Guidance Series - Participating in Informal Discussion

Document Status:
Draft: Working version
Effective Date:
December 2005 (amended: July 2009)

 

Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Objective
  3. What is so distinctive about Informal Discussion?
  4. Guidelines for Informal Discussion
    1. What is it?
    2. Who provides the Informal Discussion?
    3. Managing group Informal Discussion
    4. Managers or persons responsible for the assessment
    5. Employees
    6. Human resources advisors
  5. Assistance
  6. Training

1. Introduction

The Public Service Employment Act includes an element in the appointment process called Informal Discussion.

As a result, there are significant responsibilities for deputy heads, managers, human resources advisors and participants. The implementation of Informal Discussion during an internal appointment process is expected to improve communication and increase the efficiency of the appointment process, and it could reduce the use of formal recourse.

2. Objective

This guide for participating in Informal Discussion is intended to promote the positive and non-adversarial nature of Informal Discussion in order to allow for an early opportunity to resolve concerns in a timely manner. It provides useful information about Informal Discussion and offers practical guidance and considerations to assist you in participating in an Informal Discussion. There are suggestions and considerations that will help guide you in this concept, keeping in mind the following:

  • An Informal Discussion should allow a person the opportunity, upon elimination from consideration, to discuss the decision before the decision to appoint is final;
  • the discussion of decisions undertaken during the appointment process is meant to be as informal and expeditious as possible;
  • the intent is to allow for a free-flowing exchange to resolve concerns;
  • errors or oversights can be corrected, if necessary; and
  • appointment processes will proceed without undue delay.

3. What is so distinctive about Informal Discussion?

  • Access to Informal Discussion can begin at any point in an internal appointment process when a person has been eliminated from consideration;
  • An Informal Discussion is held at the request of the person who was eliminated from consideration;
  • There is no need for formality in the request, such as filing a document, unless the organization has established this as a procedure;
  • It is informal — basically, a sharing of information to explain the decision to eliminate the person from consideration;
  • An Informal Discussion takes place before a final decision is made in an appointment process; if, by chance, an error or oversight occurred, it can be corrected before the results are finalized; and
  • An Informal Discussion can quite effectively take place between the person responsible for the decision (usually the manager) and the person eliminated from consideration, without requiring the assistance of a third party.

4. Guidelines for Informal Discussion

4.1 What is it?

An Informal Discussion is an opportunity to share information so that the person who was eliminated from consideration can understand and discuss the decision to eliminate him or her. It is intended to improve communication during the appointment process and if an error or oversight is found, it can be corrected before a final decision is made.

The person eliminated has the opportunity to raise concerns regarding his or her elimination and discuss this decision with the person responsible for this decision. An Informal Discussion is focussed on the person who was eliminated; therefore, the focus is on that person's own assessment, and not on a comparison to other persons in the appointment process.

4.2 Who provides the Informal Discussion?

First and foremost, deputy heads are responsible for ensuring that the opportunity for an Informal Discussion is provided within their organizations. In addition to this requirement, deputy heads must ensure that those persons to whom the authority to appoint has been sub-delegated ensure that an Informal Discussion is provided, upon request, when conducting appointment processes.

An Informal Discussion should be provided by the person responsible for making the decision to eliminate the person. This could be the manager or the persons responsible for the assessment. Depending on who was responsible for the decision or involved in the appointment process, this could include other managers, a human resources advisor or an assessment specialist. It is important that whoever is providing the Informal Discussion be able to sufficiently explain the decision to the person who was eliminated from consideration. Keep in mind that Informal Discussion is intended to be informal. If too many people attend an Informal Discussion session, it could affect the quality of the discussion. It could also make the process too formal and create an imbalance in the discussion.

The method of Informal Discussion can vary and be determined by the manager. The manager should take into consideration the request of the person and what is feasible. An Informal Discussion can be conducted in person, by telephone, by videoconference, electronically or by any other method.

4.3 Managing group Informal Discussion

To facilitate Informal Discussion in an appointment process where many persons are eliminated, organizations may consider implementing a number of strategies to effectively manage the Informal Discussion process. These strategies may include establishing a window of time for persons eliminated from consideration to request an Informal Discussion, setting up group Informal Discussion sessions to address issues of common concern, and emphasizing that Informal Discussion will be conducted only once for persons elimininated from consideration when the reasons for their elimination will not change.

In appointment processes where many persons have been eliminated, offering group Informal Discussion sessions may allow a greater opportunity to provide general information and address common questions or concerns about the appointment process in a timely manner. However, conducting group Informal Discussion sessions does not preclude an opportunity to request an individual Informal Discussion. It is important that persons do not feel pressured to forgo their opportunity for an individual Informal Discussion when group sessions are made available.

