1. Leadership for a more productive public service

This chapter builds a case for innovation leadership in Brazil’s federal public administration. It reviews literature on the link between leadership and public governance outcomes, showing how leadership influences public service effectiveness and efficiency, and public sector innovation, to improve public services and rebuild trust in public institutions. The chapter concludes with a presentation of a model of supply and demand for leadership competencies, which serves as an analytical framework for the rest of the report.


The statistical data for Israel are supplied by and under the responsibility of the relevant Israeli authorities. The use of such data by the OECD is without prejudice to the status of the Golan Heights, East Jerusalem and Israeli settlements in the West Bank under the terms of international law.

Public service leaders in modern democracies are facing challenges which are increasingly complex and interconnected. In Brazil, as in all OECD countries, improving public service capability, productivity and innovation is increasingly necessary to meet citizens’ expectations and rebuild trust in government. This is a fundamental leadership challenge. In order to meet this challenge, Brazil’s federal administration is seeking to identify the skills, competencies and leadership styles required of the senior civil service (SCS) in a fit-for-purpose, innovation-ready public service. This report provides insight into these skills and competencies, and explores options to develop mechanisms and incentives that can enhance and reinforce public leaders’ abilities to lead innovation in their organisations.

Brazil is not alone in facing this challenge. Across the OECD, women and men in senior management positions are expected to work across organisational boundaries, sectors and jurisdictions to design and implement innovative initiatives to address ongoing and emergent policy challenges and improve the impact of public services. They must balance competing objectives, manage and transform vast public organisations, motivate and inspire their workforces, and be trusted partners to citizens and an ever-growing list of partners and stakeholders within the public sector and beyond. Public service leaders are also asked to respond diligently to support fast-moving political agendas and react to unpredictable events and changes in society in accordance with the needs and expectations of elected officials, citizens and stakeholders.

These challenges are made more acute in a context of increasingly fast-paced and disruptive change, driven in part by an increasingly digital society and economy, including the public sector itself. Citizens expect services provided by their public sectors to leverage the opportunities presented by digital technologies while safeguarding their privacy and well-being. Rising to this challenge requires public service leaders with the skills, mindsets and tools to continuously innovate in an increasingly digital government, economy and society.

These leadership challenges are compounded by the fact that in many areas, public services are hampered by employment systems, policies and practices that were designed for a past context. In response, governments across the OECD and beyond are prioritising reforms that focus on institutionalising responsive, agile and innovative senior leadership to reform the civil services they lead.

In most OECD countries, public sector leadership is supported through some kind of SCS system, which aims to ensure that the administrative leaders at the top of the organisational hierarchy are equipped with appropriate skills and are supported throughout their tenures through separate policies, in recognition of their pivotal role in public service performance. Figure 1.1 shows to which degree these systems are developed in OECD countries. In Brazil, no such system exists yet, although elements are beginning to emerge (see Chapter 2).

Figure 1.1. Extent of the use of separate human resources management practices for senior civil servants in central government, 2016 and 2018
Figure 1.1. Extent of the use of separate human resources management practices for senior civil servants in central government, 2016 and 2018

Notes: The index on senior civil service is composed of the following variables: the existence of a separate group of senior civil servants; the existence of policies for early identification of potential senior civil servants; the use of centrally defined skills profiles for senior civil servants; and the use of separate recruitment, performance management and performance-related pay practices for senior civil servants. The index ranges from 0 (no specific human resources management (HRM) practices for senior civil servants) and 1 (HRM practices very differentiated for senior civil servants). Missing data for countries were estimated by mean replacement. The index is not an indicator of how well senior civil servants are managed or how they perform. Slovak Republic: a new Civil Service Law entered into force on 1 June 2017, introducing major changes in existing human resources management practices. For this reason, data may no longer reflect the current situation in the country. Information on data for Israel: http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/888932315602.

Source: OECD (2016b), “Strategic Human Resources Management Survey”. Data for Brazil prepared by the authors based on information collected during interviews, and refers to 2018.

This report provides recommendations for the development of an SCS system in Brazil, to ensure that the highest levels of the civil service are capable and supported to deal with the complex and interconnected societal problems of today and tomorrow. By way of introduction, this section makes the case for improving leadership in Brazil’s federal public administration, arguing that better leadership contributes to a more efficient and productive public sector, improves services to citizens, and ultimately helps to rebuild trust in public institutions.

