See attached submission
Independent Review of the Australian Public Service
Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
PO Box 6500
Canberra ACT 2600
A recent headline in Singapore’s Straits Times noted that:
“trust in government is essential to allow government to deliver
unpopular but necessary measures”.
The APS is a key element in developing such trust in government.
Aim: The APS should be the trusted, authoritative, efficient and effective primary
source of advice to Governments, the public, industry and others who deal with
Australia. It should be highly-respected for efficient and effective implementation of
government policy, including the delivery of key services.
How: to achieve these aims, the APS needs to be well led, have a well-educated, well-
trained workforce supported by transparent, efficient, effective and agile processes, a
well-developed legislative, regulatory and policy framework. A fundamental element
is the management of information, data and intelligence in support of good decision-
making at all levels. The APS needs to be confident that its decisions are evidence-
based, timely, and relevant for the recipient of such advice.
Culture: At every level, APS staff should act with integrity. Every member should be
empowered to raise issues and concerns and leaders at all levels need to process
these concerns to achieve a process of continuous improvement, respond to changing
Klaus Felsche ABN: 90124840345
13 Buckmaster Cres Phone: 02 62587637
environments and ensure that advice provided within the APS and to government has
a sound foundation of fact.
The culture should encourage trust in official processes and prevent unofficial work-
arounds from evolving (eg in recruiting, promoting and placing staff, managing
Individuals within the organisation need to have ‘ownership’1 of processes rather
than simply ‘turning a handle’ for a process before moving on.
There should be no fear of failure, provided the failure is not caused by incompetence,
negligence, criminal conduct or other avoidable circumstances – and it should not be
the desired outcome or an unfortunate habit!
“Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not
defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we
can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being
nothing.” - Denis Waitley
Generalist Leadership without Domain Knowledge
While a mechanic who does not understand principles and processes of management
might not be the best choice to head an engineering firm, having a CEO who
understands little about engineering as a head of that firm is equally likely to lead to
Executives who have little if any domain knowledge to the area they lead are
vulnerable to acting on poor or inadequate advice. Members of the Government have
known about this skills/knowledge deficit for some time. Acknowledging the
soundness of Minister Angus Taylor’s directions in 2017, the Canberra Times noted:
… aspects of Mr Taylor's policy seem obvious, too: reskilling the public
service so that the Commonwealth is not reliant on the advice of sales
reps with products to spruik for projects of national importance.
– The Canberra Times, Editorial “Public service tech reform badly needed,
long overdue” February 18, 2017 (Emphasis added)
Investment in training and development needs to incorporate specific domain
knowledge before executives are selected to head Branches and Divisions and in-
house specialists (without external vested/commercial interests and a strong stake in
achieving success for the APS) need to have a seat at high-level decision-making
While commercial organisations that over-promise and under-deliver are partly to
blame, the APS manages the marketplace and is ultimately held responsible for any
failures. Its members need to be equipped to see when vendors (and others) are
In some instances the term ‘stewardship’ may be more appropriate but here the point being made is that
individuals need to feel that they have (and retain) responsibility for the project/process/case/etc until the matter
has been delivered/resolved.
providing poor or misleading advice with the aim of obtaining financial (or other)
Responsibility for Delivery
Senior executives need to be held accountable for the delivery of outcome, not just
processes. Executives who ‘pass through’ agencies and roles and feel that their main
role is to manage processes will find it difficult to motivate the teams to achieve
Blame for failure is assigned to ‘before my time’ or ‘after I left’ factors and
responsibility is dispersed to such a degree that nobody is held accountable for
failure. Clearly, any executive who takes on a role should understand that they are
personally and professionally responsible for specific and tangible deliverables and
that success is not only defined by being able to claim that the met the ‘manage the
Branch’ selection criterion.
Where possible, executives should remain in their position until the job is done and
that specific outcomes have been delivered. It should also be made quite clear,
through the promotion and future-employment processes, that their previous success
will be judged on their ability to deliver agreed outcomes, not just processes.
Committees and similar structures are potentially powerful tools that can create great
synergies if well-led. Unfortunately, many committees are used to obfuscate decision-
making and assign the leadership role to a diverse group that will be seeking
consensus from members who see no reason to come to such a consensus. The
advantage to the members is that blame for delivery-failure cannot be easily assigned
to a single person. Periodic committee meetings can drive an agenda or hinder it.
They can become the focus for action but, more often than not, a reason for not acting.
Other actions might be deferred pending the outcomes of work done by a committee.
Long-term committees see personnel change over time, much to the frustration of
long-serving members who find that they go back over well-trodden ground to
continuously bring new members up to date.
Training and Development
There is clearly an obligation to provide training and development opportunities that
enable APS staff to undertake their duties. While it may well be possible to use the
recruiting, selection and promotion processes to identify individuals who have all or
most of the prerequisite knowledge, skills and attitudes, any deficit should be dealt
with by appropriate mechanisms.
