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Highlights from 2015

Editor's Note to Readers

Welcome to the final edition of Human Capital Matters (HCM) for 2015—the digest for leaders and practitioners with an interest in human capital and organisational capability. Human Capital Matters seeks to provide APS leaders and practitioners with easy access to the issues of contemporary importance in public and private sector human capital and organisational capability. It has been designed to provide interested readers with a monthly guide to the national and international ideas that are shaping human capital thinking and practice. The inclusion of articles is aimed at stimulating creative and innovative thinking and does not in any way imply that the Australian Public Service Commission endorses service providers or policies.

Thank you to those who took the time to provide feedback on earlier editions of Human Capital Matters. Comments, suggestions or questions regarding this publication are always welcome and should be addressed to: humancapitalmatters [at] apsc.gov.au. Readers can also subscribe to the mailing list through this email address.

It is intended that future HCM will link to topical posts from the State of the Service results. In the latter half of 2015 the State of the Service report was overhauled from a printed text to short, weekly updates on the State of the Service website. Consequently, from late August 2015 the topics and results addressed by census and agency survey items were published on the website rather than in printed books as had previously been done. Topics are addressed by subject matter experts to provide an outward-focused view. HCM 2016 will contribute to that work providing background on selected topics and their relevance to the reform of the APS.

This edition presents the stand-out feature articles from 2015 across topics as diverse as organisational culture, job design and values-based work.

Highlights from 2015:

In Edition 1 of February 2015, HCM addressed the many facets of organisational culture. A different perspective on organisational culture was offered by Marquis and Tilcsik who put the case for 'imprinting' or how some foundational or primary organisational elements persist beyond the foundation stage.

Edition 2 provided articles on job analysis, which is defined as a process to determine the essential duties, tasks and responsibilities of jobs. The aim of job analysis is to ensure accurate recruitment, selection and classification of jobs. The articles included at least three text-book style sources about how to conduct or develop a job analysis. The article from the University of Cambridge has been chosen as the stand-out one as it outlines principles for the conduct of job analysis and design.

In April, an edition on workplace communication was published. This edition of HCM addressed issues such as the use of emoticons, the history of strategic communication, intercultural communication in multinational organisations and also a link to a text book on corporate communication. This last article has been chosen for this current, highlight edition of HCM as it provides a comprehensive history and guide to corporate communication in contemporary organisations.

Span of control was addressed in the fourth edition of HCM. This edition provided articles on how to determine an appropriate span of control, optimal spans of control, the original work on span of control and the 2013 National Commission of Audit analysis of Australian Government agencies' spans of control. The findings from this last, Australian article have been reproduced for this edition of HCM.

In June 2015, HCM was all about attracting and recruiting the right people. Dr Michelle Wallis' article has been reproduced because it highlights the importance of 'branding' in attracting the human capital that best fits an organisation's requirements.

Edition six revisited organisational culture as a point of comparison with organisational climate.  It was posited that climate is more easily measured than culture though both imply common, often unwitting or unarticulated, drivers of policies, practices and processes in an organisation. This edition introduced the psychosocial safety climate (PSC) scale—what an organisation does that affects employees' psychological safety. It also highlighted work by Gary Johns around attendance dynamics and the concomitant climate considerations, which has informed the development of the APSC attendance climate scales. The Johns' article has been chosen for reproduction for its topical theme in the current APS climate.

High performing organisations (HPO) was the broad topic of the August edition of Human Capital Matters.  HPO goes by various names but underpinning all is the core consideration of the employer-employee relationship as an enabler for high performance.  The article chosen for this edition of HCM is from Combs, Yongmei, Hall and Ketchen in 2006 in which they research the impact of high performance work practices on organisational performance.

The vexations that surround individual performance management were highlighted in the September edition of HCM. The argument that performance management is simply a compliance exercise is weighed against the need for flexibility, agility and innovation in public sector management and performance. Reproduced here is a PriceWaterhouse Coopers' perspective, printed in the Australian Financial Review, on the outdated nature of traditional performance management systems and the limited impact that they have on productivity.

The October edition for 2015 was the HCM on values-based work. Values-based behaviour is contrasted with standards-based behaviour in which behaviour is seen as a compliance exercise rather than being based on an internalised belief. Lynne Paine's article from a 1994 Harvard Business Review on organisational integrity still has insights to offer in 2015.

