive regular training, and know the requirements and what the process entails. Most clients have little to no knowledge about the procurement process and expect the support of procurement officers throughout the process.

In most cases, procurement officers (Figure 5) do not have the time to work closely with the client. Procurement officers are overwhelmed by the sheer number of requests to be processed, the lack of clarity and the client’s ever-changing requirements. Depending on the department, the level of intervention and support from the procurement officer varies. In an average department, procurement officers process 4,000 to 5,000 contracts for services under $25,000 alone, which helps to explain the immense pressure they feel. As a result, procurement officers do not feel that they have the time to provide support for clients and, often, the two do not have face-to-face meetings or any personal interaction other than by email. They expect the client to have an understanding of the rules, their needs, and the best method to contract the service, relying on advice from the procurement officer only as required. Through the workshop series, it was also mentioned that the turnover rate among procurement officers was high, which could be attributed to them feeling stressed and unappreciated. Lacking knowledge in the area of procurement, the client (Figure 6) feels overwhelmed by the process and the associated paperwork. Getting straight answers is a challenge. For those working in the regions, there could also be delays due to distance. For example, in some departments, regional officers must deal with a procurement officer located at headquarters in the National Capital Region. Participating procurement officers agree that, in procurement, the answer is often “it depends,” as many decisions are made on a case-by-case basis. Clients initiating requests also indicate that, depending on who you talk to, you will receive a different answer; there is no “single truth.”

Clients are generally instructed to “find it (the information) on the website!” However, they indicate that the website (their departmental internal site), when available, is difficult to navigate and not always up to date. In addition, clients are asked to review the entire policy rather than the specific requirements that may apply to their request. Moreover, additional requirements, coupled with a complex set of rules, create unease and uncertainty for the procurement officer and the client alike.

Limited tools to support the process

Managers and analysts have limited tools at their disposal to support the process. The Working Group identified 39 forms and pieces of documentation related to the procurement of an LDV service contract, from initiation of the process through to contract close-out.

Many of the steps are paper-based. Other than committing funds through the financial application system, all procurement-related transactions are paper-based and transmitted by email, as required. All parties to the process must also save and file all forms and documentation in paper format for audit purposes. Electronic signatures are not in effect, and all approvals and contracting related to signed papers are required to have a wet signature and be filed accordingly.

Proposed solutions

A fast track process for service contracts under $10,000

The Interdepartmental Working Group identified the creation of a Fast Track process for LDV service procurement as a solution to prototype and test, making sure to assess gains with respect to time and effort. In practice, a manager would be able to acquire any short-term service regardless of its nature (e.g., facilitation service for a session, one- or two-day training session, graphic design service) and without requiring higher levels of approvals. If the manager has delegated authority, he or she would be able to exercise that authority without additional approvals.

The Interdepartmental Working Group also proposed increasing the threshold for acquisition cards and allowing managers to use their authority to acquire services the same way LDV goods are acquired, with a clear understanding of the requirements.

Improve quality and availability of information

As the procurement officer is expected to play a supporting role, much like a “Sherpa,” enabling the client to climb to the “summit” with a finalized and signed contract, increased collaboration between the two parties would allow for the procurement officer to share his or her expertise and experience along the “climb.” The client would have a better understanding of the process and requirements, and the procurement officer would be able to better understand the client’s needs and provide the best advice.

It was clearly articulated during the workshop sessions that a face-to-face meeting between the procurement officer and the client would be a valuable step, where the client would receive a “walk-through” of the process, which would in turn lead to a more efficient and effective process. However, given that face-to-face meetings are time-consuming, that procurement officers have a number of contracts to process and that they already feel overwhelmed, the Interdepartmental Working Group proposed reserving face-to-face meetings for larger, more complex contracts, and focusing efforts on improving the quality and availability of information on departmental websites, via user guides and how-to videos, to help bridge the gap in knowledge between the procurement officer and the client.

