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Information Technology Strategy Team

IITB Diagnostic Study

2021-12-10 - Written by Elmina Iusifova, in collaboration with the Information Technology (IT) Strategy team

Last modified: 2021-12-10

“ Create caring and robust connections between every employee and their work, customers, leaders, managers, and the organization to achieve results that matter to everyone in this sentence.” - David Zinger - Author, Coach & Consultant.

Organizations routinely undergo assessment to determine their effectiveness. This involves reviewing levels of leadership, communication, accountability, delivery, and performance. Deterring errors, increasing efficiency and striving for constant improvement are at the core of why these assessments are conducted.

For ESDC, these assessments are often conducted by third parties, outside of government. While many of their findings may be valuable, we believe that within IITB we have the necessary expertise, confidence, and long-term desires to get ourselves involved with continuous improvements and perform internal assessment.

Our goal was to get a more third dimension view and measurement of the branch’s successes and impediments, get a deeper understanding of how director-level teams interact and feel. This time, we wanted to ask directors questions on various topics that would provide insight into how well we care for our employees, and in turn, how well we achieve results.


Underlying and persistent organizational issues tend to lead to emotional exhaustion throughout an organization; however, recognizing the issue and seeking help can make a difference. Organizational issues can be a challenge and the first step to resolve them is to acknowledge where a problem is and identify the source. It may take time to determine where issues are coming from, but identifying and resolving these issues is highly beneficial to both the organization and its employees. The quicker organizational issues are resolved, the sooner a healthier workspace can be created.

The harshest restrictions of the pandemic may be behind us, but many employees feel more and more isolated and mentally drained. Better communication helps give staff the support they need to improve their wellbeing. Clear communication is central to making the next unstable phase a success. With the goal of boosting communication identifying major blockers and areas of improvement in our branch, we sought to go interview the directors of the IITB and hear their stories. We talked with directors across IITB in a series of one-on-one interviews to better understand their day-to-day experience within the branch and their views of ESDC as a whole.  

Why conduct interviews rather than send out a survey

Before we talk about how we prepared for the interviews, let me be honest with you: interviews aren’t the easiest route to take. Especially in our case, knowing how overwhelming the work environment of directors has always been. First, we had the idea of sending a survey to the directors and doing our analysis based on the data we collected from the survey, but the intent and goal of our study was different than what a survey would have provided.

We wanted to make interviewees feel more comfortable expressing their true feelings and opinions and to give us as interviewers the opportunity to dive into specific topics. Talking to people will always tell more than surveying, and survey fatigue was one of our concerns given the number of surveys and communications we are presented with in the branch.

What was the goal

We wanted to uncover directors’ and their teams’ pain points, highlight success stories and innovative ideas. By doing so, we wanted to collect information that would inform how we can invest in our internal capabilities to improve IITB service delivery, and to develop upcoming plans and strategies. You might ask, ‘”why would you do this?”’, as two other reports, Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC) study and the Gartner iScore report, were written buy third party firms at ESDC to help assess its IM/IT functions.

After studying both reports, each of which took a top-down approach to evaluate the organization, speaking with those at the director-general level and above to understand the organization’s strategic needs, there remained a need to better understand the operational environment within IITB. In addition, there was a need to develop IITB’s internal knowledge and skills around conducting internal studies.

We strongly believe that directors and their teams are the ones responsible for delivering the IT services that enable ESDC to deliver its mandate to better Canadians’ lives; they are the ones who understand the barriers that impede their teams from performing at their best and know what empowers their teams to consistently perform as well as they do. For this reason, we chose to conduct this study using a bottom-up approach, interviewing directors with input from their subordinates. We wanted directors to speak up and to be heard. In effect, this study was created by IITB for IITB.  

Interview preparation

The interview questions were designed in collaboration with HR, Public Opinion Research, and data from the Public Service Employee Survey (PSES). To prepare for this series of interviews, we consulted with the departmental Values and Ethics team to ensure we meet all Values and Ethics requirements. Before conducting the interviews, the questions were sent in advance to give directors time to reflect, ensure the best use of their time, and to allow them to prepare.

We had several goals in mind when we approached the interviews. First, to provide a safe space for directors in order for them to feel comfortable talking to us. During the interview we assured the directors that all information would be collected anonymously, and no names would be recorded. Any information that may identify an employee or team was genericized so that it could not easily be traced. Additionally, we wanted to make the interviews feel like a conversation, rather than an interrogation. The intention of the discussion was to listen to each story and understand what is working, and what is not. Conducting the interviews in a non-confrontational way, where directors would be comfortable sharing their honest views with us was very important. Asking a director to be transparent and objective in their appraisal of the branch when they are stressed about a deadline, or weary of the interviewers (who in many cases were strangers to the directors), would not have been the right environment.