The penultimate edition was about Capability Maturity Models (CMM). This edition aimed to represent the evolution of maturity models from applications in software implementation through to benchmarking comparisons in the Australian Public Service (APS). The article by Schmidtchen and Cotton, which underpins the application of CMM in the APS, has been recreated in this HCM edition for review.

Marquis, Christopher and Tilcsik, András. Imprinting: Toward A Multilevel Theory (March 1, 2013). Academy of Management Annals, 7: 193-243, 2013.; Harvard Business School Organisational Behaviour Unit Working Paper No. 13-061; Rotman School of Management Working Paper No. 2198954

Nearly half a century has passed since Stinchcombe (1965) introduced the concept of imprinting to organisational research, describing how organisations take on elements of their founding environment and how these elements persist well beyond the founding phase. This article is a working draft paper that attempts to clarify the nature of imprinting, to integrate the disparate literatures that have engaged with the concept, and to guide research toward a multilevel theory of imprinting.

The authors advance a three-part definition of imprinting that emphasises:

  • brief sensitive periods of transition during which the focal entity exhibits high susceptibility to external influences
  • a process whereby the focal entity comes to reflect elements of its environment during a sensitive period
  • the persistence of imprints despite subsequent environmental changes.

The first unique feature of the imprinting argument is that an imprint is stamped onto the focal entity in limited time intervals during which the entity exhibits intensified receptivity to external influence. The authors suggest that while each sensitive period is relatively short, an entity might experience multiple sensitive periods over time. Similarly, research at the individual level suggests that, during periods of role transition—including periods of organisational and professional socialisation—individuals are particularly susceptible to influence. Overall across levels of analysis, the authors suggest that sensitive periods should be conceptualised as periods of transition. In this view, the founding period remains the key sensitive period for organisations, as it marks the fundamental transition from nonexistence to existence; similarly, the beginning of an individual's career constitutes an important sensitive period because it represents a critical transition from the world of education to the world of work. Yet the possibility of multiple sensitive periods opens the way for discovering imprinting in a wider variety of instances.

A second important element of imprinting is that core features of the environment exert a significant influence on the focal entity during sensitive periods. In the case of organisations, for example, a "mapping of an environmental condition onto the organisation" takes place at this time. Organisations are initially structured to fit the existing environment and then, because of subsequent inertia and institutionalisation, continue to exhibit traces of the founding context.

The third element of the imprinting hypothesis is that imprints persistence even if significant changes take place in the environment. At the organisational level, Stinchcome suggested a number of reasons for the persistence of structures:

  • they may still be the most efficient form of organisation for a given purpose
  • traditionalising forces, the vesting of interests, and the working out of ideologies may tend to preserve the structure
  • the organisation may not be in a competitive structure in which it has to be better than alternative forms of organisation in order to survive.

The authors note that numerous studies have shown that organisational collectives bear imprints of their founding environment, including the stamp of economic, technological, and institutional conditions and the mark of founding individuals. Such collectives can be defined on the basis of organisational and market characteristics (e.g., industries), geography (e.g., organisational populations embedded in particular nation-states and geographic communities) or shared organisational form. In general, imprinting occurs in these collectives because the founding environmental conditions serve as constraints for early entrants, and the patterns that are established at that time are then perpetuated by subsequent organisations' emulation of the collective's older members.

By conceptualising imprinting in a theoretically grounded way, the author's goal has been to unpack how and why the history of organisations and the individuals within them matters for understanding the present.

Christopher Marquis, Cornell University, USA and András Tilcsik, Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto, Canada

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University of Cambridge, Human Resources. Principles of Job Design

The University of Cambridge Human Resources area suggests the following key factors need to be taken into consideration when designing roles:

Variety—Greater variety in a job can improve the interest, challenge and commitment of the role holder to the task. Doing the same repetitive tasks may offer little challenge and can lead to role holders losing interest or becoming and dissatisfied.

Responsibility—Individuals need to feel responsible for the work they are doing, either individually or as part of a team. Their work should be clearly identified so they can see that they are personally responsible for the outcomes (successes and failures) that occur as a result of their own actions. If the responsibilities are clear, then the role holder and their supervisor will be better able to know if the accountabilities of the position are being delivered. The employee should be able to understand the significance of the work they undertake and where it fits into the purpose of the organisation.