Box 1.1. Skills, competencies and leadership styles – some definitions

Despite broad use of the concept of “skill” in OECD, academic and governance literature, there is no universally agreed-upon definition. At its core, a skill is an ability to do something acquired through training and/or experience. Although most people probably have a sense of the word, there is a debate about how wide the definition should be. Should it include only measurable, observable skills, or also qualities related to behaviours and mindsets? This can have policy implications related to, for example, the ability to teach and develop some skills, versus behavioural traits which may appear harder to teach.

Another challenge to the concept of skills is to define not only the what, but also the how. Moving from simple abilities (typing, reading) to the way these are combined to achieve impact in a job setting means moving from skills to competency. If writing is a skill, communication may be considered a competency.

For the purposes of this report, the concept of competencies will be used to suggest the combination of skills with a focus on achieving desired results. Competencies often include behaviours (e.g. teamwork) and cognitive abilities (e.g. strategic thinking) that are less associated with individual skills. However, these terms are not very easy to distinguish and, in some cases, they may be used interchangeably.

A third term, “leadership styles”, is used to denote specific applications or groupings of leadership competencies. Leadership styles are the focus of various academic studies which look at, for example, transactional vs. transformation leadership, or adaptive leadership. These styles are further discussed in Chapter 3.

Public leadership – a priority in OECD countries

The context and challenges of the public service are changing at a fast pace, and the capabilities of public servants and those who lead them must constantly adjust. OECD countries increasingly recognise the fundamental contribution of effective public management and leadership to address complex governance challenges, and to enable public sector innovation. This is why OECD countries have worked together to develop the 2019 Recommendation of the Council on Public Service Leadership and Capability (hereafter referred to as the “Recommendation”; see Box 1.2).

The Recommendation sets out 14 principles that all OECD countries have agreed to work towards to ensure their public services are fit-for-purpose, responsive and capable of delivering quality service to society today and into the future. These principles are organised into three “pillars”, which recommend that countries:

build a values-driven culture and leadership in the public service, centred on improving outcomes for society

invest in public service capability in order to develop an effective and trusted public service

develop public employment systems that foster a responsive and adaptive public service able to address ongoing and emerging challenges and changing circumstances.

The first pillar focuses on the role of public service leaders, and the need to “build a proactive and innovative public service that takes a long-term perspective in the design and implementation of policy and services”. To achieve this, the OECD recommends governments take steps to provide senior civil servants with clear mandates and expectations regarding their role and behaviour, by:

clarifying the expectations incumbent upon senior-level public servants to be politically impartial leaders of public organisations, trusted to deliver on the priorities of the government, and uphold and embody the highest standards of integrity and

ensuring senior-level public servants have the mandate, competencies and conditions necessary to provide impartial evidence-informed advice and speak truth to power.

The OECD also recommends that countries find ways to advance these objectives by, “considering merit-based criteria and transparent procedures in the appointment of senior-level public servants, and holding them accountable for performance” and by “developing the leadership capabilities of current and potential senior-level public servants.”

Box 1.2. OECD Recommendation of the Council on Public Service Leadership and Capability

Recommendations of the OECD Council make clear statements about the importance of an area and its contribution to core public objectives. They are based on agreed-upon principles of good practice and aspirational goals. The OECD’s governing body, the Council, has the power to adopt Recommendations which are the result of the substantive work carried out in the OECD’s committees. The end products include international norms and standards, best practices, and policy guidelines.

Recommendations are not legally binding, but practice accords them great moral force as representing the political will of member countries and there is an expectation that member countries will do their utmost to implement a Recommendation.

The Recommendation of the Council on Public Service Leadership and Capability is based on a set of commonly shared principles which have been developed in close consultation with OECD countries. This included a broad public consultation, which generated a high level of input from public servants, citizens and experts from around the world. This Recommendation joins a broad range of governance-related Recommendations on themes such as regulatory policy making, public sector integrity, budgetary governance, digital government strategies, public procurement, open government and gender equality in public life.

