Transcript – Episode 3: Chat with Francis Trudel
David Morrison: Francis Trudel is one of the public services top human resources professionals. He started his career at National Defence before joining Global Affairs as a director general in 2007. Other than a two year stint as head of mission in Uruguay Francis has worked in human resources ever since at Global Affairs and is currently the assistant deputy minister. He came by my office recently to talk about what first brought him into the public service, how he came to Global Affairs and some of his currently hot files including the creation of an international assistance foreign service officers stream. We also talked about official languages and, in fact, most of the conversation was in French. Hey Francis thanks for stopping by The GAC Files. I know you are always a hot topic. HR is always a hot topic. So before we…before we jump into that, I just want to remind us of the rules here at the GAC Files. Before going any further, we must both realize that this is a very good audience and that we should refrain from discussing or disclosing sensitive or classified information. Also, in accordance with the Official Languages Act, I encourage you to speak in the language of your choice, and I will do so as well. I am going to try to do most of this in French Francis. We, we... you and I usually speak in English, but I am going to try to (do) most of it in French. And I again would encourage you to speak the language of your choice. Great. So let's start from the beginning. Who is Francis Trudel? Where are you from, Francis?
Francis Trudel: Thanks for the invitation, David. Let’s start off with broad questions. OK, I’m a Quebecer from a small town southwest of Montréal on the St. Lawrence River called Coteau-du-Lac. I grew up and went to school there. There must have been three or four thousand people living there when I was growing up. Funnily enough, my entire family and my wife’s entire family still live in Coteau-du-Lac. I married a woman I went to kindergarten with, so we’ve known each other a very long time.
David Morrison: Is it far from Montréal?
Francis Trudel: About 45 minutes, which means about two hours when you factor in the traffic.
David Morrison: Does coming from such a small town have an impact?
Francis Trudel: In my case, it made me want to get out of such a small town. So, yes, it had quite an impact. As soon as I finished high school at age 16 or 17, I went to study in Montréal. I finally had the freedom to go live in a big city.
David Morrison: With your wife?
Francis Trudel: No, not with my wife. We were in kindergarten together, but it took until after university for her to agree to go out with me. We both went to university in Montréal, but separately. I started university in Montréal, then moved to Ottawa to finish my Bachelor’s degree. University-age young people who move to Ottawa always lament the loss of Montréal’s entertainment scene.
David Morrison: When was that?
Francis Trudel: My goodness. I graduated from high school in ‘89, so I guess that would have been around ‘94. I came here to finish my Bachelor’s degree. I wasn’t with my wife at the time. Ultimately, I finished my Master’s degree in Quebec, at the Université du Québec en Outaouais.
David Morrison: Why Human Resources? Did you start working for the public service right away?
Francis Trudel: That’s a bit of a funny story. Human Resources wasn’t my first choice. I started off in social science. I registered in a Bachelor’s program which eventually earned me a degree in psychology. I found it extremely interesting, but a little too abstract. I was looking for a practical application, and I stumbled upon the concept of applied psychology in the workplace. It fascinated me. I even earned another university degree so that I could transition to industrial relations, whereas I eventually specialized in human resources, with a particular interest in labour relations. I like to tell the story of how I entered the federal public service, because it helps explain why I want to change how human resources are managed. I was doing my Master’s, and that involves defending a thesis before a panel. A high-ranking member of the military, where one of my colleagues was working, invited me to present my thesis. So I went, and I remember it well. It was in around mid-December. The Colonel, who worked in workplace psychology, was extremely interested by my presentation, and offered me a job. He said, “I’d really like you to start working in January.” Naive as I was about how the public service works, I was very excited. I went to buy my first suit and tie during the holidays and showed up in January only to be told that being hired for the federal public service wasn’t that simple and that the job offer had been rescinded. That is why I never got in as a result of what I thought was an interview, and I eventually entered National Defence by another route a little later.
David Morrison: What did you do?