Develop an online application system

While most transactions and documents are paper-based (among the participating departments, only Infrastructure Canada has an electronic system that supports initiating and tracking a contracting request), all participants agreed that having an online application system, including required templates and a built-in approval system, would improve the process significantly. An online application system would, however, be limited until it was equipped with an electronic signature, given the auditable nature of each step and the need for wet signatures as a condition, especially with respect to delegated financial authority.

Initiatives under way

The Tiger Team is aware that Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) is currently working on developing an Electronic Procurement Solution (EPS), or e-procurement, which, once fully rolled out, is expected to streamline the procurement process using a single portal. The e-procurement system would be designed to support a procurement request from the needs identification phase through to contract award, with built-in templates and audit records, and to act as a single source of truth for procurement in the Government of Canada and as a single source of disclosure for all provincial, municipal and federal awards. With this being a technological solution, it will be important that it receive ample user testing and sufficient time and resources dedicated to its implementation.

Figure 5: Procurement Officer Persona
A persona of Matt, a procurement officer saying “Help me help you!” He needs to understand business requirements and project timelines, and is challenged by the lack of standard simple-to-use templates, policies, process, and approach; risk tolerance; being overworked and overwhelmed, and more.
Figure 6: Manager Persona
A persona of Mina, a manager saying “Why does it have to be so complicated?” She needs to understand all the steps in the process and timelines, and is challenged by the amount of information to go through (often not in plain language) and “It depends” being a too common response to questions.
Table 1: Acquired Services and Assets Current Policy Suite
A table of the Acquired Services and Assets current policy suite, listing existing mandatory instruments across a range of policies, existing guidelines, and other policy instruments.
Figure 7: The Procurement Journey in Service Design
The procurement journey in service design, mapped from identifying a need, to requirements, to documents, to determining the method of supply, to approval, to implementing the method of supply, to selection of a contractor, to verification of credentials, to awarding the contract, to managing the contract, to closeout. On average: 15 weeks.

Staffing stream findings

Staffing Stream Findings
A heading image with Staffing Stream Findings” overlaid on a twisting red tape graphic

Participating Departments

Central Agency Partners

Scope: Internal advertised staffing process with a national area of selection


Human resources management, particularly within the area of staffing, has undergone a tremendous amount of change over the past decade in an effort to modernize and provide more flexibility. Primary among these changes was the introduction of the Public Service Modernization Act (PSMA), which was passed into law in 2003 and enacted two major pieces of legislation: a new Public Service Labour Relations Act and a new Public Service Employment Act (PSEA). These legislative changes were intended to

“create a more flexible staffing framework to manage and support employees and to attract the best people, when and where they are needed; foster more collaborative labour-management relations to ensure a healthy and productive workplace; and clarify accountability for deputy heads and managers.”

Significant investments were made across the public service to implement the new legislation, including changes to the machinery of government, the creation of new mechanisms and processes, and investments in training human resources staff and hiring managers. However, a review of the PSMA conducted in 2011 found that the federal public service still faces many of the same people management challenges it did before its introduction. The PSMA Review Team concluded that further legislative change would not be necessary. Rather, non-legislative changes, such as a sustained commitment to behaviour and culture change, offered greater promise. It further cautioned that, while new tools, processes, technology and organizations may also be required, they would not be sufficient on their own and could not substitute for real changes to behaviour.

Key roles and responsibilities

The Public Service Commission (PSC) has the mandate to promote and safeguard merit-based appointments, as set out in the Public Service Employment Act. It delegates staffing authority to deputy heads but provides policy guidance and expertise, conducts oversight of the overall staffing system, and reports on its mandate to Parliament. The PSC also works with other stakeholders, such as the Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer (OCHRO), acting on behalf of Treasury Board (TB) – which is the Employer of the core public administration – to support a high-quality workforce and workplace.

The problem: The process takes too long to complete

The Working Group collaboratively mapped out the steps for an Internal Advertised Staffing Process (Figure 8) with a National Area of Selection. A full-size version of the staffing process depicted to the left is available at the end of this section.

