Interview with Jurgita Domeikiene, EU4PFM Team Leader and International Key Expert on HR/PAR

As we step into the year 2024, we’re excited to launch “Voices of Expertise,” an interview series highlighting exclusive insights. In this captivating journey, we will introduce our international key experts who are facilitating changes, shaping policies, and sharing their insights in the transformation of the public finance management landscape in Ukraine. By giving faces to the programme, we aim to bring you closer to the experts who are guiding us towards EU membership.

Meet our first interviewee, Jurgita Domeikiene, EU4PFM Team Leader and International Key Expert on HR/PAR, whose vision guides Ukraine’s public finance transformation.

Professional Background

– Could you please introduce yourself and give us a brief overview of your professional background

Throughout my career, I have always positioned myself as a civil servant who has worked in executive branch of the governance, holding mostly leadership positions in the field of public administration. It has always been both my source of satisfaction and challenge that these roles predominantly involve leadership responsibilities. The primary focus of my career has been dedicated to public administration reforms, specifically centred around constructing an effective administration system. Irrespective of the policy area, the establishment of a well-structured horizontal framework (agencies, processes, and procedures as well as people) is crucial for smooth execution. This well operating basement is fundamental.

To sum up, my responsibilities included initiating reforms in constructing a system with well-defined objectives for the state, its institutions, respective departments, and civil servants within this structure. My expertise in this field spans over 20 years and most of them I spent in the Office of the Government of the Republic of Lithuania.

– Could you share the accomplishments in public administration that bring you the greatest sense of pride?

Each activity which is resultative and causes changes gives me and my team a sense of pride. But maybe one moment from my professional career I remember very well as lesson learned.  It was early 2003, Lithuania was approaching for joining European Union. I held the position of Head of the Public Administration Development Unit within the Public Administration Policy Department at the Ministry of the Interior. I was specifically involved in drafting the Strategy of Public Administration Development until 2010. Although the Government did not request such a strategy, our team was motivated by a vision: Lithuania was joining the EU, we started participate in EU working groups, we saw a lot of best practices, we were full of new ideas and ambitions.

While this might appear as a mere document, it essentially set the tone for reforms in public administration many years ahead. As discussions commenced and European funds began arriving later, requiring strategic alignment, our preparedness became evident. By the way, many policy areas did not yet have such strategies, however, our area was already well-prepared. And when negotiations in Brussels started on EU funds for administration reforms, we were well-equipped with all necessary vision and plans how to implement this vision with support of EU funds.

The significance wasn’t merely about having the document ready. The most crucial outcome was our ability to see and foresee what needed to be accomplished today for the benefit of tomorrow and the days to come. It is about readiness: good planning helps to advocate for the future. This is also could be applicable for my Ukrainian colleagues.

And this wasn’t the first nor the last strategy I developed. While there were numerous results, the most important lesson I learned is that if something can be accomplished today, it should be pursued — even in the absence of specific support. If you believe in this, you should do it, as it will undoubtedly prove beneficial in the future.

To summarise, the first achievement I am proud of is taking a strategic approach to driving changes and reforms within the realm of civil service and public administration.

– What are the key factors essential for ensuring an efficient and effective civil service?

A civil servant isn’t expected to know everything; rather, they should know there to find information, be able to analyse it and be good moderators in decision making process. The civil service should acknowledge that assessing during selection interviews whether individuals have memorised the law isn’t the primary concern. What holds greater significance is their ability to comprehend written material, possess qualities that aid in understanding problems, actively listen to others, and communicate, and have all other necessary competencies for the job. Thus, within the work environment, a civil servant must be capable of handling conflicts, finding solutions, demonstrating planning skills, and possessing well-developed communication skills. And finally, demonstrate zero tolerance to corruption.

No less important is the fact that a civil servant should be interested in both the process itself and the outcome. If the eyes light up during the process, and the individual comprehends the significance of the intended result, success is almost guaranteed. However, if these components lack enthusiasm, the job becomes merely a routine from 8 am to 5 pm.

– Moving on to the Public Finance Management agenda, what inspired your decision to become part of EU4PFM?