The interview processes

In each interview, we started off by going through the formalities. We clearly explained the purpose of the interview and that the outcome would be an anonymous “What We Heard” report, to be sent to directors for their review before being shared with senior management. The interview contained 20 questions with different topics starting with team introduction, directors’ daily work, the culture within the department, directors’ own position in the branch, and concluding with our thematic section on the impact of virtual work. People tend to talk a lot when a conversation gets going, and this is great! Knowing how busy the schedule of directors is, we tried to keep our discussion within 1 hour. We were very grateful to directors for taking time out of their busy schedules to share their observations and opinions with us. This made each interview authentic and unique.

The diagnostic study was on a volunteer basis and directors had a choice to participate or not. Out of 65 directors in IITB we had a chance to interview 39 over the course of 3 months. Meeting a lot of the directors for the first time gave us an opportunity to network and learn about new areas of the branch. It also provided us with insight on how teams throughout IITB contribute to the department’s mandate.

During the interviews, there were several emotional moments as directors described their personal experiences within the branch. We, as interviewers, tried to go through those same emotions with them, whether it was a good laugh or appreciating feelings of frustration, our focus was to build trust between ourselves and the directors. Not only did the directors answer all of the questions in a timely manner, but their answers were very bright, insightful and fun to listen to. Our team tried to keep the discussion to a very friendly conversational tone, which allowed interviewees to open up quickly and provide us with valuable insight. Throughout the interview process directors spoke candidly and honestly with us, many indicating that they would not hesitate to speak publicly on these topics, suggesting that IITB has a positive feedback culture.

Main concerns

We heard about many positive and negative aspects of working in IITB; however, a few aspects stood out as being particularly impactful or common amongst directors within the branch. The most common aspects that were identified included human resource management challenges, ad hoc and emergency requests, constantly shifting priorities and unreasonable expectations from senior management, long working hours, endless back-to-back meetings, training budgeting issues, and information overload from numerous communication channels in the branch.

Difficulties related to the HR hiring process was the most heard piece of feedback and is one of the most complex issues to tackle in ESDC. Hiring managers want to hire as quickly as possible because vacant positions delay operations and put a strain on team members. Attracting qualified candidates, hiring promptly, building a dedicated team, and ensuring a viable candidate experience is what many directors would like to have. Hiring candidates in computer science has become extremely competitive in the current job market.

ESDC is competing regionally with other departments and municipalities. Nationally with provincial governments, and internationally with private sector companies and multilateral organizations. We heard that the process today has many redundant steps, unnecessary delays, and stringent requirements that prevent qualified candidates from being hired. Since the hiring process is not easy, directors recognize the importance of retaining their talented employees. Lengthy administrative processes seen in IITB cause significant staffing delays, thus resulting in talent loss to other organizations.

IITB needs to foster a culture of continuous learning, promote professional development, and support employee development to update and improve workforce skills that meet the pace of IM/IT change and evolution.

Gartner TalentNeuron™ data shows that the total number of skills required for a single job is increasing by 10% year over year. Lack of resources for upskilling and reskilling employees is another impediment that is slowing down productivity during the day IITB employees.

Managing employees in IITB (2,400 employees) in a large organization like ESDC (28,000 employees) is incredibly challenging and during our conversation with directors, they mentioned excessive, rigid, and redundant rules and regulations are a frequent prevention to action and decision-making. When there are too many steps and levels of approval to go through, an overly complicated process and governance structure results. Directors openly commented about how complicated simple tasks seem to be because of the complexities involved in carrying out a request/action. Many directors indicated current processes and levels of approval do not add value and in fact delay business operations. By decreasing the number of governance committees and lessening the levels of approvals would give way to a more effective governance model that would remediate this problem.

The challenges mentioned above lead to a concern for how directors and their employees are impacted. Throughout the interviews, it was clear that these challenges correlate with mental health and well-being, feelings of pressure and being overwhelmed or stressed at work. Addressing mental health at work is very common in many organizations, especially during the post-pandemic period. Fortunately, ESDC and IITB is taking steps to promote healthier work habits. These steps are promoted by having mental health as a regular topic in the IITB newsletter and various communications, managers conduct regular check-ins with employees, and are provided with resources such as the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) for support. In addition, ongoing initiatives such as the “Stay Healthy Challenge” also encourage health and well-being in the workplace.


At the end of the interview sessions, we found ourselves with a massive number of notes and interesting impressions. The amount of information we received was positively overwhelming. It was no surprise that analyzing and reflecting on the information was challenging; however, it was important that we took the time to capture all the points and concerns the interviewees brought up. Our “What We Heard” report provides a comprehensive overview of what we heard throughout the interviews, and although it is lengthy, it provides readers with a detailed analysis of our observations based on what directors said.

Generally, directors in IITB were very positive and supportive of our initiative and welcomed the idea of conducting this study every year. Directors expressed gratitude for the opportunity to be heard. They were eager to see the results of the study and were hopeful that real change would be enacted as result of their input which is what we, the IT Strategy team, will use as evidence to inform our upcoming strategies. Senior Management have certainly demonstrated an interest in this study and plan to use it as a source of information.

We are not just writing a simple report. We are writing a story to deliver a message from each team, of each director, to help decision-makers drive change in the organization accordingly.

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