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Getting Started

In 1992, the Vancouver International Airport Authority (YVR) developed a vision of itself for the future – what it would look like in 2010. As it embarked on a program of capital improvements, YVR initiated a parallel program of service improvement. One aspect of this initiative is the Customer Satisfaction Tracking Program that monitors, measures and benchmarks service performance. Passengers – the primary clients of YVR – are surveyed on a quarterly basis about their overall satisfaction with the airport services and facilities, and with specific services offered at YVR – from customs and immigration to parking to washrooms. As well, these clients are asked to identify their priorities for improvement. Service improvements are then based on this client feedback. With the use of a consistent survey tool over time, the organization has been able to benchmark its progress. The result of this client-centred approach to service improvement: client satisfaction has risen from 68 to 84 percent between 1994 and 1997.3

Overview of the Service Improvement Planning and Implementation Methodology – Four Questions and Nine Steps to Success

The Service Improvement Initiative applies to departments and agencies with significant direct service activities with Canadians. This Guide outlines a series of interconnected steps to take you on the path to increased client satisfaction (Figure 1). There are four key questions to answer, or groupings of steps. After each question, you should pause and re-evaluate progress before proceeding.

1. Where are we now? It all begins with understanding where the organization is now in terms of who are its clients and their current level of satisfaction. This involves two separate elements. First, an assessment to identify the key public services delivered by the organization and who the actual clients are (step 1). Second, the organization will determine the current levels of client satisfaction and expectations – as well as the client priorities for improvement for each of these key public services (step 2).

2. Where do our clients want us to be? In this stage, the organization establishes where its clients want the organization to be in the future. This starts with ensuring the mission statement of the organization includes a service vision (step 3). The organization must then decide how to improve Canadians' satisfaction with the delivery of key public services. Priorities must be developed (step 4) and standards and targets set (step 5).

3. How will we get there? In step 6, the organization determines how it will achieve this future state – in short, how it will get there. This involves the creation of a service improvement plan.

4. How do we make it happen? In the final stage, the organization looks at how it will make the improvements happen. The plan must be implemented (step 7) and monitored (step 8). Feedback must be sought from both clients and employees, with those findings assessed and used to reshape and improve the implementation plan. Finally, the organization should establish a staff recognition program that ensures the hard work that goes into improved service delivery is rewarded (step 9).

Together, these nine steps provide a path to higher client satisfaction. We'll look at each step, in turn, in the next nine sections, showcasing how public service organizations can improve client service and satisfaction.

Targeting Exercise – Identifying which Programs and Services to Include in the Service Improvement Initiative

An initial task to begin the Service Improvement Initiative will be to identify the key services for inclusion in the Service Improvement Initiative. Each department or agency embarking on service improvement will need to establish its priorities for applying the Service Improvement Planning and Implementation (SIPI) methodology. The following criteria are among those for use to identify programs and services included in the Initiative:

  • they reach a significant number or group of Canadians;
  • they are related to the top priorities identified by the Citizens First survey; and/or
  • involve direct interaction with Canadians at large, with business, or with significant groups or communities of Canadians.

Each organization should develop its own service improvement plan that is consistent with the government-wide Initiative and goes beyond it to meet the organization's particular needs. In addition, this Service Improvement Initiative should be progressively integrated into the planning and reporting activities of each organization, and reflected in the annual Report on Plans and Priorities and Departmental Performance Report, which are both submitted to Parliament.


Much has been written on leadership. Two notions are critical to the success of all change efforts. First, leaders must play a central role in setting the direction for the organization to ensure effective service improvement. Second, they must maintain sustained leadership throughout the initiative. Leadership is a cornerstone on which the service improvement process is based.

Leaders are responsible for overseeing implementation of the initiative. Specific steps leaders will take along the road to more satisfied citizens and clients may include:

  • Tailoring the government-wide, citizen-centred service delivery to the local level. That not only involves adapting it to the specific needs of individual work units, but also making the program's implementation seamless from "Clerk to clerk" – from the Clerk of the Privy Council to the clerk in the local field office.
  • Establishing a Service Improvement Team to begin planning.
  • Helping to identify key client groups and spearheading the feedback process by consulting with clients, citizens and staff.
  • For establishing base-line measures of satisfaction with the delivery of service.
  • Overseeing the establishment of a service improvement plan, including targets for improvement and systems to measure achievement using the Common Measurements Tool, so that satisfaction levels can be systematically improved.
  • Establishing service standards based upon client priorities and systems for measurement.
  • Establishing accountability systems.
  • Leading implementation of the Service Improvement Plan, the follow-up and the celebration of success.

