17 January 2020 Speeches

Speech by Mr Leo Yip, Head, Civil Service at the 2020 Annual Public Service Leadership Dinner


Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong
Minister Chan Chun Sing
Chairman and Members of the Public Service Commission
Colleagues and Friends
Ladies and Gentlemen

Welcome to this inaugural Annual Public Service Leadership Dinner, an occasion to celebrate the appointment of new leaders, pay tribute to retiring colleagues, and appreciate the contributions of all of you here today. To all my colleagues, thank you for your dedicated service and contributions to Singapore. 

2 Many of you would have attended past dinners held separately for officers from the Administrative Service and the Public Service Leadership Programme (PSLP). These occasions give focus to the significant responsibility that we take on when we join a leadership track or become a Public Service Leader.

3 As the PM mentioned, this is the first year that we are bringing together all public service leaders from the Administrative Service and PSLP. So that we have a gathering of both leaders under development, as well as current leaders. And together, you constitute the leadership community of the Public Service
4 So, what does belonging to this leadership community mean?

5 First, you share in developing, owning and delivering our priorities as a Public Service – the Singapore Agenda, Public Sector Transformation (PST), and SG Together. 

6 Second, you must command a broad perspective as leaders of One Public Service, and not just within your agencies. No matter where you sit, you should exemplify ‘One Public Service’ in how you think and act.

7 Third, you must demonstrate what it means to collaborate effectively across agencies, to pre-empt problems and develop solutions, so that we can achieve the best outcomes for Singapore and Singaporeans. 

8 Next, you must focus on both delivering excellence today and building for tomorrow. Even as we ensure that today’s work is carried out to the highest standards, we must also build new capability and transform our respective parts of the Public Service for the future. 

9 Finally, you must collectively exhibit our public service ethos. The values, ideals and beliefs that define who we are as a public service – integrity, service, and excellence. You must embody the spirit of public service, which is about who we serve, how we serve and why we serve.   

10 I want to now talk about what we are doing to drive transformation in the Public Service, and the imperatives of leadership transformation.

11 Ultimately, driving change and ensuring that the Public Service is ready for the future is a leadership responsibility. 

12 I have spoken regularly about the winds of change and waves of opportunity that Singapore and the Public Service face. Winds that have swept through the world and also Singapore have brought change and uncertainties. But we can seize new opportunities if we ride the crest of the waves. Changing demographics, technological disruptions, and the shift of global economic weight to Asia, are examples of these winds and waves. 

13 In the face of these driving forces, what is the public service leadership response?

14 Our response is three-fold: One, the Singapore Agenda, the medium-term policy agenda to Build Our Future Singapore; two, Public Sector Transformation (PST) to Build Our Future Public Service; and three, SG Together, to build this future together with Singaporeans.  

15 PST is the movement to transform how the Public Service operates and serves – by rethinking service delivery, digitalisation, regulatory reviews, citizen engagement, building new capability and so on.

16 To effect deep change under PST, we need to transform three ‘W’s: Work, Workforce and Workplace. 

17 First, Work. PST is about transforming how we work in the Public Service. In the past year, we made progress in two areas – citizen-centricity and digitalisation.

18 We re-organised services around citizens and businesses rather than around agencies. For example, at the integrated Public Service Centre at Our Tampines Hub, citizens can now access services from different agencies through a single touchpoint.

19 We are also digitalising our services “to the core” so that citizens can access Government services end-to-end, online. We introduced GoBusiness, a one-stop online portal where business owners can easily apply for different licences that they need, by simply describing their business activities, no longer having to interact separately with different agencies. In the process, we took significant steps to re-design our services in a company-centric way.

20 Such changes require not just transformation of operational and service processes, but also rethinking how we organise ourselves as a Public Service to be more citizen- and business-centric. We will step up efforts to extend this transformation to other areas

21 The second ‘W’ is Workforce, or our people. New ways of working require new skills and competencies. We must work together as a Public Service to effect this workforce transformation

22 First, we will move towards a system that places greater emphasis on lifelong employability beyond lifelong employment – one that values performance, skills and competencies, beyond just years in service. We have taken the first step to revamp our Core Competency Framework. Beyond analytical skills, public officers must work and interact effectively with citizens; implement well; innovate and learn continuously; and exemplify a ‘One Public Service’ mindset.
23 Second, we must demonstrate a growth mindset in developing every officer to his or her full potential, as aspirations as well as demands of work in the Public Service evolve. This includes expanding the range and depth of skills upgrading opportunities. We will implement these HR policy changes in the months ahead. 

24 Next, we will make learning from the private sector more systematic. We started last year with the Talent Attachment Programme, to place officers across the Service, not just those on leadership tracks, on attachments with private sector organisations who are at the forefront of service excellence, digitalisation, and so on. We will scale this up so that more officers can benefit from the exposure.   

25 The third ‘W’, our workplaces. Work is underway to dream, design and deliver our Future Workplace. This is a new effort to transform our work culture, both in terms of new physical workplace designs as well as work processes. It means revamping bureaucratic procedures, and implementing new workplace practices, to enable more flexible and collaborative work. We want our Future Workplace to be more productive, agile and flexible. This is where PST becomes real, relevant and relatable to our officers.

