Leadership Spotlight: ADM(HR-Civ) is a strong, strategic partner


We recently sat down with Mr. Kin Choi, the Assistant Deputy Minister for Human Resources – Civilian (ADM(HR-Civ)) during his “Human Resources Officer for a Day” job shadowing event.  Mr. Choi discussed the importance of such events, and the state of human resources at National Defence.

Q: Based on your first six months as ADM (HR-Civ), what are your early impressions of National Defence?

A : C’est un grand ministère. Depuis mon arrivée en poste, j’ai eu la chance de visiter différents endroits et différentes bases et j’ai pris note des nombreux défis à relever. Cela dit, partout au pays, les gens qui travaillent au sein du ministère m’impressionnent énormément. I’m really impressed by the dedicated people that we have throughout the organization, not just within ADM(HR-Civ), and just how dedicated people are to this organization. We’re big, we’re complex, but we get things done. We have tremendous challenges, but we have really good people to meet our challenges.


Q: What is your HR vision for the Defence Team?

A: I want us to be a strong partner. I want us to be strategic. I want us to enable the business. I think it’s important that we provide exceptionally high-quality service that meets the needs of our clients, but at the same time upholds the values, ethics, and principles of human resources management in the Public Service. I don’t think these missions are in conflict, I think they’re complimentary. We want to have a good workforce, a happy workforce, a productive workforce, and we want to do it within the framework and the legislation of good human resources practices.


Q: What are the immediate and long-term challenges that you foresee for National Defence?

A: C’est une bonne question, surtout en ce qui concerne les effectifs. Nous sommes assez âgés comme ministère; je crois en effet que la moyenne d’âge des employés est de quarante-sept ans. Ceci constitue en soi une occasion pour nous doter d’une stratégie de recrutement et de renouvellement pour notre ministère. You know, I think this is still a healthy situation. We’re older, and this is explained, by some, to the fact that people come to National Defence later in their career, second career, after releasing from the military and so on. At the same time, there are a lot of retirements and attrition that we should look to take advantage of and look to bring in the skill sets that we’re going to need for the future. It’s also an opportunity to align our renewal strategy with the Clerk of the Privy Council’s report.


Q: Can you speak to the role that innovation plays in shaping the future of the Defence Team?

A: Innovation has to be at the core of everything we do in the Public Service. We’re seeing innovation throughout the world, and it’s really reshaping us. Things that weren’t with us just five years ago are now at the forefront of some unprecedented innovation which is really pushing us to challenge the status quo. Social media obviously comes to mind. But we also have to capitalize on changing our business model to actually capture that innovation. If we only add more innovation and more channels, we’re actually not going to be more productive.

I think about this often from an HR perspective. In order for us to be an effective business partner, we need to have better systems, but we have to do things differently so that we are more connected to the people side of things. Innovation as such has a really important role to play and we have to capitalize on it, and that’s at the core of what Blueprint 2020 is talking about – let’s be strategic and let’s stop doing some of the things we’ve done before. For instance, I’ve asked my team to undertake a smart administrative review. Sometimes we call it “lightening up”. Essentially, we can use innovation to reduce administrative burden here. There are rules and regulations that are a bit dated and that are no longer a risk to the organization and that should encourage us to do differently.


Q: What is your vision or interpretation of the Defence Renewal initiative?

A: It’s an important initiative for us. My take on Defence Renewal is not only the what, but the how we go about doing this. I think that engaging everybody is part of it and will get us the right results, get us the buy-in on applying it. I don’t see it as just about savings, because sometimes that can distract you. Renewal is a good opportunity for us to challenge the existing model and how we go about doing things, by beginning to have new processes, and investing in new ways of doing our own business.


Q: How can individuals contribute to this vision for the future of the Defence Team?

A: I think it takes all of us. We need more ideas from the grassroots and we need to provide people with more permission and authority to take those risks. This is one of the areas we can explore more of in the future. How do we find ways for these ideas to come up? In my last position at Employment Social Development Canada (ESDC), I was one of the champions for Blueprint 2020, and I was really pleased that we were able to tap into the grassroots, where officers could come up with ideas. One of the things they came up with was a tablet which they can take anywhere to conduct their business on the fly so they didn’t have to go back to write up their files. They could actually deal with a client on the spot. I think that’s the kind of innovation that I’m hoping we’re going to allow our staff to come up with. We’ve got to give them the tools, we have to give them the authority and we have to allow them to take the time to innovate.


Q: Why do you feel it’s important to undertake job shadowing initiatives like this?

A: I’ve been taking some time to go across the country, and part of what I’ve been able to do is some job shadowing and being a human resource officer for the day. I give full credit for this idea to one of my colleagues from ESDC who exchanged jobs with one of his officers as part of his Blueprint 2020 challenge, and I thought that was a brilliant idea.

I believe it’s important for senior leaders to be grounded. I’ve worked in HR quite a bit before, I’ve been responsible for it, but each organization has its own unique challenges. National Defence is so big and so complicated, it is important for me to get grounded. I know we have good people, and I’ve been able to verify that and see them in action. So my takeaway is, how do we support those people that are front-line, providing the service to our clients? What are the tools that they’re going to need? What is the policy cover that they need?  What are the directions they’re going to need? Having these experiences will allow me to bring back information and have further discussions with my team of Directors General, but also with other senior military and civilian colleagues (Level Ones), so that I can have a sense of the challenges that they’re going through.

So far, I haven’t had the chance to find someone who wanted to take up my job, so I’m still at that. But I find this job shadowing and kind of “going undercover” really enlightening for me.

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