The OECD’s 14 principles for a successful public service

By David Donaldson

Friday March 15, 2019

Organization Training and Skills Upgrade as Concept Illustration from 3D Models

Amid the many ideas for making government future-fit, it can be easy to get bogged down in the weeds and forget the bigger picture.

So the OECD has released a set of 14 principles to guide improvements to public service leadership and capability.

The document, known in OECD-speak as a recommendation, sets out a collection of commonly shared principles developed in consultation with OECD member countries.

It aims to develop an inclusive, skilled public service underpinned by a learning culture and values-based leadership.

The 14 principles are organised into three groups: values-driven culture and leadership, skilled and effective public servants, and responsive and adaptive public employment systems.

“The recommendation helps equip public workforces with the skills, leadership and people management systems needed to tackle today’s and tomorrow’s public governance challenges,” says the think tank.

Read the full list of principles and the OECD’s recommendations for implementing them below:

Values-driven culture and leadership

The OECD recommends governments:

1. Define the values of the public service and promote values-based decision making by:

  • Clarifying and communicating the shared fundamental values which should guide decision-making in the public service;
  • Demonstrating accountability and commitment to such values through behaviour; and
  • Providing regular opportunities for all public servants to have frank discussions about values, their application in practice,  and the systems in place to support values-based decision making.

2. Build leadership capability in the public service by:

  • Clarifying the expectations on senior-level public servants to be politically impartial leaders trusted to deliver on the priorities of the government, and uphold and embody the highest standards of integrity without fear of politically-motivated retribution;
  • Considering merit-based criteria and transparent procedures in the appointment of senior-level public servants, and holding them accountable for performance;
  • Ensuring senior-level public servants have the mandate, competencies, and conditions necessary to provide impartial evidence-informed advice and speak truth to power; and
  • Developing the leadership capabilities of current and potential senior-level public servants.

3. Ensure an inclusive and safe public service that reflects the diversity of society by:

  • Publicly committing to an inclusive, and respectful working environment open to all members of society possessing the necessary skills;
  • Developing measures of diversity, inclusion and well-being, and conducting measurement and benchmarking at regular intervals to monitor progress, detect and remove barriers, and design interventions; and
  • Taking active steps to ensure organisational and people management processes, as well as working conditions, support diversity and inclusion.

4. Build a proactive and innovative public service that takes a long-term perspective in policy design and services by:

  • Ensuring an appropriate balance of employment continuity and mobility to support policy and service implementation beyond a political cycle;
  • Investing in foresight, innovation and analytical skills and capabilities; and
  • Engaging with communities outside the public service to set quality standards and ensure policies and services are responsive to users’ needs.

Skilled and effective public servants

5. Continuously identify skills and competencies needed to transform political vision into services which deliver value by:

  • Ensuring an appropriate mix of competencies, managerial skills and specialised expertise to reflect the changing nature of work in the public service;
  • Reviewing and updating required skills and competencies periodically, based on input from public servants and citizens, to keep pace with the changing technologies and needs of the society which they serve; and
  • Aligning people management processes with identified skills and competencies.

6. Attract and retain employees with the skills and competencies required from the labour market by:

  • Positioning the public service as an employer of choice by promoting an employer brand which appeals to candidates’ values, motivation and pride to contribute to the public good;
  • Determining what attracts and retains skilled employees, and using this to inform employment policies including compensation and non-financial incentives;
  • Providing adequate remuneration and equitable pay, taking into account the level of economic development; and
  • Proactively seeking to attract under-represented groups and skill-sets.

7. Recruit, select and promote candidates through transparent, open and merit-based processes by: 

  • Communicating employment opportunities widely and ensuring equal access for all suitably qualified candidates;
  • Carrying out a rigorous and impartial candidate selection process based on criteria and methods appropriate for the role and in which the results are transparent and contestable;
  • Filling vacancies in a timely manner to remain competitive and meet operational staffing needs;
  • Encouraging diversity — including gender equality — in the workforce by identifying and mitigating the potential for implicit or unconscious bias to influence people management processes, ensuring equal accessibility to under-represented groups, and valuing perspective and experience acquired outside the public service or through non-traditional career paths; and
  • Ensuring effective oversight and recourse mechanisms to monitor compliance and address complaints.

