16 November 2011

The State Services Integrity Survey, conducted in 2007 and again in 2010, measures the extent to which agencies are giving effect to the “6 Trust Elements”.  These are the characteristics seen as essential for establishing a reputation for trustworthiness. They are the way that organisations build public trust. That trust is earned by working professionally and with integrity. The State Services Commissioner’s guidance is emphatic that “Agencies must want integrity and explicitly state that integrity is a priority”.

The trust elements anticipate that agencies will have standards and make sure staff understand them, and that managers will live the standards and quickly sort out any problems.  The outcome will be a strengthening of public trust in government and fulfilment of the State Sector Act aspiration that all agency employees are “imbued with the spirit of service”.

But Benjamin Franklin’s observation about trust being hard earned and quickly spent has continuing relevance. A Dominion Post editorial last week questioned the reluctance of the State Services Commissioner to act decisively when standards appear to have been breached by one of his chief executives.

The Integrity Survey results show that harassment is the most commonly seen misconduct in the State Services. Agencies need policies to eliminate it, training programmes to reinforce that it is unacceptable, managers to lead by example in combatting it, and an unswerving commitment to act decisively whenever it occurs.  There are 472 uses of the words “harassment” and “bullying” on the State Services Commission website – reflecting the extent of concern.  But references to leadership and integrity are substantially more frequent.

The “6 Trust Elements” provide the armoury for attacking misconduct.  But in a Hamlet-like way, the State Services Commissioner may risk being hoist on his own petard.