The Recommendation presents 14 principles for a fit-for-purpose the public service under three main pillars:

  1. 1. values-driven culture and leadership

  2. 2. skilled and effective public servants

  3. 3. responsive and adaptive public employment systems.

The full text of the Recommendation is available at: https://www.oecd.org/gov/pem/recommendation-on-public-service-leadership-and-capability-pt.pdf.

Figure 1.2. OECD Recommendation of the Council on Public Service Leadership and Capability table
Figure 1.2. OECD Recommendation of the Council on Public Service Leadership and Capability table

OECD countries prioritise leadership in this Recommendation because they know from experience that it makes a difference. In all the efforts to implement better and more innovative governance, leadership is one of the fundamental enablers, or barriers, to successful change, whether related to improving public services, managing budgets more efficiently, improving transparency and accountability, or creating the conditions necessary for innovation in the public sector. As Brazil faces high fiscal pressure (see for example OECD 2018), effective leadership is a necessary ingredient of an efficient and productive public sector workforce. Leadership is also directly related to integrity and trust in public services. Finally, leadership is a necessary contribution to public service innovation. The next three sections look at these three areas in turn.

Leadership can promote a more efficient and productive public sector

Brazil invests significantly in its public sector workforce. In 2014, 11.9% of workers in Brazil were employed in the public sector, and the compensation of these public employees accounted for 28.9% of total government expenditures, and 12.9% of gross domestic product (GDP) (Figure 2.1). This investment in public workforce compensation is almost as much as the total level of expenditure in social benefits. An investment of this magnitude needs to be carefully managed to ensure its returns are maximised through policies and services that improve the lives and prosperity of its citizens. This is a call for innovative, skilled and professional public sector leadership.

Figure 1.3. General government expenditures by economic transaction as a percentage of GDP, 2014
Data for Brazil and selected Latin American and Caribbean countries
Figure 1.3. General government expenditures by economic transaction as a percentage of GDP, 2014

Note: LAC average includes Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Mexico, Paraguay and Peru. Data for Costa Rica for investment do not include consumption of fixed capital. General government consists of central government, state government, local government and social security funds.

Source: IMF Government Finance Statistics (IMF GFS) database. Data for Mexico and the OECD average are based on the OECD National Accounts Statistics Database. Published in OECD (2016a), Government at a Glance Latin America and the Caribbean 2017, Chapter 2, http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/888933431042.

Research shows that the quality of leadership in the public sector impacts organisational performance, efficiency and productivity. Studies in the United States have shown that agencies led by career civil servants, rather than presidential appointees, tend to perform better (Gallo and Lewis, 2012). Furthermore, the quality of the presidential appointee matters. Appointees who were political operatives and campaign workers tended to perform worse than those from other areas (e.g. from academia or known policy experts) (Box 1.3). Similarly, a study on Chile and Peru suggests that public managers appointed through meritocratic mechanisms improve the spending of public funds and the internal management of public sector organisations (Cortázar, Fuenzalida and Lafuente, 2016). These findings are not surprising. The skills required by public managers and leaders are not the same as those required to run successful electoral campaigns, and meritocratic mechanisms assess those skills to attract and select the best possible candidate.

Box 1.3. Why does political patronage result in worse public managers?

Research summarised in Gallo and Lewis (2012) identifies two issues that may explain performance differences between leaders appointed from the political system and those from the career civil service in the context of the US system:

  • Backgrounds and qualifications: appointees from outside the system generally have fewer years of public management experience, both within the agency they are appointed to lead and in the government overall. This creates greater information asymmetries between leaders and subordinates, which can make it challenging for leaders to monitor programmes’ performance and implement new policy directions. Appointees, however, are likely to have closer political connections, more academic experience and/or more management experience from other sectors. However, Gallo and Lewis suggest that such experience is more difficult to leverage for improved organisational performance in the public sector, given the very different operating environments.

  • Effects on the agency’s personnel system: regardless of the appointees’ actual skills and knowledge, they may display lower performance because they tend to have shorter tenures, which creates vacancies and higher turnover, which “makes it difficult for the agency to communicate agency goals, credibly commit to reform, monitor agency activity, and generally poorer performance”. Furthermore, when appointees occupy top-level positions, career civil servants display less motivation and morale since these jobs appear out of their reach and are often filled by less qualified people.