Autonomy—This goes hand in hand with responsibility. Autonomy means giving more scope to individuals to regulate and control their own work within the parameters set for the job. The role holder will need to have some areas of decision-making that they can call their own, within the overall framework of their job. For example, this might include scope for exercising some discretion over their method of working in order to deliver.

Task identity—Individuals often receive more satisfaction from doing a 'whole' piece of work. This is more likely to occur when a task or job has a distinct beginning and end which is clearly apparent to the role-holder and others who work around them. It is highly desirable that people see the end results of the work they have produced, either on their own or as a part of a team.

Feedback—Everyone benefits from information on how they are doing and this helps role-holders feel motivated and contributes to their development in the role.

Providing genuine feedback is primarily the responsibility of the line manager, and can be built in to the formal working relationship through e.g. regular one-to-one meetings to discuss work objectives.

Participation in decision making—Most people want to take part in decision making about matters that directly affect their work. As a result of experience they also have considerable potential to contribute. People are, generally, far more likely to act upon and own decisions that they have had a part in making.

Recognition and support—People usually aspire to have jobs that contribute to self-respect, particularly through acceptance and recognition by fellow workers and their supervisors.

Working environment—A job must be designed to support a safe and healthy working environment that is inclusive, non-discriminatory, free from harassment, occupational health and safety hazards.

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Cornelissen, J (2014) Corporate Communication: A Guide to Theory and Practice (4th Edition)

This book provides a comprehensive guide to corporate communication. It explores the historical development of communication within organisations, describes why corporate communication emerged, and demonstrates the importance of corporate communication to contemporary organisations.

The author suggests the following definition of corporate communication:

Corporate communication is a management function that offers a framework for the effective coordination of internal and external communication with the overall purpose of establishing and maintaining favourable reputations with stakeholder groups upon which the organisation is dependent.

The author argues that corporate communication demands an integrated approach to managing communication. He argues corporate communication transcends the specialities of individual communication practitioners and crosses these boundaries to harness the strategic interests of the organisation. The sustainability and success of the organisation depends on how it is viewed by key stakeholders. Communication is a key part of building, maintaining and protecting such reputations.

Joep Cornelissen is a Professor of Corporate Communication at VU University Amsterdam and Leeds University Business School and a Visiting Professor at IE Business School in Madrid and the University of Southern Denmark. He teaches corporate communication and change management on MA and MBA programs and writes for leading journals such as the Academy of Management Review.

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Michelle Wallis, Ian Lings, Roslyn Cameron and Neroli Sheldon Attracting and Retaining Staff: The role of branding and industry image in R Harris, T Short (eds) Workforce Development, Springer Science +Business Media (2014)

 The article argues the employer branding has the potential to attract the human capital that best fits an organisation's requirements. It alleges that employer brands communicate the benefits of employment to potential employees.

Furthermore, it is argued that the value of an organisation's brand as an employer reflects an employee's beliefs that their employment needs will be met by their employer.

The authors assert that employers who have 'high employer brand value' are more attractive as employers than employers who have 'low employer brand value'. A potential employee's appraisal of an employer brand is influenced by factors such as their awareness and perceptions of the employer brand which may have developed by word of mouth, personal experience and marketing strategies. Employer branding is a synthesis of marketing practices and recruitment practices.

Employer branding is not something that employers undertake independently of their business activities or in isolation of their employees. Stakeholders are part of inadvertent and planned branding which encompasses the use of symbolism, behaviours and communication activities. The corporate brand is a promise provided to the stakeholders by the organisation. As such there is a need to match expectations. The value proposition statement is developed and marketed to potential and existing employees.

Organisations with a strong employer brand show:

  • high recognition and positive image in the labour market
  • adherence to the promises of the psychological contract
  • unique and economic and symbolic features that are valuable to potential employees
  • accurate differentiation as an employer
  • stable policies and activities for positioning the labour market in the company.

Research indicates that employees prefer working in a particular industry based on the products or services offered or by the preferred tasks.

Attracting and retaining the 'right sort' of people with the required skills mix is a combination of the branding proposition and a range of recruitment, selection, and performance management strategies.