Internal Staffing Process (excerpt)
A segment at the beginning of the Internal Staffing Process, excerpted from Figure 8.

On average, there are 50 to 75 steps in the internal staffing process, amounting to an average of 40 weeks to complete. Figure 8 provides the complete mapping of the Internal Staffing Process. As shown in the table below, many of the processes can be simplified through Lean methods.

Root causes

While heavily rule-bound, flexibilities exist but are not being fully used

According to the Working Group participants, the current rules provide enough flexibility, and this flexibility could be better leveraged. That said, departments, being risk averse, are generally hesitant to use them. This conclusion is consistent with the findings of the review of the PSMA.

Staffing is a complex policy area governed by a mix of rules ranging from legislation (both direct and indirect) to prescriptive policy guidance – an estimated minimum of 35 instruments, as listed in the table, not including related areas such as security clearance or procurement of services. However, when the Working Group conducted a “task decomposition” exercise to gain a better understanding of the “drivers,” or motivating factors, behind each action (or step) performed as part of an internal advertised selection process, very few actions were required by a rule. Instead, the majority of steps taken in a staffing process can be attributed to departmental practice, or are simply the result of how things have traditionally been done.

One such step is the assessment process. Here, candidates are first assessed through their application, and then issued a written exam, followed by an oral exam, reference checks, and an interview. A great deal of discussion within the Working Group focused on why there needs to be so many layers of assessment, and whether this sequential, step-by-step approach is the best way to evaluate candidates or whether more global assessments would be more effective. The managers interviewed also stated that they would like to further explore the use of a candidate’s past performance (e.g., performance management results) or on-the-job observations (e.g., in cases where someone has been acting in a position) to either replace or supplement traditional assessment methods.

Legislative and Policy Framework for Staffing
The Legislative and Policy Framework for Staffing, totalling 35 instruments across acts, regulations, orders, and PSC or TBS policy instruments.
Lack of clarity about available tools and insufficient infrastructure

A significant amount of effort is spent on staffing common “entry-level” positions using individual selection processes across departments in the public service. For instance, in 2012-2013 alone, 138 internal AS-01 advertised selection processes were conducted. This raises questions about whether there is a sound rationale for conducting separate processes, given that the positions do not require specialized knowledge. If the average cost to run a selection process is $13,910, approximately $1.9M is spent annually to staff the most common entry-level positions in the public service. Additional details can be found in Table 2.

Notwithstanding the availability of some tools, the Working Group participants and the clients they interviewed expressed their frustration with not having access to a broader set of standardized public service-wide tools and templates. This can be attributed, in part, to the fact that deputy heads have delegated authority for staffing within their own departments, which means that individual departments may develop their own materials despite that many positions – particularly entry-level ones – are common across the Government. Several of the participating Working Group departments, including Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), and Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC), are currently working on building their own repositories for certain tools (e.g., Statement of Merit Criteria inventory, Student Bridging database, Letter of Offer builder). There was significant interest in the central agency partners establishing a public service-wide database or platform.

Absence of strategic planning and data analytics

As the baseline data shows, a significant proportion of time during a staffing process is spent in the upfront planning stages; in other words, before the selection process is even advertised. This includes corporate-level business and workforce planning as well as process-specific planning, including the design and roll-out of the staffing process and the development of materials (e.g., the Statement of Merit Criteria and assessment tools). Working Group participants spoke at length about the lack of knowledge on how to conduct proper planning as well as the lack of attention paid to planning, both on the part of Human Resources (HR) advisors and the hiring manager. The result is that staffing does not tend to be linked strategically to departmental priorities and plans.

Roles and responsibilities in conducting HR activities and HR planning, in particular, are not well-defined in departments. Who does what is often negotiated ad hoc and based on the availability of resources at that point in time, rather than planned in advance. All of the participants agreed that a lot of time is wasted as a result of back and forth interactions among managers, their administrative staff and HR advisors.

