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This section contains the revised "A How-to-Guide for the Service Improvement Initiative" to assist with the implementation of the Service Improvement Initiative.

This material is taken from A How-to-Guide for the Service Improvement Initiative
Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada,
represented by the President of the Treasury Board, 2000.
All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

Getting Started

Where are we now?

Where do our clients want us to be?

How will we get there?

How do we make it happen?

Summary of the How-to Guide


Results for Canadians – A Management Framework for the Government of Canada

Results for Canadians presents an agenda to guide Canada's public service managers. A 'Citizen focus' and a commitment to 'Citizen-centred service delivery' are central to this management agenda. To meet this commitment, the Government of Canada plans two major initiatives. The first initiative is Service Canada which will help citizens find government services easily and in both official languages. The goal is to help citizens get the services they are entitled to, in a way that is fast, convenient, seamless and connected. The second initiative is the Service Improvement Initiative, which focuses on the performance of Government of Canada services. The Service Improvement Initiative aims to achieve a significant, quantifiable improvement in client satisfaction with services over the next five years. A related initiative is Government-On-Line, which is a key enabler to improve both access and service performance.

Purpose of this Guide

This guidebook is a fundamental tool in the implementation of the Service Improvement Initiative, for use by program managers responsible for service delivery in federal departments and agencies as well as by individuals especially responsible for departmental and agency service quality initiatives.

Here you will find a detailed and holistic method for planning and implementing service improvement, based on the clients' perspective. It includes step-by-step descriptions of suggested activities, with associated tools in the appendices.

This is a document in progress, and will be further developed and refined as it is used in the lead departments and agencies of the Service Improvement Initiative.

Overview of the Service Improvement Initiative

In the Fall of 1998, the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBS) created the Assistant Deputy Minister Advisory Committee on Service and Innovation (ACSI) to help develop the citizen-centred service strategy for the Government of Canada that would respond to citizen needs and priorities for service improvement. A series of working groups were established to undertake its work, including the Service Improvement Planning and Implementation (SIPI) Subcommittee. Using research into public sector good practices, the Subcommittee developed the SIPI methodology for the continuous improvement of Government of Canada service quality, which this guidebook explains in detail.

The essence of the Service Improvement Initiative is that the continuous and measurable improvement of client satisfaction is the most reliable indicator of improvement in service quality and service performance: it is what quality and continuous improvement should now mean, and how they should be primarily, though not exclusively, measured. Leading-edge service organizations in the public sector, like their private sector counterparts, now use a results-based approach to the continuous improvement of client satisfaction, integrated with the annual business planning cycle.

The policy framework approved by the Treasury Board for the Service Improvement Initiative provides that, when fully implemented, departments and agencies that have significant direct service delivery activities with Canadians shall:

  • adopt a comprehensive continuous improvement planning and implementation approach to service improvement and client satisfaction;
  • establish documented baseline measures of citizen satisfaction for key services to the public, using the metrics of the Common Measurements Tool developed by the award-winning Citizen-Centred Service Network;
  • prepare and implement annual service improvement plans based on clients' priorities for service improvement;
  • establish a minimum 10% improvement target for improved client satisfaction over the five years of the Initiative for each key service to the public;
  • adopt and publish core service standards for each service channel;
  • incorporate results-based service improvement accountability for managers as part of existing performance management systems, commencing with Deputy Ministers;
  • report within the existing annual RPP/DPR planning and reporting process on:

    • service standards for all key public services;
    • performance against service standards;
    • annual improvements in client satisfaction;
    • progress toward five-year satisfaction targets.

The Service Improvement Initiative will be implemented through a phased-in approach. A small number of "mission critical" departments – those whose service performance will have the greatest immediate impact on Canadians – will be identified and will serve as "lead departments" for the initiative, moving at a faster pace and showing the way for others. In Phase One (2000-2001), all departments with key services to the public are asked to identify and report on service standards for key public services and establish client satisfaction baseline measures. In addition to these basic steps, the "lead departments" will also set initial targets for service improvement; develop service improvement plans based on client priorities; take action against these priorities; and report on performance against service standards.

In Phase Two, all departments with key services to the public will begin to implement the steps undertaken by the "lead departments" in the first phase, while the lead departments will begin to report client satisfaction measures against the baseline established in Phase One. In the third phase, both lead and other departments will have reached the same level and will be reporting annually on progress toward the minimum 10% improvement objective over five years.

Citizens First

In 1998, the Canadian Centre for Management Development's Citizen-Centred Service Network, composed of 220 senior service delivery officials from the three orders of government in Canada, produced the Citizens First national survey which documented Canadians' expectations, satisfaction and priorities for service improvement.

The Citizens First national survey reported that citizens rate a range of federal public services at 6.0 out of 10 - about the same as a range of private sector services but slightly behind a range of provincial (6.2 out of 10) and municipal services (6.4 out of 10).

Canadians expect stellar performance from their public service. Indeed, an astounding 95% expect the quality of public service to be as high or higher than that provided by the private sector, according to the 1998 Citizens First survey. That comes despite the public's recognition that public servants have a tougher job to do than the private sector, balancing the public interest with the needs of individual citizens.

To serve Canadians better, governments need to understand Canadians' service needs better. That is the crux of this Service Improvement Initiative – better understanding leading to better service leading to greater satisfaction, while making services easier to find and access.

Findings of the Citizens First research helps in that understanding:

  • Five factors explain over 70% of satisfaction or dissatisfaction in using a government service: timeliness; fairness; courtesy; competence and outcome. These can be considered the five main drivers of citizen satisfaction for most services.
  • When all five factors are done well, ratings of 80% or better are achieved. But when just one driver is inadequate, ratings drop by 20 percentage points. Do poorly on two or more drivers, and the ratings drop into the basement.
  • The most important driver is timeliness: 60% of the time, when citizens are not satisfied, it is because we take too long.
  • One in four times when citizens try to find a service, they have trouble locating the right access point.
  • When Canadians access the right organization, 60% are then disappointed by being shunted to voice mail, passed off to several different people who don't know the answer (and don't promise to find it and call back), or other impediments.
  • Sixteen per cent of requests need more than one organization to solve their request (for example, a federal passport requires a provincial birth certificate).
  • Canadians' priorities for service improvements include improved telephone service, one-stop service, reduced red tape, and more mail and electronic service delivery.
  • The federal government services Canadians most want to see improved are Employment Insurance, Canada Employment Centres, the justice system, Canada Customs and Revenue Agency, Canada Post, and Canada Pension/Old Age Security.

The Five Key Drivers of Service Quality –
Citizens First Survey, 19981

Driver Survey Measure
Timeliness How satisfied were you with the time it took to get the service?
Knowledge, competence Staff were knowledgeable and competent
Courtesy, comfort Staff were courteous and made me feel comfortable
Fair treatment I was treated fairly
Outcome In the end, did you get what you needed?

The Outside-In Approach

Over the past decade, government has been gradually moving from an "inside-out" approach – basing service on what the organization saw as important – to an "outside-in" approach. The Service Improvement Initiative continues and accelerates this transition to an "outside-in" approach. It bases service delivery on citizens' needs and expectations.

Citizens and Clients: A Note on Terminology

The primary focus of this Guide is the improvement of client satisfaction with the delivery of government services. Yet this objective takes its place within a broader commitment of the Government of Canada to "citizen-centred service delivery." It may be helpful to say something briefly here about the relationship between these two terms, citizen and client.2 By "clients", we mean the direct users or recipients of government services. But the clients of government services are not "just" clients, as they would be in the private sector. They are usually also taxpayers and citizens, bearers of rights and duties in a framework of democratic community. While clients of the Government of Canada are usually citizens of Canada, they may also be potential citizens of Canada, or citizens of another country, with a business, professional or personal interest in Canada.

Government service delivery should be "citizen-centred" for at least three reasons. First, it should be conceived and executed from the "outside-in" – not "inside-out" – with the needs, perspectives and satisfaction of citizens foremost in mind. Second, many of the clients of government are "involuntary clients," whose service relationship with government derives from their obligations as citizens, or from the rights of other citizens. Third, those who deliver government services should always bear in mind that the quality of government service delivery can and should contribute to strengthen democratic citizenship, and the bonds of confidence and trust between citizens, and between citizens and their democratic governments.

Those who deliver government services may have to balance the distinct interests and needs of different groups or categories of clients and citizens, within the broader framework of the public interest. They may also have to balance the interests of immediate clients with those of the citizens of Canada as a whole. For this reason, this Guide will sometimes refer to "client satisfaction," and sometimes to "client and citizen satisfaction." This may help to remind the reader both that the satisfaction of immediate clients needs to go hand-in-hand with the confidence of all citizens in the institutions of government and that clients are also citizens themselves, whose pride and belief in citizenship can be strengthened or weakened by the service experience. That is both the challenge and the glory of service delivery in the public sector.

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.


to assist with the implementation of the Service Improvement Initiative

Also available in:

Where Are We Now?

Step 1
Internal Assessment

It is surprising how little we know about our clients and how much we assume. Fifty years ago, most Canadians lived in small enough communities that many public servants knew their clients by name and were familiar with their family, habits and preferences. We have lost that intimacy.

The public service is not alone in that. A book on private sector client satisfaction describes the case of a bank that put stiff penalty fees on an inactive account which happened to belong to a 10-year-old girl. The girl became upset and closed her account, as did her father and aunt, two of the bank's largest depositors. The bank didn't know (or didn't care) that young children don't want service fees on their accounts. The bank didn't know about the family connection, and didn't know – but did eventually care – that by offending one customer they offended the whole family.