Dr Michelle Wallis is an Associate Professor of Human Resources in the Business School at the Southern Cross University. Dr Ian Lings is Professor and Head of School at Queensland University of Technology Business School. Dr Roslyn Cameron is a Senior Lecturer in Human Resource Management at the School of Business and Law, Central Queensland University. Neroli Sheldon has a Masters of Human Resources and Organisational Development and has worked over the past 20 years in private and public sectors in private and public sectors in management and training and development roles.

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National Commission of Audit, Australian Government (2013) Spans of control within Commonwealth government agencies

The National Commission of Audit (NCOA) was announced by the Treasurer, the Hon Joe Hockey MP, and the Minister for Finance, Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann, on 22 October 2013.

The Australian Government has released the Phase One and Phase Two Reports of the National Commission of Audit – Towards Responsible Government.

This provides a link to the NCOA's findings about span of control.

The NCOA asserted that Spans of control that are too narrow can result in insufficiently engaged staff, leading to dissatisfaction and reduced morale as well as ineffective communication between different layers of organisations, unclear accountabilities and higher staff costs.

It found that the average span of control for EL2s (excluding managers who do not have staff reporting directly to them) ranges from around one staff member to over 10 staff members in some service delivery and specialist agencies. For EL1s, the average spans of control tended to be narrower. Some organisations indicated that accurate information about spans of control was not possible due to human resource system limitations that did not capture this level of data.

The NCOA used relied on work done by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG). The BCG has developed best practice span of control target ranges for different public sector functions. These ranges are based on organisational de‑layering analysis and projects conducted with various public sector organisations around the world, including a number of Australian government departments and agencies at both the Commonwealth and State levels.

Best practice spans of control target ranges are set out below for different public sector functions:

  • 5-8 staff for policy and research functions
  • 8-10 staff for service delivery functions
  • 7-9 staff for regulation and compliance functions
  • 6-12 staff for specialist functions.

In comparing known data about spans of control in agencies with these best practice targets, the NCOA observed the following differences:

  • Policy and research agencies – 10 of 14 agencies have an average span of control for EL2s that is below the best practice benchmark range. Eleven of 14 agencies have an average span of control for EL1s that is below best practice.
  • Service delivery and operational agencies – 21 of 23 agencies have average spans of control for EL2s and EL1s that are below the best practice benchmark range.
  • Regulation and compliance – all 15 agencies have average spans of control for EL2s and EL1s that are below the best practice benchmark range.
  • Other specialist agencies – of the 38 specialist agencies, 32 have an average span of control for EL2s that is below the best practice range and 36 have an average span of control for EL1s below best practice.

The National Commission of Audit (NCOA) was established by the Australian Government as an independent body to review and report on the performance, functions and roles of the Commonwealth government.

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Johns, G. 2009, Absenteeism or Presenteeism? Attendance dynamics and employee well-being The Oxford Handbook of Organizational Well-being, Chapter 2 Susan Cartwright and Cary L. Cooper (Eds), Oxford University Press, (pp. 7-23)

Johns examines the relationships between employee absenteeism, presenteeism and employee well-being. He defines absenteeism as failing to report for work as expected. Presenteeism is defined as reporting for work when one is ill and there is a decrement in productivity. The interplay between these behaviours is referred to as attendance dynamics and Johns presents a substantive chapter on the interplay of employee well-being and attendance dynamics. The article takes a broad view of well-being, encompassing physical, mental and emotional well-being and assumes that a positively evaluated work experience (which is one component of organisational climate) is conducive to employee well-being.

Johns notes that job satisfaction has been a traditional indicator of well-being and is negatively related to absenteeism. There is growing evidence however that feelings of injustice and related experiences that threaten well-being are better predictors of absenteeism. Absence has been shown to be higher in response to direct measures of inequity, breaches of psychological contract, salary caps, failure to gain promotion and when organisational support is perceived to be low. It is noteworthy that absenteeism increases during periods of downsizing or restructuring.

One of the most important developments of the past decades has been the recognition of how social context affects attendance. Absenteeism has been shown to be highly susceptible to normative influence, mostly centred around natural workgroups. Workplace units can be shown to have distinctive absence cultures and absenteeism is particularly likely to manifest among individuals and social units characterised by poor social integration—when social ties and organisational support are considered weak and identification with the organisation is low.

