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Partners In Change

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Collaborative Mechanisms
Collaboration by the partners was based on a joint teams approach. Some 140 people worked on the project: 40% were HRD-NB and 60% A/A employees. The number of participants fluctuated with the arrival and departure of experts hired as subcontractors. To speed up communications, all participants were clustered in what they called "the war room," which is where the entire project unfolded. The two partners were present on every team, day after day, and attended all the meetings. For example, the design of the income screen involved case officers from HRD-NB and computer specialists from A/A.

The project was co-managed by the two partners. Among other tasks, the HRD-NB manager had to make sure their private-sector counterpart received all the necessary information about the Department to be able to make informed decisions. Aside from the project-management team, other key teams were formed for managing change, policies and procedures, product testing and verification, operating system and information technology (IT). HRD-NB used the following selection criteria for project personnel: a natural inclination towards change, excellent mastery of an area of expertise, and effective team player.

Steady communication, both vertical and horizontal, was established for the full length of the project. Information flowed quickly from the Minister’s Office to the smallest regional branch, between team members and between teams. Thus the presence of regional personnel on every team kept the regions in the loop as the project unfolded. This initiative also provided the benefit of input from employees, who were very familiar with their clientele and occasionally could seek their views. The champions of change therefore played a key role in conveying information and collecting feedback. HRD-NB project team members underscored the ability of A/A experts to explain the complicated issues to the uninitiated at the Department and, within the teams, to relay the knowledge acquired by the old experts to newcomers. Thus, right at the outset, a team of four or five A/A representatives traveled around the Province to consult the regional offices and explain the project. And the team included Francophones, at least bilingual members, which surely made a difference in French-speaking regions. A/A personnel were generally capable of putting themselves on the same level as their partners and explaining to them whatever they did not know. They steadily coached and guided them through every stage, with a great deal of patience for the technical and technological ignorance of Department personnel, and never made them feel incompetent or inept.

At times, the differences between the partners’ attitudes and cultures became more pronounced and interfered with communication. In a private company, employees have to carry out decisions as swiftly and efficiently as possible; at the Department, every employee concerned by a decision had their say. Seniority and experience were important, not just competence or theoretical knowledge. Unfortunately, for the first meeting on managing change, A/A dispatched a recently graduated very young employee to explain what change was to HRD-NB personnel with over 20 years of experience. The meeting had to be reheld! Despite these occasional snags, HRD-NB emphasized their partner’s kindness, flexibility and sensitivity to their needs and requirements.

Nonetheless, the complexity and slowness of the decisionmaking process in the public sector, and the obligation of departmental accountability set by the government, were a constant irritant for the private partner. Given the numerous levels of approval in the public sector — Department, Minister, Cabinet, Premier — some decisions were slow in coming and any political pressure exerted to speed up the process was in vain. For a firm where decisionmaking power is concentrated at the executive level, it was hard to understand and accept the government machinery, and every delay had a negative impact on both project costs and the partner’s patience. Moreover, the latter was completely unprepared to have its actions and statements closely scrutinized by the media. They learned the rules of transparency and access to information the hard way. After a few media gaffes, the Department became the sole spokesperson for the project, yet always defended Andersen.