Managing change as a Minister of the Crown
Gair, George Frederick
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During my years as a Cabinet Minister in New Zealand, the relationship between a Minister and his key officials was strongly modelled on the Westminster system as then applied in Britain. As in Britain, the ministers were the product of the political and parliamentary processes. The leader of the political party with the majority in the House was called upon by the Queen's representative (our Governor General) to form the new Government. All Ministerial appointees were necessarily chosen entirely from members then in Parliament. As in Britain, also, the key officials to serve each Minister in their portfolios were provided by the career Public Service, the long-serving body of officials who were there to advise and manage the system for successive governments. The Minister did not choose his departmental head, nor did that departmental head choose his minister. There were many assumptions inherited from the past which helped to make the relationship work. Policy decisions were shaped by the Minister representing the political side of the equation. Execution and management was carried out by the head official, responsible for the operation of the bureaucratic machine he headed. In explaining my thesis message - "Managing Change as a Minister of the Crown" - a very strong autobiographical dimension to my experience and comments is inevitable. In the political setting, the relationship between Minister and Head of Department, though a key factor, is but one of many. All change affects many people - some positively and beneficially, and some the reverse. The effects of change can be anticipated rather than actually felt. Perceptions can sometimes become bigger problems to manage than realised consequences. Change in politics invariably reaches out far beyond those obviously and directly affected. Handling change therefore involves making plans for how one can best point the change in a forward-looking and constructive way, and put a socially positive spin on one's efforts and the outcome. If one's efforts are done openly, and one's arguments are well founded, real progress can be made. One of life's constants is change itself. It affects us all in some measure. In communities categorized as "developed", it can be particularly fast and sweeping. This means, inevitably, that the forms of its infrastructures - from public services to business enterprises - which enable society and the economy to function effectively must adapt, and constructively, to those changes. From my experience, in facing a variety of problems calling for change in handling portfolio responsibilities, I have found every case is different from the others, and each solution had to be shaped to meet the characteristics of that particular case. The only common denominator I would call the "people factor". Compounding the challenge, that "people factor" had to be fashioned as appropriate for the personalities with whom I was working, and the characteristics of the problem being addressed. I did, however, find that there were some common fundamentals in the "people factor" which I address in my conclusion. They helped facilitate co-operation in managing change.