Source: Gallo, N. and D.E. Lewis (2012), “The consequences of presidential patronage for federal agency performance”, https://doi.org/10.1093/jopart/mur010.

Effective leaders can drive efficiency and productivity by creating the right conditions for employee engagement, a concept that is often measured and tracked through employee survey tools. Engaged employees are shown to perform better, and to be more productive and more innovative. They are committed to their organisation’s mission and willing to go above and beyond their minimum job requirements to contribute to the success of their mission. Employee engagement is generally measured through employee surveys, and can thereby be linked empirically to improved organisational outcomes. In the private sector, studies show that firms with higher levels of employee engagement perform better on a range of indicators, including profit, productivity and innovation (see for example OECD 2016a).

The United Kingdom and the United States are leaders in the use of employee surveys to benchmark engagement across their public sector organisations. They show that one of the most important drivers of employee engagement is the quality of public sector leadership. Employee engagement therefore provides an important indicator of successful leadership and management (see for example OECD 2016b). Studies in the Canadian public service (see, for example, Treasury Board of Canada [2011]) have shown that more engaged employees provide a better service experience for citizens and thereby improve citizen trust in public services. Box 1.4 gives several examples.

Box 1.4. The link between leadership and employee engagement

Despite the differences in measuring employee engagement, studies conducted at the national level and based on employee surveys indicate that senior leadership is a key driver of employee engagement in the public service.

Australia: Based on the Australian Public Service employee census, effective leadership is a key contributor to employee engagement. When asked whether they thought senior leaders in their organisation were sufficiently visible, employees who strongly agreed showed substantially higher scores (double in some cases) on all components of employee engagement. Employees also value the opportunity to interact with their leaders in a meaningful way. In the Australian Public Service, leaders who engage their employees in how to deal with the challenges confronting their organisation have a very positive effect on the engagement levels of their employees (Australian Public Service Commission, 2013).

Canada: Employees who had positive opinions of senior management tended to express higher levels of engagement, particularly satisfaction with and commitment to their organisation. The most notable differences in levels of engagement are between employees who have confidence in senior management and those who do not (Treasury Board of Canada, 2011).

Ireland: Analysis based on the 2015 Civil Service Employee Engagement Survey revealed that the effectiveness of senior leadership was among the five key drivers of employee engagement along with employees’ feeling that their job was meaningful, job skills match, competence and organisational support (Government of Ireland, 2016).

United Kingdom: Statistical analysis over several years of the UK People Survey scores consistently identifies leadership and effective change management as the strongest driver of employee engagement, followed by the nature of the work and an employee’s relationship with their direct supervisor.

United States: The analysis of the 2016 Employee Viewpoint Survey revealed that important drivers of engagement were related to the ability of senior leaders to support fairness and protect employees from arbitrary actions, favoritism, political coercion and reprisal; promote and support collaborative communication and teamwork in accomplishing goals and objectives; and support an effective recognition and reward system for good performance.

Source: OECD (2016a), Engaging Public Employees for a High Performing Civil Service, http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264267190-en.

Another way to think about the impact of public sector leadership is to look at success stories and, conversely, failures. The OECD’s Observatory of Public Sector Innovation (OPSI) has collected hundreds of examples of successful public sector innovation projects that have improved the effectiveness and productivity of government. Of over 300 public sector innovation cases in the OPSI case study library, almost 80% cite leadership as a critical factor of success. This is equally true for innovations that come from the senior level (top-down) as it is for innovations that come from ideas at the frontlines (bottom-up) or from partners outside the public service. In all cases, committed and engaged senior leaders were needed to provide the support, protection and the linkages necessary to bring an idea to scale.

If good leadership can bring forward and stimulate successful innovation, the opposite is also true. All countries can think of public disasters which exposed leadership that was not well prepared for the task at hand. Various analyses of the US federal government’s response to Hurricane Katrina have pointed to the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, who was appointed based on his political connections and was otherwise underqualified and inexperienced in the field of disaster management (see, for example, Schneider [2005]; Feeney and Kingsley [2008]). Many experts link Turkey’s 2018 economic crisis, which saw the rapid devaluation of the currency, to the appointment of a central bank director with close family ties to the president (The Economist, 2019). Even in Canada, which has a very strong meritocratic leadership system, a recent auditor general’s report suggested that a lack of effective leadership was in part to blame for the failure of a new pay system, which resulted in a web of complex pay problems that affected almost 200 000 federal civil servants (Office of the Auditor General of Canada, 2018).