In addition, while HR provides hiring managers with planning templates to fill in, often there is little in the way of supporting context, data, or analysis. Managers fill in the templates to the best of their ability, using their best guesses as to what their staffing needs will be, in the absence of data analytics, workforce forecasting, turnover rates and the like.

Several of the managers interviewed indicated that having access to integrated HR data that is linked to financial information, as well as historical trends, business and workforce needs analyses, and forecast data would help them conduct proper planning. While the HR experts in the working group agreed that HR should help fill this gap, they note that there is very limited capacity and a lack of the necessary skills within their shop to do so.

While digging even further at the root causes of poor planning, it became apparent that a lack of consequences for the hiring manager and HR advisors alike – or, put another way, the absence of a clear incentive to do planning – may help explain this. There is no legislative or policy requirement to develop departmental HR plans. At the same time, HR is often so busy working on operational tasks that planning becomes a lesser priority.

HR advisors performing a “policing function” rather than acting as a “business partner”

As indicated previously, a lot of time is “wasted” in the staffing process owing to back and forth interactions between managers and HR, which is especially true in cases where tools and materials are not planned in advance, are developed incorrectly, or need to be revised or replaced mid-process. While poor planning is a major contributing factor, the root cause goes deeper.

Stakeholder mapping, Working Group discussions and user interviews revealed that there is an absence of trust among the parties, and thus little partnership. The lack of trust exists on both sides, with managers believing that there is little value added from consulting with HR and thus only consulting their services when absolutely necessary, and with HR believing that managers are not forthcoming about what their real staffing needs are. The absence of trust, coupled with a risk-averse culture, means that HR tends to perform a “policing” function rather than act as business partner, anticipating the staffing needs of clients and providing strategies for workforce management, such as recruitment, talent management and employee mobility.

Varying levels of dedicated resource

A common observation from Working Group participants and clients was that having a specific resource to lead and oversee the staffing process was critical to shortening the time it takes to staff. It does not appear to matter whether this dedicated resource is an administrator, a manager, an HR staff member, or even a hired third-party consultant. What does seem to make a difference is the level of commitment to the staffing process and to viewing its operation and completion as a high priority, as well as support from senior management to spend the necessary time to do staffing. We heard that there is wide variation in the amount of time an internal advertised staffing process could take – as little as two months when there is a high level of commitment among the parties involved and a dedicated resource to oversee the process, to more than six months when the process is not well planned and roles, responsibilities and activities are negotiated ad hoc.

The findings also point to a capacity issue within HR shops, where resources are chiefly devoted to operational and transactional activities as opposed to relationship-building or proactively providing strategic advice. In conducting the root-cause analysis, 11 Working Group participants cited the following as causes for the lack of strategic capacity within HR:

Risk aversion due to a fear of audit

Both the Working Group members and the hiring managers interviewed highlighted a culture of risk aversion within staffing and, more broadly, in HR. More particularly, HR has a fear of being audited by the PSC and found of wrongdoing, which hampers its provision of advice for managers on the full range of staffing options and flexibilities. Instead of outlining all relevant possible options to managers based on their needs, and highlighting the benefits and risks associated with each one, HR advisors tend to default to running full advertised processes. This is especially common when the HR advisor and hiring manager are both inexperienced in staffing.

At the other end of the spectrum, experienced hiring managers tend to request other, typically perceived-to-be “higher risk,” staffing options, such as non-advertised appointments, but are often “blocked” by HR. This disconnect may be explained, in part, by the fact that delegated hiring managers are rarely involved in the PSC’s audit process, even though they are accountable for their staffing decisions. It is usually HR that is the key point of contact for the Commission and that must provide all the documentation and justifications for the staffing action. Often, hiring managers do not know that one of their staffing decisions has been audited. Even in cases of wrongdoing, there may be little in the way of consequences for delegated managers, either because they no longer work in the department, or they receive a simple reprimand. Usually, HR bears the brunt of the audit. Only on very rare occasions, and usually with repeat poor behaviour, do hiring managers have their delegation revoked.

