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02 Leadership, culture and conduct

The Australian Public Service (APS) requires effective leaders and a highly capable workforce equipped to meet the challenges of the modern world, the changing nature of work and the increased expectations of citizens. In a recent address, the Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet said:

If I can change the APS (Australian Public Service) in one way, I hope to help build a public service that is better at developing its leaders; a public service that is better at leading and managing for the benefit of Australia, the government of the day and the people who make up our APS .1

Ahead of the Game: Blueprint for the Reform of Australian Government Administration (the APS Reform Blueprint)2 concluded that one key reform required of the APS is to build its leadership capability. Since then, the APS has engaged in a concerted effort to improve its leadership development. A number of reforms have been instituted, including the establishment of the Secretaries Board and APS200 group3 to provide strategic direction across the APS. The Centre for Leadership and Learning (the Centre for Leadership and Learning) was also established. The Centre for Leadership and Learning has worked across agencies to develop the APS Leadership Development Strategy which identifies leadership capabilities required for the APS to meet its current and future challenges. A strong commitment by the APS to build its leadership capability is evident through the contribution by larger agencies to the funding of the Centre for Leadership and Learning.

During 2011–12, the Centre for Leadership and Learning collaborated with agencies to refresh its Senior Executive Service (SES) orientation program in line with the APS Leadership Development Strategy and conduct an advanced leadership program for high-performing and high-potential SES Band 2s. A number of important initiatives have been put in place for Executive Level (EL) employees, including the Sir Roland Wilson Foundation Scholarships which fund PhD study and, in conjunction with the Jawun Program, a program of Indigenous community secondments for high-performing, high-potential EL staff. Work to refresh all SES leadership programs is well advanced and members of the leadership, learning and development community across the APS continue to be heavily engaged in working with the Australian Public Service Commission (the Commission) to contribute to this work, as well as to build their own leadership, learning and development expertise.

This report identifies areas of continuing strength that need to be maintained and advanced, as well as areas requiring ongoing attention across the APS. It also highlights a number of activities underway to continue to build leadership and workforce capability.

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Leadership in the APS

The importance of developing APS leadership and management capabilities has been well documented, including in previous State of the Service reports and in the APS Reform Blueprint. Leaders are central to establishing the strategic direction of the APS as a whole, as well as their individual agencies. Leaders are also central to mobilising the change necessary to achieve best results. Leaders motivate and develop people. Critically in the APS, leaders have a stewardship role; they look beyond the immediate term and beyond their own organisational unit to build the long-term capability of the APS as an institution. As the APS Reform Blueprint noted:

Leadership behaviour trickles down to influence an agency's culture and APS employees rely on their leaders to model by example. Leaders must clearly articulate and demonstrate organisational values to ensure they become part of the culture.4

While it is clear that leadership can and does occur at all levels in the APS, the APS Reform Blueprint highlighted that people in senior leadership roles play a crucial part in establishing direction, setting the culture of agencies and driving change. Therefore, the focus here is on SES and EL employees.

Changes in the work demand and requirement

The fundamental role of leaders in the APS is enduring, however the context within which leadership occurs has changed over time. Key influences, which create challenges and opportunities for the APS of the 21st Century and its leaders, include:

  • The key role the APS will play in helping the Australian community flourish in the ‘Asian Century’.
  • The public service's institutional role in building and preserving trust in democratic and civil institutions.
  • An environment characterised by policy and delivery challenges that cannot easily be resolved or solved by relying on internal APS know-how or expertise. These are sometimes termed ‘wicked’ or ‘adaptive’5 problems. They are characterised by the need for experimentation and discovery and the need to go beyond conventional authority. For these challenges, the locus of the solutions is with the stakeholders. This requires collaboration between multiple stakeholders with a range of expertise and experience. In addition to reinforcing the importance of collaboration across APS agencies, this includes seeking solutions outside the APS, working with citizens, across governments and across sectors.
  • The unpredictability of circumstances wrought by the global economy and potentially fragile biosphere.6
  • The closely related agendas of innovation and productivity, displayed, for example, in the adoption of information and communications technology to deliver better services to citizens, businesses and other sectors and jurisdictions, at less cost, and with less risk to the integrity of programs and their outcomes.
  • The need, in an expanding market for policy advice, to balance responsiveness to government with providing robust, impartial advice. The APS needs to scan the environment to understand future drivers of policy and change, while being apolitical and values-based. This will need to occur in an environment where decisions are made quickly and under intense scrutiny.
  • The need to deliver, against rising expectations of citizens and ubiquitous technology, joined-up, multi-channel services that increasingly offer tailored place-based, case-based, personalised and contextualised solutions.
  • The need to deal with a networked, connected, interdependent world where the local can quickly become global and where technological advances mean the APS has access to and must manage more data and information than ever before (while being mindful of privacy versus transparency).
  • The essential need to attract and retain a more diverse workforce, including different generations, cultures, values and minority groups, in an environment where competition for talent is at a premium.

Changing demands on APS leaders

The importance of the APS adapting leadership practice in light of changing demands was highlighted in a recent speech by the Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet:

We know that in the years ahead, the world will not stand still. If we are performing well today as a public service, we won't be in five or ten years' time unless we continue to embrace change and develop public service capabilities. The rise of Asia will undoubtedly bring change that we cannot yet imagine. To prepare for that, we need to ensure that we develop strong public sector leaders, with well-honed and varied experience, officers who are flexible and adaptable and who make good judgements, communicate well and inspire others. These are all attributes, of course, that would serve anyone well—in any job, at any time—but it has never been more important than now to ensure that our public service has the capacity to change and adapt…7

The challenges and opportunities outlined above impact on how leaders operate, both with the issues and problems they are responding to—complexity, boundary-spanning, change and innovation—and in terms of the human and organisational resources they have to work with, particularly in relation to resource constraints and people leadership.