These examples all illustrate the high stakes of appointment decisions in the public sector. These positions demand highly skilled and effective women and men who have the technical skills, leadership competencies and political awareness necessary to translate political ambition into effective policy and services. This is not a profile that can be developed on the campaign trail, or in the offices of political parties. When it goes well, it stands to transform countries’ large investment in public sector workforces and the public services they provide into order and progress that ultimately leads to real development. When it goes poorly, it impacts not only the public workforce, but citizens and communities across the country, and contributes to societal issues and a crisis of trust in public institutions.

Leadership can reduce corruption risks and help rebuild trust in the public sector

As is the case in many other countries, Brazil is also struggling to rebuild trust in public institutions (Figure 1.4). Public leaders play a very important role in setting the ethical tone of an organisation and imparting the values that guide its decision making throughout. This means that leaders must themselves be ethical, and that they must also take active steps to encourage ethical behaviour in others.

Figure 1.4. Confidence in national government in 2017 and change since 2007
Figure 1.4. Confidence in national government in 2017 and change since 2007

Note: Data refer to the percentage who answered “yes” to the question, “Do you have confidence in national government?” (data arranged in descending order according to percentage point change between 2007 and 2017). Austria, Croatia, Finland, Hungary, Ireland, Japan, Norway, Portugal, Slovak Republic, Slovenia and Switzerland: 2006 rather than 2007; Iceland and Luxembourg: 2008 rather than 2007.

Source: World Gallup Poll.

This is why the OECD’s Recommendation of the Council on Public Service Leadership and Capability emphasises a values-driven culture and leadership in the public sector. Research on ethical leadership shows that values-based leadership requires two components (Treviño et al, 2000). The first is a leader who embodies the values of the public service, which are often separate from the specific political values of the elected government. Common public service values include integrity, accountability, protection of the public interest, openness and transparency. These values tend to be embraced in the culture of the public sector regardless of which political party is running the government.

The second component of values-based leadership is the ability to impart those values throughout the institution being led. This means openly discussing these values in an organisational context, supporting others to take decisions based on these values, and holding people accountable for values-based decision making at all levels of an organisation.

Promoting values-based leadership in the public service requires a careful look at the systems that are used to select and appoint leaders, and hold them accountable. Indeed, an important piece of recent research suggests that meritocratic appointment is the most important factor in reducing corruption risks in bureaucratic environments (Charron et al., 2017; see Box 1.2).

Ensuring merit in leadership selection means clearly articulating the leadership competencies needed to succeed in a job, then transparently matching candidates to those positions. It is possible to have merit and political appointments together – one does not necessarily preclude the other. However, it requires a level of transparency and some degree of contestability in the process in order to ensure accountability for those who take appointment decisions. This can be done through, for example, Senate confirmation hearings in the United States, or independent selection and vetting mechanisms such as those set up in Chile and Peru (see Chapter 5).

Box 1.5. How merit can reduce corruption risks

A merit-based senior civil service can help reduce overall corruption across all areas of the public sector. There are number of reasons for this. Charron et al. (2017) tested the hypothesis that corruption risks are lower when bureaucrats’ careers do not depend on political connections but on their peers. The authors’ findings suggest that:

  1. 1. Meritocratic systems bring in better-qualified professional leaders who may be less tempted by corruption.

  2. 2. Merit-based appointment creates an esprit de corps which rewards hard work and skills. When people are appointed for non-meritorious reasons, they may be less likely to see the position itself as legitimate, but instead as a means to achieve more personal wealth through rent-seeking behaviour. So there is also a motivational quality about merit systems which reinforces public service ethics and values.

  3. 3. Meritocracy has been shown to reduce the risk of corruption by providing longer term employment. This tends to promote a longer term perspective to decision making, which reinforces the employee’s commitment to their job and makes it less tempting to engage in short-term opportunism presented by corruption. Conversely, if people know that their job will not last long, they may be more easily encouraged to use their position for personal gain during the short time they have.