• APS-wide training and development is generally available for generic skills and
• Agency-specific training for non-executives is generally skills-based and delivered
at various levels of quality. Training for executives is rarely assessed and delivered
as workshops or information sessions that tend not to measure the effectiveness
or efficiency of the training and the competence of participants at the conclusion.
• Professional development is left largely to the individual – there is little career-
planning designed to develop cohorts of experienced, highly-skilled leaders within
domains. Lateral recruiting and the use of contract (non-APS) staff is used to ‘fill
the knowledge gaps’. External staff entering organisations through such
mechanisms are rarely given the time or opportunity to develop an understanding
of the domain-specific knowledge and attitudes to enable them to fully understand
the implications of their work.
Equal Pay for Equal Work
The APS offers a range of good conditions of employment and satisfactory levels of
pay. It does not seek to compete with the private sector on pay but offers a range of
potential benefits as compensation.
There are two issues to note here:
- Within the APS, individuals performing very similar functions, even within the
same portfolio, are often on very different rates of pay. In many cases, people of
on different rates of pay (perhaps as a result of organisation restructuring) work
in the same small teams! Clearly this is an issue of equity and organisational
effectiveness that can be easily addressed (albeit at a financial cost).
- APS work can be extremely rewarding for well-led teams. APS staff should feel
that they are in a privileged position, working for a well-respected service and
doing important work. When Australian society acknowledges that a member of
the APS is doing prestigious and important work, the reward will be felt in the
workplace through productivity gains well beyond any financial cost to the public
Under-Deliver and Over-Promise
The APS is seen to frequently fail, having promised delivery. This reflects on the
public’s perception of the government. Examples abound but here are some recent
cases that have eroded public confidence in Government:
• Australian Census – Connectivity issues
• Social Security ‘Robo-Debt’ error rates
• National Broadband Network
In each of these cases the public expectation was higher than what could be delivered.
Over-hyping expectations is not uncommon. Potential commercial solution providers
seek to generate income and profits, APS staff are looking for ways of delivering the
government’s agenda and political leaders need to communicate benefits to the
electorate. Over-simplified messages tend to lead to risks being hidden in the ‘fine
print’ at best. The APS sits in the centre of the problem and also the solution. Having
the skills within the APS to thoroughly test claims by commercial solution providers
and the capacity and will to appropriately brief Government to ensure that the
government’s messages are appropriately balanced is critical.
Innovation is: executing new ideas to create value. All three parts are important – to
innovate you have to do something new, you have to actually execute the idea, and doing
so must create value. – Tim Kastelle, UQ
The APS would like:
• to be on the ‘front foot’ with world’s best practice (ie a leader, not a follower);
• the agility to respond to or, better still, anticipate changes in our environment;
• as much certainty as possible about business benefits, returns on investment and
capability before committing substantial resources;
• solutions that work;
• to work smarter (and not necessarily harder); and
• to be part of an innovative organisation.
Unfortunately, structures and processes tend to inhibit innovation.
For innovation to exist, the following are required:
• Permission to get it wrong (Failing is a sign that people are trying new things.
Provided the failure is recognised early, lessons are learnt, and consequences of
failures are contained and managed, occasional failure is a positive sign of life!).
• Flexible infrastructure – A ‘lab’ is a safe environment to try new approaches,
tools, ideas, business processes (it is not free but relatively cheap and provides a
solid evidence base for further decisions).
• Time and resources to experiment. Many of life’s failures are people
• Smart people to conceive, develop and who did not realise how close they
deliver solutions. were to success when they gave up.
• Listening to staff at the front line and – Thomas A Edison
Innovation is not enabled through the establishment of an Innovation Section alone –
it needs an organisational culture, resources, supporting mechanisms, courage and
endurance across an organisation. Importantly, good ideas that are not or cannot be
incorporated in an organisation’s business model are not innovation.
Organisations that have rigid and inflexible structures and procedures tend to leave
little room for innovation as the embedded status quo means that nothing ‘new’ will
Despite efficiency dividends and other control methods, the APS is able to access very
large amounts of public money. Given the scale of services that have to be delivered,
this is to be expected and arguments could be made that some areas need more
resurges to function effectively.
Additionally, areas that struggle to deliver basic services tend to have little time to
think and innovate. Staff tend to become disenchanted if they cannot do their job well.
The distribution of resources tends to become skewed at times and some work done
by the APS is over-resourced.
“Now that we have run out of money we have to think.” – Winston
New policy proposals, particularly ones quickly constructed to deal with a crisis of
major problem are looked on by some senior executives as a means of bringing
sizable sums of public money into an agency. The proposals are costed by agencies
but usually in a hurry and with little research.
The availability of very large resources attracts ‘solution providers’ who tend to
present themselves as the answer to all agency problems. Without the capacity to test
such claims and under pressure to do something, vast amounts of money can be (and
are) wasted. Moreover, the new funding tends to distort agency focus and poorly-
informed commercial partnering solutions tend to create:
• downstream dependencies on external providers;
• conflict between the agency and the provider when the new programme starts to
• agencies failing to develop their own skills base.
Attached are a number of case studies that point to some structural and cultural
issues. The people and work has been de-identified as much as possible as it is more
important to understand the case than to identify the actors for this submission.
