Requisite Organization in the Passport Office

Video of a world conference presentation in 2005 and it's transcript

Robert Macphee discussed the transformation of the Canadian Passport Office, a part of foreign affairs and international trade, into a special operating agency. With 550 employees and a $50 million budget, the office faced a government mandate to operate more like a business. This led to a reevaluation of their business processes and organizational structure. Macphee noted variations in management styles across the 26 national offices, from hands-on to isolated approaches. A study by Capelle Associates revealed the need for structural changes, including reducing layers of management and redefining roles. The supervisor role was shifted from management to a lead hand position, addressing fragmented processes and accountability issues. Implementation involved sharing study results with all levels, redefining roles, and establishing an accountability framework. This restructuring led to improved efficiency, clearer worker direction, and better customer service. Macphee affirmed the positive impact of these changes and the importance of adaptability in organizational evolution.

Robert Macphee: Well, a slightly different context. For the next presentation, we're going to talk about the Canadian Passport Office, which is a part of foreign affairs and international trade. This ..

Robert Macphee: Well, a slightly different context. For the next presentation, we're going to talk about the Canadian Passport Office, which is a part of foreign affairs and international trade. This mandate is to provide passport and related services to Canadians and legally landed immigrants. It's a special operating agency. It was one of the first of the special operating agencies created in Canada and its headquarters in the Ottawa Hull area and has 26 offices across the country. At the time we're just talking about here, it had about 550 employees and an annual budget of about $50 million.

It in terms of why the review, there were several reasons for it. The driving force behind it was the fact that the government had recently created six or seven special operating agencies and basically said to the organizations, we want you to run in a more business-like fashion. So that caused the Passport Office management to sit back and say, well, what business are we in and do we have the right organization to deliver. That was kind of the products and services that were mandated to provide and do we have the right business process?

So the focus of the discussion this afternoon is, did we have the right organization in place? However, the others were as important as that. There was a general concern with the operation of the offices. The procedures and practices that were in place have been there for many years. The people were very isolated in the sense that many of them were regional employees. And when you're in Ottawa, there's lots of opportunities to change jobs and move from one organization to another. But when you're in Saskatoon, there isn't. So you tended to have people who had spent most of their career within the Passport Office, and so they weren't necessarily exposed to other ways of doing things or other styles of delivery.

And in particular, we had a concern with office managers because when I spoke with them about their jobs, some I found were very hands-on. They were involved in day-to-day operations and some of them basically didn't leave their offices. So what I found as I visited each one of the offices across the country is that there was a real range of management style of the people. Some were, as I said, out there serving customers and working right along beside the passport examiners. And others were very isolated and in a closed office and didn't come out very much.

That shows you the organization structure. When it became a special operating agency, there was a Chief operating officer position appointed to oversee it. Then the country was divided into three operating regions: eastern, Ontario and Western. And there was a group called Central Ops in Canada. Is everybody here Canadian or from Canada? No. Okay, well, in Canada you can apply for passports either in person or by mail.

If you live within 100 passport office, you must apply in person because the controls are better. We get to see you, we get to look at your documentation, and we're able to deal with your application while you're there. But that doesn't work very well when you've got 26 offices across a country as large as this. So the alternative is people send their applications in by mail. When they send them in by mail, they go to what's called central operations, and that's a mail operation similar to the US. And similar to Australia, taking Ontario as one region. We have several offices in Ontario.

Each one has a manager. And then there was a supervisor with workers reporting to the supervisor. Doesn't look like when you look at that, you say, well, we can see what the problem is, right? You've got two levels of management, but in reality, there were others reporting to the manager. There was the front desk, where people made their application, and they were processed. And then there was the back room where the passports were produced. The people in the back room reported to the manager. The people on the front desk reported to the supervisor.

So he or she had a broader span of control than the diagram implies. And you found that kind of organization structure in many of the offices of the 26, there's approximately eight or so that are very small. There are four or five that are very large. Toronto. Montreal, Vancouver. Hamilton. And then the rest are medium-sized offices, medium being from eight to 15 employees.

And so that's kind of the organization structure. Now, we knew that we had to look at our organization and see if we were properly set up to deal with our new mandate and to provide effective services to our clients. So we undertook a study that was done by Capelle Associates, where we agreed on the scope of work, which was to consist of a document review, some interviews with myself as chief operating Officer and senior managers, and then a sample of positions throughout the organization where there appeared to be potential structural issues. And the third component was a time span analysis.

The findings were that the manager level, which was a stratum two level, the individual accountable for running the office, there was variability in the work done. Many of them were doing too much routine work that could have been delegated. Some were doing casework where they were actually going out and serving people on the counters. That's not necessarily a bad thing if it's a three-person office like St. John's, Newfoundland. But if it were Hamilton, that would be a concern, right. And they were not doing their manager work. People have a natural tendency, me included. I do the things I'm comfortable doing rather than the things that I necessarily am supposed to do, as my wife can attest, because of the frequency with which I pay the bills.