As a result, HR focuses heavily on ensuring that everything is documented, sometimes leading to over-documentation, which slows down the process. HR advisors also tend to avoid performing higher risk staffing actions and using alternative sourcing methods, except in cases where there is support from senior management. The leadership of senior management is important to note here. While the PSEA recognizes that staffing authority should be delegated to the lowest appropriate level, many departments have additional internal controls in place, such as ADM-level committees for all new indeterminate appointments or acting appointments over 12 months.

One could assume that this risk-averse behaviour developed in response to negative experiences and/or a high incidence of wrongdoing. However, in the past seven years, the overall rate of staffing complaints has been extremely low, varying between 0.02% and 0.04% of all internal appointments. In 2013-2014, there were only 495 complaints out of 19,406 internal appointments (0.02%). Furthermore, over 80% of all staffing complaints were ultimately resolved through mediation.

Proposed solutions

Encourage the PSC to continue and augment its work with departments in the adoption of the New Staffing Framework

One recommendation is to encourage the Public Service Commission (PSC) to continue and augment its work with departments in adopting the “New Direction in Staffing,” prioritizing efforts to enable the needed culture shift and achieve a streamlined, modernized approach to staffing. The PSC recently transformed its entire Appointment Policy Framework, including the oversight/audit approach, significantly loosening its control over how departments choose to conduct their staffing. In December 2015, the PSC released a New Direction in Staffing (NDS), to be implemented in April 2016. The decision to move to the new direction is based on the Commission’s conclusions that “the staffing system is mature, demonstrated by ten years of oversight results;” and that “organizational audits and DSAR [Departmental Staffing Accountability Reports] show frameworks [are] in place and working.”

While the New Direction in Staffing does not change any of the existing acts, regulations or orders, the Commission’s Appointment Policy has been significantly streamlined. The key message is that authority/accountability, and flexibility by association, has shifted from the Commission to deputy heads. Chief among the changes are the following:

It remains to be seen how departments will respond to the new direction and the extent to which they will utilize the added flexibilities given to them as they design their organizational staffing frameworks. It is hoped that departments will use the results gathered through the Internal Red Tape Reduction Initiative to inform these designs, particularly as they relate to incorporating the user’s perspective. In order to help departments successfully implement the new Staffing Framework, PSC should leverage the opportunity and work with departments by mentoring the design and implementation of new options to create the change required in the current culture as well as to incentivize desired behaviours.

Support the role of HR as a “business partner”

A key theme that emerged in our Working Group activities and discussions was that the expectation of the services HR should be in the business of providing has shifted over time. In the 1990s, HR shops were organized by client portfolios with dedicated HR advisors who understood the business of their clients and had the capacity to provide expert advice. Over the years, and particularly during and after the Deficit Reduction exercise, there was a push to reduce spending on internal services. The emphasis was on finding technological solutions and increasing efficiencies through automation and self-service, which resulted in a shift in the service model. HR shops across government were consolidated and/or centralized and reduced in size, and the work traditionally performed within HR shifted to be carried out by managers or reassigned to administrative staff. In many instances, departments changed their organizational structures to put in place groups of administrators that would handle the coordination of certain HR and financial processes, sometimes referred to as “shadow shops.”

In user interviews, hiring managers shared that they felt that HR is no longer able to provide the services that they expect, that HR is often out of touch with their clients’ business, and that they possess limited expertise in providing strategic advice. This was validated by the Interdepartmental Working Group participants, who were honest in stating that they are encountering difficulties in defining what the business of HR should be, and in building up a sufficient level of capacity among the staff. They noted that a large proportion of HR staff are so used to performing transactional work that it will be a challenge to change current behaviours. At the same time, however, there is a sub-population of HR advisors who are eager for change and want to be provided with the freedom, trust and time to take on a strategic role and build partnerships with their clients.

In the short term, HR managers can begin by exploring options for improving the strategic capacity within their shops and opportunities for enriching their HR advisors’ current skill sets, via recruitment, and training and development planning, such as the course offerings on human resources planning, and providing strategic advice at the CSPS. Equally important is the Government giving consideration to providing training in data analytics that is specifically geared to the HR practitioner.