Indeed APS leaders often respond to complex problems which do not reflect agency boundaries. The need to collaborate has been an imperative for many years because of the importance, highlighted in the APS Reform Blueprint, of a consistent and joined-up approach to policy development across departments.8

Complexity and boundary-spanning are reflected in leaders' roles in setting strategies and working with stakeholders, so it is interesting to note that almost half of APS agencies9 (47%), as illustrated in Figure 2.1, felt that demands on their agency head and/or executive team's time in setting strategic directions and priorities had increased greatly over the last three years, and one-third (32%) indicated that the demand for managing sensitive stakeholder relationships had increased greatly over the last three years. Looking forward (Figure 2.2), more than one-third (35%) of agencies10 expect these demands on their senior executives' time in setting strategic directions and priorities to continue to increase greatly over the next 12 months, while 23% expect demand to increase greatly in managing sensitive stakeholder relationships.

Figure 2.1 Changed demand on agency head/executive team time over the last three years, 2011–12

Source: Agency survey

Figure 2.2 Expected changed demand on agency head/executive team time over the next 12 months, 2011–12

Source: Agency survey

The impact of such challenges is experienced throughout organisations, not only by their executive teams. Figure 2.3 shows that over two-thirds of APS employees (68%) reported an increase in the requirement to deal with a complex working environment over the last five years and 37% an increase in the extent of collaboration with other APS agencies.

Figure 2.3 How work has changed at current classification levels over the last five years, 2011–12

Source: Employee census

Change is increasingly a feature of the working environment. In 2011–12, 50% of APS senior executives identified that the demand on their time for managing significant change had increased greatly over the last three years. Two-thirds of employees reported they have been affected by major workplace change in the last 12 months. Nearly half of these employees identified changes in functional responsibilities as the principal type of change. Only 41% of APS employees agree their senior leaders lead and manage organisational change effectively.

The leadership of people, always essential, will take on increased significance as the APS workforce becomes more diverse and as new skills are required. Currently, 30% of executives identified a greatly increased demand on their time for workforce planning and 26% indicated their time for workforce planning will increase greatly in the next 12 months.

The APS operates in a resource-constrained environment, which must balance responsiveness with long-term, strategic direction. As shown in Figure 2.1, 55% of APS agencies11 reported that demands on their senior executives' time for reallocation of resources increased greatly over the last three years, while 42% anticipate this will increase greatly in priority over the next 12 months (Figure 2.2).

Only 21% of employees who have been at their current level for at least five years reported an increase in the size of their budget, but almost three-quarters (71%) experienced an increase in workloads such as the number or size of tasks to be completed within a given timeframe.

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Leadership and management capability

Working within the changing context of the APS outlined earlier requires that the APS develop new leadership and management capabilities, and preserve critical leadership capabilities with enduring value; for example, leaders should be role models for the APS Values.

In particular, the pressures and challenges highlighted earlier suggest that the knowledge and skills to deal with strategic, change and people leadership are increasingly important. The capabilities to take a future orientation, anticipate changes in citizen and business expectations and opportunities—often brought on by technology—and mobilise people and systems to change and innovate in response, are critical. Important elements are the capability to understand and manage sensitive stakeholder relationships, work with multiple constituencies who contribute expertise, and build coalitions for change.

Research and consultation undertaken by the Centre for Leadership and Learning also highlighted the importance, in the highly complex, joined-up and fast-changing APS environment, of building leadership capabilities that allow a leader to be effective in working with people and mobilising systems for change. These capabilities include self-awareness, situational awareness and being able to work collaboratively.

Most importantly in this context, the ability of leaders to learn and to help those around them to learn becomes paramount. It is simply not enough to rely on conventional thinking or past solutions; leaders need to be committed to learning and changing as new ideas emerge and as the source of those ideas become more varied.

The development of these capabilities across the APS is underway through the implementation of the APS Leadership Development Strategy, notably through the ‘Knowing-Doing-Being’ framework12 (Figure 2.4).

In addition to leadership skills, it is also evident that people in authority positions in the APS must have strong management knowledge and skills. While leadership is about using influence, management is about using authority and processes to get things done.13 Being effective in the APS requires a combination of leadership and management, and these capabilities are being developed in parallel in implementating the APS Leadership and Core Skills Strategy 2012–13.

Figure 2.4 ‘Knowing-Doing-Being’ framework for APS leadership development

Source: Centre for Leadership and Learning (2012)

SES leadership capability

The SES continues to demonstrate a high level of confidence in its own leadership capability (Figure 2.5). Ninety-five per cent of SES employees are confident they have the leadership skills to do their job effectively and 85% agree they are actively engaged in the leadership of their agency. These results are broadly consistent with 2010–11.

Figure 2.5 SES employee views on their own capability, 2010–11 and 2011–12

Source: Employee census

Note: 2010–11 data has been recalculated to exclude EL 2 responses for comparison purposes.

Employee views of the demonstrable areas of strength in the quality of APS leadership are highlighted in Figure 2.6. For example, 48% of employees agreed with the statement that leadership is of high quality in their agency, compared with 47% in 2010–11 and 46% in 2009–2010. This result is comparable with national and international benchmarks (55% for the general Australian public sector, 47% for the United Kingdom public sector, 52% for the public sector worldwide, and 54% for the private sector worldwide14).

