Skip to content

The outstanding public servant (A) 2009-107.1

15 March 2010



In November 2000, Michael Wintringham faced the most high-profile decision of his career. As head of the State Services Commission, the central agency which manages the employment contracts of public sector chief executives in New Zealand, he had to recommend to the government whether to extend the contract of the most controversial civil servant in the country, the head of Work and Income NZ (WINZ), Christine Rankin. Though WINZ was meeting performance targets and Rankin herself was popular with her staff, some felt that Rankin had paid little attention to building relationships across the public service. Moreover, WINZ’s argument that it was unfair for it to be held accountable for under-performance on its employment outcomes was seen as “tunnel vision” and a failure to focus on its wider outcomes and opportunities to collaborate with other departments. When reports of lavish spending on image emerged, Rankin came under fire for an “all-glitz style” that felt inappropriate for the department’s work. Wintringham had to decide whether he should judge Rankin solely by measures laid out in her performance agreement and the department’s “purchase agreement”, or whether issues of style and reputation were key factors to consider.

This case can be used to discuss a number of issues relating to performance management and assessment, including the importance of image and perceptions. It can be taught in tandem with case 2011-129 A Question of Style: The Leadership of Christine Rankin.

Read more:

  • part B gives details of the Employment Court challenge. It can be taught in tandem with case 2011-129 A Question of Style: The Leadership of Christine Rankin.
Authors: Liam Martin
Published Date: 15 March 2010
Author Institution: Victoria University of Wellington
Content Length: 4
Product Type: Part A, Primary resources