Francis Trudel: Like many young people who enter the federal public service, I found a very precarious job. I got a “casual” contract to replace a colleague who was on leave for a few months. It was fascinating, and I still remember the experience. I have a lot of stories about those days. I went to work for a woman who is very well known in Human Resources circles: Monique Boudrias. She eventually became head of Human Resources for the federal public service. She was one of those women who made considerable headway in a very male-dominated milieu, National Defence, and she became an Assistant Deputy Minister of Human Resources. She quickly became something of a mentor to me, although our relationship was rather formal. I still talk to her today. As I was saying, I went to work for her for several months. Her colleague at the time was General Dallaire, who was the Deputy Minister of Human Resources, Military, so I was there for all the events that occurred, which were very difficult for me, but also very enriching.
David Morrison: You mean Somalia?
Francis Trudel: No, not Somalia. He was Assistant Deputy Minister of Human Resources, Military, and then Commander... Dear me, I’m drawing a blank... He wrote a book about “shaking hands with the devil.” We’ll get back to that during editing. We were there when he got back with the first post-traumatic codes following his intervention. Then I rose through the ranks with the usual Human Resources officer positions. I was a staffing officer, then a labour relations officer, and I eventually became a manager. So I started off in the public service in Human Resources. Then I transitioned to IT positions. I worked a little on large IT projects, but I was always involved in Human Resources.
David Morrison: You started here at External Affairs?
Francis Trudel: Yes, in 2007. I was an executive at National Defence at the time. I was unfamiliar with External Affairs, or Global Affairs Canada as it is now known. I was a qualified executive in a senior position at National Defence, and the two assistant deputy ministers of Human Resources had discussed an opportunity. I received a call. “There’s a competition open. Why don’t you apply for the position?” So I applied and went through the usual competition process without really knowing where I was headed and without any real expectations about how things would turn out.
David Morrison: When were you Head of Mission in Montevideo?
Francis Trudel: In 2007, I had a young child and I didn’t really know what living abroad would be like. I didn’t have a plan. In fact, that is a story in itself. The people who were here at the time may remember that the Department went through a rather uncomfortable period in 2009 we almost blew our financial vote right. The assistant deputy minister of Human Resources at the time, Michael Small, and the person who had your position at the time, David, Gérald Cossette, began looking at what led to those problems. It was quickly realized that the way we managed human resources had led to less than optimal expenditure management. I spent almost a year on a task force at Gérald’s and Michael Small’s request. I left my position as Director General here for a year. It was after the work I did with them, and when the Department decided that it wanted to send people with a somewhat different profile on some missions, that I was considered for Montevideo. That was in 2010, to answer the question.
David Morrison: After three years?
Francis Trudel: A little more than three years, yes. Training in a foreign language, obviously. I did not speak Spanish at all. Intensive training, and I came back in 2010, only two years after I was assigned. I like reminding people of that, because it’s part of my life. It’s part of my work now to make this kind of decision with you, David, and with the deputy ministers. I was asked to come back. I was asked to come back after two years because, at the time, the Department was finishing up its DRAP. I was given two months’ notice to come home in the middle of my daughter’s school year. She was 11 or 12 at the time, so that it was a difficult transition for her. But, since organizational needs are sometimes more important than...
David Morrison: You have come by it honestly then to be on the receiving end of the kind of calls that you now have to make routinely.
Francis Trudel: Which I completely, which I don't like doing. I don't like experimenting at the other end and I am completely honest I thought it was probably a good decision to make. I hated everything about it. I was taking my daughter out of school. I thought I had one more year of posting. My family was doing great, but there's something actually pretty encouraging to see, that you know deputy ministers can actually move their assets around when they're actually required to do so, for the need of the organization. It was disruptive, but corporately as an institution at that moment in time it was probably a good decision to make.
David Morrison: ...as Head of Mission, and what is that called now in Human Resources?