Clarify behaviours expected of HR advisors

Ultimately, however, any shift in the HR function needs to be firmly grounded in a clear understanding of what types of behaviours are expected of HR advisors in their current environments; what types of deliverables or actions are rewarded and what types are discouraged, either overtly or inadvertently; and what behaviours HR advisors are assessed against in evaluations of performance.

The fields of psychology and behavioural economics may offer some insight into why the staffing system has been slow to change despite various legislative (e.g., the Public Service Modernization Act) and process changes (e.g., implementation of Common HR Business Processes) and may, more specifically, help to understand the important questions that this work raises, such as:

As the literature suggests, individuals have a tendency to prefer the current state of affairs, having what is called a status quo bias, where the current state is perceived as superior even in the presence of available alternatives. Status quo bias interacts with other non-rational cognitive processes, such as loss aversion. In prospect theory, the phenomenon of loss aversion is described as the tendency for people to have a strong psychological preference to avoid losses over acquiring gains. Research suggests that losses can be twice as powerful psychologically as gains, which helps to explain the aversion to taking risks, particularly if we also consider the effects of the principle of availability. Availability refers to the fact that events that more easily spring to mind, such as recent, traumatic or burdensome events (e.g., being audited by the Public Service Commission) will have more of an influence on our behaviour. This may help explain why HR continues to assume a policing role – in response to a fear of audit – thus perpetuating the over-documentation of staffing files and limiting the use of flexibilities available to them and their clients.

The adoption of a behavioural economic lens may help to design and put in place either

Initiatives under way

There are currently a number of large government-wide transformation efforts taking place in staffing and in people management, more broadly including

At the same time, departments are working to redesign their own organizational staffing frameworks to increase efficiency, efficacy and workforce agility.

Each of these projects offers an opportunity to apply the learnings gathered through the Internal Red Tape Reduction Initiative and to shift the incentives in the system to effect real behaviour change and, ultimately, strike the appropriate balance between control and the provision of the level and type of service that clients expect, including strategic advice.

Figure 8: Internal Staffing Process
The Internal Staffing Process, mapped from start to finish. It includes 75 distinct steps that require actions from the hiring manager, the HR advisor, the HR assistant, the candidate, and a variety of other groups in a complex sequence.
Table 2: Staffing of Common Positions across the Public Service
A statistical table showing the number of AS-01 internal and external advertised processes in the last 3 years (by department).
Appointments to and within the PS
A statistical table showing appointments to and within the public service, alongside staffing activities including promotions, lateral and downward movements, and acting appointments.

Grants & Contributions Stream Findings

Grants & Contributions Stream Findings
A heading image with Grants & Contributions Stream Findings” overlaid on a twisting red tape graphic

Participating Departments

Scope: The grants and contributions process


Transfer payments are a key instrument for furthering the Government of Canada’s broad policy objectives and account for a large part of government spending. In 2014-2015, the Government issued approximately $143 billion in transfer payments,15 the majority of which were transferred to other levels of government and individuals through programs with ongoing spending authority. However, a significant portion – $26.2 billion – was transferred through Grant & Contribution (G&C) agreements.

Projects funded through federal G&C agreements are diverse and have a direct impact on Canadians where they live and work. They range from services and support for new immigrants, to health research and employment programs, to investments in the responsible development of natural resources. Recipients of Government funding work with the Government as a partner in the pursuit of shared objectives, including the promotion of Canada’s economic and social development. By properly managing G&C programs, the Government is able to provide efficient, effective programs that are responsive to the needs of Canadians, while ensuring accountability for the proper use of public funds.

The problem: One size fits all assessment

The Tiger Team found that, in participating departments, every application, regardless of size, complexity, or history with the department, is assessed in exactly the same manner, with the same level of scrutiny. However, departments have been moving to a more risk-based approach, as requested by the policy on transfer payments. Canadian Heritage appears to be the most advanced in this regard, with a “triage” system in place that is applied upon receipt of the application in order to assess its complexity and the amount of time it will likely take to move through the process. Some of the participating departments indicated that a triage system could assist them in streamlining their process, and that they would be making a proposal to their senior management.