It all began with small expert roles. Given my keen interest in diverse aspects of life, I took on the role of a short-term expert, contributing my expertise to EU funded Twinning projects. My initial project in 2015 took place in Moldova, lasting two years. These missions marked my first steps into expert roles, where we shared our Lithuanian experiences in civil service and public administration reform practices with Moldovan colleagues. Subsequently, I engaged in a similar project in Azerbaijan, the second Twinning endeavour, also spanning two years.

Thus, the knowledge gained, and my expertise were put to use when I was approached to serve as a short-term expert on HR/PAR in developing a work plan for EU4PFM program. Following the success of my initial mission, I received an invitation to join the team as a long-term HR/PAR expert.

This opportunity was interesting to me as it represented expert-level work. It was completely new waters, a way out of my comfort zone, and I found such an experience attractive, making it difficult to decline. It’s funny when you have only a few steps left to reach the highest level in the civil service, you throw everything away and enter a completely new environment. Despite this, I felt a strong desire to pursue this new challenge. And I joined the project, taking my initial steps as an expert in HR/PAR matters. Within a week, I was offered the position of Acting Team Leader of EU4PFM programme.

– What exactly attracted you to pursue this new position?

Twinning projects have traditionally focused on representing your organisation (in my case it was Office of the Government) and your county experience, so you always feel a backup, but here, you commence your journey as an individual expert. This was a biggest challenge for me, but I was very keen in taking it. And in the very beginning you are alone in this journey – your task is to create your new Team.

It’s paradoxical that I sought to move away from managerial roles despite having been responsible for leading teams for over twenty years. I simply desired to be an expert and enjoy that work. Ironically, the very next week after enjoying this, I received an offer to become an Acting Team Leader.

– What prompted your decision to move away? Were you fatigued from shouldering responsibilities for others, or did you find it too energy-consuming?

It’s not that I was fatigued; it’s more about that it takes a lot away. You must allocate time to immerse yourself in knowledge. Especially when you are in a leadership role, you often give more than you fill yourself with new knowledge and ideas. I always strived for such a balance, but it turned out that on the way to it everything got a little lost because part of being a leader is also guiding someone within the team to grow.

– How would you describe your leadership style?

My primary objective is to be within the team, understand its dynamics, and let the team work. Of course, I don’t appreciate laziness, irresponsibility, or the need for constant pushing. People who share similar values tend to thrive while working with me and within my team. This extends not only to the workplace but also to interactions with others. This is the foundation upon which a strong team is built.

Similar principles apply to our partners and civil servants who are working in the Ministry of Finance, the State Customs service and the State Tax Service — we approach them with open eyes and doors, avoiding an attitude of “I’m big expert and know everything”. Instead, we foster an atmosphere of absolute partnership. We take a genuine interest in their lives, their well-being, and their families. Our focus lies in understanding and connecting with people.

Motivation and Work-Life Balance

– Balancing work commitments with personal life can be challenging, especially in such demanding roles. How do you manage to maintain a healthy work-life balance while contributing significantly to the Programme?

I struggle a bit with this. I find the work itself fascinating, and I tend to get immersed in the process. So, when I’m genuinely interested — which is nearly always — I occasionally overlook that “stop” moment. However, I’m actively working on improving this aspect.

– Could you share how you are working on this?

I close the laptop and take a walk of 5,000 to 10,000 steps. It doesn’t always work out, but I try to control myself. And this is one aspect where I prioritise giving myself time. However, everything is achievable. It’s a balance that only you can manage, and no one else. You must control and blend various aspects. That’s why multitasking has always been a part of my life. Yet, the crucial point is that I’ve never desired to give up any aspect. I require everything (smiling).

– And how to deal with burnout?

Allocate some time for yourself, even if it’s minimal. These steps, such as taking steps outdoors, are my time. Additionally, I reserve at least half an hour for reading before bedtime, which I consider my personal time. I incorporate small self-care rituals into my routine as well. These activities can all be integrated through effective planning, just like in work. I might “kill” everyone around me with my planning, but truthfully, it’s what helps me manage everything.

– Surely, stressful situations arise as well. Would you mind sharing how you cope with and managing these challenges?

Shifting focus, I attempt to sleep with the thought in mind, and the answer often becomes clear in the morning. The most important thing I’m working on is not to rush. There are instances where I rush through tasks, I do everything quickly. Consequently, I am striving to pause, think, and then a decision comes. In essence, I am learning to allocate time for myself, emphasising the importance of pausing before taking the next step.

