Recruitment and appointment of Public Service chief executives
The Commissioner’s role
Under the State Sector Act 1988, the State Services Commissioner is responsible for appointing and employing the chief executives who head the departments of the Public Service.
The quality of the chief executive of any department is critical to its success and the sector in which it works. Public Service chief executive positions are difficult and demanding: they call for a special range of skills, qualifications and experience. Iain Rennie sees the appointment of the right people to chief executive positions as one of the key parts of his role as Commissioner.
The State Sector Act specifies separate roles for the Government and the Commissioner in the appointment of chief executives:
The Government specifies its priorities in relation to chief executive positions;
The State Services Commissioner, acting independently, selects and recommends to the Government the candidate who best fits the requirements of the job.
Cabinet accepts the Commissioner’s recommendation, the Governor-General signs the warrant, and the State Services Commissioner appoints him or her as chief executive.
The recruitment and selection process
The recruitment of a Public Service chief executive takes approximately four months. It involves considering a wide selection of potential candidates, conducting a rigourous selection and interview process, and then negotiating an employment agreement with the preferred candidate.
Confirming the position description
When a chief executive position is about to become vacant, the Commissioner consults the Minister of State Services and the Responsible Minister regarding the requirements of the position. The Responsible Minister also provides input into the draft position description.
Cabinet confirms the position description as a basis for selecting a suitable candidate for appointment. The experience, qualifications and competencies required for a chief executive are summarised in the New Zealand Public Service Chief Executive Competency Profile.
Advertising the position
Chief executive vacancies are widely advertised. While the majority of chief executives are New Zealanders or have a New Zealand background, the search can extend overseas in order to reach the broadest range of talent.
The Commissioner generally engages a recruitment consultant to assist him to evaluate the applicants and search for potential candidates. An assessment consultant (a psychologist) is also engaged to assess candidates who are shortlisted for interview.
Reviewing candidates and the interview process
When the vacancy closes, the Commissioner selects a long list of candidates and the recruitment consultant interviews these candidates. The Commissioner then decides on a short list of between three and five candidates for formal interviews. The short listed candidates attend an assessment centre, after completing an online personality assessment, where they complete a role play exercise and are interviewed by the assessment consultant.
The Commissioner convenes a panel to assist him with the interviews. The panel comprises: the Commissioner, the Deputy State Services Commissioner, a panellist suggested by the Responsible Minister, and other people the Commissioner selects for their expertise relating to the business of the department and sector concerned.
The panellists receive the reports from the recuitment and assessment consultants. They are briefed by them on the day of the interviews. The panel interviews the short listed candidates to determine how well they meet the requirements of the position.
Following the interviews, the panel meets the recruitment and assessment consultants to discuss their observations about the candidates. The panel then discusses the merits of each candidate and ranks them.
Robust discussion is important at this stage. The panel’s role is to advise the Commissioner, and they do not have to reach consensus. The final responsibility for the recommendation falls to the Commissioner: if there is a difference of views, his advice to Ministers will reflect this.
Extensive reference checks are then carried out for the preferred candidate. If these checks confirm the suitability of the preferred candidate, the Commissioner negotiates terms and conditions of employment with him or her.
The recommendation for appointment is made by the Commissioner to the Minister of State Services, who refers it to Cabinet.
Once the Governor-General signs the warrant, the new chief executive is appointed by the State Services Commissioner, on behalf of the Crown, under the terms and conditions which were negotiated previously. These are specified in an individual employment agreement.
All unsuccessful candidates can receive feedback from the recruitment consultant on the reasons why they were not selected and steps they could take to prepare them for future roles.
Unsuccessful short listed candidates are advised before an appointment is announced. It is important that people who apply for roles, but are not appointed, feel comfortable re-entering the process in the future. Unsuccessful candidates are offered a debrief with the Commissioner and the recruitment consultant. They also receive the results of their assessments and are offered a debrief by the assessment consultant.
Remuneration for Public Service chief executives is set according to the policy here.