In the public sector a bad service experience can diminish pride in citizenship or a citizen's confidence and trust in the capacity of government. For this reason government service delivery should be citizen-centred. In the private sector, client needs, priorities, and expectations are identified by a variety of factors, from purchase trends to customer surveys and feedback to new product and service line development. Obviously, government can apply some of the same tools to understand citizen needs, priorities and service perceptions.

Clients and Client Groups

The first step in improving client satisfaction is to identify the clients of the organization, and the key public services to which the SIPI methodology should be applied.

This will answer the following questions:

  • What is our business?
  • What products and services do we provide?
  • Who are our internal clients?
  • Who are our external clients?
  • Who are our partners?

Clients are not homogeneous. It is important to understand the patterns and diversity so that you can supply each client with the service they require. That will allow you to avoid being "captured" by the needs of one vocal or visible group and the notion that by answering their demands you are satisfying all clients.

In identifying clients and client groups, one eye-opening method that is used in both the private and public sector by innovative managers and employees is to "staple" yourself to a purchase order or similar request for various services and to follow it through your system. That will allow you – for each product and service – to see who is involved in the process: external and internal clients, partners and various stakeholders.

Identifying Clients

Here are some other suggestions for identifying clients:

  • Determine what information your organization already has about your clients.
  • Confirm this information is thorough using multiple sources. Have the Service Improvement Team go through all of your processes, products, and services to see who is touched by what you do. Contact other sections of your organization (communications, planning and public consultation people), or similar sections in other government organizations. Talk to stakeholders and search out other information sources.
  • Take the list to front-line staff. Ask them who has been missed.
  • If you have any multiple-contact services that involve other departments, such as between passport and citizenship offices, discuss joint clients together.
  • List the information you still need and identify sources for this information.
  • Set a timetable for the regular re-evaluation of your client identification information.

Identifying Products and Services

It sounds, at first, odd to ask managers to review and list their products and services. But services can be less tangible than clients. An initial list may identify services that are not provided and, in some locations, services are provided that are not listed.

Here are some questions to consider:

  • What is the role of your work unit? If necessary, define what you do and do not do.
  • Do the products and services correspond to your mandate?
  • Does the current range of services fully cover your mandate?

Identifying Partners and Stakeholders

In a similar way, review and list your stakeholders and partners. Both of these groups are good sources of information on your clients and services, and can contribute to the quality of the service provided. This is especially true of partners who are involved in actual service delivery.


This assessment step is essential as a basis for your citizen-centred service improvement initiative. But it is also important not to get bogged down in endless research. The above steps should allow the improvement team to identify the products and services and the clients that use them in a simple matrix.4 On the side, the products and services the organization provides are listed. Across the top, the clients, partners and stakeholders are identified, which include both internal and external clients of government. For each product or service, the clients can be identified with a check, or for a more in-depth analysis, with a 'P' for a primary client (direct users of the product or service) or 'S' for a secondary client (end users of the output or even indirect stakeholders).

Checklist for Step 1

At the end of this step, you will likely have:

  • Identified the key public services to be included in the Service Improvement Initiative and to which the service improvement planning methodology will apply.
  • A description of key internal and external clients of these products and services.
  • A description of your partners and stakeholders, and how they are involved.
  • Make sure these descriptions fit with the legislation and mandate, if applicable, and the prescribed objectives of the program or service.
  • Analysis and documentation of client and stakeholders that includes an understanding of any conflicting roles between citizens' expectations and clients' desired levels of service.

See Assessment Tool

Where Are We Now?

Step 2
Assess the Current State

Having built a better understanding of your clients and services to which the service improvement approach will apply, the next logical step is to begin to learn more about the clients so you can determine the current state of client satisfaction with your organization's services and establish a baseline from which to measure future improvement in citizen/client satisfaction.

To do that, the organization has to design and implement a continuous assessment strategy that includes: mechanisms to diagnose the main drivers of satisfaction (outlined in the Preface) for each key service, client group, partner and stakeholder; tools and methodology to measure and monitor client and staff satisfaction, expectations and priorities for improvement.

Establishing a Continuous Feedback Strategy

How are we doing, what needs improvement, asking questions, and listening to the answers is an ongoing process. The first time provides baseline data. Repeated at regular intervals, survey data is part of feedback strategy for the organization and linked with the organization's performance framework.

You will need to develop a process and time lines for initial surveys to gauge current client satisfaction, as well as follow-up to assess the progress that has been made. Most departments and agencies will likely already have some methods to obtain feedback. They may include:

  • postal, telephone, or electronic surveys;
  • focus groups;
  • comment cards;
  • complaints procedures;
  • open houses and town hall meetings with client groups;
  • citizen advisory councils;
  • regular meetings with staff for input;
  • evaluations, reviews, audits and Auditor-General reports.

While valuable, some of these methods are episodic and can be biased because the people willing to take the time to fill out comment cards or attend meetings may not be representative of the clientele. It may capture the comments of people vocal enough to complain, but not capture the comments of others equally (or even more) dissatisfied, but less vocal. Therefore, the feedback strategy should be balanced with methods that accurately reflect (from a statistical perspective) client satisfaction, such as postal, telephone or electronic surveys.

To Begin

Managers have an array of methods available to understand how well they are doing. The best method is simply to ask clients. Focus groups are an excellent method to do this. They involve gathering a small number of informed clients and asking them open-ended questions about service, quality, expectations and priorities for the future. Themes emerge which can then be used to create a survey designed to get more detailed responses from a larger sample.

Focus groups should be used at the start of the consultation process, but can also be used in the middle to help identify solutions, and at the end for feedback on implementation. The groups provide qualitative data, which is then refined by quantitative data, most notably with the Common Measurements Tool (CMT).

See Client Feedback Strategy


In response to a decline in campground attendance over several consecutive years, in 1985 BC Parks started to monitor visitor satisfaction levels in Provincial Parks to better serve its visitors and increase park use. Initially conducted as a pilot, satisfaction surveys were continued to create and maintain a customer-oriented management philosophy for the organization.

The Visitor Satisfaction Surveys are part of a larger information strategy for the organization. Other elements of the strategy include a citizen survey every five years, comment cards, and focus groups. Attendance and satisfaction improved as efforts were taken to close the gap between expectations and service delivery performance. As well, the organization surveys its staff every three to four years, to determine their satisfaction with their work, business practices, training and other internal services.

The feedback is now so integrated that it is proactive. When faced with a decision about whether or not to install a centralized telephone reservation system for campsites, BC Parks consulted the public, who supported the idea. Once implemented, the organization experienced increased satisfaction levels (along with ideas for improvement).

Input from visitors also leads to creative solutions. When decreased funding led to cutbacks in security and maintenance, satisfaction dropped. BC Parks responded by restoring those services in some parks, while creating a new policy that not all parks would offer the same level of service.


HRDC Income Security Program (ISP) (Ontario Region) recognized the value of consulting stakeholders. Concerned about benefit overpayments after the death of the recipient, they wanted more timely notification of deaths. ISP managers met with a group of stakeholders – funeral service directors – who agreed to notify ISP of deaths, in addition to informing the relatives of how to apply for Canada Pension Plan Survivor Benefits. Project leader Ellen Pasquale reports: "What started as a cost control, program integrity initiative provided an opportunity to demonstrate our compassion for the bereaved and be more efficient at providing survivor benefits." A career civil servant, Pasquale was pleased when a funeral director said, "You must have been in retail to come up with such a client-centred idea."

Common Measurements Tool (CMT)

While many tools are used to obtain feedback, the key one for the Service Improvement Initiative is the Common Measurements Tool (CMT). The CMT measures are the methodology authorized by the Treasury Board for use by organizations in the Service Improvement Initiative. The CMT is a measurement tool developed by the public sector to provide consistent quality information and to enable the comparison of results over time and across agencies. For the purposes of the Service Improvement Initiative, client feedback and satisfaction measures must be consistent with the CMT methodology in order to permit consistent measurement and comparison across the public service.

Using a five-point scale, the CMT assesses where service delivery exceeds, meets, or lags behind client expectations. It includes focused questions in the areas of service/product delivery, access and facilities, communication and cost, but also allows room for general comments on these issues. These questions will help the organization to address the experience of clients with services, their expectations, and their priorities for service improvement.

Organizations can add further questions or drop irrelevant ones, as the case may be, provided they maintain consistency of style and measurement. But each user should include a core set of government-wide questions (Appendix C) to provide benchmarks for comparison over time and across agencies. This set of questions is based on the main divers of service quality identified in the Citizens First research, plus general questions on accessibility and overall satisfaction.

The CMT is in fact more than a questionnaire. With its accompanying manual, it is a guide to developing a survey of client satisfaction based on sound methodology. The CMT is discussed further in Appendix C of this report. A manager's guide for the CMT is available on the Canada School of Public Service Web site.

A Note on Methodology

If you do not have internal research expertise, it is useful to have an external expert review your plan. Issues such as validity, representative samples, consistency over time, confidentiality of participants, bias and other technical matters need to be resolved. Guidance on methodology can be obtained from the Service and Innovation Sector of the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat.

Establish Baseline Data

The next step is to implement the feedback strategy by employing the CMT and other tools to obtain baseline data. That will provide a reliable sense of the starting point for the organization: in colloquial terms, "How Are We Doing?"

Environment Canada – Prairie and Northern Region (Human Resources Branch), for example, found a baseline of 51 percent. That was – it's worth stressing – not a surprising result. Different organizations and types of services will have different baselines and different ceilings on what can likely be achieved. Fire departments tend to attain top service ratings, with satisfaction levels around 80 percent. But other kinds of public services may be doing well at much lower levels of satisfaction. It is, therefore, important to understand the standard satisfaction range for your type of organization or service, and where you currently are located in this range.

