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3. Summary assessment


The agency has experienced a very demanding operational period over the last decade. During that time previous CEOs initiated changes in the agency resulting in the current operating model. This has provided a foundation from which further change can occur. Given the increasing tempo and complexity of the agency’s operational environment, it is not, in its current form, well positioned to continue to perform effectively.

In recognition of these pressures the agency has initiated a strategic change program based on a transformational approach, the initial phases of which are already taking shape. The CEO is responsible for providing leadership to the agency and its people through this reform process. Considerable effort will need to be given to ensuring that the workforce understands the necessity for change and the agency’s future vision. Considerable effort will also be needed to ensure the agency is engaged in conversation on the pathway to change.

The review team acknowledges that the agency has begun working on initiatives for change, building on strong points and mitigating against weaknesses. While transformation will take several years, the review team concludes that these key focus areas need early attention:

  • Leadership is inconsistent across the agency. Robust leadership is key to guiding the agency into the future. Leadership that is visible, unified, responsive, self-aware, and provides clear direction is a fundamental requirement.
  • Workforce is currently underdeveloped. It needs to be flexible and adaptive. Greater priority needs to be given to workforce planning, training and development.
  • Business model is not fully effective in supporting the agency’s operational activities. It should provide agility and align delivery capabilities.
  • Enabling information technology (IT) fails to adequately support the agency’s business model. It should serve business needs and support appropriate governance and effectiveness measurement.

The two most critical issues are: leadership throughout the agency and its workforce. The alignment of the agency to one team, operating with a clear vision, purpose and end state, a universally understood and agreed ethos and values, and a single overriding culture built on the foundations of professionalism and integrity, requires immediate action.

The agency today

The agency is a complex organisation. Its centre of gravity is clearly in its operational functions, a number of which are necessarily process driven. It is a ‘doing’, service delivery organisation with its strength in its ability to do its job across a number of domains day in and day out, 365 days of the year. The agency has gained praise from its stakeholders on its operational and tactical performance and its willingness to collaborate to achieve common objectives. It sees itself as a ‘can do’ organisation that can fix the immediate problem at hand, quickly and effectively.

The agency can be proud of its past achievements and how it has continued to perform its current tasks in a challenging environment. It is operationally resilient and collaborates well with stakeholders in the border space. There is an enormous level of experience and knowledge at the operational and tactical levels. The workforce is highly motivated, has a strong team culture, performs its routine functions well and is responsive to immediate and urgent challenges.

The agency is starting to position itself for the future. The Executive leadership understands the issues the agency faces. Work has already started to:

  • establish the concept of a border continuum
  • build a border management community and strategy
  • adopt an intelligence-led risk-based approach
  • further integrate the agency within the broader national security apparatus.

The underpinnings to enable this operational framework are less robust. Leadership is underdeveloped. The workforce has not been given the appropriate priority in terms of planning and development for the future. The business model is vulnerable in that organisational design, strategic planning, information and risk management, human resource policies and procedures, intelligence capability and enabling IT have not kept pace with the agency’s changing and challenging environment. This is not sustainable. There is a clear need to modernise these capabilities so the agency can continue to effectively deliver against border management requirements into the future.

Realising the vision

The review team interprets the new CEO’s vision for the agency as that of a unified, adaptive 21st Century law enforcement agency in the border space that is fit-for-purpose and achieves operational excellence through an organisational design that enables dexterity and agility. It will employ networked and integrated systems that support robust decision making through the provision of a holistic picture of intelligence, risk and effectiveness. Low-risk processes will be automated where possible and the workforce will be multi-disciplined in addressing emerging risks and business needs. The agency will lead a collaborative interagency approach in the border space to achieve a ‘joined-up’ effect, greater than the sum of individual stakeholder contributions. Where possible, it will exploit new technology advances in support of its business.

The law enforcement banner under which the agency has decided to move forward emphasises only one of the agency’s responsibilities. It will be important during this change process that the correct balance be maintained across the agency’s functions (inclusive of its trade facilitation and regulatory functions). There is an evident need for an underpinning narrative that is clear and relevant for the agency’s workforce and its stakeholders. This narrative will help bind all business elements of the agency and provide a sense that it is operating as one team.

A robust change management strategy will be a critical aspect of the agency’s journey. The success of transformation depends on the unity, commitment and capability of the workforce with all individuals understanding their roles. Laying the groundwork for change through a period of consultation and communication will be a beneficial first step.

