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Asia capability of APS agencies

The ability of the APS to deliver outcomes for government, citizens and Australian businesses in the Asian century requires more than individual employees with Asia capability and expertise. Agencies need to be able to apply the expertise of their employees to achieve business outcomes.16 And they need to combine employee skills with their processes, culture, systems and structures.

APS current operations in and with Asia

APS agencies, including those primarily focused on domestic matters, have a range of direct and indirect engagement with Asia. From negotiating agreements with Asian governments to providing capacity building, and from supporting Australian citizens abroad to advising Australians on doing business in Asia, APS agencies have many and varied interests in relation to Asia.

Before the release of the White Paper, the 2011–12 agency survey asked whether agencies routinely engage with Asia as part of their business operations, for example negotiate agreements, develop policies, formulate strategies and/or enter into partnerships. Fifty-one per cent indicated they routinely engaged with Asia. Another 8% indicated that while they did not routinely engage with Asia they closely monitored emerging issues in the region.

This year, agencies were asked about the nature of their dealings with Asia. Sixty-six per cent of agencies reported they were directly engaged in Asia either by having permanent employees located in Asia (12%), through regular and routine contact with Asian governments (36%), or through regular and routine contact with Asian businesses (16%).17 Another 16% of agencies indicated they have regular or routine contact with Australian businesses dealing with Asia.

Responding to the policy agenda: an increasing Asia focus

There are early signs that APS agencies are adopting an increased focus on Asia. When asked whether the release of the White Paper had changed the Asia focus of their agency, 6% reported a major increase, 35% a slight increase and 19% indicated no change because their agency already had a strong Asia focus. A number of agencies (34%) indicated no change in their Asia focus because their agency was little affected by Asia. The majority of agencies in the latter category were smaller operational and specialist agencies.

When asked whether consideration of Asia was a routine part of an agency's strategy, 13% reported they routinely do so and 56% consider Asia as part of their strategy for specific activities.

Agencies were also asked whether the rise of Asia was a major factor influencing their stakeholders, clients and customers. Table 8.1 shows the distribution of responses to two items: ‘the extent to which the publication of the White Paper influenced the business of the agency’; and the ‘extent to which the rise of Asia impacted agencies' stakeholders, clients or customers’. There is a statistically significant relationship between these two items. For example, agencies that reported they already had a strong focus on Asia were more likely to also report a strong focus on Asia among their stakeholders, clients or customers. Similarly, agencies that reported little impact of the White Paper on their business were also more likely to report little impact of the rise of Asia on the focus of their stakeholders, clients or customers. However, 80% of agencies that reported a major increase in their focus on Asia as a result of the White Paper only reported a slight increase in the focus of their stakeholders, clients or customers. Agencies in this category were primarily central policy agencies with significant responsibility for implementing the White Paper or putting in place policies to position the nation for success in Asia.

A key challenge for all agencies will be to anticipate the shifting level of Asia-oriented interest among their stakeholders so they have the level of Asia capability required to provide well-informed service and advice.

It should be noted that data collected through the agency survey assesses the number of agencies incorporating Asian considerations into their strategy process. The data do not assess the quality or appropriateness of Asia-focused strategies, nor assess whether these strategies are being used as an effective basis for setting agency systems and processes.

Table 8.1 Relationship between agency Asia focus and stakeholder Asia focus, 2012–13
Agency impact Stakeholder impact
No change, already strong focus on Asia (% of agencies) Slight increase in focus (% of agencies) Major increase in focus (% of agencies) No change, little affected (% of agencies)
Source: Agency survey
No change, already strong focus on Asia 68 21 11 0
Slight increase 7 78 11 4
Major increase 0 80 20 0
No change, little affected 8 12 0 81

Agency Asia workforce capability

To make effective use of the APS workforce's growing Asia capability, APS agencies require organisational capabilities to transform individual skills into agency outcomes. The Asialink Taskforce for an Asia Capable Workforce has identified critical capabilities for organisations engaged in Asia: strong leadership and vision; talent development and retention; productive local partnerships; aligned internal culture; knowledge of the local environment; and supportive systems and processes.

Drawing on the Asialink organisational capabilities the agency survey provides baseline insights into the Asia capability of APS agencies. The following section uses a four-level capability maturity model to assess agencies current and required Asia capability.18 Agencies were asked to assess their maturity against these Asia-related organisational capabilities:

  • leadership knowledge
  • leadership behaviours
  • qualified personnel
  • supportive agency culture
  • knowledge of local government environment
  • supportive systems and processes
  • information sharing networks
  • local partnerships.

Agencies were asked to indicate where they were currently located on one of four maturity levels—basic, standard practice, best practice and next practice—on each of the eight Asia-related capabilities. Agencies were also asked to indicate the level of maturity they required to meet organisational outcomes in the next three years for each capability.