Similarly, 45% of employees agreed that their most senior leaders are sufficiently visible (e.g. can be seen in action) compared with 40% in 2010–11 and 39% in 2009–2010. Agreement with the statement that ‘communication between senior leaders and other employees is effective’ increased to 38%, from 36% in 2010–11 and 34% in 2009–2010. A total of 40% of employees agreed that senior leaders in their agency engage with staff on how to respond to future challenges. This is consistent with results from the previous two years.

Figure 2.6 Employee views of the quality of APS leadership, 2011–12

Source: Employee census

In addition to reporting their perceptions of the quality of leadership, this year employees were asked to comment on their perception of leadership capabilities of SES in their agency. Figure 2.7 shows that 58% of employees agreed their SES maintain a focus on the strategic direction of their agency and the APS, and 55% agreed their SES ensure that work effort contributes to that strategic direction.

While strategic capability is relatively strong, the areas of lowest satisfaction with SES leadership capability relates to people leadership, particularly employee development.

Only 30% of employees agreed their senior leaders give their time to identify and develop talented people and 33% agreed senior leaders are personally active in efforts to improve diversity in employment.

Similarly, while the ability to address ‘adaptive’ or ‘wicked’ problems and opportunities is becoming increasingly important, only 33% of employees agree their senior leaders seek to learn from their own efforts and develop their own skills and capabilities.

Figure 2.7 Employee views of their SES leadership capabilities, 2011–12

Source: Employee census

The ability to collaborate and work across organisational boundaries remains strong, with most SES (85%) reporting they consider themselves ‘definitely’ or ‘somewhat’ part of a broader APS-wide leadership group, a result similar to last year (Figure 2.8).

Figure 2.8 SES views on being part of an APS-wide leadership group, 2010–11 and 2011–12

Source: Employee census

Leadership capability at non-SES levels

As in previous years, APS employees' views on the capabilities of their immediate supervisors were more complimentary than for leaders more generally, perhaps reflecting the greater visibility of supervisors.

Overall employee satisfaction with immediate supervisor capability is high, as demonstrated by subordinates' ratings of their supervisors' leadership behaviours (Figure 2.9 and Table 2.1). Supervisory capabilities are particularly appreciated in the areas included in the APS Integrated Leadership System, such as achieving results (74%) and exemplifying personal drive and integrity (73%). In line with employee views of the SES, subordinates were least likely to be satisfied with their supervisors' ability to motivate and develop people (61%).

Figure 2.9 Employee views of their immediate supervisor, 2011–12

Source: Employee census

Table 2.1 Highest and lowest areas of satisfaction with immediate supervisors, 2011–12
The highest proportion ‘satisfied’ with their supervisor were satisfied with: The highest proportion ‘dissatisfied’ with their supervisor were dissatisfied with:
Source: Employee census
APS 1–6 Achieves results (73%) Motivates people (16%)
EL 1–2 Exemplifies personal drive and integrity (76%) Motivates people (17%)
SES Exemplifies personal drive and integrity (88%) Motivates people (10%)

Leadership and embedding a culture based on APS Values

What people in government do, and how they do it, is of exceptional importance … A professional, non-partisan, well-motivated civil service is, without doubt, one of the pillars of democracy.15

The Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet has outlined his belief in, and vision of, ‘One APS’, indicating that he would ‘work, as my predecessors have, to protect the impartiality and integrity of the APS …’16 In June 2012, the Secretary expanded on this theme to an APS audience, saying that the APS should deliver on what governments and Australia expects ‘… through our approach: how we work, our guiding principles … we should be united by our ethics …’17

How leaders undertake their roles and responsibilities sends strong messages to other employees about ‘how things are done around here’. In effect, leaders are the embodiment of an organisation's values. Those watching, particularly immediate subordinates, are likely to do what their leader does, even if it is in opposition to what the leader says should be done. Alignment or misalignment of leadership behaviour and organisational values exerts a powerful influence on the way people behave. The APS Reform Blueprint emphasised the dominant role APS leaders play in shaping the culture and behaviour of their agencies, encouraging excellence in public service and championing the APS Values to all employees.18

The APS Reform Blueprint recommended that the APS Values be revised, tightened and made more memorable, for the benefit of all employees. The Public Service Act Amendment Bill 201219 seeks to implement this recommendation, proposing this new set of APS Values:

  • Committed to service:The APS is professional, objective, innovative and efficient, and works collaboratively to achieve the best results for the Australian community and the government.
  • Ethical: The APS demonstrates leadership, is trustworthy, and acts with integrity, in all that it does.
  • Respectful:The APS respects all people, including their rights and their heritage.
  • Accountable: The APS is open and accountable to the Australian community under the law and within the framework of ministerial responsibility.
  • Impartial: The APS is apolitical and provides the government with advice that is frank, honest, timely and based on the best available evidence.

Work undertaken by the Commission indicates that the best way for APS leaders to help embed these Values into their agencies and the wider APS is by:

  • taking a stewardship role and building the APS Values into governance practices
  • building a culture of trust with employees, clients and others
  • modelling the APS Values, having the highest standards of behaviour and taking sound, reliable, fair and ethical decisions
  • coaching and guiding others to take such decisions
  • making clear that conduct consistent with the APS Values is expected and dealing appropriately and effectively with behaviour that is not consistent with the Values
  • guiding employees in understanding the relevance of the APS Values to their day-to-day work.20

Perceptions of agency ethics and integrity

APS employees continue to have strong levels of confidence in the integrity and ethical behaviour of their leaders and agencies generally. In 2011–12, most employees agreed that their supervisor (87%) and their senior leaders (68%) often or always act in accordance with the APS Values. These results are similar to last year—89% for supervisors and 70% for senior leaders.

