More and more we need to work together to solve complex problems. No single agency can solve big problems—like pandemics, climate change, inequality and terrorism—alone.
The Australian Public Service has some systems to address these challenges. But are these enough? How can we transform culture within the Australian Public Service and make collaboration the norm and not the exception?
Submissions have identified how important public service leaders are to drive this – greater collaboration comes from the top. How can leaders drive this change?
What incentives, structures and support do you think will help us achieve this vision?
- How can we embed a more collaborative culture into the Australian Public Service at all levels? What practical things could the Australian Public Service do to achieve this?
- Are there any structural changes that could help us break down the ‘silos’ and better achieve collective outcomes across the Australian Public Service?
- Where have you seen collaboration across the Australian Public Service working well? Why was it successful?
If I am not mistaken all Public Service departments must align to the Public Service Act, yet they all put their spin on it when implementing aspects of it. For example all departments have a different way of recruiting, No wonder people are confused. It is called THE PUBLIC SERVICE not the united departments of the public service.
Solution: Standardise. Identify common functions across departments. design a single process, including templates, task cards, etc. then role out across the entire service. The only change allowed - Title of department.
Benefit: It wont matter where you go its going to be the same process, E.G. the forms will be the same, and the workflow the same.
There probably quiet a few departmental functions that would benefit from such an approach and staff moving around the Public Service will not be re-learning that departments style of doing things. That would save a lot of tax payer money and time.
I fully support Anonymous. The APS needs leaders who say it how it is not "yes" people - this particularly applies to CEOs. We seem in recent years to have employed people who just say what is expected to the enquirer - whether a political or their immediate boss. The APS does not advance the cause of Australians unless we have leaders who speak what they know or believe irrespective of the personal consequences thereof
The Code of Conduct once empowered the APS to truth tell, even when the truth was not what government wanted to here. In recent years, the Code has been used to stifle public servants, so that they are afraid to participate in the political life of Australia, even to the point of being afraid to tell the government when the choices they've made fly in the face of evidence. I have had first hand experience of being told not to bother confronting blatantly selective evidence use as long as the evidence existed. I am not impressed by a service that has stopped being impartial because the truth is too hard for a government to hear. Trust in the Code and the values has been badly shaken within the service and people are either leaving or else keeping their knowledge to themselves as a result. If the APS is to feel confident to speak the truth, they need to feel more independent and less vulnerable than they currently do, and reinvesting in the Code and the Values would be a good place to start.
In relation to structural changes, Dr de Brouwer's suggestion in his valedictory speech to the IPAA seems to me to be a good starting point. Merge SES Band 1 and 2 and increase the authority and responsibility of EL2s and EL1s. I see the EL1 being most people's primary manager in this structure, with EL2s offering more high level strategic and people management guidance.
Dr de Brouwer doesn't dig into the detail of how this would be achieved (understandably, given the context). I think it would involve far fewer SES, with some Band 1s reclassified to Band 2 and some to EL2s (note, not 'promoted' or 'demoted' because level should be a reflection of function, and this change would be to align the two). This would likely involve increasing the number of pay points for EL2s and (new) Band 2 to acknowledge the differences in pay for Band 1s now.
Even without such a significant change, there are smaller things that could be done. One is forcing agencies to use staff they have promoted to management-level roles as managers. For example, EL1s, who should be managers, have wildly varying levels of responsibility. An EL1 in Treasury, for example, almost invariably has no direct reports, no direct management role, cannot approve most things, does not finalise any advice/output and is not much more than a better-paid policy officer. Meanwhile, an EL1 in many other agencies manages a team of people, has direct responsibility for their performance and is accountable to managers further up the hierarchy for their team. It is almost guaranteed the Treasury EL1 will be paid more and be a less experienced and effective manager.
Agencies need to be forced to devolve management responsibility downwards. They won't do it by themselves because its comfortable for all concerned.
Embedding culture in the APS requires long-term momentum, by staff who remain in their positions for the long-term.
Quite coincidentally, a Report has just come from the UK Institute for Government on the negative effects of rapid staff turn-over on implementing policy and monitoring programs. It’s otherwise the same as Laura Tingle’s 2015 concerns in Quarterly Essay about the lack of corporate memory in the APS.