There may well be some trepidation about finding out how you are viewed by clients. Yet, it is important to remember that the idea here is to start the process of measuring yourself against yourself so that you can determine priorities for improvement and ultimately implement an improvement plan. That, in turn, will require regular updates on client satisfaction through the continuous feedback process you establish. It is therefore important to establish a core set of questions for internal benchmarking purposes so that the organization can monitor the progress in meeting the objectives of an improvement plan.

Checklist for Step 2

At the end of this step, you should have a feedback strategy developed and reflected in the organizational business planning process and a performance framework. This strategy must address, at a minimum:

  • How to survey clients, staff, and citizens.
  • The instruments and procedures to use.
  • The efforts needed to create (if it does not already exist) a willingness, even eagerness, to use feedback constructively.
  • Questions that address client/citizen expectations, the experience with the service, and priorities for future improvement, as well as the key drivers of client/citizen satisfaction.
  • A method to share the feedback.


Where Do Our Clients Want Us To Be?

Step 3
Desired Future State

The previous steps have answered the question: "Where are we now?" With that determined, it is now time to turn attention to answer the question: "Where do our clients want us to be?" To do this, the feedback obtained will help to articulate the mission and vision – to define the desired future state of the organization and point the organization in the direction it needs to go.

Creating the Mission Statement

It is vital that the citizen-centred service effort flow from an outside-in focus. This begins with the mission statement.

If your organization has a mission statement, examine it to determine whether it is consistent with the outside-in approach. If not, it should be modified to reflect this dynamic. As well, any separate mission statement for the citizen-centred initiative should have outside-in at its core.

You should also take this opportunity to review your organizational values and see whether they are citizen-centred. Is service positioned within the organization as a value?

To develop a mission, the following are useful steps:

  • Re-explore the ways your organization can benefit society in general. What are specific impacts you have on clients who approach you with needs? This will relate back to the mandate and the legislation of the organization.
  • Using your assessments and feedback, consider what the various stakeholders want. What is your clients', the general public's and your staff's vision of excellent service? What are their specific needs, expectations and priorities?
  • Create a vision of the impact the perfect organization providing your kind of service would have. Then, based on that vision, build a concept of excellence centred on the client and the citizen, and a vision of what it would be like to achieve that excellence.
  • From those actions, the kernel of your mission should emerge. Don't try to touch all bases, just the underlying principles. Make sure the mission is short, crisp, and unforgettable – something that hangs in the memory rather than on the wall.

Understanding the citizen's vision, expectations and preferences is the basis of the whole service improvement process. The organization must demonstrate that citizen input is important to the organization. As well, the organization must share its standards and values with citizens to create realistic expectations and provide guidance to stimulate citizen input about the service provided to them.

In the end, it is still the responsibility of the organization to analyze and understand the information provided by the citizen. The outside-in focus must still be consistent with the department's mandate and legislation.

Checklist for Step 3

At the end of this step, you will have:

  • Vision and mission statements that support citizen-centred service improvement.
  • A clear, articulate understanding of what your organization would like to achieve.
  • The updated vision for service improvement in the annual Report on Plans and Priorities based on a citizen-centred approach.
  • An inspiring vision of the future organization.

Where Do Our Clients Want Us To Be?

Step 4
Setting Priorities for Improvement

Armed with client feedback information, it is now time to prepare for action by outlining priorities. These priorities should be defined by the client feedback, but remain consistent with the mission and mandate.

A strategy must be set around the priorities, the purpose of the initiative, its values, and its goals, as well as the timelines for program design, implementation and evaluation. The strategy will flow from the government-wide Service Improvement Initiative and the specific results in your own review.

Identifying the Key Drivers of Client Satisfaction for Your Service and Potential Areas for Improvement

The process will vary by organization and findings, but a good starting point is to focus on the five key drivers of client satisfaction as identified by the Citizens First research: timeliness, knowledge/competence, courtesy/comfort, fair treatment, and outcome.5 It is important to emphasize the implications of these findings: "If governments provide an acceptable level of service on these five drivers, they will achieve service quality ratings of 85 out of 100."6

While these are the key drivers of client satisfaction, you need to understand the key drivers for your specific type of service, as the drivers and their relative importance vary by service type. Understanding these drivers will assist you in further identifying your clients' priorities for improvement.

To assist you in identifying your key service drivers, each of five key drivers of service quality are discussed below. In addition, other potential related elements of service quality discussed below include: visibility and access; human resources; partnering, and information technology.

Five Drivers of Service Satisfaction

  1. Timeliness: This driver refers to the satisfaction with the time it takes to get service, as opposed to the absolute length of time it takes. In terms of the five key drivers, the Citizens First research tells us that by far, the most important driver is timeliness. However, depending upon the nature of the service, it should be recognized that there are limits to the extent government processes can be speeded up, which will impact satisfaction levels. For example, for some services considerations of fairness and accountability impose limits on the speed at which a service can be delivered. Fortunately, if service must be delayed beyond what citizens would normally expect, providing reasons for the required timeframe may serve to maintain acceptable ratings of timeliness.

  2. Knowledge/Competence: The second most important driver is the knowledge and competence of the service provider. Research tells us that performance on this driver is maximized from a well-functioning system, including adequate staffing, proper training resources, and good internal services including management support, technical facilities, human resources services and so forth.

  3. Courtesy/Comfort: The third most important driver from the Citizens First research is courtesy and comfort. That is, were the staff courteous and did they make the client feel comfortable? Despite the best efforts of government staff, citizens may feel uncomfortable in certain encounters with government – possibly to the point that staff may be unable to overcome it. A good example of this could be a taxation audit.

  4. Fair Treatment: This driver refers to whether clients feel they were treated fairly. Governments take great efforts to ensure fairness in service delivery, but problems arise when opinions differ as to what is meant by "fair." Government service providers may see fair as what legislation and regulations prescribe, while citizens with opposing views may regard their treatment as unfair. Examples are most obvious when they involve social issues. In such cases, ensuring clients are provided with sufficient information could be an important factor in determining satisfaction levels.

  5. Outcome: The final key driver of citizen satisfaction in order of importance is outcome. This is defined as whether or not the client got what they needed. Competing claims for resources means that government cannot satisfy everyone. For example, applications for financial assistance may not meet requirements, or a tax levy may be larger than anticipated. The inability of government to provide the desired outcome may impose a ceiling on service quality scores for those who are denied the outcome they want. The desired outcome will be denied more often in some services than others, which means that service quality ratings will vary across different services.

Understanding the drivers for each particular service is critical for developing a service improvement plan. Although the above five drivers were found to be the most important based upon Citizens First research, there is no one set of answers that are standard for any particular service; each will have its own set of drivers and clients with a set priorities for improvement. Understanding what your particular drivers are, which driver performed best, which was worst, and which priority for improvement is most important from your clients' perspective are all questions that you will want to pose. In addition, you will need to decide if it is practical to work on several drivers at once, or to proceed one at a time, with a recognition that some efforts will require more time for planning and training. Early efforts may work to attain the biggest gains in client satisfaction to secure early successes for the organization. It is the drivers of satisfaction to which particular attention should be paid when setting priorities. These are the elements that clients/citizens indicate are important, and priorities that they indicate will help close the service gap by working to meet their expectations.

Other Considerations for Service Quality

Visibility and Access

Visibility: On average, when Canadians want to contact a public service, they do not know where to find it 25 per cent of the time. How visible is your operation to citizens? Can it be improved?

Access: How satisfied are the people that know how to contact you about the process? Are there concerns about the length of the wait? How many attempts were required to get through? How would they prefer to access you?

It is worth noting that sixty per cent of access issues are related to slow telephone responses, so this may be a priority area for action. For telephone service, citizens expect:

  • less than a two minute wait;
  • to find the right person on the first or second try;
  • to have a response to a voice mail message within four hours.

In considering priorities, do not forget the importance of instructing clients on how to use the service. Service interactions can be unsatisfactory not because the product or delivery was inferior, but because the client did not know how to use the service or product. Public servants have a role as an educator, which is especially true for those services used only once or twice in a lifetime. Just as advertising helps clients find and access a service, there are ways to support clients in use of a service.

The People Dimension of Service

Employees are the key to success. It is difficult to conceive of any organization treating its staff poorly and then expecting them to treat clients well. If you look after your staff, they will look after the client. You do not order staff to smile; you recruit service-oriented people, train them well, give them good working conditions and a chance to do a good job. Courteous service is a by-product – empowered employees tend to enjoy their work.

Do staff have the proper skills to do the job (competence) for a citizen-centred approach? If not, a training plan should be developed. As well, do staff use their own initiative? The rules cannot foresee every eventuality. How can you give them the training, the tools and the freedom to use their initiative? In this, the organization needs to pay attention to the constraints that prevent capable employees from using their good judgement to achieve the mission. Welcome and applaud new ideas and initiative.

Service Integration

About one time in six, the service a client needs involves more than one agency – for example, a provincial birth certificate is required in order to obtain a passport. And to change an address, citizens must deal independently with a number of government organizations. Citizen-centred service delivery requires new partnerships within and between governments – and with the private and not-for-profit sectors – to integrate service so that it makes sense to the client. To start, the organization should ask how it can work with partners to improve service, and determine the logical place to start.

Government On-Line

Technology can be a great enabler to improve service delivery to Canadians. Electronic service delivery can bring services to citizens how they want them and when they want them, wherever they live. It also allows governments to provide seamless, integrated service delivery. The 1999 Speech from the Throne made the commitment for the Government of Canada to become the most electronically connected government in the world to its citizens by 2004 and provide Canadians with electronic access to federal information and services. This initiative, known as Government On-Line (GOL), is the beginning of an agenda to offer citizens and businesses faster, more convenient and seamless electronic access to services and programs. GOL will make it easier for citizens and businesses to find what they need through one-stop access points with services and information organized by theme – like the environment – or type of activity – such as services for seniors – rather than by government department. It also supports improved client satisfaction in that it can improve performance on some of the key drivers of client satisfaction, such as timeliness.

