This report outlines the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada’s (IRB) responses to the latest call from the Clerk of the Privy Council to describe its progress to date and future plans on what has been done on:
- employee engagement and empowerment
- mental health action plan and what impacts were seen so far
- recruitment and onboarding
The IRB is taking concrete and high-paced action to support the Blueprint 2020 vision through the implementation of the following initiatives:
Quality Workplace Commitment
The Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB) has launched its Quality Workplace Commitment (QWC) in October 2016. The impetus for this initiative arose from the Chairperson’s engagement with IRB personnel, the Executive Director’s consultations on Diversity, and data arising out of the 2014 Public Service Employee Survey (PSES). The QWC is an action plan which aims to build a healthier, more inclusive, and supportive work environment for all IRB personnel (Governor in Council Appointees (86) and public service employees (945)). Five pillars were identified (see attached poster in both official languages):
1. Civility - Promote Civility in the Workplace
The Office of Integrity
A new Office of Integrity was created in 2015, with an EX-01 Director of Values, Ethics and Disclosure as lead. This office, which reports directly to the Chairperson, is an independent, confidential “single window” where all personnel can go to raise workplace issues or concerns with a view to dealing with them in an expeditious and fair manner.
The Office of Integrity also provides guidance and advice to IRB personnel on issues relating to conflict of interest, political activities, disclosure of wrongdoing, potential harassment, grievances, and interpersonal or workplace conflicts. The Office of Integrity also offers informal conflict management services that promote effective dialogue at all levels and deals with workplace issues at the earliest possible time.
The Office of Integrity is a cornerstone of the organization’s efforts to create a truly healthy and respectful workplace. The IRB is confident that there will be substantial and real changes to the work environment as a result, and hopes to serve as a model for other public service organizations of similar size.
Statement from the Chairperson – Prevention and Resolution of Harassment
The IRB Chairperson issued a statement to promote the maintenance of a healthy, productive, and respectful workplace, where positive working relationships are encouraged, where everyone is guided by the values of the IRB, and where we treat each other with respect and fairness.
The IRB Chairperson spoke on many occasions about the adverse effects of harassing behavior, and reminded personnel that these actions are taken, and will continue to be taken, very seriously. The Chairperson committed to addressing all situations of harassment promptly with sensitivity, competence and discretion. He laid out expected behaviors, outlined how to access harassment-related services, and also outlined several tools for personnel.
Creating a Respectful and Harassment Free Workplace
The IRB designed and developed internal training on Creating a Respectful and Harassment-Free Workplace. This mandatory training provides an overview of disrespectful behaviour, harassment and violence in the workplace and touches on resources and tools available to assist in creating a respectful workplace. The in-class session promotes the development of a culture of respect by providing participants with an opportunity to apply their knowledge of the requirements of the underlying legislation and policies that guide our actions when creating respectful and harassment free workplaces. Through the use of polling software, scenarios, and case studies, participants are able to discuss how to eliminate workplace harassment and to work together (and individually) to create a respectful workplace. The vast majority of employees have now benefited from the training.
Values and Ethics at the IRB
The IRB designed a mandatory course on Values and Ethics using the hybrid approach of an online course from the Canada School of Public Service course, as the foundational knowledge basis, followed by a 1-day in-class session that engages participants through the use of case studies, surveys and group discussions. The classroom course examines how the information gained from the online course applies to the IRB, assists in promoting a strong culture of values and ethics within the organization and provides participants with various contacts both within and outside the IRB.
2. Better Communication – Performance Objectives
The IRB recognizes that communications are fundamental to creating inclusive and empowering workplaces that enable employees to be the best that they can be and to give their very best. Healthy workplaces, where employees are engaged and treated with respect and dignity are essential to high-performing organizations. At the IRB, another major finding from consultations with personnel was the desire for better communication from management. To address this need, the IRB added performance objectives for every supervisor/manager that address leadership abilities, frequency of communication/meetings, and innovative approaches to communicating with personnel. But communications must not be only from the top down, any more than they can be solely from the bottom up. The IRB will ensure its communications activities are both inclusive and comprehensive.