Other considerations

Group Informal Discussion is not appropriate when the reasons a person is eliminated are unique to him or her. For example, when a person is appointed from a pool, other persons in the pool who are eliminated from consideration are notified and may request an individual Informal Discussion to discuss the reasons why they were eliminated from consideration for that particular appointment (i.e. why they were not the right fit for that appointment).

4.4 Managers or persons responsible for the assessment

Preparing for the Informal Discussion

  • Obtain the appointment process file and review the documentation that has recorded the decision regarding the person eliminated from consideration;
  • Review the Public Service Commission (PSC) Policy on Informal Discussion;
  • Review the PSC Guide to Implementing the Informal Discussion Policy;
  • Check to see whether the organization has a policy or procedures on Informal Discussion;
  • Determine the official language(s) to be used in the Informal Discussion;
  • Determine whether any accommodation is required;
  • Contact the person as soon as possible in order to ascertain his or her concerns;
  • Discuss what method would be preferable and/or practical for the Informal Discussion, for example, by e-mail, in person, by telephone, by group session or by video-conferencing;
  • If necessary, consult with other persons involved in the appointment process, for example, other assessment board members or the human resources advisor; and
  • Inquire as to whether anyone else will be attending the Informal Discussion.

During the discussion

  • Set aside enough time to conduct the Informal Discussion;
  • Take measures to ensure privacy when conducting the Informal Discussion (e.g. if conducting a face-to-face session, use a closed office);
  • Listen to the person and provide the opportunity for him or her to explain any concerns and present any supporting information;
  • Always verify your understanding of the situation before responding;
  • Remember that the discussion is an opportunity to exchange views, share information and explain your decision;
  • The Informal Discussion is about the person who was eliminated, and not about others who are in the appointment process; therefore, personal information about others cannot be disclosed unless that person consents to its disclosure;
  • Stay focussed on what is relevant to the discussion: the requirements of the position, the merit criteria, how you assessed the qualifications and why the person was eliminated;
  • Stick to the facts and ensure that you can support your statements;
  • If an error or oversight has occurred and time is needed to reflect before making a decision, do so and reconvene or respond to the person later; be prepared to make a decision as to what action to take;
  • If unsure as to what, if any, action to take, seek advice from a human resources advisor; inform the person of the decision that is made and explain why;
  • Remember fairness: fairness to the person in the Informal Discussion, fairness of any decision and the impact on others in the appointment process;
  • Remember transparency: explain the decisions and provide information that will assist the person in understanding the reason for elimination;
  • If possible, and if the person is amenable, you can use the opportunity to discuss general information that could be of use to him or her in future appointment processes, for example, improving communication skills, interviewing techniques or suggestions for training; and
  • Seek assistance if the issue is beyond what you feel comfortable dealing with or if the discussion goes beyond the decision to eliminate the person from consideration. For example, if it is an issue of longstanding conflict, it may be of benefit to set up a subsequent meeting with a third party, perhaps from an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) resource or from the Informal Conflict Management System. This process would not be part of the Informal Discussion.

New or different information - what do you do?

There are no set rules on what you can or should do with information provided to you by the person in an Informal Discussion. Each situation will have to be addressed on a case-by-case basis. The circumstances and any applicable organizational policy will influence how and what should be done with the information. The important thing to remember is that the process must be fair and transparent, not only for that person, but for all persons in the appointment process. If faced with a situation that you are unable to address immediately, take the time to seek advice from your human resources advisor on how to proceed. It is possible that the human resources advisor has dealt with, or knows of, similar situations. As well, there may be some basic principles flowing from jurisprudence that could influence your decision. Remember that, because an Informal Discussion takes place during the appointment process, if an error or oversight has occurred, it can be corrected before the appointment decision is finalized.

The following are some examples of situations that could occur during an Informal Discussion:

  • a person provides information that was not submitted at the time the decision to eliminate the person was made;
  • a person clarifies information provided on his or her application;
  • an error on the part of the assessment board is revealed;
  • an apparent lack of clarity with respect to the merit criteria is revealed; or
  • information provided to the board was not received due to a technical glitch or error.

The above list is not exhaustive; however, it does provide an indication of some of the situations that may arise. Even though an Informal Discussion is intended to discuss the decision to eliminate the person, sometimes information brought forward could have a direct or indirect impact on other persons in the appointment process, whether or not they were eliminated from consideration.