Similar to last year, most employees agreed their supervisor demonstrates honesty and integrity, but are less confident that the senior managers in their agency lead by example in ethical behaviour (Figure 2.10). This may be due to limited interaction with, or an incomplete understanding of, the decisions taken by senior leaders, a view supported by the employee responses noted in Figure 2.6 about the visibility of the most senior leaders in their agency.

Figure 2.10 Employee views on leadership ethics and integrity, 2010–11 and 2011–12

Source: Employee census

Figure 2.11 shows that most employees continue to score their agency highly against a range of ethics and integrity indicators, though not as highly as in 2010–11. The largest decrease was for the perceived management of conflicts of interest (with the percentage of employees agreeing with the statement that employees effectively managed conflicts of interest, which dropped from 65% to 52%). This appears to be largely attributable to an increase in the percentage of employees who neither agreed nor disagreed with this statement, which increased markedly from 20% in 2010–11 to 37% in 2011–12. At the same time, the data indicates that the number of inquiries into alleged breaches of the APS Code of Conduct concerning conflicts of interest increased during the year, despite a reduction in the number of inquiries for most other types of potential misconduct (Chapter 3). This is encouraging to the extent that it suggests increased confidence of employees that agency processes are dealing with conflicts of interest. This result will be monitored in future State of the Service reports.

Figure 2.11 Employee views on agency ethics and integrity, 2010–11 and 2011–12

Source: Employee census

Management capabilities across the APS

While leadership capability plays a critical role in any organisation, leadership capability must be complemented by the management skills needed to operate effectively within APS systems, processes and rules.21 Management capabilities include those associated with exercising decision-making and judgement in the public sector, working with government, developing people and the organisation and exercising professional public service skills.

Management capabilities is an area of strength in the APS: almost three-quarters (73%) of employees agreed with the proposition ‘I have a good manager’. More than half of all employees (57%) reported their supervisor always or often encourages them (compared with 16% who felt they were rarely or never encouraged). Just under two-thirds of employees (65%) reported their supervisor is effective in managing people. Sixty-two per cent agreed with the proposition ‘I receive adequate feedback on my performance to enable me to deliver required results’ and 54% agreed they are satisfied with the recognition they receive for a job well done. These results are similar to those reported last year.

While there are areas of significant strength in its management capabilities, the APS needs to continue to focus on developing management skills where there are weaknesses, and maintain its skills where there are strengths. For example, only 10% of agencies22 identified ‘underdeveloped management or leadership capability among senior leaders’ as a significant workforce risk over the next five years. However, more than half (53%) identified underdeveloped management or leadership capabilities among middle managers as a significant risk. This risk was prioritised in the Commission's APS Leadership and Core Skills Strategy 2012–13.

Similarly, governance processes appear relatively well-managed with more than half of employees (51%) reporting their agency has sound governance processes (Figure 2.12). Areas for improvement include internal communication (39% of employees said this was ‘effective’), change management (32% said it was ‘managed well’) and management of underperformance (21% said this was dealt with ‘effectively’). Performance management is discussed in Chapter 8. These results are slightly lower than those reported for 2010–11, except for internal communications which was not included in the previous year's survey.

Figure 2.12 Employee views of their agency's managerial environment, 2011–12

Source: Employee census

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Talent management

Talent management complements broader leadership development initiatives being implemented within agencies or across the APS, by providing a systematic approach to accelerate the development of a sustainable pool of talented people for critical leadership roles.23 This approach includes identifying leadership roles that are critical to the APS or agency business, identifying people with high potential to develop the capabilities required for these roles and putting in place development plans to build these capabilities.

As such, talent management programs in the APS focus on building the ‘bench strength’ of the APS or an agency. That is, these programs enhance the capabilities of a pool of people who have the potential to fill more senior roles in the future. However, participation in a program is neither a guarantee nor a prerequisite for promotion. Recruitment and appointment for APS leadership roles continue to be based on merit and conducted under the Public Service Act 1999. Talent management programs help reduce the risk that suitable candidates for senior roles will not be found. For participants, such programs provide an opportunity to build on strengths and develop potential in a tailored, intensive manner.

In 2010, a more systematic introduction of talent management approaches was signalled in the APS Reform Blueprint. Since then, the APS has implemented talent management initiatives in a number of ways.

Implementation of talent management in the APS

During 2011–12, 55% of agencies24 had in place, or were developing a talent management strategy in all or part of their agency.

Implementation and development of talent management strategies were most common in large agencies (87%), followed by medium agencies (52%) and then small agencies (29%).Talent management programs are targeted at middle and senior management.

As Table 2.2 indicates, during 2011–12, agencies put in place measures for developing talented employees. For example, 41% of agencies had fully or partially put in place programs to systematically develop high-potential SES employees, 51% for EL and 29% for APS 1–6. Critical positions were identified in agencies for SES (59%), for EL (62%) and APS 1–6 (47%). Emerging skill set needs were identified by 69% of agencies for SES, 76% for EL and 73% for APS 1–6.

Table 2.2 Agency measures to develop talent, by classification level, 2011–12
% responding ‘fully’ or ‘partially’ with reference to:
Source: Agency survey
A program to systematically develop high potential employees 29 51 41
Identification of critical positions 47 62 59
Identification of emerging skill set needs 73 76 69
A means of assessing leadership strength in the agency 40 65 63
Programs for building leadership strength 64 85 75
Use of relation-based development opportunities (e.g. mentoring, coaching, peer support schemes) 76 78 76
Focus on creating in-depth experience within the agency (e.g. internal job rotations) 71 77 60
Development opportunities in other APS agencies 58 66 31
Development opportunities in other public sector jurisdictions 26 40 21
Development opportunities in the private sector 13 21 10
Development opportunities in the not-for-profit sector 6 13 8

Challenges to talent development

The most frequently reported challenge to talent development across all employee levels is the lack of an agency talent management framework or strategy (65% for APS 1–6, 62% for EL and 45% for SES) (Table 2.3). This is similar to last year's results. Agencies also identified specific challenges in talent development. For APS 1–6 and EL employees, agencies identified lack of career or mobility opportunities within the agency. For the SES, difficulty in developing talent internally and retirement leading to a loss of corporate knowledge were identified. Small agencies also reported size as a challenge.

