As a public servant, I get a lot of job satisfaction from knowing that when I do a good job, the Australian public benefits from that in some way. A public service dedicated to delivering outcomes for the government and the community is what is needed, and in most cases is what exists currently. However, in my three and half years work in the APS, there are three main points (which are interlinked) that I see could be improved to ensure we have a capable and engaged workforce:
- Culture and work ethic - In comparison to my time working in private entities, I often see an inherent laziness and lack of urgency in the public service. While this is not true of all public servants, or all departments, it is still something that I see where some staff coast or do as little as possible in their job, rather than striving to exceed expectations to deliver outcomes. This is something that needs to be addressed throughout the APS. The reduction of red tape needs to continue significantly. When red tape for approval processes is reduced, timeliness standards for the completion of work can also be reduced as a flow on. Red tape slows down approvals or the finalisation of work/projects, and this flows down to staff who perceive there is less urgency or that deadlines are just a formality, and not something that must be achieved. Placing greater emphasis on staff to complete their work efficiently and effectively must also be supported by my second point.
- Effective performance management - Managers in the APS need to receive more training and greater support to performance manage staff. If staff are underperforming, there should be no barriers to implementing a performance management plan to improve their performance, or remove them from their roles if they do not improve. This is something done commonly in private enterprises, but less so in the APS. Performance management processes also need to be stricter to set a high standard of performance. Underperforming staff can then be removed from their roles with evidence of their underperformance clearly documented (again, this is in line with private enterprises). To support a greater focus of underperformance, managers will be more likely to engage in performance management if they are supported by more efficient and effective recruitment processes, which is my third point.
- Recruitment - Recruitment in the APS is archaic, inefficient, and ineffective. Firstly, recruitment across the entire APS needs to be updated so that panels do not have to wait until the closing date has passed to engage with and interview suitable candidates. Private enterprises do not wait for the closing date, and instead contact, interview and test staff from day one if suitable candidates make an application. I can guarantee the APS loses out on highly capable staff because of how long recruitment processes take. I have been involved with both internal and external recruitment processes in the APS that have taken months and months. This is simply unacceptable in this day and age. There needs to be less red tape, and recruitment panels should be supported by policy/legislation to engage with and offer employment to potential candidates from when jobs are first advertised, to ensure we do not lose highly capable staff to other more efficient recruitment processes. Also, the actual content and process of recruitment needs to be improved. I do not believe the current generalised format of selection criteria followed by a short interview is enough to identify whether a candidate will be successful in a role. There needs to be more contact with candidates, including phone interviews, group interviews, and then either a combination of an interview and test, or two interviews.
In summary, by significantly improving recruitment processes, managers will be more inclined to deal with underperformance as they will know that replacing underperforming staff will take weeks, not months like it currently does. This will then have a cultural impact on APS staff, who will be held to higher standards and will be held accountable for their performance. Staff will see the change, and while there may be some push back to begin with, the APS is in desperate need of improvement in order to keep up with the rest of the business world. A reduction in red tape, greater accountability for staff, and a modern and efficient approach to recruitment will ensure that the APS is able to engage and retain highly capable staff that will deliver outcomes for both the government and the public.