Connection to Ukraine and EU Integration

– Working for a new country with a different cultural and professional context can be a unique experience. Could you share your first impression of Ukrainians?

My first impression dates back to 2015 when we hosted a delegation from Ukraine. Upon interacting with them, it became evident that they were a people of remarkable ambition, resilience, and knowledge.

During my first visits in later 2018 and 2019 for the initial missions, I found myself particularly intrigued by conversations with taxi drivers during the often-lengthy rides to or from the airport. I’ve always enjoyed these discussions. I developed a perception: this is a nation unequivocally determined not to take any further steps toward the past.

The country boasts considerable wealth, possessing abundant resources and opportunities. Yet, what stood out most were its people — individuals with ambition, knowledge, and a clear understanding of their aspirations. And there are a lot of such people.

– Are there any particular goals or aspirations you have for this ongoing partnership?

My utmost priority is the swift transmission of traditions, values, lifestyle, and communication practices so that the European wave goes deeper. Having departed from our past, we need a quicker transition, aiming for reduced corruption and the elimination of negative remnants of the former way of life.

Although we are small-scale projects, we engage directly with people — civil servants from public administration institutions — who collaborate with our international experts. Our primary objective extends beyond conducting Public Financial Management reforms; it includes sharing our experiences and lifestyle. Fostering a sense of team unity, openness within your team, not solely achieving results but also changing work traditions and communication styles, embodies the value we aim to bring.

– What are the key results of the EU4PFM Programme that you are most proud of?

I am proud of our Project, because we found a way to work when the COVID-19 pandemic began. Despite the project being in its early stages, we were among the few that did not halt our operations. We swiftly assembled a team, transitioned online, and continued our collaboration with partners.

This approach proved beneficial when a full-scale war began. Hence, if we assess our results, we should do so through this lens. Looking at the project’s accomplishments and its entirety, the demonstrated flexibility and responsiveness to our Partners needs holds significant value. This is the first result.

Most importantly, we eagerly awaited an invitation for Ukraine to commence the negotiation process for joining the EU. As a project, we stand ready, and we have already equipped our Partners — the Ministry of Finance, the State Tax Service, and the State Customs Service — with necessary guidance. They are prepared and equipped with understanding what to anticipate in the negotiation process. This phase will truly indicate the impact and readiness of our work.

HR/PAR Stream

– How would you approach introducing EU best practices in HRM systems to Ukrainian Partner Institutions effectively?

I aim to introduce in Ukraine the same people management practice that we have in EU countries. I aspire for individuals to comprehend why they opt for a career in civil service, fostering their interest in both the process and the result. The key aspect is for them to understand the impact they can achieve and their role in this process.

Additionally, I advocate for people management centred around competencies. We consistently emphasise to our partners that if an institution identifies the desired outcome, it can precisely determine the competencies required in individuals to achieve those results. Guided by these competencies, institutions can select, evaluate, and educate individuals, recognizing that these competencies are crucial in attaining the intended outcome.

Civil service should adopt a result-oriented approach, employing an evidence-based method in decision-making processes and daily operations. The aim is for all decisions made by civil servants to be rooted not in personal thoughts or perception but in analytics and evidence and be based on consultations with those who will be affected by the decision. And for this each civil servant should be equipped by necessary competencies (skills and abilities).

– Sustainability is a critical factor for the long-term success of reforms. How are you working to ensure that the changes made in the PFM sphere will continue and bring benefits after the end of the programme?

Everything revolves around people. Our greatest investment lies in individuals. We don’t solely collaborate with heads of institutions; we are “touching” every department down to individual specialists. I strongly believe in the power of words and behaviour. The more we communicate, repeat, the more our message resonates, ensuring that knowledge endures. This is sustainability. The most significant investment doesn’t lie in IT systems but in people. They can change ministries, leave the civil service for business or vice versa, yet they will have a new vision and understanding. This is the value of our work.

– For individuals aspiring to make a difference in the PFM field, what advice would you offer based on your extensive experience?

Believe in yourself. So that every Ukrainian feels empowered, understanding that they hold the power to contribute to the good of the country. You belong to a nation with such a big soul, resources, and opportunities. All that is needed is the belief that a brighter future can only be crafted by one’s own efforts.