  4. 4. The separation of careers between bureaucrats and politicians is also shown to provide incentives for each group to monitor one another and expose each other’s conflicts of interest and risks for corruption. Conversely, when the bureaucracy is mostly political appointments, loyalty to the ruling party may provide disincentives for the bureaucracy to blow the whistle on political corruption (and elected officials may also be more willing to take action on corruption within the bureaucracy).

Source: Charron et al. (2017)

Merit-based selection also can have a direct impact on public trust in government institutions. If citizens believe that the public officials who are leading these institutions are there because they have the competencies and experience to make effective change happen, they may be more likely to trust them to deliver. On the other hand, if the public feels that these people are placed there for political reasons and lack the needed competencies and experience, it stands to reason that they will naturally trust them less.

The OECD has identified five drivers of trust in public services (OECD, 2017d). The first two are responsiveness and reliability, and these are related directly to the competence of public services. The other three are the underpinning values through which this competence is achieved. They are integrity, openness and fairness. The important implication here is that it is not enough to deliver effective public services in a democracy; the public’s perception of the way they are delivered also counts. Achieving these three values in a visible manner is essential to rebuild trust in Brazil’s public sector.

A clear starting point for rebuilding trust in Brazil’s governance is the appointment of women and men who are seen by the Brazilian public to embody these two fundamental attributes. They must be seen as competent, demonstrated by having the right competencies and experience for the job. They must also show how public values guide their own decision-making, and be seen to impart these values throughout the entire organisation they lead.

Leadership can develop and steer an innovative workforce

Improving civil service capacity, productivity and innovation is a core leadership challenge. Innovation cannot be successful without support from public leaders with the right competencies. Effective leaders mobilise and engage staff to promote desired outcomes, and ensure that employees have the right resources and opportunities to use their skills and drive positive change in their organisations. Leaders also influence the strategy, structure and functioning of their organisations, as well as interactions with other public and private institutions.

Experience working with public sector innovators in Brazil and worldwide confirms that civil service leaders’ commitment to innovation appears fundamental to support teams’ and individuals’ initiatives (OECD, 2017a). When there is a lack of leadership to drive change at the system or organisational level, individuals are left with the burden to drive change – limiting scope, scale and perspective. Initial impressions of the innovation system in Brazil’s federal government suggest this to be the case (OECD, 2019). Research also suggests that capacity for innovation requires not only a system-wide approach and a co-ordinated effort across multiple institutions, but also greatly depends on building a skilled workforce and effective leadership (OECD, 2017c).

More than ever, Brazil’s citizens and civil society are demanding better leadership from the top of the civil service. Organisations that usually advocate for better services in communities – such as education, healthcare and public safety – are increasingly concerned about the quality of leadership in public administrations, which they see as crucial for improving the quality of the essential services the public sector provides. They point to the need to spark more and better innovation in these services, and are worried that the public sector will no longer be able to attract the talent needed to do this. For this reason, they are taking direct aim at the process for hiring and the development of senior leadership, while trying to celebrate the positive impact that effective and innovative public leaders can bring.

Box 1.6. Alliance for better people management in the public sector

Improving the quality of people management in Brazil’s public sector has attracted interest from beyond the public service itself. Brazilian foundations like Fundação Lemann are working to better understand the challenges faced by the public sector, and are helping governments to improve their human resources processes. Besides producing knowledge and organising events with public leaders, academics and the civil society, Fundação Lemann brought together three other Brazilian organisations (Instituto Humanize, Fundação Brava and Instituto República) to form an Alliance for better people management in the public sector.

The Alliance counts on its knowledge, experience and networks to help the public service attract and select better leaders. It supports State Governments across Brazil in fields as wide as preselection processes, leadership skills, performance management, skills development or knowledge transfer.