The past few years have seen great progress and many innovations in the on-line delivery of federal services and information. Government is just starting to tap the potential of getting on-line. With the ever-increasing potential of new technologies and the growing demand for electronic service delivery, the need for a co-ordinated, forward-looking approach is clear. The Government On-Line initiative builds on what has already been accomplished to ensure that government works consistently and collaboratively, and with other partners, to create a world-renowned system of on-line service delivery. How can you make use of client-focused electronic service delivery to improve service in your organization?

Further information on the Government On-Line initiative can be found on the GOL Web site.

Setting Priorities

So far, a considerable amount of information has been gathered from clients on their needs, expectations, and priorities for improvement. The above areas are starting points, but you should ask how the information gathered should be used for decisions. The Service Improvement Team should work with the management team to discuss and agree on a decision model, which will then be applied to the situation.

One such model is the satisfaction-importance matrix (Appendix E).."7 This model assists in identifying which service improvements should be focused upon first. Briefly, the model creates a service improvement matrix by plotting the satisfaction rating with the importance rating on a two-dimensional grid. This allows decision-makers to determine which improvements are a top priority (low satisfaction rating, high importance rating). Unless both dimensions are measured and evaluated, improvement efforts may be misguided. If the organization only measures satisfaction and sets priorities based on the lowest satisfaction scores, improvement efforts may have little impact in improving satisfaction levels if these items have little importance to clients. Items with low satisfaction scores and high importance are areas to target improvement efforts.

Checklist for Step 4

At the end of this step, you will likely have:

  • A list of priorities for service improvement;
  • Identified priorities to improve visibility;
  • Identified priorities to improve access;
  • Identified priorities for improvement on each of the five drivers of satisfaction;
  • Priorities for strengthening the people dimension of service delivery;
  • Priorities for integrated service delivery;
  • Priorities for improved use of information technology.

See Appendix E: Setting Priorities.

Where Do Our Clients Want Us To Be?

Step 5
Setting Client Centred Service Standards and Client Satisfaction Targets

After establishing priorities, it is vital to set standards and targets by which you intend to judge performance. Success needs definition. Standards and targets serve to focus the organization to ensure it achieves the most it can for both short and long-term goals.

In this Guide, standards refer to the levels of service performance, while targets refer to the levels of satisfaction aspired to. Standards are the performance levels we are committed to in the present – the quality one can expect. Targets are the satisfaction objectives we are moving towards.

Service standards are a commitment by the organization to provide a certain level of service to clients. These are usually in areas such as communications, access, timeliness, interactions between staff and clients, and costs. For example, answering telephone calls within six rings nine times out of ten could be a standard. Consistency counts with service standards. Clients don't want great performance one day and lousy service the next. A client whose call is answered on the first ring and then locked in 'voice mail jail' for ten minutes won't consider that 'on average' good service was delivered.

Service standards must incorporate performance objectives. The standard of replying to a letter sent by mail within two weeks may not be achievable all the time, but may be achievable in a majority of situations. What is the appropriate level of performance for achieving the standard? It could be set at 80%, 90%, or even higher. This allows for standards that are citizen/client based and attempt to meet their expectations for service delivery. To ensure that it could respond to letters 100% of the time, an organization might have to set the standard at twelve weeks. However, it is unlikely citizens/clients would find this acceptable. Incorporating performance objectives into service standards also provides the organization with room for improvement, such as setting the goal to move the objective of meeting the standard, for example, from 80% to 85% of the time.

Service standards are an important tool for managing client expectations and should reflect the available resources. They tell your clients what you can provide and what they should expect to receive. Service standards must be published so they are known by all those affected – staff, partners, and clients. Publication motivates staff, influences client expectations, allows educated feedback on performance and ensures that accountability and measurement are open and honest.

As well as service standards, targets should also be set for the levels of citizen and client satisfaction the organization wants to achieve within a given timeframe. Service standards are the key means for managing client expectations based on available resources. But satisfaction targets are the key means for improving actual service performance and quality.

Satisfaction targets should be reasonable. For the Service Improvement Initiative, the Treasury Board has established a government-wide objective of a minimum 10% improvement in client satisfaction for all key services to the public. To begin, set targets in a few areas identified as key by the client and do-able by your staff within five years. Targets must be realistic, reviewed regularly and adjusted annually as necessary to meet the minimum 10% objective over five years.

How to Set Service Standards

Your surveys will have told you what levels of service your clients want. Service standards should be client driven and reflect what the client wants, but also what the organization can currently afford. Standards are a way of managing expectations. They tell your clients what you can provide and they can expect. Service satisfaction is related to expectations. Managing expectations well is an important part of service improvement. Look at the standards in other similar operations that have high levels of client satisfaction. What is the 'industry standard'? Discuss these with your staff, to find out what it would take to meet them. Review what level of service you are now providing. Determine what standard you can achieve now, and what standards you will strive for in the longer term. Further information on how to set service standards can be found in Appendix F.

Satisfaction Improvement Targets

Client satisfaction targets are more complicated since they are less direct. By helping to manage client expectations, service standards may contribute to increased client satisfaction. But they will not guarantee satisfaction. Satisfaction targets must be set and measured independently. What satisfaction levels do you want to achieve?

It is important not only to set targets for satisfaction improvement, but also to measure achievement. Improved client satisfaction, after all, is the end goal of the Service Improvement Initiative. Improved client satisfaction is also the way to measure whether you have actually set the right priorities for service improvement and whether you are making regular annual progress toward the minimum 10% satisfaction improvement objective over five years.

Steps To Take

The steps you take will vary according to your structure and organizational culture. But here are eleven steps that offer guidance. Throughout, ensure that staff are actively involved in the process and support the targets that are set.

  • Review the data you gathered about client priorities.
  • Divide the priorities into two areas: access (including the ability to find the service); and service performance (including the main drivers of satisfaction).
  • Use the Service Improvement Team or subgroups to deal with each area. Decide what standard of service is appropriate in each area.
  • Present the management committee of the organization with a complete list of proposed service standards and satisfaction targets.
  • Reach organization-wide agreement on service standards; select the most important few to focus on while keeping in mind the different service delivery channels.
  • Ensure the government-wide target of a minimum 10% improvement in client/citizen satisfaction over five years is translated into specific annual targets for each service or program area and that these targets are reflected in accountability agreements.
  • Ensure that a strong service culture is being developed to complement client satisfaction target setting. This will help make the targets achievable if the organizational culture supports and promotes the delivery of good service.
  • Continue to regularly measure client expectations, priorities and satisfaction and anchor your planning process in this data.
  • Ensure a client complaint redress mechanism is in place.
  • Make sure that for any satisfaction target or service standard the results can be (and are) measured, benchmarked, monitored, reported and used to guide management decisions.
  • Ensure the results-based service improvement planning and implementation process is integrated with the annual business planning process, for ongoing monitoring and updating of targets. Standards and targets are not static, but dynamic. Monitoring and updating for continuous improvement is a never-ending process.

Setting targets can be a source of anxiety. This may be particularly true in a traditional 'inside-out' focused workplace that suddenly finds itself judged by the standards of its clients. But in the end, targets can also unify. Most people are goal oriented. They enjoy achieving, and surpassing, performance targets. If the targets are reasonable and the purpose clear, you can secure buy-in and unleash new energy, as people strive to show their stuff.

Establishing priorities for improvement, and setting standards and targets, further refines where the organization wants to be. These should be woven into the fabric of the organization's planning process (including the Report on Plans and Priorities), and even deserving of a special improvement plan specific to this initiative.

Checklist for Step 5

At the completion of this step, you should have:

  • Service standards that are published, and openly accessible.
  • Service standards based on client priorities and expectations, but also reflect available resources.
  • Satisfaction improvement targets that are sufficiently challenging that achieving them will result in a noticeable reduction in the satisfaction gap, yet realistic enough that they can be achieved.
  • Measurement and performance reporting against the service standards and satisfaction improvement targets.

See Appendix F: Setting Service Standards and Targets

How will we get there?

Step 6
Designing the Improvement Plan

By now you know where you are and where your clients want you to be, but not the path between the two. Thus far, the vision and mission have been stated, a client - feedback strategy created, and input solicited. Priorities for improvement have been identified, client centred service standards and client satisfaction improvement targets set. Now it is time to create an improvement plan – the map that will guide you and your organization between the two points – and set the actions necessary to achieve the targets.

The improvement plan is not intended to serve as a self-contained or isolated plan. It is an integrated part of the total business planning process of the organization. It provides for a systematic and organized approach to service improvement planning and implementation integrated with the regular annual planning and reporting cycle of the department or agency.

Flexibility is key to the approach and to implementing the improvement plan. The plan and improvement process must be brought to life – a living part of the organization – which embraces the concept of continuous improvement. As you plan and implement, you will be receiving new and additional information that will alter your plan. You must be ready to change direction when required. And staff must be given room to innovate within the basic framework and be consistent with the overall goals.

Government Priorities and Plans

As you begin to develop your improvement plan, it is vital to ensure that you are well informed not only about the Service Improvement Initiative, but other relevant initiatives such as Government On-line, in order to complement them and benefit from their lead. The main points have already been outlined and should be central to your thinking by now: responsiveness to the needs and service improvement priorities identified by citizens, and the pursuit of continuous improvement in meeting client and citizen satisfaction.