Johns notes that 'a good attendance management system is one that facilitates organizational effectiveness while fostering employee well-being'. For example, while it is important to set an expectation of good attendance, it is detrimental to employee well-being to claim illness if they are really caring for family. He reports that this precludes dialogue about attendance issues and defaults to a medical model of absence which is not necessarily factual. This is, as Johns sees it, a common error in attendance management systems alongside 'draconian' management policy such as punishment for lateness and excessive concern for the number of absences as opposed to total time lost. Rather than encourage presenteeism, Johns suggests that 'family friendly' policies for absence should be pursued. 'The overall goal is not to absolutely minimise absence but to manage attendance in light of organisational, (medical) and family realities' (p. 21).

Beyond such policies, job designs that allow a degree of autonomy and control over the work experience appear to stem absenteeism, particularly if a job design allows employees to adjust their work when ill.

Johns makes a special mention about the impact of organisational restructuring on job design.  Organisational change can sometimes produce poor job designs that reduce autonomy and control, promote role overload and ignore adequate training for new or changed responsibilities. These after-effects are often related to increased absenteeism.

The role of the supervisor or manager does not go unremarked either. It has been found that absence rates among staff are positively correlated with the absence rates of the managers. This supports the idea that setting a group norm about attendance is an important aspect of attendance management and that managers/supervisors may serve as models of attendance. It has been reported that groups with good relationships among staff and with managers were less likely to manifest absences. Johns suggests then that setting an expectation about attendance, modelling attendance behaviour and ensuring effective relationships among team members is likely to produce 'superior benefits' in the form of attendance.  Such a workplace climate has the additional benefit of placing the manager in a good position to deal with 'fair exceptions' in regard to attendance. This is seen by Johns as 'the hallmark of a good system of attendance accountability' (Johns, p. 22)

Finally, much of this understanding about attendance dynamics informed the development of an Attendance Climate Scale for the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) . This measure includes four components:

  • Individual employee's perceptions of the management of attendance
  • Management perceptions of their ability to manage attendance
  • Attendance climate questions adapted from work done in 2000 by Xie and Johns
  • Individual and workgroup norms for absence behaviours adapted from work by Johns and Xie, 1998

The APSC Attendance Climate Scale has been tested and the properties of the scale found to be adequate measures of employees' and managers' perceptions of absence management and attendance climate and norms. The scale will form part of the evaluation of the APS Absence Management Toolkit and will be available for wider use in the APS.

Gary Johns, Department of Management, John Molson School of Business, Concordia University, Quebec, Canada

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Combs, J., Yongmei, L., Hall, A. &Ketchen, D. (2006) How Much Do High-performance Work Practices Matter? A meta-analysis of their effects on organizational performance. Personnel Psychology 2006, 59 501-528

The authors begin their review with the statement that:

'Although there is growing evidence that high performance work practices (HPWPs) affect organizational performance, varying sample characteristics, research designs, practices examined, and organizational performance measures used has led extant findings to vary dramatically ...'

In view of this dramatic variation the authors determined a need to better understand the relationship between HPWP and organisational performance and the conditions that moderate that relationship. The authors believed that improved insight into the relationship could potentially benefit strategic human resources management theory and help practitioners justify investment in HPWP.

They selected 92 studies in which they examined the effects of HPWP on organisational performance, specifically: differences between HPWP systems and individual practices; operational versus financial performance measures; and, manufacturing versus service organisations. They found:

  • HPWP materially affect organisational performance
  • Systems of HPWP have stronger effects than individual practices
  • The relationship appears invariant (remains unchanged) to the choice of performance measures

This last finding has most significance perhaps for a public sector environment in which performance is difficult to measure.

James Coombs and Yongmei Liu (at the time this article was published) were from the Department of Management at Florida State University, Angela Hall was from the Department of Risk, Management and Insurance, Real Estate Business Law at Florida State and David Ketchen was from the Department of Management, Auburn University.

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Australian Financial Review, Businesses should boycott performance reviews, 5 March, 2014

Reporting initially on an interview with PwC managing director, Jon Williams, the Australian Financial Review (AFR) chose the headline 'Businesses should boycott performance reviews'.  Williams was quoted as saying that performance management systems in Australia were 'outdated' and 'chew(ed) up time' without improving productivity. It was also suggested that there was no relationship between performance management systems and engagement.