Source: Interviews, https://fundacaolemann.org.br

What would leadership for innovation look like in Brazil’s public sector? A starting point is to recognise that public leaders create impact through their workforce. Then, it stands to reason that their first task is to ensure that their workforce is properly equipped to innovate and the organisation is properly oriented to produce innovation. People need three things to perform any task (Box 1.7). First, they need to right abilities: skills, competencies and knowledge. Second, they need to be motivated to develop these abilities and use them; this suggests looking at incentives and rewards. Third, they need opportunities to put their skills and motivation to use (Boxall and Purcell, 2011). Assuring these three elements for innovation is the fundamental leadership challenge in the public service.

Box 1.7. Abilities, motivation and opportunities

An established theory of employee behaviour states that civil servants and employees of any organisation will perform when they have the abilities, motivation and opportunities to contribute to their organisation’s goals (Boxall and Purcell, 2011).

Figure 1.5. Ability, motivation and opportunity framework
Figure 1.5. Ability, motivation and opportunity framework

Source: Authors’ own design

If innovation is the goal, then Brazil needs to develop and promote public sector leadership with the ability, motivation and opportunity to innovate. This framework reinforces the notion that having skills is not enough to drive performance if people are not motivated to use them, or provided the right opportunities to activate them. This means that teaching skills for innovation alone will not boost the innovative capacity of Brazil’s public servants without taking a wider systems view of institutional structures (both supports and constraints) and workforce management. As such, this framework drives a systemic view, linking individual skills and capacities with the specific institutional features of the Brazilian public sector and its leadership, to increase and improve public sector innovation. This framework suggests that leaders should ask themselves:

  1. 1. Abilities: What are the needed skills for innovation in my organisation? Where can I find them? What are the gaps? What strategy can address them?

  2. 2. Motivation: What motivates my employees to innovate? How can I align incentives to promote the acquisition and use of innovation capabilities? How can I measure and monitor motivation in my workforce (e.g. through employee engagement surveys)?

  3. 3. Opportunities: How can I provide my employees with opportunities to innovate (e.g. safe spaces for experimentation)? How can I ensure they have access to the tools, resources and time needed? How can I create the right conditions in my organisation for innovation?

The OECD has developed research on the skills and competencies needed in public organisations at all levels of the hierarchy to support innovation. This research has identified six core skills areas (Figure 1.6). In order for public organisations to support innovation, their leadership should support and develop the following skills areas across their workforce as well as nurture a culture where these skills can thrive. Innovative organisations need employees who:

Know how to build new products, services or policies in iteration, beginning small, experimenting with ideas, and learning as they go.

Are able to leverage increasing amounts of data, in new shapes and forms, to spark insights and monitor progress.

Can use multiple methods and techniques to develop a deep understanding of the citizens they serve, their needs, wants and actual behaviours, and bring them into the design process.

Are curious, with the ability to ask the right questions of multiple sources, and find answers in new and novel places.

Have storytelling skills, to multiple audiences through various channels to ensure the change they want is understood and resonates with those it will impact, and those who must decide.

Have the skills needed to push against the status quo, to know how change is made in the public sector, by using the political process and building the right coalitions, knowing which battles to fight and persevere in the face of resistance. We call this insurgency.

Figure 1.6. Core skills areas for public sector innovation
Figure 1.6. Core skills areas for public sector innovation

Source: OECD (2017a), “Core skills for public sector innovation: A beta model”.

This report builds on this skills framework to pinpoint specific leadership skills, competencies and styles needed to drive innovation and impact in Brazil, and the systems in place to support and reinforce them (see Chapter 3 for a detailed discussion). The role of public leaders is not to be experts in all of these innovation skills areas. Rather, leaders must develop a workforce with these skills, motivate their use and provide employees with opportunities to contribute their skills to public sector innovation. This requires some understanding of each these skills areas and their implications on how to lead the workforce differently.

The survey presented in Chapter 2 shows that there are specific perceived gaps in Brazil’s workforce in most of these skills areas. Results also suggest that access to training to develop these skills is either unknown or not available. These issues will be further discussed in the following chapters.

Towards a model of supply and demand of leadership skills for innovation

This report is the result of an analysis of some of the initiatives across the Brazilian administration. Based on research, observation, interviews and discussion (Box 1.8), this report aims to address the skills and leadership needs of Brazilian senior civil servants to promote innovation within their organisations and to achieve a more productive and accountable civil service.

