Speech by Mr Peter Ong at the Public Service Leadership Dinner on 1 November 2016, Orchard Hotel
Speech by Mr Peter Ong, Head, Civil Service at the Public Service Leadership Dinner on 1 November 2016, Orchard Hotel
Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean
Chairman and Members of the Public Service Commission
Friends and Colleagues
Ladies and Gentlemen
1. Good evening. Welcome and thank you for joining us at this third Public Service Leadership Dinner.
2. Allow me to first extend my heartiest congratulations to our new appointees. Since the Public Service Leadership Programme (PSLP) was launched in 2013, the community has grown in strength each year. We now have a total of more than 780 officers in the Programme, serving in a broad range of policy issues across the five sectors of the Public Service.
Public Service for the Next Lap
3. DPM has spoken about some of the cross-cutting issues that we will face in the next chapter of our development, and how global events can have significant impact on our domestic environment. The issues we face today are increasingly multi-faceted. Disruptions of all forms can drastically alter our operating landscape. No country is immune to these, but for an open economy like Singapore where our society is diverse and cosmopolitan, the likelihood and impact of such disruptions can be higher than most other countries. To thrive in this volatile world, we must continue to anticipate and respond well to such changes.
4. Our public officers recognise the need for the Public Service to transform and adapt to the changing times. In the past year, through the PSFuture effort, we engaged more than 10,000 officers on what the future of the Singapore Public Service might look like. We discussed issues ranging from possible challenges to being innovative, to using technology and increasing collaboration at the workplace. Through the numerous dialogues, we heard officers’ aspirations for our Public Service. Public officers tell us that they want to be a bold and innovative Public Service that can deliver as One, and is trusted by and connected with our citizens.
Leading the Way Forward
5. As PSLP officers, you have a key role to play in leading this Public Service Transformation. The PSLP was established to broaden and strengthen our leadership corps with deeper expertise and domain specialisation. In this regard, our PSLP officers complement the more generalist Administrative Officers so that together, we build depth and breadth in our capabilities.
6. Tonight, I would like to focus my speech on a specific group of leaders. About 85% of our PSLP officers here tonight are in middle management roles. While the PSLP aims to develop you for senior leadership positions, you will in fact spend a significant part of your career in middle management positions. You are at the intersection where you will have to perform both middle management and specialist or domain expert roles. You are therefore in a unique position to turn top-line strategies into actionable goals for junior officers, to role model the values of the Public Service through your daily actions, and to drive the implementation of policies on the ground.
7. As the Public Service strives towards our aspirations of being bold and innovative, to deliver as One and to be trusted, I want to highlight three important roles you must play as a specialist middle manager:
a. First, you must act as a nexus, and translate broad policy intent into feasible implementation plans on the ground;
b. Second, you must work as a bridge for collaboration across multiple specialist domains; and
c. Thirdly, you must serve as a conduit to allow ground feedback to translate into wider policy measures.
Roles of Specialist Middle Managers
8. Let me elaborate on the first role. As Middle Managers, you must be able to translate the broad policy intent, what your Ministers and Permanent Secretaries want achieved, into practical and feasible policy measures that make sense on the ground. As Middle Managers in specialist and professional fields, you not only supervise officers on the ground but also possess the necessary domain expertise to understand the range of possibilities in the solutioning process.
i. Let me give you an example. An inter-agency team comprising mainly Middle Managers from the Singapore Police Force (SPF), National Environment Agency (NEA), Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), Building and Construction Authority (BCA), Land Transport Authority (LTA), Ministry of Manpower (MOM), Municipal Services Office (MSO) and Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) have been studying the issue of noise control in public entertainment nightspots. Our current regulations prohibit these establishments from exceeding a noise threshold of 65 decibels outside the establishment. However, the policy was difficult to enforce on the ground. First, our policemen who respond to noise complaints cannot easily measure noise pollution without the help of trained NEA engineers. Second, external noise measurements are often distorted due to ambient noises, making it difficult to hold any particular nightspot accountable.
The team of officers recognised that the true intent of the policy was to measure and reduce noise coming from within the nightspot. And because the current enforcement approach was challenging, the team flipped the problem on its head and introduced the concept of setting an internal noise threshold instead. A one-off measurement will be taken both within and outside the nightspot whereby the outlet’s sound volume would be progressively increased until the external noise level reaches 65 decibels. This internal noise level is then imposed as a licensing condition on the nightspot. While developing this new concept, the team also tapped on noise measurement technology that is more commonly used in the construction industry. As a result, enforcement officers will simply receive a text notification if the internal noise monitoring device flags that a limit violation has occurred. This solution offers a new, more precise way of enforcing noise control limits without extensive despatch of officers to the ground. The solution was a result of our Middle Managers’ ability to marry their domain expertise and strong knowledge of the policy intent to constantly make improvements in their enforcement approach.