Table 2.3 Challenges in developing talent experienced by agencies, 2011–12
% responding ‘fully’ or ‘partially’ with reference to:
Source: Agency survey
Identifying talent across the agency 57 56 35
Difficulty in developing talent internally 62 60 44
Difficulty in attracting the required talent 59 64 36
Losing key staff due to competition with other APS agencies 64 66 31
Losing key staff due to competition with the private sector 47 43 17
Retirements leading to a loss of corporate knowledge 51 66 44
Lack of career or mobility opportunities within agency 71 74 34
Lack of talent management framework or strategy 65 62 48
Large size of the agency 13 13 8
Small size of the agency 59 63 37
Limitations in rewarding talent 51 51 34
Lack of employee aspiration 26 26 10

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Learning and development

Attention to learning and development of all employees is a critical driver of agency and APS success, especially in today's environment where change is rapid. More than half of employees (54%) reported that work at their current classification level had changed over the past five years in terms of the skills, knowledge or qualifications required. The Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet has clearly signalled the centrality of learning and development to the role of managers and as a responsibility that all APS employees have.25 Similarly, ‘improving the relevance, immediacy and quality of learning and development across all agencies’ is an important objective of the Centre for Leadership and Learning.26

Approach to learning and development

Learning and development is an important investment in capability. It is therefore critical that learning and development opportunities maximise the learning of participants. Contemporary research27 indicates that approximately 70% of learning occurs through supported on-the-job experiences, 20% through peer-based learning (including mentoring and coaching) and only 10% through formal classroom-based training.

A shift towards 70–20–1028 learning and development principle was signalled in the APS Leadership and Core Skills Strategy 2012–13. This identified that leadership development in particular is most effective when learning takes place over time and using a range of learning methods, including learning through reflection and through real experiences in the workplace.

There is evidence of strong adoption of the 70–20–10 principle across the APS. While formal training continues to be almost universally adopted as the most used method of learning and development, for both leadership and technical and job-specific development, supported on-the-job learning is the second most used (Figure 2.13). There is also evidence that agencies are targeting learning and development to outcomes, with methods such as coaching, mentoring and networks used more frequently for leadership development, and formal education and training used more frequently for technical skills development.

Figure 2.13 Methods used by agencies in training and development, 2011–12

Source: Agency survey

Note: Multiple responses accepted.

Investment in learning and development

The APS investment in learning and development is significant. Eighty-three per cent of employees reported spending time in formal training and education29 during the last 12 months (a minor increase from last year). Figure 2.14 shows 29% of employees reported between three and five days in formal training and education, while another 27% reported six days or more.

Investment in learning and development was ranked equal highest with retention strategies (66% of agencies) as a strategy adopted to address skill shortages.

Figure 2.14 Time spent by employees on formal training and education in the preceding 12 months, 2011–12

Source: Employee census

The number of days spent in formal training and education across APS classifications varies somewhat (Figure 2.15).30 The proportion of agencies reporting the average length of time spent by employees on short courses (one to two days) increased with seniority, with a corresponding decrease in the proportion of employees reporting the average time spent on longer courses (three to five days).

Figure 2.15 Average number of days of formal training and education, by classification, 2011–12

Source: Agency survey, Employee census

Note: Excludes agencies that were unable to provide information at this level.

The APS investment in learning and development compares well with Australia-wide and worldwide public sector benchmarks. Almost two-thirds (64%) of APS employees agreed with the proposition ‘My workplace provides access to effective learning and development’ such as formal training, learning on the job, e-learning and secondments. Similarly, 63% of employees felt their workplace ‘provides opportunities to increase knowledge and/or experience in their job’. Looking beyond their individual agencies, 54% of employees felt the APS provides access to effective learning and development (although just under one-third [31%] neither agreed nor disagreed).

Learning and development planning

In 2011–12, just over half (51%) of agencies had a fully developed learning and development plan in place, linked to their agency's strategy. A partially developed plan was in place for 31% of agencies, or not in place but in development for 10% of agencies.

These learning and development plans are most often based on individual strategies set through individuals' self-identification, followed by informal staff discussions with line managers or through consultation with senior managers (Table 2.4). They are far less frequently the product of agency-wide workforce planning or governance processes.

Table 2.4 Agency measures to identify staff learning and development needs, 2011–12
% responding ‘fully’ or ‘partially’ with reference to:
Source: Agency survey
Through individuals' self-identification 100 100 99
Through informal staff discussions with line managers 97 99 93
Through consultation with senior managers 95 96 93
Through the agency's performance management system 97 97 85
Through workforce planning processes 65 66 53
Through business/agency planning processes 81 85 79
From the results of audits or evaluations 59 61 57
Through assessments made after changes to functions 62 61 55

Forty per cent of agencies had a fully or partially implemented system for assessing skill-set gaps in their SES in 2011–12, with another 6% in development. A number of smaller agencies had not identified significant skill-set gaps, but were working to develop their existing knowledge base. One portfolio department noted that it has used its capability review (Chapter 10) to identify SES skills gaps in organisational and policy stewardship and to develop an action plan in response. Agencies also frequently identified change management, people management, political acumen, policy and strategic skills and leadership in the SES as areas of focus.