Robert Macphee: The supervisor role was one of up to two layers of management between the first line manager and the workers, which insulated the manager from the workers. And the conclusion was that that supervisor role should not be a direct line responsibility, but instead it should be a lead hand role, not a layer of management. The production process for passports was fragmented. There was a lack of I'll explain fragmented in the sense that multiple people handled the same application. And so you had an accountability problem because if something went wrong, who was at fault?

There was a lack of authority at required levels. People weren't sure whether they could do certain things and so they would turn to their supervisor or their manager. It was paper-oriented. It took too long. There was too much work rework, particularly in the mail-in portion that we talked about, that central operations where applications come through the mail. In fact, the productivity through the mail is half the productivity when people come into the counter. And I really didn't understand that at the beginning. But as I learned more about the organization, I realized it's because they handle the same file multiple times.

You receive an application form, it's missing something. So you write to the person, you stick it in the filing cabinet because you're not going to leave it sitting on your desk because it couldn't be gone three or four weeks. By the time it comes back, somebody else deals with a file because you've gone on to something else. And so they repeat all the work that you've done up to that point, and on it goes. And there was no statistical review, there was no sampling, nobody was checking to see. Of the 100 passport applications that we processed last week, nobody was going in and doing an audit and making sure that everything was functioning as it should.

So as a result of this, we had several things that we ended up doing. One of them was we strengthened the stratum three roles that's the director role and clarified the manager's role. We had eliminated the layers of management between the manager and the worker. And we aligned the supervisor positions to be the lead hand positions. And that positioned us so that we could then start on improving the passport production process, which is a total different exercise, right?

How did we go about implementing it? First, we shared the results of the study with everybody in the organization, the workers, the supervisors, the managers, the directors. Everybody got to see it. We held an annual manager's conference where we spent that conference talking about what should the role of the manager be, what should they delegate, what should they do themselves, how does the role relate to their supervisor, the director, and so on. And we reached an agreement on the core roles and responsibilities of that level. We redefined the roles of the directors to reflect changes in the manager's position. Basically, it freed them up to focus on more strategic initiatives.

We systematically reinforced the new vision by encouraging people whenever we could to understand what the changes were that we were implementing, why we were implementing and the effects that they were having on the organization. And we followed up with an accountability framework. The accountability framework was an annual contract between the CEO and the directors and wherein there were specific roles and responsibilities documented and the deliverables for the upcoming year clearly defined. Then the directors in turn rolled that down so that the managers that reported to them had an accountability agreement with them as well.

What was the effect? The managers were very positive. They now had a real role to play and the workers had unambiguous direction, doesn't need any clarification. The director's focus expanded from one of downward transactions to broad strategic direction and contact setting. We created a management committee for the organization that consisted of the CEO and the directors. It met once a quarter. We talked about strategic issues. We developed a strategic plan for the organization multi-year cash flow, resource predictions, volume predictions and so on. The surveys that we conducted following the restructuring indicate that the workers approach to their customers improved.

One of the byproducts of this was we dealt with the dual role of service and control. As you can imagine when you're issuing passports part of your job is to ensure that the right people get them. But 99.9 something or other percent of the people who apply for passports are legitimate and they deserve to be served well and properly. And we were in a position to reengineer the passport issuance system. Lessons learned the design of the organization is the key enabler to good service delivery and change management.

Managers must have the authority if they're to be held accountable and some examples are to control appointments to ensure that tasks are properly assigned to perform, give employees performance appraisals and to initiate removal of direct reports if there's a performance problem within the context established by the manager or lead worker. Assigned work now assigns work, gives feedback, acts as a coach and provides technical support to the worker and also schedules their work recommends actions to the manager and can positively impact and facilitate the work of the office. So basically what we did was we took the supervisor position and made it a lead worker and gave them a functional role in terms of assigning tasks and supervising the work of the passport examiners. But it made it clear that the manager of the office was the one to whom they reported and to whom they were accountable.

Speaker A: Can I ask how the supervisors reacted to that?

Robert Macphee: Mixed. Some were comfortable with it, some weren't. Ultimately it worked as we had intended it to. There were some personalities at play as you would find in any organization. Some of the supervisors were very strong and typically those were the offices where the manager spent their time with the door closed doing paperwork. But when we clearly said, we're going to hold you, the manager, accountable, and we want you out there on the floor, and we want you making sure that your workers are doing their job effectively and efficiently. Once they had that mandate, they renegotiated their working relationship with the lead worker supervisor. And I don't think anybody chose to move on.

People need time to mourn the passing of the old way of doing things. As I said at the beginning of the presentation, most of the people that worked in the passport office had spent their entire careers there, and they had a lot of ownership with the existing organization structure and the existing practices, the existing ways of doing things. And we were very careful not to say that was wrong. Here's the right way to do it. But times change, people change, needs change, and the organization has to evolve with them. Given the chance, most, but not all, of the employees will welcome new ways of doing things if they believe the change is positive. And would I do it again? Absolutely. Certainly. Would you, Sam?

Canadian Passport Office
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