9. Second, you need to lead your teams in collaboration, and personally serve as a bridge across different domains. Increasingly, the issues that we have to deal with as a government require deep expertise in many different areas to bring about optimal policy solutioning. As DPM said, very often the innovation lie at the intersection of domains.
10. Take for example the introduction of MediShield Life. In many instances, the group of leaders and Middle Managers had to “switch hats” several times as they brought their teams through the MediShield Life journey.
i. Upfront, the Middle Managers with policy expertise had to work with actuarial consultants in refining the design of MediShield Life and the premium pricing methodology. This required them to not only have strong policy instincts but sufficient actuarial knowledge that was built up on the job, to test the assumptions and methodologies used by the actuaries.
ii. To get citizens to verify their household information so that they could receive the right premium subsidies, our policy officers had to work with frontline teams to design customer service touchpoints. They had to understand call routing systems and check that the responses by the call centres were aligned with the subsidy policy. They needed to think about how complex information could be broken down into simple messages for public consumption.
iii. In yet another instance, specialists in Central Provident Fund (CPF) Board and the hospitals required a strong understanding of the policy design in order to ensure that the IT systems, coding and outcomes of user acceptance tests were fully aligned with the policy intent. These are skillsets built over time, and Middle Managers must be able to bring their own expertise to resolve issues that cross multiple domains.
11. Let me come to the third role. You need to provide the right environment for officers to give ground feedback and help draw the insights that can improve policies and processes across the board.
12. As a middle manager, you will need keen eyes to be able to sense when feedback is starting to form trends and patterns. If so, it should then be fed back up the policy review process.
13. One example of this was a project led by Lee Chin Soon, currently a Director at Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF). During his secondment to SG Enable, Chin Soon’s team, which administered the Assistive Technology Fund (ATF), observed how assistive technology such as wheelchairs and hearing aids can make significant differences in the lives of persons with disabilities, mitigating challenges both at work and in everyday activities. However, they also saw that some persons with disabilities who could benefit from these devices were unable to afford them. The team reflected these ground observations to MSF’s management, resulting in a review of the coverage of the fund. Previously, the fund could only be used to defray the cost of purchasing assistive devices for education or work. Following the review, it can now be used to defray the cost of devices for all purposes such as in early intervention, training and therapy, and to bring about greater independence in daily living. This has made significant improvements to the lives of persons with disabilities, and was a result of the Middle Managers’ ability to turn ground insights into proposals for policy improvements. Since the revision of the policy last year, many more persons with disabilities have benefitted from the scheme.
Supporting Middle Managers
14. As PSLP officers, much is expected of you. I am confident that our Middle Managers can navigate the complexities of the future, and fulfil the roles expected of them. To help you to do so, the PSLP will provide you with developmental support such as the following:
i. Access to the Sectoral Competency Framework and Sectoral Milestone Programmes, which will help in deepening your specialist skills and knowledge;
ii. Opportunities for secondment to other agencies and participation in Sectoral Inter-agency Projects that will allow you to build your networks and an understanding of key priorities across the government.
I urge you to take full advantage of these opportunities. They will stand you in good stead in assuming future leadership positions.
15. Beyond the PSLP, PSD has also been working on initiatives to better equip new Middle Managers and build a stronger community for all of them. One example is the revamp of a milestone programme for first-time managers – called Manager LEAD – where more time is set aside to train Middle Managers to be better coaches. PSD will also be launching a Managers’ Portal in January 2017, which will have resources for Middle Managers’ just-in-time learning needs.
16. To the senior public service leaders in our midst, I encourage you to be supportive, and facilitate your Middle Managers in playing their roles well. I urge all leaders to help build the right culture in the Public Service: encourage your officers to constantly innovate, develop deeper expertise, and to remember to always put national outcomes over agency outcomes.
17. We have made significant steps as a Service and as a Nation. This year, our officers worked tirelessly to combat the Zika outbreak and to keep security incidents at bay. We also continued to break new ground in innovation by being prepared to try new technology in diverse fields from aviation security to disease control. None of this would have been possible without the boldness and efforts of our officers. As the PSLP community, you play a key leadership role in the Public Service, and must continue to steer the Service in its mission to serve Singapore and Singaporeans. Only then can we be One Trusted Public Service with Citizens at the Centre.
18. Thank you very much.