Francis Trudel: I didn’t know at first how much I would learn in a couple of years as a Head of mission. In fact, I would say that it was a stretch on several levels. First, the challenge of managing or working in a foreign language is not to be underestimated. I like to say to people that my IQ goes down quite a bit when I speak another language.Working in a foreign language is a challenge. Adapting to a new culture and environment is a challenge, and family issues are also a challenge. We tend to forget that, as diplomats, the embassy, the employees and everything else is there to take care of us. But we need to pay attention to our families. It is often more difficult for them.
David Morrison: How did your daughter react?
Francis Trudel: She’s going to be 16 soon, and that was probably the richest experience of her life. I’d also argue that it was probably one of the most rewarding experiences she will ever have. It was very enriching. I had expected leaving Canada to be difficult. You know, when it’s winter here it’s summer in Uruguay, and when it’s summer here it’s winter there, so my daughter had to skip half-years at school, but she did well. But I underestimated the challenge of coming home, and especially of telling a 10- or 11‑year-old girl that I had good news and that we were going back to Canada. In her head, she still had a year to spend with her friends and all that. But another challenge on top of that was the fact that I was not from the tradition of foreign affairs or the Department of Foreign Affairs that I had joined at the time, and professional diplomatic experience is acquired over time. These things for which I have enormous respect that the people around me have, I didn’t have. And to be in such a small mission, where we were responsible for our own communications...
David Morrison: You were four Canadians?
Francis Trudel: That’s two too many. There were two of us in all. A Head of Mission and an MCO, and an extremely competent locally engaged staff, another group of employees in the system for whom I have enormous respect and who help us and are often instrumental to our survival. We are often quite happy to rely on their expertise. But the mission was so small that I was doing my own footwork, writing my own speaking notes. I do not want to play down the help I got from the people around me, but it was very limited, and I think that it would have been easier for me to start with a medium-size mission, since they have program leaders who can help. But it gave me great respect for the profession of diplomat. I respect my colleagues who function far more effortlessly than I do, and I think that probably makes me jury still out on that, but probably a better chief of corporate services. I’m not saying that large missions are like Uruguay, but you can make certain extrapolations based on the functions and responsibilities that give you a certain understanding of what goes on there, a certain empathy.
David Morrison: You spoke of foreign languages, which are part of life here at the Department, but I would also like to talk about official languages. I am trying to do this podcast in French, but it is thanks to the Canadian Government that I can speak French. Thirty years ago, when I stared working at the Department, I spent nearly seven or six months in French training. And the day after that, I started with Spanish. But this language training in official languages no longer exists.
Francis Trudel: That is partially true. That is to say that the program you are referring to was called Ab initio, a very aggressive program that existed nearly nowhere else in the federal public service; in fact, it no longer exists here either. The nuance of that program was that we hired people and we placed those people in intensive training and we paid part of their salary—80% of the salary if I remember correctly—so that people could learn the language, but they were not appointed as FS as long as they did not meet the language requirements. People could take this training for up to two years. This program no longer exists. First of all, we no longer hire people on a large scale as we once did. We can get into that topic later because there are reasons we no longer do it this way. But what does still exist, which is still available to departments as a potential tool, but which is being used less and less, it is what we call non-imperative processes. The nuance here is that people still must meet the requirements of their position, but they have a buffer period to allow them to satisfy these language requirements. But it is the responsibility of the employee and employer to satisfy these requirements within the prescribed period. It was very popular in the past. I’m not sure why the departments—and it is not just GAC, all the departments within the public service—no longer use the non-imperative process. People now place more emphasis on employment requisites such as knowledge, experience or skills and they must be met because the Public Service Employment Act has made them a condition of employment.
David Morrison: I understand perfectly, but that means that the majority of the people who join the Canadian public service are people from Ontario and Quebec and other areas where it is easier to be bilingual.