The majority of performance appraisal processes in APS agencies are linked to learning and development planning (Table 2.5). Less than one-quarter linked performance appraisal to talent management. There is room to improve the extent to which individual performance appraisal feeds into whole-of-agency skills planning.

Table 2.5 Performance appraisal processes linked to functions, 2011–12
Performance appraisal is linked to the following functions: Agencies (%)
Source: Agency survey
Development of learning and development strategies 74
Agency learning and development activity planning 85
Identification of skill imbalances across agency 26
Development of talent management strategies 24
Identification and management of high performers 60
Identification and management of low performers 82

Improved access to advice, increased access to training, and improved guidelines on performance management are especially important ways to build confidence in managing people. Support for line managers to develop skills in performance management is almost universal across the APS. Ninety-one per cent of agencies had fully or partially operational programs of support and 8% reported such measures would be implemented within 12 months. Eighty-six per cent of agencies provide coaching and case management services to support managers.

A majority of agencies (83%) had fully or partially implemented a system to identify and provide assistance to managers needing to improve their staff management skills. Continuing to encourage and develop such systems across the APS is an important way of lifting organisational performance and employee engagement, given the strong links already established between these outcomes and the role of leaders and managers in communications and building organisational culture.

Evaluation of learning and development

Given the significant investment in the learning and development of APS employees, it is important to ensure there is a return on investment through improved performance, stronger skills sets and changed behaviours in the workplace. Twenty-five per cent of employees reported high effectiveness of learning and development this year and 25% rated the effectiveness of their learning and development as ‘low’ (Figure 2.16).

Figure 2.16 Employee views on the effectiveness of learning and development, 2010–11 and 2011–12

Source: Employee census, Employee survey 2010–11

Note: The 2010–11 data has been recalculated to exclude ‘not sure’ responses for comparison purposes.

Agencies primarily rely on feedback from participants to evaluate investment in learning and development activities, by assessing reaction to the learning activity (95%) or the skills or knowledge developed (77%) (Figure 2.17). Fifty-eight per cent of agencies measure improvements in job performance, 33% measure improvement in agency performance and 31% measure return on training investment to evaluate their learning and development activities.

Figure 2.17 Evaluation of learning and development activities, 2011–12

Source: Agency survey

More than half of employees were satisfied with their quality of learning through peers or networks, the quality of support for learning on the job and the quality of learning through formal training and education (Figure 2.18). Employees were least satisfied (41%) with e-learning and coaching or mentoring (45%). These activities are likely to become more relied upon in future, suggesting scope for more work to improve their (perceived) effectiveness.

Figure 2.18 Employee satisfaction with learning and development in the workplace, 2011–12

Source: Employee census

Note: Does not include ‘not applicable’ responses.

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APS strategies to enhance leadership and core skills

Strategies to enhance the APS current and future leadership are being implemented as an important theme in APS-wide reform and are the focus of individual agency efforts discussed below.

Tables 2.6 and 2.7 show the learning and development priorities identified by agencies and individual employees respectively, highlighting the importance of ongoing support for leadership and people management skills. As Table 2.7 shows, at all classification levels, employees are most likely to nominate strategic thinking and analysis as their learning and development priority. The table also shows that SES employees frequently chose leadership and influencing and negotiation skills. EL employees chose leadership, influencing and negotiation, and technical/professional skills; and APS 1–6 employees, communication, technical/professional and leadership skills.

Table 2.6 Learning and development priorities for 2012–13, 2011–12
% of agencies (multiple response)
Source: Agency survey
Leadership 87
People management 64
Project and program management 42
Strategic thinking and analysis 38
Communication 36
Technical/professional 36
Policy development and implementation 25
Risk management 22
Table 2.7 Top skills employees intend to develop over the next 12 months, 2011–12
Classification (% employees)
Source: Employee census
Communication 26 15 18
Strategic thinking and analysis 30 38 39
Influencing and negotiation 16 23 27
Project and program management 17 19 9
People management 16 18 13
Leadership 20 29 38
Technical/professional 23 23 16

Note: Employees could each select up to three skills.

Agency initiatives in leadership and core skills development

Some of the better practices reported by agencies on their own initiatives in leadership and core development include:

  • Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry—rolled out a tailored leadership development program for APS 6 and EL 1 employees which will lead to a Diploma in Government Award.
  • National Native Title Tribunal—developed a leadership initiative comprising quarterly tribunal-wide forums and an emerging leaders program aimed at APS 6 and EL 1 employees.
  • Department of Infrastructure and Transport—developed and implemented a career management strategy, shaping an approach to career management, rather than talent management. The strategy is designed to support managers and employees with career management conversations and activities.
  • Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations—made seminars available as live and interactive events and streamed to desktops. The department also launched a coaching and mentoring portal, conducted agency-wide budget workshops and enhanced its Collaboration Central Blog to encourage ongoing, real-time information sharing and problem solving.

A leading agency initiative to support values-based leadership is the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service's Listen Respect Lead program for employees who manage or supervise others. The program is designed to complement and build on the APS Values by providing a common framework about the behaviours expected of leaders, as well as practical tools and techniques for improved communication and interaction.

The Centre for Leadership and Learning

The Commission, through the Centre for Leadership and Learning, is charged with developing an annual learning and development strategy addressing leadership, management and core skills development as priorities across the APS.

