Communication, staff training will be key to GOL success

OTTAWA — If the government wants to meet its 2005 GOL deadline, it will have to do a better job of communicating its plans to the people delivering those services.

That was the message from Janet MacLean, co-ordinator of the federal government’s Joint Career Transition Committee, (JCTC)

at a GTEC session on HR Transformation for E-Government recently.

The JCTC, a labour and management collaboration designed to help federal employees deal with career transition, workplace change and training issues, also focuses on the impact government online is having on federal workers.

According to MacLean, it seems that everyone from IT staff to senior managers has some say in the planning process — except the front line people.

“”People want to know what’s going on and they don’t know,”” said MacLean. “”There’s a brickwall.

“”While the system is being developed and the department is making plans there is a lot of behind-the-screens work. But all of a sudden the person who is expected to deliver all of this is coming in to find these finhished products they’ve had no input into and it kind of catches them by surprise.””

MacLean cited the example of one small Atlantic community that allowed citizens to access services over the Internet as well as in person. Unfortunately, she said, the department hadn’t counted on such instant success and it was overwhelmed by the number of users — users who were expecting the same level of service, such as response to their questions, as they got if they were visting a government office.

“”That’s a little unrealistic on the client’s part, but the department was (scrambling) to find someone to answer those questions because they weren’t ready for it and that’s not good.””

The department also hadn’t thought about the impact on employee deployment, she added. Traffic to the office dropped to the point where only half the three full-time staff equivalents was required.

“”They didn’t plan it through clearly enough.””

There are problems even at the level of knowing who is asking the question, which to some extent can determine the answer, she added.

“”Health Canada, responding to an online query about an asthma drug, doesn’t know if the person asking the quesiton is a doctor or a pharmacist or a concerned parent.””

Worried about change

MacLean said GOL, with all its potential, also provokes anxiety in federal workers who worry they’ll be expected to be on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And in order to respond to a public that will soon have access to government services around the clock, workers wonder if the government will turn to outsourced services, MacLean said. To help federal workers deal with that anxiety, and better equip themselves with the GOL-related training they need to remain current, the JCTC recently held focus sessions with teams from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, HRDC and Health Canada, all in the Atlantic region.GOL competencies, the focus groups decided, relate to workers’ ability to manage information, their awareness of alternate methods of service delivery, and changes in managerial support to lead staff.

Key findings of the sessions, were that employees have “”high expectations of change in the way they do their business,”” and want a communication plan that keeps them informed of these changes. And while there are issues with educating and training employees, greater thought has to be put into the electronic service itself, argued MacLean.

“”The service you provide over the counter and on line is very different. You can see a person’s facial expression when you’re dealing one on one. When a person answers the same question online, you have no idea if they understood or not.””

Deloitte consultant Kate Morican, who also spoke at the session, said much of the success of GOL rests with managers, who have to upgrade their own tech skills and set an example for their staff. Typically, she said, a new IT system will be put in palce that gives managers access to all kinds of reports not previously, or at least not so easily, available.

“”Many managers have delegated responsibility to the admin staff,”” she noted. “”The benefits of the system are then not realized because that undermines the intention of the system.””

The other role of managers in GOL is finding out how to keep their people connected to the business objectives of each department, she added.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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