Step 2: Program Officer completes Triage (excerpt)
An excerpt from the Grants and Contributions process map, with a program officer saying “It would be great if GCIMS would provide only necessary information, in order to make a decision.”

Root causes

Additional safeguards with no value added to the process

There are a number of mechanisms in place to safeguard taxpayers’ resources.

Step 7: Regional Review Committee and Step 8: Secretariat Review (excerpt)
An excerpt from the Grants and Contributions process map, with the “Regional Review Committee” and “NHQ Secretariat Review” steps listed – and “More review to come…” highlighted in an overlay box.

These mechanisms range from restricted delegated approval levels to the establishment of various review committees. Participants agree that having the appropriate safeguards in place is necessary to ensure that resources are properly accounted for and disbursed in a fair and transparent manner. However, there was consensus that, in many cases, additional safeguards do not add value to the process, and that it would be appropriate to review existing approval processes to determine whether streamlining is an option.

Technological systems not designed with users in mind

All Working Group participants agree that the current technology was designed without a clear understanding of how the user navigates the business process, and with assumptions about the user’s comfort level with technology. The result is that many users are not as “technologically savvy” as expected, and therefore tend to under-utilize the tool.

Furthermore, the Working Group noted that, for some departments, the standardization of forms means that substantially more information is requested than what is needed to make a funding decision. In addition, “random questions” from review committee members, by default, often become a permanent part of the information gathering exercise, thus feeding the collection of extensive documentation that may or may not be used in the assessment. As a result, program officers spend an inordinate amount of time assisting applicants in piecing together this unused information and entering it into IT systems, which, for the most part, are not designed to house large amounts of data.

Disconnect between program analysts and departmental decision-making processes

During the interviews, there was a great deal of feedback around the lack of transparency and openness within departments, as well as externally with clients. This was a common theme that emerged across all the interviews, with slight variations by department. It was noted that information was not always, if at all, disseminated to the program officer in a timely manner. This has a direct impact on the ability of program officers in most participating departments to also provide timely information for their clients (Figure 14). More particularly, once an application moves to the approval stage at senior levels of the department, program officers often lose track of the file, with the result that they are unable to update their clients accordingly. While participating departments have systems that are able to track internal movement, they are generally ill-equipped to provide detailed information about the status of the application at that stage. Interviewees reported that the results of various working group discussions often remain localized, with the outcomes not being widely disseminated, leaving program officers with the feeling that they are being left behind by the “process.” As part of the workshop, the persona (Figure 14) of the program officer was mapped out to gain a better understanding of the program officer’s role, needs and challenges.

Proposed solutions

Improve delegation of authorities

The Working Group recommended that discussion take place within departments, including at the Ministerial level, where appropriate, to examine the current delegation of authority and explore options for improvement. More specifically, the Working Group suggested discussion around the following:

Over the long term, the Working Group urged that consideration be given to ensuring that a systemic approach to critically assessing the positive and negative effects of proposed and existing regulations and non-regulatory alternatives (similar to a Regulatory Impact Analysis) is performed before implementing any new processes. Doing so would help to ensure that no additional administrative burdens are introduced without fully considering the impacts. In the meantime, participants underscored the need for further analysis of the relationship between audit and red tape to gain a better understanding of the nature of this relationship.

Review the delegation architecture of other public service G&C programs and apply similar parameters

At the onset of this project, one of the fundamental assumptions the workshop participants held was that the Transfer Payments Policy (TPP) was a significant “pain point.” To test the validity of this assumption, the Tiger Team mapped out the steps performed during the application process with the requirements of the TPP and the accompanying Directive. Participating departments were also asked to specify which part of the TPP was a concern. After discussion and analysis, Working Group participants concluded that while challenges exist within certain parts of the TPP, the TPP is not a “pain point” in the application process. “Pain points” are driven by department-imposed steps rather than mandatory Treasury Board oversight mechanisms.