In the first iteration in 2011, the Centre for Leadership and Learning focused on leadership development strategy and implementation. In 2012, it expanded its focus to identify management and core skills learning programs. These programs are for developing skills and knowledge specific to the public sector and common to all public servants regardless of the agency they work for or their job type. The programs focus on skills essential to the APS.

The resulting APS Leadership and Core Skills Strategy 2012–13 was endorsed by the Secretaries Board in September 2012. The strategy was developed by analysing drivers in the external environment and APS business needs, to understand capability areas with current gaps or emerging requirements. Immediate development priorities are identified in Figure 2.19. The leadership focus areas on the right-hand side of the figure are consistent with the findings outlined in the APS Leadership Development Strategy 2011–12. However, they have greater emphasis on building the leadership capabilities needed to position the APS to respond to the key themes of the ‘Asian Century’, drive for higher public sector productivity and respond to citizen and community expectations. Notably, the leadership capabilities directly reflect the changing demands on APS leaders identified by senior executives earlier in this chapter, including strong emphasis on strategic and systems thinking, change leadership and the collaboration skills required to respond to complex, boundary-spanning challenges.

Since the release of the APS Leadership Development Strategy 2011–12, the Centre for Leadership and Learning has collaborated closely with agencies to develop contemporary leadership development offerings to build the SES leadership capabilities needed across the APS now and into the future. Offerings include refreshing and delivering an SES orientation program and leadership programs for SES. Refreshed programs recognise that senior leaders need to develop knowledge and skills (Knowing and Doing) spanning political nous (ability to read the context), strategic capability (ability to shape the context), change leadership (ability to operate within and across contexts), and people leadership (working with and through people). The programs also focus on building the self and social awareness to support continued self-learning, collaboration and understanding of others (Being a leader).

The Centre for Leadership and Learning is also building the bench strength of SES Band 2 and 3 leaders who are ready, and able to take on more senior roles in the APS. A program for SES Band 2 employees piloted in 2012 will be delivered again in 2013. The program design recognises that senior leadership development in complex, collaborative and fast-paced environments requires building relevant knowledge sets (Knowing), developing a range of skills (Doing) and emphasising the qualities and attributes associated with being a leader in the APS (Being). This learning takes time and must be integrated with real experience. Consequently, the Band 2 program operates over a 12-month period, on the principle that most learning occurs on the job. The Band 3 program is more individually tailored to developing leadership capabilities and readiness at the most senior echelons of the APS. Research into talent management for EL 2 employees is underway.

The Centre for Leadership and Learning will continue to collaborate closely with agencies as it implements a contemporary approach to cross- APS leadership development and as it begins implementation of core and management skills learning programs. This will ensure programs complement the significant initiatives already underway within agencies and address the leadership, management and core skills challenges and opportunities common across the APS.

Figure 2.19 APS Leadership and Core Skills Strategy 2012–13, key areas of focus31

Source: The Centre for Leadership and Learning

Strategies to enhance values-based leadership

Ninety-eight per cent of APS agencies indicated they promoted the complete and unaltered set of APS Values in 2011–12, using a range of learning and awareness-raising strategies. The most common strategy was raising awareness through induction/orientation (90% implemented agency-wide and another 6% in part of the agency). The next most common strategy was providing information on the intranet (83% agency-wide and 9% partially). Both online (31% agency wide and 13% partially) and face-to-face (44% agency-wide and 22% partially) training sessions were used to a lesser degree.

Induction plays a critical role in signalling to new employees the importance an agency attaches to the APS Values. With induction, it is useful to present the Values as a package integrated with other policies so employees understand the total framework in which the APS operates and its operating ethos. It is essential that new employees, especially senior employees joining from other employment sectors with different cultures, understand APS standards.

While assessment of the application of the APS Values was included in performance assessments in 79% of agencies, only 32% had fully rolled out training on how the Values relate to performance, and only 18% tested all employees on their understanding of the Values. Eight per cent of agencies assessed the application of the Values in multi-source feedback, such as 360-degree feedback. Twenty-five per cent included it in part of the agency.

Forty-eight per cent of agencies fully monitored the role of senior leaders in embedding the APS Values through mechanisms such as staff surveys (ranging from 38% of small agencies to 70% of large agencies).

Embedding the APS Values in individual and agency practices generally, and ensuring employees are trained in their meaning and application, are critical to the enduring nature of the APS as an institution. They are also critical to generating higher levels of trust in the relationship between citizens and the APS. Strategies used by agencies to raise awareness of the APS Values with all employees, and embed values-based practices, are reported on in Chapter 3.

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Key chapter findings

The context and outlook for the work of the APS continue to present significant opportunities and challenges. These include responding to new and complex policy and delivery priorities, handling interacting and overlapping waves of change, and ‘doing more with less’ while maintaining the integrity and values base of the APS.

This chapter identifies that the important work of building APS leadership and workforce capabilities remains critical. As the work environment changes and as technology and the place of Australia in Asia and the rest of the world evolve, the focus on building APS leadership and workforce capabilities must be maintained and remain focused.

Perceptions of SES leadership capability continue to be consistent with international benchmarks. Areas of strength include role modelling of values and ethics and demonstrating personal drive and integrity. Importantly, SES continue to see themselves as a part of a broader APS-wide leadership group, which is essential to addressing complex challenges and opportunities across agencies. Opportunities remain to continue to enhance SES leadership capability, notably in areas related to strategic thinking, leading people and leading change. These are being addressed through the implementation of the APS Leadership and Core Skills Strategy 2012–13.

Perceptions of leadership capability at EL and APS 1–6 classifications are positive, especially with achieving results and exemplifying personal drive and integrity. However, building middle management capabilities in leading people remains a priority, notably in relation to developing and motivating subordinates.