When managers are faced with either new information or information which further clarifies that which was submitted, they must be mindful of the impact of any decision that is made as a result. Managers should consider the following:

  • Why was the information not submitted at the time of the application?
  • Are there circumstances that mitigate the failure to provide the information?
  • Is there a chance that others fall under the same circumstances?
  • Is the error one that requires reversing the decision? For example, even if the error were corrected, would it change the result?
  • What level of confidence is there in the decision that was made?
  • Now that the information has been brought forward, would this lead to a different decision?

These are not easy situations and there are no easy answers, but this does illustrate the importance of planning and taking measures to ensure confidence in decisions made during the appointment process.

What information can be shared?

It is important for all persons involved in an Informal Discussion to be as open as possible to clearly explain the concerns with respect to the appointment process and, with respect to the manager, to clearly explain the decision made; however, confidentiality issues must be taken into account so as to maintain the trust in Informal Discussion, as well as that of the appointment process.

Consideration must also be given to protecting proprietary information, such as standardized tests. Any disclosure of information must respect the Privacy Act, the Access to Information Act and the Public Service Employment Regulations established by the PSC concerning the disclosure of information obtained during the course of an investigation. An Informal Discussion is intended to provide information on the decision to eliminate a person from consideration. Therefore, personal information about other persons must not be disclosed.

A person requesting an Informal Discussion would normally have access to any personal information gathered in the appointment process relating to him- or herself.

Some basic tips include:

  • In accordance with the PSC Policy on Informal Discussion, persons participating in an Informal Discussion should be provided with sufficient information in order to understand and discuss the decision;
  • Information to be shared would include any documents submitted by the person;
  • The portions of rating guides that are relevant to the person's assessment, notes and information on the person written by the assessment board may be shared. Any request for access to or copies of standardized tests and how they are scored could be refused, as it could compromise the integrity of the test or provide an unfair advantage. Before conducting an Informal Discussion, it is important to discuss any such request with your Access to Information expert and an expert from the Personnel Psychology Centre (PPC), or human resources advisor; and
  • Under the Privacy Act, personal information about a third party is protected. The person who participates in an Informal Discussion should not be provided with any assessment information regarding other persons, since this could violate the Privacy Act. However, some personal information may be disclosed if its release is consistent with the purpose for which the information was gathered. For example, if a selection was made based on an organizational need to increase representativeness of the designated employment equity groups, and the person who is being considered for appointment has self-declared as a member of a designated group, the fact that this was the merit criterion applied, not information about the person who self-declared, can be shared in the Informal Discussion. When in doubt, seek assistance before sharing any information about a person other than the one with whom you are conducting the Informal

Making it work

Generally speaking, an Informal Discussion may not always be a positive experience, since the discussion revolves around a decision to eliminate a person from consideration. However, steps can be taken to ensure that the Informal Discussion achieves its purpose and communication is improved. For example:

  • Responding to the request in a timely manner - this will reflect the commitment to provide an Informal Discussion and if, for any reason, an error or oversight is made, it may be corrected early in the process;
  • Establishing a standard window of time for persons informed of their elimination to request an Informal Discussion;
  • Providing an opportunity to listen and discuss - this can build trust not only in the process, but in the organization as a whole;
  • Making yourself available to conduct an Informal Discussion with the persons who have been eliminated;
  • Offering group Informal Discussions where many persons are eliminated (i.e. collective staffing) to address common concerns;
  • Responding positively when persons who have been invited to a group Informal Discussion request an individual Informal Discussion;
  • Creating a positive experience in Informal Discussion, as this will be the best advertising mechanism for encouraging the use of Informal Discussion in future appointment processes;
  • Being sensitive to cultural differences and some of your own biases, as this can reduce misunderstandings and improve the discussion (e.g. if unsure as to what is being said, seek clarification);
  • Being approachable and open to the discussion to allow for the opportunity to address concerns;
  • Remembering that Informal Discussion is not recourse and should not be adversarial in nature; its intent is to explain the reason for which the person was eliminated from consideration;
  • Maintaining a non-defensive and non-confrontational manner;
  • Demonstrating a willingness to review a decision if an error or oversight was made;
  • Considering deferring a contentious or heated discussion to allow time to reflect and to address the issue at a later time, with assistance if necessary;
  • If in a position to do so, considering providing advice or guidance to the person to assist him or her with future appointment processes or career considerations;
  • Resolving issues or, at the very least, ensuring that there is an understanding of the decision; this could reduce the number of complaints to the Public Service Staffing Tribunal; and
  • Learning from each Informal Discussion and taking the opportunity to consider and discuss with your human resources advisor ways to improve future appointment processes.