Key focus areas

The agency’s four key focus areas: leadership, workforce, business model and enabling IT, are discussed below.


Any operational organisation, which has a large proportion of its workforce conducting daily tactical activities, depends on robust leadership at all levels. The agency’s current organisational structure creates an environment where senior leadership can be seen as remote and where cultures clash, between the ‘bureaucracy’ in Canberra and ‘operations’ in the regions. Many sense that the agency operates with centralised decision making which does not empower subordinate leaders or connect strategic direction and tactical delivery. The strength of leadership across the agency is inconsistent, ranging from excellent to poor. While there is evidence of motivational leadership at various levels, some leaders seem to depend largely on a bureaucratic, impersonal and/or technical style and some seem to lack the leadership skills needed for an operational organisation. If deficiencies in leadership are not addressed early they will present as a key barrier to reform initiatives. Levels of authority, accountability and responsibility need to be defined and understood.

The successful transformation of the agency will rely greatly on the collective ability of all senior executives to engage with staff in: articulating the vision and defining the pathway for change; adopting a leadership style to meet the needs of the workforce; and leading staff cohesively through transformation. A participative leadership style is required that uses the language of ‘we’ rather than ‘me’, and ‘you’ rather than ‘them’.

The complementarity of the Executive leadership is critical. The trinity of the CEO and two Deputies needs to incorporate the following skill sets—political and strategic acumen, strong operational judgment, administrative prowess and excellent communication and people skills. The team needs to ensure an appropriate balance between ‘looking up’ to ministers and external stakeholders and ‘looking down’ on the organisation (especially important in the next two years).

The Senior Executive Service (SES) cohort is also key to championing the transformation. The current strength of this cohort is variable and there is an opportunity for the agency to emphasise leadership development and performance metrics aligned to accountabilities, responsibilities and behaviours, as well as place value on taking a whole-of-agency approach. Enhanced training and development for all leaders would be beneficial in ensuring that the basic tenets of leadership and expectations of leaders are understood and applied.

Underlying any focus on leadership is internal communication. This is a key area in need of improvement. The agency depends a great deal on email which can result in important messages not being consistently received and understood. It would be beneficial for leaders to leverage multiple channels of communication (formal and informal) to convey key messages in short, sharp and easily digestible formats. Subordinate leaders should be empowered and be part of the process in communicating to staff.

The value of a highly visible Executive leadership, frequently visiting all areas of the agency over the next 12 months to communicate and reinforce messages in person cannot be underestimated.


While the workforce is committed and loyal to the agency there is limited sense of ‘one team’ or a common culture or set of values that bind the geographically and functionally diverse workforce. In a few areas, ill-disciplined behaviours have developed where unprofessional conduct is accepted or overlooked and underperformance is not well managed. There is a case for the agency to: establish a narrative that embraces the one-team concept; and develop from the bottom up a set of values embracing areas such as commitment, integrity, professionalism and teamwork, all of which should are aligned to the APS core values and bind the workforce together.

The workforce is conservative and, for an operational agency, it has a relatively mature age profile. While staff respect direct supervisors, they do not necessarily have respect for or trust in the higher levels of the agency. Retention is high and mobility low. More than 50% of the workforce work outside Canberra, in operational functions. Workloads appear high and there is a sense of a workforce under pressure, with resilience being put to the test. Knowledge of current operating procedures is sound; however, understanding or accepting the need for change to meet future needs is not universal. While the agency prides itself on its ‘can-do’ approach, it appears to be predominantly reactive in nature. Pockets of innovation exist, although much of the workforce environment is process driven and decision making is centralised, neither of which are conducive to fostering initiative or innovation.

The agency’s people do not appear to be front and centre of its operational considerations. Workforce planning is underdeveloped, career management seems to be ad hoc, performance management is poor, and training and development seems to be inconsistent, generally not well managed and not given sufficient priority. The strategic leadership and the tactical workforce appear disconnected.

Key issues that need to be considered regarding the workforce are:

  • inculcating an ethos, values and culture of ‘one team’
  • conducting more robust workforce planning and development of core competencies
  • establishing a clear set of integrated human resources (HR) strategies
  • establishing early engagement with stakeholders, including unions, in the change process
  • reinforcing performance management, dealing with underperformance, and recognising excellence
  • reviewing the current recruiting model
  • providing consistent, whole-of-agency leadership development in which leadership expectations are made clear and to which leaders are held accountable
  • establishing a career development and training model
  • increasing geographical and functional mobility.