3. Career Support - the Mentoring Program
Recent consultations have revealed that IRB personnel are seeking support to manage their careers now and into the future. Through the Quality Workplace Commitment, the IRB is taking action to help personnel develop their careers.
The IRB is participating in an Interdepartmental Mentoring Program. It is a tool that can be used by personnel for support in their current position, to prepare for future career opportunities, and to build leadership capacity. The Program partners the IRB with six other federal organizations to offer program participants access to a larger pool of mentees and mentors.
The mentoring program uses an on-line application, Mentor City, to facilitate the matching of mentors with mentees and to support the development of meaningful mentoring relationships. Such relationships can help mentees to learn from the experiences of others, identify appropriate professional development to meet career objectives, strengthen personal career networks, and contribute to a positive and engaged high-performing workplace culture. Mentors and mentees can choose to be paired within or outside their departments and to meet in-person or to develop the mentoring relationship entirely online.
4. Mental Health
Recognizing the importance of creating a healthy work environment in order to promote the performance and well-being of all personnel, the IRB is raising awareness on mental health in the workplace by rolling out a mental health strategy and action plan that will be co-developed by employees and managers.
Mental Health Strategy and Action Plan
In 2016, under the auspice of the National Policy on Health and Safety Committee (NPHSC), which is comprised of employee, union and management representatives, the IRB launched a mental health strategy and action plan. A key component of the strategy is the creation, in September 2016, of the Mental Health Advisory Committee (MHAC). The MHAC is composed of a diverse group of employees at all levels and from all parts of the organization. The MHAC has the mandate to develop an action plan that proposes activities and initiatives to promote and raise awareness of mental health. The proposed plan will be presented to the NPHSC in early 2017. In addition, the IRB identified two co-champions for mental health: a union representative and a management representative.
This strategy could include activities such as, but is not limited to:
- Creating a web presence which contains resources (information and tools) for managers and employees;
- Holding a variety of information sessions across the regions on various topics related to mental health;
- Re-distributing the mental health passport;
- Promoting the Employee Assistance Program;
- Establishing a Mental Health First Responders Network.
Workshop on Detained Persons with Mental Health Issues
A one day workshop was developed for the Immigration Division (ID) decision-makers to better understand the impacts of mental health on detained persons, the behaviours which could be demonstrated during a hearing and factors to consider when crafting release conditions. This workshop provided an overview of the most common types of mental health issues likely to be encountered by the members, how to identify signs of mental health problems and how mental health problems may affect one’s ability to testify, to present one’s case and to cooperate with immigration authorities during a hearing. The expert suggested procedural accommodations that may be helpful for proceedings involving individuals with mental health problems and provided insight about taking mental health problems into account when assessing the risk of non-compliance with release conditions. The IRB is exploring how to expand this important training to other parts of the organization.
Building a Healthy, Respectful and Supportive Work Environment
IRB personnel play a key role in promoting the values of inclusion, acceptance and diversity through the work they do. Those values should undoubtedly be reflected in the work environment and the way personnel interact with one another.
The Chairperson and the Executive Director have articulated on several occasions that a healthy and respectful workplace is one of their top priorities. Over the past year, much has been accomplished to further this priority area, and this work will continue into 2017.
The Board recognizes that our success depends upon our ability to embrace diversity and realize the benefits from an already diverse workforce (32% of IRB personnel identified as Visible Minority). In order to realize these benefits, the Board has assessed our handling of workplace diversity issues, and plans to develop and implement a series of diversity-related activities.