8. Develop the necessary skills and competencies by creating a learning culture and environment in the public service by:

  • Identifying employee development as a core management task of every public manager and encouraging the use of employees’ full skill-sets;
  • Encouraging and incentivising employees to proactively engage in continuous self-development and learning, and providing them with quality opportunities to do so; and
  • Valuing different learning approaches and contexts, linked to the type of skill-set and ambition or capacity of the learner.

9. Assess, reward and recognise performance, talent and initiative by:

  • Aligning and assessing individual, team and organisational performance through agreed indicators and criteria which are regularly discussed and reviewed;
  • Rewarding employee performance by appropriate means and addressing under-performance as part of a coherent approach to performance management; and
  • Ensuring that managers have the capabilities and support necessary to carry out performance management and to identify and develop talent.

Responsive and adaptive public employment systems

10. Clarify institutional responsibilities for people management by:

  • Establishing institutional authority to set and oversee common minimum standards for merit-based people-management;
  • Delegating an appropriate level of autonomy to individual agencies, ministries, leaders and/or managers, to allow the alignment of people management with their strategic business objectives;
  • Ensuring appropriate mechanisms for communication and information sharing among institutional actors in the public employment system; and
  • Ensuring each institutional actor in the public employment system has the appropriate mandate and resources to function effectively.

11. Develop a long-term, strategic and systematic approach to people management based on evidence and inclusive planning that:

  • Is informed by evidence-based assessment of skills needed and skills available to meet current and future core business requirements, using HR and workforce data for strategic and predictive analytics, while taking all necessary steps to ensure data privacy;
  • Sets strategic direction and priorities with input from relevant stakeholders, in particular public servants and/or their representatives, and the management accountable for implementation;
  • Considers all relevant aspects of people management and ensures alignment with strategic planning processes of the government, including budget and performance management; and
  • Includes appropriate indicators to monitor progress, evaluates the impact of HR policies and processes, and informs decision-making.

12. Set the necessary conditions for internal and external workforce mobility and adaptability to match skills with demand by:

  • Establishing common frameworks and/or vocabulary to identify cross-cutting job requirements and competencies (for example, through common competency frameworks and/or standardised job profiles);
  • Enabling and encouraging short- and medium-term assignments within and outside of the public sector, while ensuring conflicts of interest are avoided, to encourage learning and exchange of information or to occasionally meet short-term labour demands;
  • Valuing mobility as an asset for merit-based and transparent job promotion; and
  • Making available adaptable and remote working options where possible and suited to the needs of the organisation, to enhance productivity.

13. Determine and offer transparent employment terms and conditions that match the functions of the position by:

  • Clearly defining the categories of employment that fall under civil service statutes, where such statutes exist, or general labour law, based on transparent and objective criteria;
  • Clearly defining, and consistently applying, the terms and conditions of employment for functions and positions based on factors such as the nature of the work, labour market considerations, and public service capability development needs; and
  • Engaging representatives of public employees in legitimate consultation procedures, negotiating through open and fair processes such as collective bargaining, and setting procedures for monitoring the implementation of agreements.

14. Ensure that employees can contribute to the improvement of public service delivery and engaged as partners in public service issues by:

  • Enabling employee representation and entering into constructive social dialogue with them;
  • Regularly consulting employees on issues such as their well-being and engagement, in order to identify strengths, challenges and trends to inform leadership and improve management decision-making;
  • Ensuring ongoing communication between the front lines and senior-level public servants, and horizontally through networks and communities of practice; and
  • Having processes in place for employees to report grievances and violations of integrity standards, without fear of retribution or harassment, and providing appropriate follow-up procedures.

About the author
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

The essential resource for effective
public sector professionals