Box 1.8. Purpose and process of this review

This is the first OECD review of this kind but it builds on previous work carried out by the OECD in this field, namely the 2010 Review of Human Resource Management in Brazil’s Federal Administration (OECD, 2010), and the 2017 Review of Innovation Skills in Chile’s Central Government (OECD, 2017b). The present review combined interviews and workshops with multiple Brazilian public sector and civil society stakeholders involved in civil service reform, leadership and innovation.

The first purpose of the discussions was to understand the institutional mechanisms that guide recruitment, development and performance assessment for senior civil servants in Brazil’s federal government, in a context of increasing interest for capacity to innovate. Findings confirm those from previous studies that describe a fragmented civil service, with impacts on its performance. The second purpose was to map initiatives to strengthen different aspects of leadership capabilities, within a system where improving recruitment, development and assessment of senior managers tends to be voluntary organisational endeavour. The process included:

  1. 1. A survey with open questions (based on a theoretical framework on the abilities, motivations and opportunities of civil servants to innovate), was completed by the Brazilian National School of Public Administration (Escola nacional de administração pública, ENAP) and other stakeholders. The purpose was to collect initial data and evidence that would give the OECD team a broad and basic understanding of the civil service, public leadership and government innovation in Brazil’s federal administration.

  2. 2. A first mission (May 2018) was made to get a contextual overview and deeper insights of the innovation and leadership landscape in Brazil’s federal administration. This included interviews and focus group discussions with key public employees, senior leaders, academics and members of civil society. The OECD team was joined by a senior expert from the UK government with experience in civil service strategy and leadership development.

  3. 3. A second mission (September 2018) was made to conduct a series of workshops with Brazilian civil servants, members of civil society organisations and of academia. The workshops were designed around leadership skills for innovation and human resources sub-systems that support the identification, recruitment, development and performance assessment of innovative leaders. The workshops helped identify different scenarios that could work in Brazil’s federal administration. In addition to the peer from the United Kingdom, this mission also included a representative from the United States’ Chief Human Capital Officers Council. Both of these experts helped frame the discussions about leadership competencies and provided insights from practice.

  4. 4. A third mission took place during the 4th Innovation Week in Brasilia. It helped test some hypothesis about skills for innovative leaders and improving senior civil service management.

The report is guided by a framework established as a result of workshops and discussions with a range of public sector innovators, leaders, people managers, academics and civil society leaders, which led to the following insights. First, it is necessary to identify the leadership competencies and styles needed in the public service in order to support innovation in the public sector. However, identifying these competencies alone will not have much consequence unless they are integrated into a system that enables their development and effective deployment. This suggests the need for mechanisms to build the supply of these competencies in the possible pool of candidates through, for example, leadership development initiatives, and to make this supply visible in order to identify where these competencies are currently located. However, this will also not be enough, as supply without demand cannot lead to sustainable change. Therefore, the system must also build the demand for these competencies so that those with the responsibility of taking appointment decisions clearly request the desired competencies and create the right incentives for their use once appointed. This suggests looking at appointment systems and the incentive structures needed to make innovation a fundamental part of leaders’ jobs.

Figure 1.7. Framework for public sector leaders to drive innovation
Figure 1.7. Framework for public sector leaders to drive innovation

Source: Author’s own design

his report will consider each element of this framework in turn, beginning with a contextualisation of the leadership challenges in Brazil’s federal administration, followed by a discussion of the critical leadership competencies and styles as highlighted by Brazilian innovators and civil servants. It will then look at how the supply of, and demand for, the competencies in senior leaders can be reinforced through measures that could begin putting in place a more effective, coherent and sustainable SCS system.

Chapter 2 looks at the current state of public service leadership from a systems perspective, and with specific reference to innovation skills, presenting the results of a survey conducted by the OECD in December 2018 on the six innovation skills areas presented in Figure 1.4. This is followed by a discussion of the type of skills, mindsets and behaviours that leaders need to support innovation (Chapter 3). Chapter 4 analyses different initiatives that are aimed at developing current and future public leaders with these competencies within the federal administration. Chapter 5 suggests paths to build the demand for a skilled SCS cadre within a fragmented federal administration such as Brazil’s.


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1. Leadership for a more productive public service