Beyond that, government has placed priority on:

  • a choice of channels and points of service;
  • support for electronic government; and,
  • enhanced visibility and presence.

Setting the Plan

The core of the Service Improvement Plan is to focus on the service improvement priorities that are most important for citizens and clients, as identified in Step 4. For each priority identified by clients, the organization will identify the key actions required to address that priority. In turn, each of these key actions will be further refined by identifying the required sub-activities required to support them.

The improvement plan is an opportunity to draw on the creativity, innovation and problem solving skills of the organization. There is usually more than one solution to any problem and more than one way to address the priorities. The creation and selection of actions to achieve the priorities provides an opportunity for the organization to think "outside the box." For example, a common response to client demands for faster telephone service is to add capacity to a call centre. Yet, a more innovative approach can reduce workload by determining why clients need to call in the first place, and address the underlying cause rather than a symptom of the problem (e.g. a form that is unclear to clients). Therefore, it is critical to ensure active employee participation in the creation of the plan and to clarify for everyone what goals the organization hopes to accomplish and how they will be accomplished.

Example of a Service Improvement Plan Template

To assist departments and agencies to get started, this section outlines an example of a potential Service Improvement Plan template. A complete description of this generic example can be found in Appendix G. The development of an improvement plan does not require a cookie cutter approach. Every organization is unique, as are the needs, expectations, and priorities of its clients and the environment in which the organization operates. What an improvement plan will look like will vary from organization to organization. Yet, while specifics may vary, there are common elements to an improvement plan. For each priority identified, it is necessary to establish actions to address the improvement priorities, identify the person(s) responsible, and state a timetable for action, and specific targets for achievement. The improvement plan will also address the monitoring and reporting process for client satisfaction targets and service standards, and identify management accountabilities.


The first section of a Service Improvement Plan should be direction: how does the plan link into and support the organization's mission statement and the desired future state for the organization. Stating this vision up front enables department or agency personnel to better understand the purpose of the Service Improvement Plan. It is also important to document here how the plan was developed, who participated, how citizens' views in terms of their priorities for improvement were obtained to produce the plan (e.g: surveys, focus groups, or formal consultations) and how these views shape the plan. The important point is to ensure that the activities outlined in the plan focus on citizen priorities and as such, if implemented properly, will result in improved client satisfaction so that the department or agencies' targets for client satisfaction are met.

Since the improvement plan is also a document that affects the work and work culture of the organization, it is important in this section to outline who in the organization worked in producing the plan and how employees were engaged in its creation.

Priority Areas for Improvement

The core of the plan should outline the department or agency's priority areas for improvement: what are the key actions, who is responsible, what are the timeframes, expected results and how these results will be measured. Below are two different examples of how the priorities for improvement section could be structured. Example #1 adopts the approach whereby for each priority area, the specific actions required are identified. Example #2 organizes the priorities for improvement by the five key drivers of client satisfaction, in addition to identifying which service delivery channels (e.g. telephone, over the counter, electronic, etc.) are implicated. The benefit if this second approach is that it assists in ensuring the each driver is addressed and that the Service Improvement Plan addresses all service delivery channels. This emphasizes a balanced, integrated approach between and among the various channels used to deliver the service. The type of template you develop will depend upon the nature of your business and what works best given the environment within which you work.

It is important to note that the plan should be comprehensive, but kept as simple as possible so that it is clearly understood. For example, simply requiring staff to say "Have a nice day" (the staff courtesy service quality driver) will not lead clients to believe they have had a positive service experience when none of the other key drivers of client satisfaction are in place.

Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) is responsible for caring for those who have served their country in combat and peacekeeping, along with their families. Already sensitive to its clients, VAC wanted quicker turnaround times on disability pensions – benefits for clients with a permanent disability as result of disease or disability related to military service. Part of a comprehensive plan, this initiative was one of several client-centred initiatives.

However, the improvements sought were constrained by regulations. Rather than accept the impediment and continue with a service gap, the process began with legislative changes and the creation of new regulations to address revised procedures. This was followed by a major reorganization within the VAC portfolio.

On the operations side, staff developed procedures and re-engineered workflows to increase flexibility for program delivery, consultation, staff training and teamwork on projects. Information technology changes followed. This was a lot of planning and work for one small improvement. Yet, the changes incorporated many other improvements and paved the way for the future, as VAC learns more about the changing needs of its clients.

Each work unit was made responsible to know its targets/goals and to manage to achieve them. Due to the high level of support and the clear knowledge of direction and targets, it was not necessary to bring in outside consultants, or set up a special change management team.

The lessons learned by Veterans Affairs Canada include:

  • A separate structure is not always needed for change. The already existing planning function was adequate, so they did not add a quality management framework.
  • The will to make it happen is required; commitment from all levels of the organization; the support and flexibility of employees and external partners; strong communication tools and contact with clients.

Monitoring and Accountability

A final section in any solid plan should include a section on monitoring and accountability. The example below presents possible elements that you may want to include. Specifically outlining how the plan is to be monitored, frequency by which the results will be reported and to whom assists in ensuring that key actors are identified, that an accountability regime is in place and that all relevant aspects of the plan are being properly communicated. In addition, the value of outlining the monitoring and accountability aspects of the plan not only comes to play when you move to implementation, but also becomes readily apparent in succeeding steps as implementation efforts are monitored and evaluated.


The departmental Service Improvement Plan links planning in the organization in two directions. First, it links to planning upward on the strategic level though the Report on Plans and Priorities and subsequent evaluation in the Departmental Performance Report. Second, it brings planning downward through its impact on the detailed work plans of organizational units and individual staff members. In many respects, the improvement plan is a summary document that integrates information from a variety of sources. This step incorporates the findings and work undertaken in the previous steps. It sets out for each priority action necessary to attain the objectives and associated targets, sets a timeframe and identifies the resources that are required, and establishes who is responsible and ultimately accountable for the actions. The improvement plan must also integrate and consider other organizational issues, such as the HR Plan, staff training needs, links to related services (service integration), and Government-on-Line and information management/information technology plans.

Checklist for Step 6

At the completion of this step, you should have an improvement plan that:

  • Integrates the findings of the previous steps (vision, mission, leadership, employee and clients feedback, identified priorities, targets and service standards).
  • Dovetails with the Service Improvement Initiative and other government-wide initiatives, while focusing on the specific needs of your clients.
  • Is a result of active employee engagement.
  • Is simple, clear and compelling.
  • Describes the actions to address the service improvement priorities identified in Step 4, in order to achieve increased client satisfaction.
  • Specifies the client satisfaction targets for achievement and identifies timeframes.
  • Identifies responsibilities and accountabilities for actions to address service improvement priorities.
  • Is consistent and considers other organisational plans, such as the HR Plan, staff training, IT/IM strategy, and change management strategy.

See Appendix G: Sample Service Improvement Plan Templates.

How Do We Make It Happen?

Step 7

This section presents activities to support the implementation of the Service Improvement Plan. As leadership is central to successful implementation, a leadership checklist is provided. In addition, this section also explores implementation best practices and lessons learned from previous research undertaken in the field of service improvement. It also presents potential service improvement tools, and resources available to assist managers in implementing service improvements.

Service Improvement Plan Implementation

In terms of implementing the Service Improvement Plan, there are several general support activities that you will want to consider:

  1. Communicate the Plan

    Memos do not change organizations. Do not assume that because a memo describing the implementation plan was issued, that everyone knows about it, remembers and will act according to plan. Continue to communicate the plan. Too much communication is better than insufficient communication. Remember that communication is a two-way process: management must listen to staff as much as staff must listen to management.

  2. Verify Responsibilities

    Confirm that responsibilities assigned during planning remain the right ones and adjust them as needed. Build precise results into the targets set for teams or work units, and into the performance contract of each individual. Ensure that your data systems provide information at the individual and work group level so that you can monitor achievements against targets.

  3. Ensure Supporting Changes Are Made

    From legislation to organizational unit operating procedures, support is needed to enable employees to act in a new, more client-centred manner. This includes the removal of impediments that limit an employee's ability to do a good job. Processes, forms and policies should be reviewed to ensure they facilitate rather than impede client/citizen-centred service delivery. This may mean simplified forms, the use of clearer language in forms and documents, changed hours of service, staff training, and the regular review of procedures. Empowered staff are central to removing impediments, and removing impediments is central to empowering staff.

  4. Support the Human Dimension

    There is a human response to change. There will likely be resistance to change, and there may be fear and anxiety among staff as well. This is okay and not unexpected, but these reactions must be dealt with and staff assisted and supported during the transition. Implementation impacts the organizational character since it involves change, and represents another area where leadership is essential.

    As well, many initiatives are likely to involve changes to the skill sets of employees. Therefore, ensuring that employees have access to the training and tools necessary for them to undertake their jobs is vital. After all, in many cases it is the service experience of the client/citizen involves direct interaction with a public service employee. Training is very important to the success of the organization in terms of client satisfaction. For example, research of telephone call centres has shown significantly higher levels of client satisfaction in call centres with high levels of employee training versus centres with low training levels. Training often helps support the five key drivers of client satisfaction (timeliness, knowledge/competence, courtesy/comfort, fair treatment, and outcome) and often involves job-specific training and training in customer service skills.

  5. Creativity and Innovation

    Promoting an environment which is conducive to risk taking and innovation should underlie the implementation of the Service Improvement Plan. Purposely seeking out new, innovative ideas to bring into the organization should be promoted. External, innovative ideas can be found through networking with similar organizations, keeping up to date on the latest developments in your field through media such as journals, and other related activities such as conferences. Conducting exercises such as participative problem solving, or engaging external resources can also assist this.