The IRB plans to do the following:
- Map the duty to accommodate business process and raise awareness of its existence among personnel;
- Develop a web presence which contains resources (tools and information);
- Strengthen understanding of multiculturalism, including understanding duty to accommodate with respect to religious observance;
- Promote the practice of personnel selection boards that reflect the diversity of the IRB;
- Deliver duty to accommodate joint learning sessions to regional and national unions, as well as management.
Recruitment and Onboarding
Refugee Protection Division (RPD) Decision-Makers Recruitment
As a part of the RPD Decision-Makers recruitment strategy launched in September 2015, and continued in 2016, the RPD used a variety of different communications vehicles to promote the job advertisement. In addition to the requirement of posting on jobs.gc.ca, communications regarding the job advertisement were posted on IRB internal and external websites. Social media channels were also used. IRB’s Twitter account was used to tweet messages about the job posting on different occasions to selected audiences through the use of targeted hashtags, and sponsored tweets and the IRB’s LinkedIn account for job postings in selected cities. Stakeholder outreach was also a large component of the communication strategy through a series of communications sent to our stakeholder community. As a result, the job advertisement was linked on the webpages of several of our stakeholders. The Canadian Bar Association, Immigration Law Section, also posted a link to the advertisement on their blog. Many of these communication tools were found to be effective to strategically target candidates.
As a result, The RPD recruitment strategy used a more targeted approach to attract candidates who possess education and experience directly linked to the position. The targeted qualifications looked to attract individuals with previous experience as a member, experience in refugee determination and/or experience presenting cases in a court of law or administrative tribunal, and finally, to attract candidates who reflect the diversity of Canada. This approach was successful as the RPD was able to meet its recruitment needs. A similar approach is being used for the ongoing inventory process with the goal to have a continuous pool of qualified candidates to staff future needs. As for the recruitment of our 89 Governor in Council appointees, a similar approach has also been taken in conjunction with the Privy Council Office.
New Direction in Staffing
In the context of the implementation of the New Direction in Staffing (an initiative sponsored by the Public Service Commission), the IRB is required to review its existing policies to better align with the proposed changes and foster an organizational culture designed to make the Public Service staffing regime more enabling, flexible, efficient and values-based.
To initiate this culture shift, the IRB undertook a significant consultative process with senior management, middle managers, human resources advisors and union representatives. Prior to the consultations with union representatives, IRB offered information sessions to ensure individuals were familiar with the desired outcome of the New Direction in Staffing before proceeding with the formal consultation process. The approach leading to the development of a new staffing regime aims at fully engaging management and union representatives in the process.
Classification Cyclical Review Exercise
In light of the significant changes to the IRB’s organizational structure and to the nature of its work, resulting from refugee reform (2012), senior management committed to review its organizational structure and functions as part of a five-year classification cyclical review exercise. The work began in 2014, and continued through 2016.
Through this process, full engagement of management and employees has been key to successfully realize the classification cyclical review plan. Engagement was promoted by offering multiple classification information sessions across the organization. These sessions focussed on the streamlining of its existing job descriptions, understanding the new job descriptions format, and demystifying the classification standards, as well as the concept of standardized (generic) job descriptions.
Other Actions to Renew the Public Service
Lean at the IRB
Lean refers to an approach to business processes that is centered on making obvious what adds value by reducing everything else. To take a Lean approach is to implement a systemic method for the elimination of waste within a process. Lean also takes into account waste created through overburdening and waste created through unevenness in workloads.
The IRB continues its journey in implementing Lean principles to its business processes. At the IRB, work to engage personnel, to cultivate culture change, and to understand efficiency continues. The IRB is seeing the benefits of engagement with personnel to help define processes, to think creatively about longstanding problems, and to achieve even greater efficiencies in areas that were already assumed to be operating proficiently. Moreover, the Lean journey at the IRB helped management determine that culture is a critical factor in enabling the organization to promote continuous improvement, in order to deliver high value to the Canadian public.