It's is at https://www.instituteforgovernment.org.uk/publications/moving-on-staff-turnover-civil-service. An extract follows: "Excessive staff turnover in the civil service is costing the government up to £74 million a year in recruitment, training and lost productivity. The indirect costs of turnover are even higher, including disruptive leadership changes contributing to major projects like Universal Credit going awry and weakened institutional memory damaging policy development in key areas. "Moving on: the costs of high staff turnover in the civil service" finds that civil servants in the UK – particularly senior civil servants – change jobs much faster than civil servants in other countries or private sector organisations. Movement of staff is largely unplanned, driven not by where the Government needs skills and experience but by the desire of individuals to advance their career prospects. Overall, there is a culture of valuing generalist civil servants who move quickly above those who develop expertise and see through projects.
The report makes recommendations to combat excessive turnover, including giving managers the ability to award pay increases to high performers and changing HR practices to ensure the civil service rewards those who stay in post longer, build experience and see through projects."
If a member of the public, or small start-up offers to solve a problem for the public service, we should say 'yes' by default. They don't have to be a big name, or have big shot founders, they could be some high school students with an idea. Trust Australia, take chances, and share the burden.
ABOUT ME: I'm an EL1 with extensive APS, private sector (ran my own business) and not for profit experience. And I've a Masters in Leadership and Public Policy. COMMENT: The APS is awash with managers - arguably very good at managing programs, financial resources and achieving their KPIs. Their allegiances are to the managers above them and their specific program outcomes. However, I could almost count the LEADERS I've met in the APS on one hand. I won't bore you with a definition of a leader (there's many versions - but we know what they look like and do when we see one), but in my experience the APS doesn't hire them, nurture them or promote them. Ask any SES person in any agency and they will talk the talk, but they rarely walk the talk - and the Canberra bubble has a lot to answer for. But failing a more devolved APS (and hiring from a much wider gene pool than the usual Canberra centric suspects), we simply MUST get rid of the APS system that continues to hire / reward / promote good administrators / managers - rather than leaders with vision, passion, EI, empathy, customer focus, etc. As for a shared approach across Agencies, it's about time we used similar IT systems, protocols and admin systems as opposed to each doing their own thing. Again, that's what is currently rewarded!!! You also have to fix the pay grade disparity. MY EL2 boss gets about 415k less than his equivalent in another agency. How is that an incentive? Or fair?
Why is there such disparity between pay grades across the APS? When one agency pays more than another, it fractures any sense of unity as people compromise their service aspirations to aim at a higher-paying role in another more "prestigious" agency. All APS as the same grade should be earning the same, no matter the agency.
Further, enterprise bargaining would be much fairer if the APSC would negotiate with agency and union delegates directly for a whole-of-APS EA rather than the piecemeal approach that is taken now.
Initiatives like the Department of Finances GovTEAMS, that are able to be used by all APS.
How can we embed a more collaborative culture into the Australian Public Service at all levels? What practical things could the Australian Public Service do to achieve this? Why is it that each Federal Department has separate policies and procedures for the same things. For example I understand we are moving piecemeal to some whole of government practices, for example travel. Yet each Department still uses separate IT systems, software, purchasing and contract areas, pay, conditions of service, records management etc. If we were able to make more systems, policies and procudures consistant across all Departments we would not only save time and money, but surely be able to reduce staffing numbers. It would also have the benifit of allowing greater collaboration across Departments. For example many Departments have access to Department of Finance software innovations yet some Departments will never be given access.
Communicate, communicate, communicate.
It sounds easy but it isn't. We need to get better in articulating our roles and understand the environments that we work within. Key messages about the directions we are moving towards and what this means practically for staff at all levels needs to be communication and understood.
We need to understand what actual collaboration looks like and incentivise it throughout agencies and within the broader structure of government.
People need to understand the role of the APSC better in learn how they all fit within the bigger system.
We need to have higher standards in terms of behaviours within the APS and hold people to account for their actions (no matter their levels).
Collaboration can only be achieved when everyone feels valued and like their voice matters. It can only be achieved when everyone knows what the mission is and their role in achieving the end goal. Collaboration can only be achieved when there is community. Right not we have an APS dominated by individualism which gets in the way of true collaboration.
There needs to be a fully defined role, autonomy and decision making capability built in to regional networks. Trust takes a hit when regional issues are raised and then we all have to wait until they "go back to Canberra". Regional networks need to be able to provide advice, guidance on policy (and feed regional issues into policy), and make decisions within a defined framework.