Figure 8.4 shows that agencies assessed their current level of maturity across the eight capabilities as predominately Level 1 (basic practice) or Level 2 (standard practice).

At a basic level of practice (Level 1), agencies indicated that knowledge of the local government environment, local partnerships and senior management knowledge were the three least developed areas. The agencies that assessed their current level of maturity as Level 2 (standard practice) indicated that systems and processes enabling them to focus on Asia were in place but the level of development and application was rudimentary. They also reported that while agency culture supported a more involved approach with Asia, the link to overall agency strategy was not consistent. Finally, agencies at Level 2 reported that while senior management were engaged in Asian operations this was not a major focus.

A smaller proportion of agencies (those at Level 3 and 4) were confident they had the knowledge and systems to support engagement with Asia. These agencies generally had a clear international focus such as DFAT, the Australian Agency for International Development and the Australian Trade Commission.

Overall, agency assessments of their current maturity relating to the seven Asia capabilities demonstrate that agencies have a firm foundation on which to build the capabilities they will require to take them into the future. While there may be some deficiencies in knowledge, these can be addressed over time through exposure, experience and training.

Figure 8.4 Agencies' assessed current Asia capability maturity, 2012–13

Source: Agency survey

 

Agencies were also asked to assess the level of maturity they required in these Asia-capabilities over the next three years to meet organisational outcomes. Figure 8.5 shows the majority of agencies consider they need to be at Level 3 (best practice) with a common focus on improving information sharing networks with other agencies, continuing to build a focus on Asia as part of the agency culture, working with local partners or intermediaries to navigate the government environment in Asia and ensuring that senior leaders have well-developed Asia relevant skills.

Figure 8.5 Agencies' assessed required Asia capability maturity, 2012–13

Source: Agency survey

 

While there is some natural variability in capability across the APS, there is also considerable opportunity to collaborate, share resources, and work collectively to overcome deficiencies and build on existing strengths.

The rest of this chapter examines the Asia-related capabilities in greater detail.

Senior management knowledge and experience

Asialink has identified engaged leadership with a clear strategy for Asian operations and a vision of how they fit within a broader organisation as a key capability for success in Asia.19

Table 8.2 shows that a significant proportion of agencies (54%) indicated their current level of leadership knowledge was at the maturity level needed over the next three years and 63% indicated their senior management was engaged in the agency's Asia operations. Although this indicates a strong level of capability, as Asia's importance and influence impacts an increasingly wide array of APS agencies, it is possible more agencies will identify a requirement to mature their capability to a higher level.

Table 8.2 Required changes in Asia-focused leadership capability, 2012–13
Maturity level Leadership knowledge (% of agencies) Leadership behaviour (% of agencies)
Source: Agency survey
Agencies at a leadership maturity level that would enable them to achieve Asia-related agency goals within the next three years 54 63
Agencies that need to be one level above their current leadership maturity position to achieve Asia-related agency goals within the next three years 42 33
Agencies that need to be two or more levels above their current maturity position to achieve Asia-related agency goals within the next three years 3 3

 

Of the agencies that indicated a requirement to improve their senior leadership knowledge, 53% were seeking to progress from standard practice (senior management have Asia-related skills and knowledge, but these are not actively developed) to best practice, where senior management have the opportunity to enhance their skills. Likewise, 58% of agencies requiring a higher level of senior leadership behaviour were aiming to progress from standard practice (senior managers are engaged in Asian operations but not as a major focus) to best practice where senior management is committed to Asian operations with a long-term outlook and strategy.

Employee and stakeholder engagement with Asia

Agencies were asked to assess the extent to which their employees are involved in the agency's relationship with Asia and are aware of the value of the relationship. They were also asked to indicate the extent to which the agency's stakeholders are engaged in the region.

The majority of agencies assessed they were at maturity Level 2 on the extent to which employees see engagement with Asia as an important part of the agency's operations and also the extent to which employees had networks across the APS and with stakeholders engaged in the region.

Fifty-one per cent of agencies indicated that a portion of their workforce are involved in Asian operations and understand its value to the agency; however, the link to overall business strategy was not consistent. A similar proportion of agencies (51%) indicated their employees have personal networks with other agencies and stakeholders engaged in Asia but these relationships are not a systematic part of agency operations.

These results seem to indicate that the personal and knowledge networks regarding Asia reside in pockets of expertise across the APS. One approach to capability building may be to identify areas of overlapping knowledge across the APS, to maximise available knowledge, experience and networks.

In assessing capabilities required for the future, Table 8.3 shows that most agencies see room for improvement in these internal workforce capabilities. These capabilities are important in that these networks are the foundation that the Australian Industry Group and Asialink noted as an important component of business success in Asia20:

The majority of Australian enterprises interested in engaging with Asian countries rate ‘having a greater depth of understanding of local culture and staff’ and having a global mindset as very important to business success.