Francis Trudel: Yes, that is the reality. This movement, the hiring of people from the National Capital Region mainly, for both sides, is completely true and there are other reasons that also encourage this movement since the work is done here in Ottawa, meaning that there is the need for families to move, there are relocation costs, etc. These are all encouragements that when we speak of diversity—for example, we speak a lot about employment equity based on certain criteria—if we really want to speak of diversity in its largest scope, we also need a diversity of backgrounds and diversity in terms of experience that must become a bit larger area than the stereotype of the National Capital Region.
David Morrison: You referred to changes, why was the decision made to sidestep the policy and have national recruitment? When I was recruited and when many listeners joined the Foreign Service there was a separate foreign service exam that was given all over the world, in fact, Stefanie Beck was here a while ago and she took it, I can't remember in France. I took the Foreign Service exam in Canada House in London. The ministry self-consciously went out to recruit from across Canada and bring them together, teach them official languages to the extent that they didn't, that they weren't already bilingual and then send them out to represent Canada. I assume that some of those practices were stopped just for cost reasons, but maybe you can tell us a little bit more about why and when and what the plans are for the future.
Francis Trudel: Indeed, we cannot hide the fact that there is a very pragmatic aspect, which is costs. When I arrived in 2007, there was still national recruitment. I was probably among those last selected in the last recruitment campaigns. I remember the last one we did was in 2009. We continued one with a less traditional approach. I remember in 2007, when I arrived, we were in the middle of a campaign, and I believe we did one other traditional one afterwards and we continued to do more after 2010, but it was done less systematically. What we were doing instead were postsecondary recruitment campaigns. But the way we were applying the evaluations and tests was less standardized. I remember the last one I did that was complete, where we had nearly ten thousand applicants in our campaign. At that time, we were looking to hire slightly fewer than 100 junior FS. I had ten hiring sites. Hong Kong was part of it, as was Washington, London, etc., just to give you a few examples. It cost us nearly $3 million to hire about 80 people; and 80 people, that’s a large number when you compare it to the needs that we have currently. So, the recruitment concept is not lost. The recruitment concept must continue, but the way we have been doing it through postsecondary recruitment, I think we need to conclude that it has generated some good results. Is return on investment the right mechanism to adopt? I believe we have concluded that the answer is no. I would like to contribute a nuance regarding the needs component because, in my field, the people talk to you while on a mission when you visit with them, or all the people who approach me in the cafeteria [sic]. I am rather well known for taking the same seat at the cafeteria in the morning and this allows me to have discussions with lots of people.
David Morrison: Francis is always in the cafeteria between 8:30 and 9:00 am, so if you have any questions or problems, that’s where you can find him.
Francis Trudel: But you may want to hurry because sometimes the deputy ministers take advantage of this fact to come talk to me as well. But one of the issues that is constantly brought up is the notion of the need to hire, recruit, promote, and the nuance I would like to make when I use that term is that, for me, there is a very important distinction between the actual need to have people deliver the Department’s mandate, which is very broad, and the need that we define based on a salary envelope that the Department is given to manage. And in my world, I am often misinterpreted, which is to say that, in my work, my job is to manage within the employer’s envelope. Arun Thangaraj who at some point will be on this side of the microphone, I am sure, in one of your interviews, will speak of the collaboration that we must have together in terms of corporate services to ensure that you, the deputy ministers, do not find yourselves in a precarious situation in terms of managing your resources. However, it is in no way a judgment on our part regarding the actual need that goes far beyond this envelope. There is no dichotomy in my conversations with people, i.e., saying that your need versus the Department's capacity to meet this need is completely different. And simply because the most popular topic, or nearly the only topic that people talk to me about when they see me, is promotion issues. Promotion issues, the concept of need and the salary envelope are applied in exactly the same way to promotions as they are to recruitment. I was telling you that we had 10,000 applicants as part of a recruitment process. I would tell you that the Department is a destination of choice. Public service employees want to come here, and those who have the luck of working here—and I tell you this because I am one of those people who came in from the outside and I did not think I would be here for so long because in my line of work we move around a lot—fall in love with the Department’s mandate and don’t want to leave. The current rate of attrition within the Department—and I’m always careful now with statistics given that Phoenix has somewhat complicated our way of producing our statistics—makes it so that the opportunities for advancement, promotion and even recruitment are more limited than elsewhere since there is very little mobility within the system.