Yellow Belt Training
As well as investing in Lean leadership coaching, the IRB is planning on introducing Lean Yellow Belt training to complement our current Lean Green Belt training. We have enjoyed success at training key employees to have a depth of knowledge in Lean practices, but we are striving to give a broad base of employees a good understanding of Lean with a focus on implementing improvements within their span of control.
Continual Improvement Initiative
The IRB is pursuing a structured approach to foster and sustain a culture that is constantly improving at all levels in all areas. To complement our Lean leadership coaching efforts and yellow-belt training, the IRB is putting forward a reporting structure where improvements can be identified and relayed to the entire organization to demonstrate that the organization is constantly working at becoming more efficient at everything that we do.
Process mapping sessions
As time goes on, operating environments change. Accordingly, processes need to be revisited on a regular basis to ensure they are also changing to suit new circumstances. IRB personnel periodically conduct process mapping sessions to review core operational procedures. The objective of these sessions is to refocus on efficiency, ask critical questions and provide ideas to improve procedures. Each session helps personnel understand how their specific work duties affect the overall operations of the IRB and promotes peer engagement to identify improvement opportunities. Senior management is consulted on the improvement ideas and lends support during the implementation period. The IRB is taking strides not only to update processes that enable delivery of services, but also to engage with personnel in all areas to increase efficiencies and look more holistically at all supporting processes, including functions carried out in the branches in support of the divisions responsible for delivering on the IRB’s core mandate.
Here are some examples of process mapping completed in 2016:
- Immigration Appeals Division Consolidated Process: The purpose of this project was to determine a common process for immigration appeals. Although our offices follow the same procedure, regional variance in practices hinder efforts to become more efficient. The project consisted of visiting all regional offices and interviewing employees to create value stream maps, then reviewing these maps to understand regional variance. At the conclusion of the visits, 91 differences in the process were identified. Regional representatives were included in a meeting to look over each difference and understand if a common way could be adopted. As a result, they were able to adopt a common way to process immigration appeals which will remove 60 of the identified differences.
- Research Directorate Process Mapping: this project was undertaken in order for the directorate to better understand their processes, as well as their products, so that they could make changes in their operations to be more efficient. This workshop aligned staff to think of their products from the client perspective, as well as to uncover 72 different ideas. These ideas are currently being implemented.
- Toronto Interpreters’ Unit Process Mapping: this was done in order for the Interpreter’s Unit and management to better understand some of their key processes in an effort to standardize and streamline their service. At the conclusion of this project, different ideas were flagged, as well as providing management with focus on workload distribution, which will help with the sustainability of the unit.
Regular report-out practices were implemented to help work units quickly identify and deal with disturbances to their operations. The report-out practice encourages team members to hold short discussions throughout the week on changes to their work environment, hindrances to productivity and ideas for improvement. This practice helps flag issues to supervisors, encourages teamwork, promotes the timely resolution of problems and fosters stronger internal communication. Report-out practices are tailored to the specific needs of each team, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.
Report-out practices are also currently being introduced and adapted to other directorates within the IRB. As such, the Executive Director (ADM level) launched his report out board:
- Executive Touch-Point Meeting Practice: the purpose of this project was for senior leadership to develop and sustain a weekly huddle meeting that would last 30 mins to allow for focused communication on shared projects, ideas and issues. All the information shared is tracked on a whiteboard to help with transparency and accountability. This practice has been adopted by senior leadership and the feeling is that communication is helpful. The next step for this project is to place the meeting space and whiteboard in a common area so that any staff wishing to observe the practice can do so whenever they want. This furthers the transparency and accountability of this practice as well as instilling trust in staff.
Innovation 2.0: tackling the Immigration Appeal Division backlog
In June 2015, the Immigration Appeal Division (IAD) began activities under the initiative Innovation 2.0: tackling the IAD backlog. The goals of this initiative are as follows:
- deliver administrative justice that is fast, fair and accessible;
- resolve cases without an oral hearing whenever possible; and,
- maximize internal efficiency by focusing on outcomes and reducing “red-tape.”