Case Studies (6)
Case 1 – Organisational Inflexibility Stops Optimal Solutions
Tasked with identifying ways of saving a substantial amount of money (10s of
millions), detailed research identified a way that would require an investment but
generate savings across the portfolio substantially higher than the investment.
Assumptions and data were checked and verified by departmental experts.
Outcome: The plan was taken no further.
The reason: ‘All the costs will be carried in one Division with the savings harvested in
Result: As usual, staff cuts were made to generate short-term savings and efficiencies
were not able to be implemented. Division heads (and their seniors were still in no
mood to take a broader view.
Lesson(s): Lazy thinking dominates even when evidence points to better outcomes.
Case 2 – Merit-Based Selection not Merit-based
Following an application for a merit-based selection process (at level), feedback was
offered as part of the process.
Outcome: The senior officer providing the ‘feedback’ had not read the application, had
no idea about the background of rejected applicants.
Result: There is no merit-based process.
Case 3 – Ignoring problems hoping they will go away and nobody (important)
A major systemic/organisational issue was uncovered as part of an internal
investigatory process. The issue was raised with the responsible area. No systemic
changes were made at the time.
A senior officer, worried about annoying colleagues, did not release the investigation
report. The officer’s successor did, several months later.
The officer who released the report was then confronted by a colleague who stated
that releasing the report was not the sort of thing a ‘team player’ would do and if that
happened to him, he would retaliate.
Outcome: the report eventually forced a required process change.
Result: the officer releasing the report was seen by some as unnecessarily disruptive
and not a team player, no doubt affecting chances of promotion.
Lesson(s): There is insufficient trust between some senior officers to face bad news
and accept responsibility for addressing tough issues.
Case 4 – Relying on (poor) vendor advice
A large IT project was progressing slowly but, on closer examination, it was clear that
it could not deliver required business outcomes. It was recommended that the project
cease its current work immediately to prevent further waste of resources. At the same
time, a less-complex and potentially more effective and efficient solution was
suggested by the business area.
The problem affected critical departmental functions and was elevated to the highest
levels within days.
At the top-level meeting that followed, existing vendor representatives and several
internal IT staff presented a plan to develop a new functionality over four years and
costing fie times the original project cost. The solution suggested by the business area
was dismissed by the vendor and IT staff as impractical as IT skills to implement them
were not available.
When informed that the skills could be procured by the business area within days, the
CIO decided to reconvene the meeting two days later to provide participants an
opportunity to re-examine their proposals.
Outcome: The business area’s suggestion was accepted and implemented in a six-
week period (technical skills were ‘discovered’ within the department) and the cost
was in the thousands, no tens of millions.
Results: the department had an effective solution within weeks.
Lessons: Vendor representatives cannot be expected to provide the best advice when
there is no business benefit for them.
IT staff did not understand the technical issues.
Courage was required to confront the highly-paid ‘technical advice’ offered by
vendors and allied’ IT staff (who exhibited signs closely related to the ‘Stockholm
The business area used its detailed business and systems knowledge to good
Case 5 – Killing initiative and enthusiasm and wasting resources
An opportunity was identified to deliver a three-fold increase in services by using
economy-class air travel (rather than the entitlement of business class). Staff
volunteered to travel economy class, knowing that they could take three journeys for
the cost of one and they were keen to deliver.
Following the first of the (voluntary) economy class trips, the senior manager was
directed to cease that process. “If the government wants this to be delivered, they’ll
pay for business class.”
Outcome: less services were delivered.
Lessons: The area with the power to direct was not directly responsible for program
delivery nor outcomes and could not see any benefits. They were more concerned
with sending the wrong message, believing that condoning this process might be
infectious and threaten ‘hard-won entitlements’.
Case 6 – Innovation Can Work
In late 2009 a department was funded (approximately $4 million over 4 years) to
enhance risk management of a fast-moving, voluminous caseload using advanced
analytics. A small team was asked to develop a ‘green fields’ advanced analytics-based
Initial scoping indicated that the vendor market was willing to assist but its available
products were limited and expensive. Initial estimates were that the entire funding
stream would be consumed by scoping and tendering processes and the purchase of
software that may not yield required results. Traditional ‘waterfall’-driven project
management processes would not indicate if any solution could yield value for money
until the solution was deployed (four years later).
The designated team decided to access free, open source software solutions, recruit
competent technical and business staff and embark on an agile process to test
available options and prototype one or two promising solutions.
Outcomes: 12 months later, the prototype had been deployed and fully tested,
yielding (as a prototype) annual savings of over $8 million. Access to $400 000 of
‘innovation funding’ enabled full deployment of an integrated risk management
solution. The team had produced evidence of a substantial return on investments, the
viability of the technology stack, an outstanding change management process that saw
frontline workers ‘demand’ access to the solution (more than ‘acceptance’) and a
number of world-firsts that drew considerable attention from other countries.
Lessons: given executive support and the opportunity to innovate, the APS is capable
of world’s best practice in delivering outstanding outcomes.