Management capability is positive, with most employees surveyed agreeing with the proposition that they have a good manager. However, under-developed management, or leadership capabilities, among middle-managers was noted as a future risk by agencies.

In systemic terms, this year's employee census and agency survey identified that the APS continues to invest heavily in learning and development, with 83% of employees having spent time in formal training and education over the last 12 months. Also, the majority of agencies undertook formal learning and development planning for 2012–13 and are using a range of development modes in addition to formal classroom learning, such as coaching, networks and on-the-job learning.

While more than two-thirds of employees (67%) rated their learning and development opportunities as moderately to very effective, there is a continued need to focus on the outcomes and benefits from this investment. For example, more than half of agencies assessed improvement in job performance as a result of learning and development and only one-third considered improvements in agency performance and effectiveness.

Investment by agencies in learning and development, supported by the ongoing implementation of the APS Leadership and Core Skills Development Strategy 2012–13 remains critical to building the leadership and workforce capability needed for the APS to continue to respond to its complex and fast-changing environment. This will include continuing to embed the ‘Knowing-Doing-Being’ principles in learning and development practices across the APS. It will also include the shared development of learning programs to efficiently leverage APS expertise, as well as ongoing development of leadership. Finally, learning and development communities of practice are important for sharing ideas and innovative practice across the APS.

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1 I Watt, The APS Now and in the Future, (2011),

2 Advisory Group on Reform of Australian Government Administration, Ahead of the Game: Blueprint for the Reform of Australian Government Administration, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, (2010).

3 The APS200 was established as part of the APS Reform Blueprint. It comprises the Secretaries Board, selected agency heads and Senior Executive Service Band 3 or equivalent officers from agencies that employ staff under the Public Service Act 1999. APS200 members have a leading role in communicating the vision of the APS of the future and building the understanding, engagement and commitment of employees to the reform agenda. In addition to their role as leaders in their organisations, and more widely across the APS, APS200 members also support the Secretaries Board by undertaking strategic projects and initiatives as cross-portfolio teams.

4 Advisory Group on Reform of Australian Government Administration, Ahead of the Game: Blueprint for the Reform of Australian Government Administration, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, (2010).

5 RA Heifetz and M Linsky, Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading, Harvard Business School Press, Boston, Massachusetts, (2002).

6 Including work by J Bourgon and P Milley, The New Frontiers in Public Administration: The New Synthesis Project, Public Governance International, Ottawa, (2010).

7 I Watt, Australia and Asia in the Asian Century: Opportunities and Challenges, (2012),

8 Advisory Group on Reform of Australian Government Administration, Ahead of the Game: Blueprint for the Reform of Australian Government Administration, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, (2010).

9 Only 78 agencies provided detailed data on agency capability and efficiency. To reduce the administrative burden on small agencies, those with fewer than 100 employees completed a shortened version of the agency survey.

10 Only 78 agencies provided detailed data on agency capability and efficiency. To reduce the administrative burden on small agencies, those with fewer than 100 employees completed a shortened version of the agency survey.

11 Only 78 agencies provided detailed data on agency capability and efficiency. To reduce the administrative burden on small agencies, those with fewer than 100 employees completed a shortened version of the agency survey.

12 The ‘Knowing-Doing-Being’ framework is adapted from N Nohria and R Khurana, Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice: A Harvard Business School Centennial, Harvard Business School Press, Boston, Massachusetts, (2010).

13 Australian Public Service Commission, APS Leadership and Core Skills Strategy 2012–13, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, (2012).

14 ORC International, (2012).

15 H MacIntosh, Ethical Leadership in the Public Service, (2011),

16 I Watt, The APS Now and in the Future, (2011),

17 I Watt, unpublished speech to the Australian Government Leadership Network (South Australia), 22 June 2012.

18 Advisory Group on Reform of Australian Government Administration, Ahead of the Game: Blueprint for the Reform of Australian Government Administration, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, (2010), p. 16.

19 The Bill was introduced into parliament on 1 March 2012. It has been passed in the House of Representatives and is currently before the Senate.

20 Australian Public Service Commission, Embedding the APS Values, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, (2003).

21 Australian Public Service Commission, APS Leadership and Core Skills Strategy 2012–13, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, (2012).

22 Only 78 agencies provided detailed data on workforce planning. To reduce the administrative burden on small agencies, those with fewer than 100 employees completed a shortened version of the agency survey.

23 While talent management approaches can be used for other critical roles (e.g. specialist technical roles), the approach within the APS focuses on developing leadership capabilities.

24 Only 78 agencies provided detailed data on learning and development. To reduce the administrative burden on small agencies, those with fewer than 100 employees completed a shortened version of the agency survey.

25 I Watt, The APS Now and in the Future, (2011),

26 S Sedgwick, Strategic Policy Development and APS Values, Leaders in the Public Sector 2010, Sydney, (2010).

27 M McCall, R Eichinger and M Lombardo, The Career Architect Development Planner, Center for Creative Leadership, (2001).

28Based on Lombardo and Eichinger's 70–20–10 principle of program design, which identifies that development is most effective when it is a combination of structured on-the-job learning (around 70%), network or relationship-based learning (around 20%) and formal learning (around 10%). For more information see APS Leadership Development Strategy 2011–12

29 Formal training and education, as defined here, includes seminars, conferences, classroom training, academic study or formal in-house programs.

30 Only 78 agencies provided detailed data on learning and development. To reduce the administrative burden on small agencies, those with fewer than 100 employees completed a shortened version of the agency survey.

31 Australian Public Service Commission, APS Leadership and Core Skills Strategy 2012–13, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, (2012)

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Last reviewed: 
29 March 2018