26 As members of this leadership community, leading change and transformation is our responsibility – in our Work, Workforce and Workplaces. 

27 Those of you who lead organisations, continue to exemplify this transformation, make changes happen, and galvanise your officers to prepare for and embrace these changes. The rest of you, be bold in initiating and implementing new ideas to improve how you work, embrace a growth mindset and seize upskilling opportunities yourself, and be a change agent in this transformation journey.  

28 Finally, as we drive transformation across the Public Service, we must also address the question of how our leadership needs to be transformed. 

29 On this, I will make three points.

30 First, in how we develop leaders.  A year ago, I commissioned a committee led by Perm Sec (MCCY) Ms Tan Gee Keow to review the Public Service leadership development system. Our Service must continue to attract, nurture and retain a strong pipeline of leaders, who can operate effectively in increasingly challenging and fast-changing environments. Leaders who can lead and transform today’s Service for the future. Leaders with the heart to serve Singapore and Singaporeans better. The Committee has done a good job, and just completed their work. They addressed key areas such as nurturing more diverse perspectives, expertise and experiences in our leadership corps, and improving development pathways for our leaders. We have accepted the Committee’s proposals on the key moves and initiatives needed to revamp our leadership development. PSD will share them with you in the months ahead.

31 Second, on leadership transformation, we need to refresh our perspective of what it takes to be an effective leader in order to take the Service to the next bound.

32 We have just dedicated more than a year’s work to draw up new competencies for leaders – middle managers, directors, CEOs, Deputy Secretaries, and Permanent Secretaries, to address the key challenges at each leadership job level, and to strengthen leadership effectiveness. 

33 The new leadership competencies reflect the more diverse capabilities that leaders need, including the ability to influence a wider range of stakeholders, the ability to effectively operationalise and not just develop policies. These competencies also place heavier emphasis on the ‘One Public Service’ mindset that all leaders must exemplify. Senior leaders in particular must collectively own and deliver on our priorities for Singapore and the Public Service. 

34 The new competencies are part of a refreshed competency framework, which also includes a list of “red flags”. These refer to behaviours and actions that can render a leader ineffective. Some examples include ‘kicking the can down the road’, that is, lacking the courage to make tough decisions; or ‘prioritising agency’s mission over collective outcomes’.

35 We will need to work at building these leadership competencies. To support this, we introduced 360-feedback for all leaders. Later this month, we are starting a 360-feedback exercise for Permanent Secretaries. We want to encourage senior leaders to show by example that we value feedback on our leadership from officers we lead, from our peers, and from those we report to. These feedback exercises will take place regularly, for leaders at all levels, supported by coaching and other learning interventions.  

36 Third, we are imbuing a stronger sense of collective purpose and action as one leadership community, starting with our senior leaders. 

37 Over the past 2 years, we have dedicated effort to build a stronger collective leadership among senior Public Service Leaders. We come together regularly, to discuss key leadership priorities and challenges for the Service, and what actions we need to take to realise these priorities. I am encouraged that this has strengthened the sense and practice of collective leadership among this group. 

38 This is also why we now have a Leadership Statement, issued to those of us appointed to lead organisations – CEOs, Deputy Secretaries and Permanent Secretaries. Tonight, leaders taking up these appointments for the first time will receive this Statement. It sets out the leadership commitment, responsibilities and values of senior Public Service Leaders, both individually and collectively.

39 In my note to senior leaders accompanying this Statement, I wrote: ‘in our hands lie the opportunity and duty to inspire our organisations to build a better future for Singapore, and for Singaporeans’. I expect all of you who lead organisations to live up to these aspirations. For leadership in the Singapore Public Service is not about privilege and position, but about stewardship and responsibility. We must expect nothing less of ourselves than to give our best. 

40 Let me conclude. 

41 In recent months, rising anxieties, instability and even unrest in various parts of the world have been instructive for governments and public services. A key lesson is the paramount importance of maintaining trust in government. 

42 For us, the imperative is clear – to continually transform how we operate, how we are organised, how we serve Singaporeans and how we harness new tools and technologies, so that we can continue to deserve the trust of fellow citizens. 

43 We must push ahead with transformation on our own initiative, or risk being ossified and forced to change by circumstances. Deep and pervasive change can only happen if we take this journey together. Not just several Ministries coming on board, or a few officers working on projects, or even as one leadership community, but as One Public Service. 

44 This is why we will be bringing public officers together later this year in a series of engagements to develop our collective aspiration of our Future Public Service in 2025.

45 Leadership transformation lies at the heart of the broader Public Sector Transformation. We must start with ourselves and lead by example. 

46 I call on all of us, as members of the leadership community of the Singapore Public Service, to exemplify this leadership transformation  and to drive the key changes needed to build a future Public Service that can rise up to the challenge of building a better future Singapore, for Singaporeans. 

47 Thank you.