  6. Have Fun

    The challenge of meeting client needs should be enjoyable. If managers and employees are consistently not having fun, implementation is not likely going well. This may require revisiting the earlier steps to find the problem, or reviewing the improvement plan to see how morale can be boosted. Citizen-centred service improvement is not just a process, but part of the character of the organization that is lived everyday.

  7. Adjust the Service Improvement Plan

    Change is messy. Mistakes are made. Planning is not perfect and does not end when implementation starts. The two phases support each other. Re-plan. Re-train. Re-adjust.

Leadership Checklist

When it comes time to implement the plan just developed, leadership is again at the fore. Sometimes managers are so preoccupied with their daily must-do routine that they forget how closely their staff watches them for clues about what matters in the workplace. This is not the time to give everyone a handshake and move on to something else.

Potential Service Improvement Tools

  • Remain involved and constant in your support. Raise the service improvement profile through daily attention and speeches; place it on key agendas and talk about it with staff.
  • Set the tone. Treat your staff with the same degree of timeliness, courtesy, competence and fairness you expect them to use with clients. Ensure the outcomes they want are achieved.
  • Communicate. Gain buy-in from staff and ensure continual feedback on the problems they encounter with implementation and their ideas to enhance the initiative. Capitalize on the feedback and ideas. Communicate new initiatives to clients.
  • Continue to learn. Build trust. Make allowances for mistakes.
  • Listen.
  • Do the right thing. Set an example by doing what is right rather than what is easy.
  • Continue the Service Improvement Team, changing their role from planning to implementation, monitoring and adjustment. Make consultation continuous.
  • Empower staff and support their decisions.
  • Accept that you may not know the answer. Build enthusiasm. Create a "pull" by staff to make service improvement changes rather than limiting it to a "push" by management.
  • Recognize and celebrate achievement.

Lessons Learned – Signposts for Success

In devising specific service improvement solutions to meet citizen priorities, a good place to start is to research best practices in similar organizations or business lines. Successful service improvements are often based on good research. The organization is well serviced by reading up on similar initiatives and by meeting with practitioners and experts in the field. There are numerous resources to assist in this. The Canadian Centre for Management Development's Citizen-Centred Service Network undertook a research agenda in citizen centred service. Two products, Good Practices in Citizen-Centred Service and Innovations and Good Practices in Single-Window Service provide an exhaustive description of best practices with a summary of lessons learned. Some of the lessons learned from these two studies are outlined below:

  • Ensure Leadership Is in Place for the Long-Term: Sustained leadership by senior executives is critical for the long-term success of a service-improvement initiative. Seeking and sustaining political support for your service improvements was also identified in the research as another important success factor.
  • Encourage Citizen-Centred Values & Culture: A shared commitment to improving service delivery, supported by citizen-centred values is at the heart of any successful service improvement. Starting the change process by beginning with the development of a service culture is key.
  • Focus on Continuous Improvement: Organizations should focus on continuous improvement in service delivery, based on client and employee input and measurement.
  • Firmly Fix Improvements to a results-based strategy: a results-based strategy works effectively especially when action is focused on client priorities for service improvement, and progress is continuously measured and communicated.
  • Focus on Improving the Workplace: A results-based focus should be complemented by a continuous improvement strategy for increasing staff satisfaction. This helps to achieve a supportive corporate culture. This might entail using teamwork approaches, educating and training staff with the information they need to succeed, empowering staff to make service improvements and recognizing and rewarding good service.
  • Partnerships: Considerable research has been done in the area of partnerships and its benefits have been well documented. Sound partnerships involve shared decision-making, and clear accountabilities.
  • Consult with Clients and Key Stakeholders: Throughout the implementation process, consultation assists in ensuring that any changes are appropriately targeted. Although consultations can be time consuming, they assist in maintaining and improving the range and quality of services provided. For example, if the service improvement involves the redesign of a form, it should be focus tested to identify whether or not the improvements actually address the original problem. If this type of consultation is not undertaken, attempts at service improvement could result in less client satisfaction.
  • Piloting: Implementing service improvement initiatives through pilots can be a good way of obtaining buy-in, demonstrating success and finding what works best. This also enables risks to be managed so that deficiencies can be found and corrected before full-scale implementation takes place.

Potential Service Improvement Tools
  • New organizational forms
  • Technology
  • Service Standards
  • Process improvement
  • Re-engineering
  • Quality Management
  • Benchmarking
  • Public-Private Partnerships
  • Cost Recovery
  • Service Agreements

Service Improvement Toolbox

The Canadian Centre for Management Development's Citizen-Centred Service Network's research: Good Practices in Citizen-Centred Service and Innovations and Good Practices in Single-Window Service identifies a number of potential tools to assist managers in undertaking Service Improvements. Some of these tools involve one-time implementation; whereas others require on-going application. Although not exhaustive, the purpose of this brief description is to serve as a starting point:

  • Service Clustering, Single Window Access, and New Organizational Forms such as Special Operating Agencies can be an effective means of clarifying roles and responsibilities, improving service, reducing delivery costs, reducing overlap and duplication, and enhancing accountability. This may include looking at Alternative Service Delivery (ASD) to see if there is an alternative method available to deliver the service. You might also consider single window service delivery and service clustering.
  • Technology, although discussed elsewhere in this guide, should be noted as another potential service improvement tool. Technology has been a major driver for service improvement in recent years. Electronic kiosk systems such as those at Human Resource Development Canada and Service Ontario provide an expanding range of services to citizens and clients. Internal technological improvements in information management have allowed organizations to offer citizens service from any location. However, through the research, technology was found to be a two-edged sword in service delivery – to be effective, technological delivery must be designed in close consultation with the client.
  • Process improvement techniques such as process mapping and re-engineering can have a powerful, positive effect on service performance and client satisfaction if implemented properly, in consultation with employees and clients. Public sector services and programs often have legal and technical requirements that affect the service experience. While such requirements are often necessary, the system designed to implement them may not be the most simple and efficient possible. Examine your systems and processes from a client/citizen perspective. See if it is possible to cut red tape, root out unnecessary rules, change workflow and internal processes, and expand the use of plain language.
  • Quality Management Frameworks offer another method to assist managers in improving their service delivery. A variety of quality management systems exist depending upon the needs of the organization. Careful consideration of the organizational needs versus the framework used is required. Systems range from ISO which maintains demanding compliance standards and ongoing authentication to the National Quality Institute's Fitness Test, which is more flexible in its application.
  • Benchmarking, is not only an important tool for measuring performance, but is also useful in identifying areas of success and those needing improvement. Search out the "best" organization in your business line. How does your organization compare? How did this organization that is considered "best" attain their results? See what can be learned from their experiences that can be adapted and implemented in your own organization to improve service delivery to citizens and clients.
  • Service Agreements and Service Guarantees were also noted by the research as potentially important tools of accountability, specifically for internal government service providers and their clients.

Additional Resources

Here are some additional resources that departments and organizations can access to assist them with service improvement implementation:

  • Service Improvement Initiative Web Site: This site offers a complete overview of the Service Improvement Initiative, along with related research and up-to-date communications on events within both the National Capital Region and the regions.
  • Service Improvement Team, Service & Innovation Sector, TBS: The Service Improvement Team at the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat provides ongoing advisory services to departments and agencies on developing and implementing Service Improvement Plans, monitoring and reporting on client satisfaction; developing and implementing client-centred service standards; and, undertaking service delivery improvements.

Checklist for Step 7

After the initial wave of implementation, you should have:

  • Contributed to the process through your leadership, focused on listening, understanding, building trust, continuing to learn, setting the tone.
  • Effectively communicated the implementation plan to everyone and continued to communicate it.
  • Confirmed responsibilities and ensured that data is gathered.
  • Continued to adjust the plan, in response to the emerging situation.
  • Ensured that supporting changes, in processes and people, are made.
  • Removed impediments to staff empowerment and improved service.
  • Asked each of your staff what their key responsibilities and accountabilities are, and they answered concisely without them digging out their performance contract.

How Do We Make It Happen?

Step 8

With implementation underway, attention must now turn to monitoring performance and ensuring accountability for results. This section commences with an example of client satisfaction monitoring, examines linking information needs to the various target audiences, and discusses reporting to parliament. In addition, related topics such as aligning service improvement reporting into departmental or agency organisational performance efforts, as well as benchmarking activities are also discussed. Accountability and communication activities associated with the Service Improvement Initiative are also outlined.

Ongoing Client Satisfaction – Monitoring and Reporting

The most reliable indicator of improvement in service quality and service performance is the continuous and measurable improvement of client satisfaction. Monitoring activities should allow the organization to clearly demonstrate its progress in meeting its client satisfaction targets at regular intervals. An example of such reporting is the results of the Canada Economic Development Agency's client feedback strategy, which demonstrates the agency's annual progress in client satisfaction levels for its main program IDEA-SME.

As this example demonstrates, measuring client satisfaction levels and moving towards established client satisfaction targets requires consistent measurement through time, and ongoing adjustment of activities to achieve client satisfaction improvements.

Linking Information Needs to Target Audiences

The Service Improvement Plan that you prepared identifies key targets for measurement to ensure the Service Improvement Initiative is on track, and that you are having a positive impact on client satisfaction. Ensuring that the information needs of the various target audiences are met is crucial to the success of the initiative. This section examines the information needs of internal audiences such as the departmental Service Improvement Team, program managers involved in implementing service improvement, and departmental senior management. As well, the information needs of outside audiences, such as the Office of the Auditor General, Parliament, and, most importantly, clients and citizens are also explored.

As you monitor implementation, measure progress and ensure accountability for results, focus on three aspects: a) implementation process, b) outputs, and c) outcomes. Monitoring involves having a system, measuring, communicating, and being accountable. Monitoring means track, document and report information to the right audiences in order to support decision-making and accountability mechanisms. The types of information needs and the various target audiences are discussed below, while a summary is provided in the following table.