The IAD recently launched two pilot projects aiming to increase the number of finalizations without a hearing and to reduce processing times: the express triage project and the express hearings project.
The IAD will also be reviewing the IAD Rules to examine whether processes for resolving cases without a hearing can be made simpler and more effective. Work on this began in the fall and will continue into the next year.
HR Instrument of Delegation
In order to better empower managers in carrying out their responsibilities, the HR Instrument of Delegation was recently updated. The aim was to provide the lowest level of delegation possible, taking into consideration a number of elements including the level of risk to the organization if the authority is improperly exercised and consistency in HR management practices. Rather than just revise the instrument in isolation, a much more inclusive and interactive approach was taken. A sub-group of the Human Resource Management Committee (HRMC) was formed to determine the appropriate levels of delegation and then the instrument was tested twice with focus groups of managers and supervisors to solicit feedback and determine if the format was user friendly. The Instrument was then tabled and recommended for approval by the Chair at HRMC. To ensure managers are aware of their new authorities, information sessions will be held in the coming months by HR Advisors.
HR Service Delivery Model
HR is in the process of revamping the delivery of its HR Services. In order to make this vision a reality, several working groups composed of HR employees and stakeholders, as applicable, have been formed to examine how to utilize SharePoint and other available web-based tools for service delivery, furthering the development of the HR Transaction Centre through mapping and streamlining processes for incorporation, and developing the Client Service window. There is also an Integration Working Group, which will ensure the work of these other three working groups is in line with the vision and can be operationalized. There is a focus on change management, as it is important to transform the culture in support of the service delivery. As part of the transformation, HR Advisors are learning other HR specializations, in order to meet the stated needs of clients to receive advice in Staffing, Labour Relations and Performance Management from their HR Advisor. Formal training, mentoring and coaching is being provided to the Advisors through face-to-face interactions, via telephone and videoconferencing. Using a collaborative space in SharePoint, a monthly communication is published to provide all HR employees with developments relating to the Service Delivery Model and access to documentation through the Corporate Repository.
Since the IRB launched its English and French Twitter channels in February 2015, the number of followers of the IRB’s Twitter channels continues to grow. After less than a year of use, the IRB’s first foray into the world of social media has wielded tangible results by:
- increasing the efficiency and reducing the cost of recruitment activities;
- raising awareness of important updates to IRB operations;
- facilitating further engagement with domestic and international stakeholders;
- improving public access to statistical information about IRB operations; and,
- supporting business outcomes by improving access to online documentation on country conditions.
This Rolodex-like directory will be released in 2017 and will include the option to post detailed employee profiles and a competency-based search function that will help IRB employees find, connect, and work with other colleagues and cultivate communities of interests.
In 2017, the IRB will use Microsoft SharePoint to create new ways for people to work together and find information within and across organizational boundaries. By adding newsfeeds, blogs, and other features to its current email and instant messaging solutions, the IRB will enhance its existing communication infrastructure and its ability to work closely across its four geographic regions.
This past year, we have been working to launch a new intranet site. Atlas will include;
- interactive Web 2.0 technologies to facilitate employee engagement;
- features that will improve internal communications;
- collaborative spaces to foster a culture of innovation; and,
- features that facilitate the delivery of key training activities.
The IRB is committed to supporting the Blueprint 2020 vision in everything it does, with the aim of cultivating and promoting employee and management excellence on all fronts. Engagement of personnel and open communication are key drivers for success in this initiative, and a commitment to continual improvement in all areas of operations is a guiding principle. This work will continue into 2017, during which the IRB will ensure that the engagement of personnel and open communication are organizational priorities. In keeping with the spirit of Blueprint 2020, the IRB will continue to strive to be a high-performing organization that is empowered and engaged, and is committed to continuous improvement.
M. Mario Dion