4.5 Employees

Preparing for the Informal Discussion

  • If you want to request an Informal Discussion, contact the person who has been identified as soon as possible in order to set up a time to discuss;
  • Try to focus on exactly what your concerns are and what you would like to discuss;
  • Consider attending a group Informal Discussion session, if offered;
  • Review the PSC Policy on Informal Discussion;
  • Review the PSC Guide to Implementing the Informal Discussion Policy;
  • Check to see whether the organization has a policy or procedures on Informal Discussion;
  • Advise the manager of the official language(s) to be used in the Informal Discussion and whether any accommodation is required;
  • Discuss what method would be preferable and/or practical for the Informal Discussion, for example, in person, by telephone, by e-mail or by videoconferencing;
  • To prepare for the discussion, seek out further information from either the human resources advisor or a bargaining agent representative;
  • If you wish to be accompanied by a bargaining agent representative or other person, verify the person's availability and inform the manager.

During the discussion

  • Listen to the person and give him or her the opportunity to explain the decision and present any supporting information;
  • Always verify your understanding of the situation before responding;
  • Remember that the discussion is an opportunity to exchange views and share information, so be open to the conversation;
  • Stay focussed on what is relevant to the discussion: why you were eliminated and the requirements of the position, the merit criteria, etc.;
  • Remember that Informal Discussion is not recourse and should not be adversarial in nature; its intent is for you to understand why you were eliminated from consideration;
  • Stick to the facts and ensure that you can support your statements;
  • If possible, the opportunity could be used to discuss general information that could be of use in future appointment processes, for example, improving communication skills or interviewing techniques;
  • Seek assistance if the discussion goes beyond what you feel comfortable dealing with or beyond the decision to eliminate you from consideration; and
  • Questions asked in a group Informal Discussion session should be more general in nature; specific questions related to your own candidacy should be addressed in an individual Informal Discussion session.

Making it work

Some things to do to help make the Informal Discussion achieve its purpose:

  • Be approachable and open to the discussion — this will allow for the opportunity to address concerns and understand the decision;
  • Contribute to creating a positive experience — this is an opportunity to create a good impression, now and in the future;
  • Be sensitive to cultural differences and some of your own biases, as this can reduce misunderstandings and improve the discussion (e.g. if unsure as to what is being said, seek clarification); and
  • Resolve the issues or, at the very least, ensure that you have a good understanding of the decision before you leave.

4.6 Human resources advisors

Human resources advisors will always be involved in the appointment process from the outset; however, they may or may not be involved in an Informal Discussion. In most cases, an Informal Discussion is conducted between the manager or a member of the assessment board and the person who was eliminated from consideration. On the other hand, there may be instances where the manager or the person wishes to have the human resources advisor present to assist. In cases such as this, the tips for managers regarding preparation and the discussion would also apply.

There are some things a human resources advisor can do before the internal appointment process begins in order to prepare for an Informal Discussion.

Steps to take

  • Meet with the manager to discuss the appointment process and how it will be managed;
  • Ensure that the opportunity for Informal Discussion is reflected in the communication vehicle used for the appointment process;
  • Decide on the point of contact for persons who are eliminated from consideration;
  • Decide where the elimination points will be in the appointment process and how Informal Discussion requests will be managed;
  • Plan how and when persons will be informed of their elimination from consideration; and
  • Encourage documentation of decisions — this will assist managers in discussing decisions if a lengthy period of time has passed between the elimination and the Informal Discussion.

5. Assistance

An Informal Discussion is intended to be an opportunity for the person responsible for the decision, in most cases the manager, and the person who requested the Informal Discussion to have a productive dialogue with respect to the decision to eliminate him or her from consideration. However, the person who requested the Informal Discussion or the manager, or both, may wish to involve another person to assist in the discussion. The range of options could include:

  • Having a bargaining agent representative or another person to assist and/or provide support in the discussion;
  • Having a human resources advisor to explain the technical aspects of staffing;
  • Having an expert in assessment techniques, such as a PPC psychologist or staff member, present if a PSC tool or simulation was used; this expert can provide in-depth feedback, and discuss scoring criteria or the content of the test while respecting the protection of these instruments; and
  • Using existing organizational ADR mechanisms and resources.

6. Training

Informal Discussion involves using different skills and knowledge, such as providing effective feedback, reframing, Privacy Act obligations and possibly ADR and conflict resolution skills. All employees and managers should avail themselves of training in this regard.

The Canada School of Public Service has developed a course for managers on Informal Discussion in the Appointment Process (P107).