The Working Group recommended that departments engaged in grants and contributions inventory and examine the non-obligatory and informal approvals currently in place and “challenge” their practice within the G&C process. The Working Group further recommended that Treasury Board continue to engage stakeholders around changes to the TPP and its related instruments, with the goal of ensuring that the policy is well understood by the users.

Timely status updates for clients and program officers

Working Group participants recommended that departments review and ensure that communication protocols for providing clients with timely updates about the status of their application at all stages of the process are in place. Doing so would serve the two-fold purpose of safeguarding the openness and transparency of the process and bringing program officers back into the process, thereby returning to them a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment in seeing the results of their work with their clients firsthand.

Empathy for program officers

During the workshops and interviews, it became clear that further study was needed, especially with respect to the program officers, to gain a better understanding of the work they perform, their personal experiences with the process, and, more specifically, their feelings around a “lack of engagement and communication” with senior levels of the department and as a valued part of the process. Working Group participants recommended the establishment of an Occupational Group study and a talent management strategy, with the goal of ensuring that appropriate mechanisms are in place to support job satisfaction and promote opportunities for career development.

Apply design-thinking to the process

Workshop participants recommended that departments working in grants and contributions explore ways of incorporating design practices into their ongoing business and that the Government share and promote design practices more broadly across the enterprise.

In the long term, the Working Group recommended that those involved in determining business and system requirements be exposed to User-Centred Design to ensure that end users are involved in the design, implementation and testing of system improvements that meet their needs.

Initiatives under way

Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBS), led by the Financial Management Transformation (FMT) Team (within the Office of the Comptroller General of Canada, (OCG)), embarked on a collaborative effort with G&C organizations to develop an enterprise solution that addresses issues around four key areas: increasing financial constraints, the continuing need for transparency, efficiency gains, and service delivery improvements. Central to this initiative is a common business process model, developed in collaboration with TBS partners and formally endorsed by the G&C Assistant Deputy Minister (ADM) committee, to aid in standardizing business practices and performance measurements and encouraging information sharing across departments. It is hoped that this enterprise tool will ultimately reduce duplication, increase efficiencies and improve consistency within the area of grants and contributions across the federal government. While the focus of this group is a technology-based solution, it is hoped that the findings from the G&C Working Group will provide insights into its development.

Figure 9 – The Agriculture Journey in Service Design
The Agriculture Journey in a service map, from new applications received through a variety of internal processes all the way to the applicant being notified of approval or rejection (step 16), with the applicant receiving no information about why their application may have been rejected.
Figure 10 – Citizenship & Immigration Canada in Service Design
The Citizenship and Immigration Grants & Contributions process in a service map, from online proposal submissions through to step 14, documenting the decision and notifying the applicant (after receiving ministerial approval, a “black hole” with no service standards).
Figure 11 – Fisheries & Oceans Journey in Service Design
The Fisheries and Oceans Grants & Contributions process, from the client contacting DFO to developing a workplan, to receiving the paperwork, through a variety of internal and external review steps, to a lengthy series of internal approvals (sometimes more than 6).
Figure 12 – Canadian Heritage in Service Design
Canadian Heritage’s Grants & Contributions program mapped, through 16 steps handled in part through an online system.
Figure 13 – Infrastructure Journey in Service Design
Infrastructure Canada’s Grants & Contribution process in service design, through a variety of steps that includes a Treasury Board Submission, memos from the INFC minister to the TB minister, a project review report, and a series of approvals for each step.
Figure 14 – Program Officer Persona
A persona of Sylvia, a Grants & Contributions program officer, saying “My corporate culture and tools are not enabling me. They make my life harder!” She needs appropriate delegation levels and being able to fully leverage risk-based approaches, and tech solutions capable of managing the process. Her challenges are that she is out of the information loop: no feedback from review committees or any of the other groups involved, and she cannot provide meaningful support to the client.