Linking information needs to target audiences
  Document and report one:
Audiences Implementation
Outputs Outcomes
  • Programs and
    services under SII
  • Priorities for
  • Responsi-bilities
  • Progress
  • Client
  1. Service
  2. Actions to
  3. Service
  1. Performance
  2. Client
    and client
  3. Progress
Checkmark Checkmark
(1 to 3)
(1 to 3)
Checkmark Checkmark
(1 to 3)
(1 to 3)
(1 to 3)
(1 to 3)
(1 to 3)
(1 to 3)
(1 to 3)
Clients and
(1 to 3)

By putting in place the right mechanisms to measure, analyse and disseminate the information to the right audiences, you will contribute to create information based on continuos improvement, where managers can not only use the information to manage the implementation of their service improvement initiative, but use the information for reporting purposes as well. The more relevant the information is to meeting management needs, the more efficient and effective will be the reporting on your improvement initiatives. But more than that, managers and employees will be able to determine the impact of the ultimate goal of the Service Improvement Plan: improving client satisfaction.

Monitor the Implementation process

On a regular basis, the Departmental Service Improvement Team will have to update information about the implementation process of the Service Improvement Initiative. First to plan its own work and second to report to managers on the progress and keep the organization informed about the priorities. These information items are:

  • Programs and activities targeted and covered by the Service Improvement Initiative within your department or agency;
  • Priorities for improvement identified by clients and agreed upon within the organisation;
  • Responsibilities for implementing the Service Improvement Initiative and each action identified in the Service Improvement Plan;
  • Progress toward the Service Improvement Plan schedule;
  • Main actions undertaken to implement the client feedback strategy.

Monitor the Outputs

Primary outputs for the Service Improvement Initiative include: the Service Improvement Plan, the specific actions to improve services, and the creation of citizen-centred service standards. The Departmental Service Improvement Team should track progress in implementing the actions adopted in the Service Improvement Plan. They will want to make sure that the work has been done, that implementation difficulties are solved, and that any readjustment required will be recommended.

The Departmental Service Improvement Team will also want to assure that an appropriate monitoring system is in place to monitor the implementation of the service standards. For each key service delivered to the public, service standards will have to be shared with staff and clients. The performance objectives demonstrated by these service standards will also have to be validated by senior management and shared with employees.

Monitor the Outcomes

The primary outcomes for the Service Improvement Initiative are: a) Performance against service standards; b) Client satisfaction baseline measures and targets for increases in client satisfaction; and, c) Progress toward client satisfaction targets.

When the Service Standards have been established, verification mechanisms need to be identified for each service standard, as well as the frequency for reporting. A manager should be identified as the person accountable for the verification and the provision of performance information for each service standard. The Departmental Service Improvement Team will have to make sure that each service standard is monitored and reported.

The Departmental Service Improvement Team is also responsible for documenting and consolidating the client satisfaction baseline measures and to establish client satisfaction targets in consultation with Senior departmental management. Based upon their baseline measures, each department will have to establish their annual targets for improved client satisfaction keeping in mind the overall commitment to achieve a minimum 10% increase in client satisfaction with government services by the year 2004-05. Thus, the department Service Improvement Team will need to report to their management on a regular basis on client satisfaction improvement and on progress toward the annual and the overall client satisfaction target. Using the core questions of the CMT and any other core item that the organization have decided to focus on, the departmental Service Improvement Team should consider producing a report that demonstrates achievements in client satisfaction levels by service, delivery channel and/or region in improving the client satisfaction. By doing this in a consistent manner overtime, the organization will be able to build a time series sequence of its progress such as the example shown at the beginning of this section.

Reporting to Parliament

The work done by the departmental Service Improvement Team to set-up monitoring mechanisms and to consolidate information to meet managers needs will also be extremely useful to produce the annual report to Parliament as well as meet the information needs of other organizations such as the Office of the Auditor General as well as meet the information needs of client and citizens generally.

The Policy Framework for Service Improvement approved by Treasury Board in March, 2000 commits departments to report within their Department Performance Report to Parliament the following:

  1. Service standards for all key public services;
  2. Performance against service standards;
  3. Annual improvements in client satisfaction; and,
  4. Progress toward client satisfaction targets.

Within this report, departments and organisations should also take the opportunity to report on their service improvement story including: the programs and business lines covered by a Service Improvement Plan and, their main achievements in improving service from a citizen-centred perspective.

The Guidelines for the Preparation of Department Performance Reports, which can be found at the TBS Web site, describes the current reporting requirements for the Service Improvement Initiative. A more detailed description, with suggestions on formatting this information is contained in Appendix A of this How-to Guide. The templates presented in the appendix may also be useful for structuring your internal information needs.


Improved client satisfaction with the quality of service provided by government departments and agencies is not the responsibility of any one person in the organization, but rather a collective responsibility. This is true for the broader scope of government, with accountability from "Clerk to clerk" – from the Clerk of the Privy Council to the clerk in the local government office. Progressively, organizations will be asked to incorporate in their current accountability frameworks the responsibility for providing good quality of service and improving client satisfaction.

Monitor Broader Organizational Performance

Service performance is just the outer skin of an effective organization. Therefore, it can be beneficial to link the service performance into broader monitoring of overall organisational effectiveness. Systems – such as ISO, the Baldrige award criteria, the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat/National Quality Institute's criteria, or professional standards – support this monitoring. While the use of one of these is not a requirement, they do provide a structure around which to build a monitoring program. Search out and consider using one appropriate to your situation.


Benchmarking is the continuous, systematic process of measuring and assessing products services and practices of recognized leaders in the field to determine the extent to which they might be adapted by the organization to achieve superior performance. Therefore, it is important to have a system to monitor the progress made by others outside your organization. This will involve keeping up-to-date on the literature and how similar agencies or work units are faring in their own transition. What are they doing now? Are new tools being developed? Excellence, like an Olympic record, is a moving target.

Communicate Results

Progress must be communicated, as does information on areas that need improvement. Make sure you communicate regularly:

  • up the line, so supervisors and central agencies can monitor the organization's progress;
  • to other agencies, for benchmarking purposes;
  • to staff;
  • to clients;
  • to Parliament, in the annual Departmental Performance Report.

Checklist for Step 8

By the end of this step, you should have broken down monitoring into do-able pieces, integrated with each other. You should:

  • Review each of the steps, reassess your current state, review improvement priorities, review improvement actions adopted, update standards and targets, and re-plan.
  • Continue to benchmark and learn.
  • Oversee the measurement of results of both service improvement and client satisfaction, using both qualitative and quantitative measures.
  • Communicate the results to staff, managers, Parliamentarians and Clients.
  • Ensure measurements relate to objectives and performance targets.
  • Ensure measurements are timely.
  • Hold yourself and your staff accountable – for both positive and negative results.

How Do We Make It Happen?

Step 9
Recognition: Celebrating Success

People need to be recognized when they do a good job. It is not only fair but also eminently practical since recognition and incentives improve performance. Many public service organizations have established recognition programs. Existing programs should be reviewed to ensure that service improvement and client satisfaction measures are used, and good client service rewarded. If you do not already have such a program, you should institute one as part of your service improvement initiative. Here are some key elements for establishing a new program or reviewing an existing one.

  1. Widely Based

    It is important that recognition be fair and open to everyone who contributes to improved service. It should be based on a wide variety of sources; information on who is doing well based upon the achievement of client satisfaction targets; or which staff are most appreciated by clients and why. Information should be gathered that shows contributions to the organization's mission and performance for each program, by each work unit, and, where possible, by each employee.

  2. Which Results To Reward

    Decide what results to reward, remembering that it is advisable to have a wide range, from extraordinary achievement to ordinary accomplishments. Make the recognition appropriate to the achievement.

    Employees are the clients of the recognition program. As such, solicit their opinions on what should be rewarded and whom they think should be recognized.

  3. Methods to Use to Recognize, Reward and Celebrate

    The methods to recognize staff are endless, but tend to fall into five main styles. The most successful recognition systems adopt a mixture of all five, while keeping the program simple to understand and administer, transparent and fair.

    The styles are:

    • Interpersonal Recognition

    A simple, effective, and valued way to recognize staff is to listen to them – through surveys, in meetings, and face to face. Acting on what they say enhances that recognition. Dropping in to give praise or sending a congratulatory e-mail or note can work wonders.

    • Symbolic Recognition

    There are many effective, low-cost symbolic ways to show recognition, such as certificates of appreciation, coupons to the movies or dinner out, or staff appreciation days. Use creativity when developing methods and ask employees to suggest ways for recognition.

    • Financial Rewards

    For the most part, policy on major financial rewards is decided centrally. But some modest rewards may be possible.

    • Give External Recognition

    Many outsiders may assist your organization to attain its goals and this contribution should be recognized. Create opportunities to show your appreciation, such as volunteer appreciation nights or plaques to present to other agencies.

    • Seek External Recognition

    A number of competitive awards are given for good public management. Seek them out.

  4. Implement the Program, With Attention to Good Management

    It is not uncommon for recognition programs to fall apart once they are created because of poor implementation. Leadership is critical, and managers must demonstrate their commitment to the program. Ensure the person responsible for the program is someone who gets things done. Ensure the program is visible, adequately funded and sustainable, and reaches into all areas of the organization. Also, maintain a balance between recognition of the big and small successes. Cynicism creeps in if management attention is only paid to big successes.

  5. Publicize the Results

    Results should be shared with your staff and the public. The public is tired of whitewashing and spin doctoring. But they never seem to tire of good stories. Public recognition is another important way of honouring your staff.