Throughout, communication will be essential. In a 1999 best seller, Powerful Conversations, Phil Harkins notes that leaders achieve goals through daily conversation, not memos. They must seek out, inspire and develop the allegiance of the organization's passionate champions – people who others respect, and who can act as role models and catalysts for change.

They bring these champions on-side through conversations that have three stages: expression of the leader's need for assistance and an honest declaration of his or her agenda; probing for the colleague's needs and how those can be accommodated; and finally, the development of, and agreement on, a common course.

It isn't enough to have a great strategy. People have to want to follow it. To achieve that, you have to make connections – both intellectual and personal – that bring the beliefs of staff in line with the outside-in approach the organization has settled upon. They must see an advantage in coming on board – recognize how it allows them to achieve their own goals.

That requires inspiration. That requires communication. That requires leadership.

Assessment Grid – Understanding Current Service Improvement Activities and Building a Service Improvement Work Plan

Before undertaking the Service Improvement Planning and Implementation (SIPI) methodology in this Guide, it is recommended that you assess the current mechanisms (feedback strategy, services standards, improvement plans etc.) you already have in place for service improvement. This will help you develop your work plan for implementing the Service Improvement Initiative by assessing which service improvement activities you currently have and can build upon. The Assessment Grid (Appendix A) can be used to review the service improvement activities and mechanisms at the organizational/program level against each step of the SIPI methodology.

By using this Assessment Grid, you will find where your current activities and/or mechanisms are strong or which ones require adjustment. This will allow you to build on former initiatives and focus on where progress must be made in order to make your service improvement activities really citizen-centred.

There are many ways to use this Assessment Grid. But however it is used, the first thing to do is to review the grid components and ensure that everyone in your Service Improvement Team understands it and has the same definition for each step of the SIPI methodology.

One option is that your Service Improvement Team passes through the grid within a work session with representatives of different areas of the organization, such as Strategic Planning, Evaluation and Measurement, Human Resources, Client Services and, most importantly, program deliverers. Another option is to conduct some interviews with key representatives of the organization and conduct a closing meeting in order to consolidate the information collected for each step and complete the grid. This exercise is an opportunity to identify good practices and past experiences to build upon, and internal resources and expertise that can contribute to the implementation of SIPI.

For each step of the SIPI methodology, the grid identifies three levels of performance: low, in transition, and high. A short definition of what constitutes each level of performance is provided below. Users of this grid should also refer to the appropriate section of this Guide to obtain more details about what the expected outputs are for each of these steps. A quotation system will allow you to give a rating to the organization/program service improvement activity or mechanism and to use it as a starting point to assess the progress in the SIPI methodology.

The Assessment Review Grid at a Glance

By reviewing the current service improvement activities, you could, for example, learn that your current client feedback strategy doesn't allow identification of client priorities for improvement and that all is required is a simple revision of the questionnaire you use. You could also learn that in one region or unit of your department, a considerable amount of work has been undertaken in order to set citizen-centred service standards. As a result, it may be possible to build upon this work for other parts of your organization.

In summary, using this Assessment Grid is a good way to:

  • diagnosis the current situation;
  • identify the level of effort required to implement the Service Improvement Initiative;
  • obtain the information required to brief your management team about the impact of implementing the SIPI methodology;
  • create a realistic implementation plan; and to,
  • follow implementation progress.

Checklist for Getting Started

At the end of each chapter, a checklist of actions and responsibilities is included. After reading this section, you should:

  • Read the Policy Framework for Service Improvement in the Government of Canada. This document explains in detail the Service Improvement Initiative and is located on the Service Improvement Initiative Web site.
  • Read the latest Citizens First research report, and consider the implications for your work. Links to the research reports are available through the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, Service and Innovation Web site.
  • Put in place a Service Improvement Team to begin the initiative. Members of this team will vary by department but you should look to include: managers of the programs which will be included in the Service Improvement Initiative; the service quality unit of the department or agency (if applicable),members of your corporate services team, including members of your evaluation unit (as they bring experience and understanding of social science research methods), and the unit responsible for reporting to Parliament (as these documents will be the main vehicle to report the results of your work).
  • Discuss the findings with your employees and Service Improvement Team members.
  • Develop a personal leadership strategy to help initiate and sustain the initiative.