Business model

The term ‘business model’ can mean many things. The review team has focused on key issues such as organisational design, governance/decision-making processes, strategic planning, management of performance, information and risk, and the use of intelligence.

The current business model is based on functions rather than geography. The CEO has conveyed his intent for organisational redesign as part of the agency’s transformation. Given the operational nature of the agency there is a case to consider an organisational design that enables:

  • an integrated approach based on national coordination at the strategic level,
  • centralisation of policy, governance and human capital strategies;
  • a decentralised, more local approach to the delivery of services and conduct of operations.

The current business model—while providing good line of sight and consistency of delivery of business nationally—has inadvertently contributed to operations being conducted in functional silos. The decision-making process lacks agility and responsiveness. The agency, other than the CEO, appears unable to draw itself out of the issues of the day.

Current governance arrangements are not providing a suitable framework for good decision making. There is over reliance on multiple committees with duplication in functions and membership and overlapping mandates. The volume of papers for consideration is excessive with little distillation of complex issues thus consuming the senior leadership in the process. The agency needs an improved governance process that is structured for the core business of the agency and provides for clear direction, sound and timely decision making as well as functional and tiered representation. The review team notes that the CEO is addressing this issue with some urgency.

The agency’s mantra of being ‘intelligence-led risk-based’ led the review team to explore its implication for the agency. The CEO has a clear picture of how he sees the intelligence capability supporting the agency and is already initiating changes in this area. Some aspects of the intelligence capability meet the agency’s current needs, but looking to the future it needs to be up-skilled and professionalised, particularly with strategic and operational aspects. The review team was impressed with the quality and professionalism of some leaders in the intelligence area who see the need and pathway for future development. However, external stakeholders remained confused about the agency’s role in the broader intelligence framework.

While those at operational and tactical business levels will argue they have a good sense of the risks involved in their areas of responsibility, the same cannot be said of the strategic risks faced by the agency. Enterprise risk management does not appear to have been well assessed and monitored. The level of risk tolerance is unclear; hence, it is difficult for the agency to have a sense of priority of various risks, resulting in every risk being treated equally and resources stretched. The process of assessing threats, identifying, prioritising, mitigating and monitoring risks, conducting strategic planning, allocating resources and measuring effectiveness are areas for improvement within the agency.

The agency’s strategic planning, involving many documents, seems to lack the golden thread needed to link enterprise risks, whole-of-agency strategies and individual branch-level plans, through to projects and resourcing. This contributes to uncertainty on agency priorities, which in turn leads to ‘patch protection’ behaviour among senior management.

Enabling IT

As a modern operational organisation, the agency cannot be described as having networked or integrated systems. Additionally, it cannot be said that it fully exploits modern technology to support business needs. Business owners and supporting IT specialists have not aligned business needs and system capabilities. Much current supporting IT fails to adequately assist information flows, intelligence collection and analysis, business operational activities and business support functions. The agency’s enterprise system architecture needs to be reconsidered in the context of the agency’s future business model. Project management of IT initiatives is poor, and opportunities to modify business process to optimise system benefits are not taken.

Risks in this area lie in the agency’s capacity to deal with the enormity of the change required to bring its systems up-to-date and aligned to an enterprise architecture that accurately integrates all aspects of the business. This will be particularly important as the agency becomes increasingly IT dependent under an intelligence-led approach and further automates its business processes. At the same time, sequencing of IT transformation needs to be closely aligned with the broader reform process.

Pathway to change

The agency is at the start of a significant change journey. Some change will need to be handled in quick time, while other change can be more methodical and evolutionary. Above all, changes should be balanced and measured. Ultimately change will be transformational and will require effective leadership characterised by high visibility, active communication, increased collaboration, trusted delegation and clear accountability. The two key pillars of this change, the review team believes, are the agency’s leadership and workforce, with the vital link between the two being the agency’s ethos, values and culture based on a ‘one-team’ approach. Quick wins can be achieved in these areas. If these changes are effective, the necessary reform of the business model and supporting systems will naturally follow. The risks in this venture should not be underestimated. A key risk to achieving much-needed transformation and capability enhancement will be realigning priorities and resourcing in a tight fiscal environment. In this respect the CEO will need to work closely within government, with partners and with stakeholders to deliver a modern border agency equipped to meet future challenges.

Last reviewed: 
29 March 2018