Forty-two per cent of agencies also indicated that while they had management and employees with Asia skills, they did not draw on or develop these skills systematically. Another 24% indicated they had managers and employees who were culturally competent and that these employees were given the opportunity to enhance these skills. Most agencies have a degree of confidence that the skills that will assist them to engage with Asia are in the workforce but, for most, not yet harnessed to make a substantial contribution. Table 8.3 shows that agencies are also confident that the skills available to them are at a sufficient level of development to meet their needs over the coming three years.

Table 8.3 Required changes in Asia-focused engagement capability, 2012–13
Maturity level Supportive agency culture (Extent of employee engagement) (% of agencies) Information sharing networks (Internal and external stakeholder engagement) (% of agencies) Qualified personnel (% of agencies)
Source: Agency survey
Agencies that are at a maturity level that would enable them to achieve agency Asia-related goals within the next three years 56 56 65
Agencies that need to be one level above their current maturity position to achieve Asia-related agency goals within the next three years 36 35 28
Agencies that need to be two or more levels above their current maturity position to achieve Asia-related agency goals within the next three years 3 4 4

While individual agencies face the challenge of maturing their information sharing networks to improve capability, this is also a cross-APS challenge requiring inter-agency collaboration. With multiple agencies engaged in or with Asia, an integrated, whole-of-APS approach to sharing Asia-relevant knowledge, insights and expertise will be a critical capability.

Delivery: systems, processes, networks

Supportive systems and processes are a key enabler of Asia capability. In the APS, systems and processes form part of an agency's delivery capability, that is, the systems and processes enabling it to deliver outcomes.

Agencies were asked whether their internal systems and processes were sufficiently mature to support Asian century outcomes. Table 8.4 shows that 36% of agencies indicated the need to improve the maturity of their internal systems and processes, with the majority of agencies seeking to progress from standard practice (management communicate issues and learning from Asian engagement but in an ad hoc manner) to best practice (where skills and experience from Asian engagements are embedded into future practices). Similarly, the majority of agencies seemed confident that their local partnership and networks were sufficient to meet immediate needs, with 35% of agencies indicating they need to improve their capability in this area. At present, agencies also assessed that their capability in understanding the government environment is adequate. However, 36% of agencies needed to improve their capability in this area.

Table 8.4 Required changes in Asia-focused delivery systems capability, 2012–13
Maturity level Supportive systems and processes (% of agencies) Local partnerships (% of agencies) Knowledge of local government (% of agencies)
Source: Agency survey
Agencies that are at a maturity level that would enable them to achieve Asia-related agency goals within the next three years 61 64 63
Agencies that need to be one level above their current maturity position to achieve Asia-related agency goals within the next three years 26 28 35
Agencies that need to be two or more levels above their current maturity position to achieve Asia-related agency goals within the next three years 10 7 1

Growing APS Asia capability

As agencies aim to improve their Asia capability and embed it into their organisations, they make choices about where to prioritise efforts for the most impact. Agencies were asked if they had a strategy for building their agency-level Asia capability by developing employee skills, adapting systems, process and governance and/or developing inter-agency systems or processes. Seventeen per cent of agencies reported they had strategies in place or under development across all areas. Table 8.5 shows that the highest proportion of agencies indicated they did not have a strategy for building Asia capability across any of these three areas.

Table 8.5 Strategies used by agencies to improve Asia capability, 2012–13
  Fully (% of agencies) Partially (% of agencies) Under development (% of agencies) No (% of agencies)
Source: Agency survey
Developing employee skills 7 17 17 59
Adapting agency systems, processes and governance 5 13 16 65
Developing inter-agency systems and processes 4 24 13 59

Where agencies reported they had strategies to build agency capability, the majority were focused on building employee skills or developing inter-agency systems and/or processes.

Building Asia-capable agencies is a medium to long-term challenge for the APS. The release of the White Paper and the increasing importance of Asia to APS stakeholders, clients and customers are factors prompting agencies to increasingly engage with or consider the relevance of Asia to their work. However, more work is needed—particularly by agencies with a strong domestic focus—to identify opportunities, manage risks or learn from best practice.


Footnotes

16 Australian Public Service Commission, Capability Review Program, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, (2011), http://www.apsc.gov.au/aps-reform/background-and-perspectives/operating-efficiently/capability-reviews.

17 Agencies with less than 100 employees were not required to answer this section of the agency survey. As such, the agency survey data represented here includes only agencies with more than 100 employees (n = 79).

18 This maturity model has been adapted from one developed by Asialink and is at Appendix 5.

19 Asialink, Developing an Asia Capable Workforce: A National Strategy, University of Melbourne, (2012).

20 Asialink and Australian Industry Group, Engaging Asia: Getting it Right for Australian Business, University of Melbourne, (2011).