David Morrison: You started here in 2007, I returned to Canada and the Department in 2012. One of the biggest things that has happened since that time was the merger between CIDA and Foreign Affairs. What is the latest news regarding the network of international agents? The FSIA, can you explain why there must be competition to become FS whereas for the MCOs. There is no need for it?
Francis Trudel: I am happy that you have asked the question making the connection with the MCOs because there is a distinction there that is often overlooked. First of all, the reason why we undertook that initiative—I think it has been expressed frequently enough—the point being that after the merger, we should have and we could have, but we did not do it immediately because we had to integrate all of our assignment systems sequentially as well as comply with the legal requirements which involved complying with classification standards. So, we have a community in the system. And here I am speaking about—I know that people normally speak of the PMs specifically—PM positions abroad which are improperly classified and we need to become compliant. We have not done so. It is a major vulnerability and I would even say there is a bit of injustice for Development employees who do important work that is equivalent to other disciplines. I feel our MCOs experienced some injustice when they were working alongside their colleagues in other disciplines but paid at an AS classification to do work, although not the same, but it was work of equal importance and their rotation and rotational employment conditions were not recognized as FS. Probably what I am most proud of regarding what I have accomplished in Human Resources here since my arrival—I feel we have a lot of successes, we don’t speak of them enough, we speak of the problems we need to resolve and that’s good—it was to close the book on the integration of the MCOs. MCO recognition within the FS community is important. It is a great accomplishment. I begin with that to respond to the FSAI issue because there is an important nuance. The reason why it was so difficult, so hard and why it took so long to integrate the MCOs, what needed to be accomplished in order to do it was to make a change in the classification standards of the federal public service and these classification standards are associated with bargaining agents and unions who are there to protect their membership, and they are quite right to do so. So, in order to have the MCOs recognized as FS, we had to change the classification standards at the Treasury Board, which we finally managed to do, after a very long time, which allowed us after that to initiate the process of transferring these people who had employment conditions, but who also had incumbent rights to their position under this classification standard, which changed and therefore, and here I am getting into the technical aspects because the answer is technical in nature, it is for this reason that the conversion was permitted. In the case of the development or international assistance community, the nuance is different. The standard already exists, and the development positions abroad already meet the standard. There is no change to the standard and that is why a conversion is not applicable. It is not an executive choice to treat one community differently from another, it is about the mechanics of what applies versus what does not apply. Since conversion does not apply, the Department can exercise its choice and identification. And under Diane’s leadership at the moment, as well as yours, David, as CEO, we decided last year that what was important was to protect the discipline and the integrity of the discipline and to make sure that we were seeking expertise in development and international assistance. And the choice that was made by management was to say that we would initiate a process with very strict criteria. We don’t know when the podcast will be released, but over the summer we will be engaged in a process to recognize people who meet the specific requirements of the development community. Diane is hell bent on having expertise, whether it is from the PMs, ECs, regardless of where the individuals with experience are, that this expertise be welcomed in the development and international assistance community.
David Morrison: Francis, I could talk to you for hours, and it is true that when I travel to the embassies and consulates, most of the questions are about human resources, so it would be necessary to continue this conversation. We need to talk about the employees recruited onsite. Competency-based approach to human resources which is a very big deal coming down the the track. We could do an entire session on Bill C65 on harassment and what that is going to mean for the public service and for GAC in particular, so I predict that you will be one of the most frequent visitors to the GAC Files and if anyone listening has specific questions or concerns or comments for Francis Trudel
Francis Trudel: Come to the cafeteria.
David Morrison: Either see him in the cafeteria at 8:30 every morning on the first high-top table right outside the coffee section or send us a brief email with your questions, and I will ask those questions next time. Thank you, Francis.
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