  6. Close the Circle

    Once the program is underway, it needs to be reviewed to determine if it is having the desired impact. Celebration is not the end of the process. Even as the cleaning staff is taking down the last of the decorations from an awards banquet, the organization needs to recommit to the process of surveying the clients, revising the plan, and reaching for higher levels of service.

The Commonwealth Association for Public Administration and Management awarded its 1998 bronze prize for service innovation to the team at Industry Canada who put together SchoolNet, a project to connect every library and school in Canada to the Internet. The team celebrated that success and then promptly set the loftier goal of providing 250,000 connected computers, the equivalent of one per classroom. The next year, they won the Government in Technology gold medal. Taking pride in their work, exceeding expectations, celebrating their success, while pressing on to improve their service – SchoolNet is helping build children's skills for the knowledge economy.

Checklist for Step 9

In recognition of your organization's achievements, you have a method to recognise and celebrate success that has, at a minimum, these features:

  • It is based on solid data, both quantitative and qualitative.
  • It is client-centred, with your staff as the clients.
  • It recognizes performance improvement, client satisfaction, target achievement, as well as the traditional criteria.
  • It blends financial rewards, interpersonal, symbolic, and external recognition.
  • Small successes are not overlooked.
  • Results are shared and made public.
  • It loops back into steps one through eight, as part of continuous improvement.

Summary of How-to Guide

The example of the following page provides a summary of the Service Improvement Planning and Implementation methodology at work. Each of the above identified steps are important and contribute to overall success; none can be skipped or glossed over. Although presented as discrete elements, the steps are obviously interconnected.

For success, leadership from all employees is a must and serves as a base to build a strong service improvement initiative. This starts with the creation of a Service Improvement Team to assist with the process. This team sets out to adopt a results-based service improvement planning and implementation approach that answers four key questions in nine steps in this methodology.

The first question is "Where are we now?" This is addressed with an internal assessment by identifying the clients, products, services, partners, and stakeholders of the organization. Then, the current state is assessed through the establishment of a client feedback strategy and the identification of current levels of client and employee satisfaction, expectations and priorities.

The next question is "Where do our clients want us to be?" This involves defining the desired future state of the organization by ensuring the mission statement includes a service vision. Client priorities for improvement are then identified based on client and employee feedback. Client satisfaction targets are then set along with client-driven service standards.

This is followed by the question "How will we get there?" This is addressed by the design of a service improvement plan that has action plans to achieve targets, a defined schedule, and allocates resources and responsibilities.

The final question asks "How do we make it happen?" and involves the implementation of the service improvement plan, and the monitoring and measuring of progress made while ensuring accountability for results. This concluded with an employee recognition program that celebrates success.

Each must be revisited as part of a continuous improvement approach, some more frequently than others. For example, the service improvement plan will be reviewed more frequently than the mission and vision statement.

The task is not easy. But it can be fun. There is joy in achievement. There is also joy in watching the clients' satisfaction levels rise. It reassures us of the value of our work and makes the workplace more enjoyable – cause for celebration.

Example of the Service Improvement Planning and Implementation (SIPI)

Methodology at Work

The following example is fictitious and designed for demonstration purposes only. A Ministry of Agriculture has an information and training program designed to assist farmers with environmental management of sensitive lands along streams. The Ministry is not certain how well this program is performing for its clients, but some anecdotal feedback makes them think it could perform better using a structured service improvement planning process. The Ministry has decided that it would like to achieve an improvement of 10% in service performance over a three-year period.

To begin, the Ministry has decided to create a small team to assist with the development of a service improvement plan. As the plan will only involve a modest sized program, the team will be ad hoc rather than a dedicated team established.

Assessment. The team starts with an identification of all the clients, partners and stakeholders involved in the program. Once started, the team quickly realizes that the program has a much larger impact than they originally thought. While the primary clients of the program are farmers, several others are identified, including one that was previously overlooked: rural property owners who are not farmers, but rent their property out for intensive agriculture. Some internal clients of the program include the Communications Unit who provides information and brochures at autumn fair displays. In terms of partners, other government ministries were identified: Ministry of Environment (water protection, pollution control), Ministry of Natural Resources (fisheries protection), and local watershed management authorities. As well, non-governmental organizations are identified as partners, including farming associations and conservation groups that provide information and training to their members. Stakeholders include anglers, and the local community – the latter through the flood control benefits derived from the program.

Current State. The team establishes a client feedback strategy, with comment cards for clients coming to offices for information, and satisfaction surveys for clients taking training. When required, focus groups will collect more detailed information from clients. The improvement initiative focus is on improving the satisfaction of direct program clients: farmers. To begin, these clients are brought together for a few focus groups to gather some initial information on the issues. This is followed by a CMT-based client survey which in addition to the core questions, the team adds a few standard items (notably from the Communications Section) and creates a section related specifically to the program (such as questions specifically on training) that uses standard CMT metrics. This survey provides a benchmark to measure progress. The survey reveals an overall satisfaction level of 70%, which sets a target of 77% to achieve a 10% increase in client satisfaction.

Mission/Vision. In reviewing the mission statement of the Branch delivering the program, the team sees room for improvement. The current mission is "To provide high quality information and training on sustainable agricultural practices to the farming community." While good, the team and senior management think it best to tweak the wording to state: "To provide high quality information and training on sustainable agricultural practices to meet the needs of the farming community." While minor, this ensures the focus is on the needs of the clients and indicates a culture shift to a citizen-centred organization.

Priorities for Improvement. From the survey, clients clearly identified three improvement priorities. These deal with the clearness of communication, the amount of time required to deliver training, and telephone access to the Branch for program information.

Standards and Targets. The team looks at the data and determines that in order to achieve the 10% service performance improvement that it will set an annual objective of 2.3% (72.3% in Year 1; 74.6% in Year 2; and 77.0% in Year 3). For service standards, the team takes the lead from the survey and the Citizens First survey. For in-person service, the clients want service within five minutes; to deal with no more than two people; and phone calls answered within three rings. The objective is to achieve these standards 80% of the time.

The Service Improvement Plan. The team then constructs the service improvement plan. An integrated document, it contains much of the content already developed. This plan includes statements on the timeframe and scope of the initiative, the efforts taken to develop the plan, and the mission statement of the program and the vision of citizen-centred service in the Ministry. From the three priorities identified, the team draws up the action plan that identifies the needed actions for improvement, and states the responsibilities, timeframes, results, and how results will be measured. Several individuals involved in the program are identified with responsibilities. The improvement plan also states that the results for implementing the improvement plan will be reported as part of the regular reporting process for the program, with additional reports made on a quarterly basis for staff and partners. Management accountability for the improvement plan lies with the Branch Director, who gives final approval to the plan, and has had the service improvement plan made part of the accountability agreement with her ADM.

Implementation. The team recognizes that the implementation of the improvement plan is strongly linked to the next stage of monitoring. This includes communication of the plan – not just to staff, but to the partners and stakeholders. The responsibilities stated in the plan are verified so that everyone is clear on expectations, why the changes are being made, and what the desired outcome is: increased client satisfaction. This supports a culture shift to a citizen/client focus. Management also ensures that changes are made to assist the plan, such as working with Systems to improve the telephone services, and addressing the clarity of the information in documents. Where needed, staff training is identified and undertaken. As it exists, the plan is likely not perfect and will require adjustment. While intended as an annual document, the plan is expected to have periodic adjustments, especially during early implementation. Implementation is not a one-off event, but a continuous improvement process.

Monitoring. With implementation underway, the improvement plan is monitored as part of a continuous improvement process. A monitoring system is put in place as part of the client feedback strategy that provides timely feedback. In addition, periodic reviews are undertaken through informal staff networks and periodicals to see how other jurisdictions are performing on similar programs as part of a benchmarking exercise. Results are measured and communicated on a regular basis to staff, clients, the legislature, and the public. Accountability decisions are then made based on the monitoring. With a short timeframe (three years), the team decides that monitoring and revision will focus only on the service improvement plan. Any longer, then it might be appropriate to revisit the earlier steps and reconfirm the clients and program mission to ensure they are still valid.

Rewards and Recognition. After consulting with staff and management, the team decides to recommend to management that the improvements recognize all staff involved in the initiative rather than only individuals. They also feel that both ordinary and extraordinary achievement should be recognized, from completion of an action item to achievement of the client satisfaction targets, and reflect the significance of the accomplishments. An annual recognition dinner is also suggested to recognize the external partners who help deliver the program.


1 Chart taken from the Citizens First report, 1998. Prepared by Erin Research Inc. and published by the Canadian Centre for Management Development, p. 31. [return]

2 A longer discussion of this important question may be found in A Strong Foundation: Report of the Task Force on Public Service Values and Ethics, 1996. This document can be obtained from the Canadian Centre for Management Development. [return]

3 Adapted from D.M. Blythe and D.B. Marson, 1999. "Measuring Customer Satisfaction at the Vancouver International Airport Authority" in Good Practices in Citizen-Centred Service. Ottawa: Canadian Centre for Management Development, pp. 17- 22. [return]

4 This example is taken from Listening to Customers: an Introduction by S.A. Woodhouse, G.J. Connor, and D.B. Marson, 1993. Published by the Service Quality B.C. Secretariat, Province of British Columbia. [return]

5 For a basket of government services, the Citizens First research found that these five drivers explain 72% of the variance in service quality ratings. [return]

6 Citizens First report, 1998. Prepared by Erin Research Inc. and published by the Canadian Centre for Management Development, p. 32. [return]

7 Woodhouse, S.A. et al., 1993. Listening to Customers: An Introduction. Victoria B.C.: Service Quality B.C. Secretariat, Government of British Columbia. [return]