Unlocking potential - APS workforce management contestability review

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This review examines ways to enhance workforce management in the Australian Public Service (APS). It offers insights and solutions to assist the APS to serve the Government and community into the future in the best possible way.

I applaud the willingness of the APS to place workforce management under scrutiny, and its appetite for change. In the APS there are areas of excellent practice and these can be applied across the entire Service to embrace a culture of continuous improvement. In my roles with a number of companies and boards, I have had the opportunity to see how a wide range of organisations manage their people. The private sector does not have a monopoly on best practice. However there are aspects of workforce management that apply in all operating environments. There is benefit in the APS looking beyond itself to identify what works and what best looks like.

I have been fortunate to speak on this subject with a large number of people from both inside and outside the APS. I would like to take this opportunity to thank them for their valuable time and input. Although opinions on many issues were diverse, there was strong consensus on the importance of a high performing APS.

It is imperative that the APS is positioned to attract and challenge the very best people. The Government has clearly set out its agenda for a smaller, more agile government. The APS must operate at maximum efficiency while it continues to develop and implement complex policy and delivery solutions. Increasing community expectations and the rapid pace of technological change are also applying continuous and growing pressure to the way all business is done. Citizens live in a digitally connected world and expect interactions with government to offer a user experience similar to that which they experience in daily life. At the same time the APS is facing vigorous competition for talent from the private sector.

The terms of reference for the review directed me to consider current practices around recruitment, employee mobility and separations, specifically in the context of contestability. While legislative barriers exist in some areas, much of the necessary change to process and culture is in the hands of the APS. A number of significant improvements can be implemented now under existing authorities.

The review also identified areas that require further analysis, including existing Human Resources (HR) delivery models and the HR capability mix. The effectiveness of the HR function is a major contributor to the areas under review.

In order to meet the challenges ahead, agency HR must become a strategic partner with business, with an equal voice at the table. Current and future business priorities must be the basis of workforce planning, and issues relating to people—an organisation's most important resource—must be considered at the highest level.

The role of the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) was raised on a number of occasions. It has been suggested by agencies that the APSC work more as a business partner with agencies, facilitating continuous improvement by offering assistance where required on particular workforce management issues, identifying excellence, and driving collaboration and knowledge sharing between agencies and other organisations.

The APS is already looking to unlock the potential of its people to support a highly efficient, effective and citizen-centric public service. Deputy Secretaries have recently formed cross agency groups with the APSC and senior experts from the private sector to implement solutions to a range of perennial issues. They are approaching their task proactively with candour and enthusiasm. This is in the spirit of 'If not us, who? If not now, when?' Their most important challenge will be to embed long term cultural change to workforce practices that will underpin an agile and high performing APS into the future.

I would like to acknowledge Nous Group and Boston Consulting Group, each of which acted as valuable sounding boards in this process. I would also like to thank the dedicated team that helped me in this review, and I am pleased to present the following report.

Sandra McPhee AM
15 December 2015


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Executive summary


Why workforce management, why now?

Optimising talent and driving high performance

Attracting and recruiting

Increasing flexibility

Re-designing HR