The introduction of new bullying laws in January 2014 was seen as one catalyst for companies to review their performance management practices.  Managers now needed to exercise clear and focussed communication with employees about performance or risk the perception of harassment.

In the same article a Deloitte's spokesperson—David Brown—spoke about businesses moving away from the 'rank and yank' model of performance ratings towards a coaching system which identified areas for employee development. This had been heralded in the USA with companies such as Microsoft and General Electric dropping the competitive nature of performance reviews so that employees previously ranked at the lower end of the bell curve might still contribute positively to the organisation.

Australian Human Resources Institute (AHRI) research was also reported.  AHRI findings provided a similar perspective to the 2015 PwC findings. It was noted that while only 3% of surveyed HRM employees believed their performance management systems were very effective, only 34% believed they were totally ineffective. This adds weight to the idea that performance managements systems might be improved rather than abandoned.

Curtin University School of Management spokesperson, Jane Coffey, also agreed many performance management systems were archaic. Performance management systems, it was suggested, should be more about investment in human capital. The unique nature of the business, the type of skills required and ensuring pertinent skills were sustained were all seen to be critical considerations in organisational performance systems.

Other expert sources, Adelaide-based Stillwell Consulting and the Fair Work Ombudsman, were also reported as having identified that the performance management system required an overhaul. Regular or immediate feedback about task critical performance and adopting a more serious approach to providing feedback were seen as two improvements that could be made easily.

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Lynn S. Paine, Managing for Organisational Integrity Harvard Business Review, March-April, 1994

Paine starts with the premise that many organisations implement compliance-based ethics programs designed to prevent, detect and punish legal violations and argues that they need to go beyond post-violation punitive measures. 'Integrity strategies' which define a company's guiding values would help prevent ethical lapses which cause reputational damage and loss of public confidence. At the same time, Paine argues, such ethical strategies tap into 'powerful human impulses for moral thought and action'.

Citing case-studies of two US companies, Sears Auto Centers and Beech-Nut Nutrition Corporation (Nestlé), Paine describes the role of company imposed sales quotas and incentive payments in causing failures of judgement on the part of some employees. Some employees reported 'pressure, pressure, pressure' to sell unnecessary products and services, which:

(w)ithout active management support for ethical practice and mechanisms to detect and check questionable sales methods and poor work, it (was) not surprising that some employees ... reacted to contextual forces by resorting to exaggeration, carelessness, or even misrepresentation

The result was an overwhelming number of customer complaints. The ultimate cost to Sears in 1992, in settling customers' complaints, was estimated at $60 million (USD).

A similar lapse of judgement cost Beech-Nut an estimated $25 million (USD) in 1987.

Paine's argument is that neither company might be considered inherently bad. Rather, both companies were seen to lack ingrained principles that would guide ethically sound decisions.

Identifying contextual, organisational factors does not excuse individuals' responsibilities, however:

Many people resist acknowledging the influence of organizational factors on individual behavior—especially on misconduct—for fear of diluting people's sense of personal moral responsibility. But this fear is based on a false dichotomy between holding individual transgressors accountable and holding "the system" accountable. Acknowledging the importance of organizational context need not imply exculpating individual wrongdoers. To understand all is not to forgive all

Paine also argues for 'a sound, well-articulated strategy for legal compliance' in any organisation and notes that many 'integrity initiatives have structural features common to compliance-based initiatives', for example a code of conduct and training. It is also asserted however that emphasis on sanctions, especially if designed without employee consultation or if too vague, can be counterproductive and lead to employees' perception that management is covering its own back.

Compliance, Paine suggests, can be inadequate in addressing the range of ethical issues confronting most organisations today. As well, the value of compliance alone in inspiring exceptional performance is seen as questionable (italics by this author).

Paine explores, through case studies again, the benefits of management-led commitment to ethical values. The primary benefit is identified as discouraging damaging misconduct.

Lynn S. Paine is a John G. McLean Professor of Business Administration and the senior associate dean for faculty development at Harvard Business School

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Schmidtchen, D. & Cotton, T. Comparative application of a business process maturity model in the public sector. Paper presented to the 28th Australian and New Zealand Academy of Management in 2014

According to Schmidtchen and Cotton, organisational capability in the APS has been defined as the combination of people, processes, systems, structures and culture that contribute to continuously improving performance in APS departments and agencies.  The paper focuses on the use of a maturity model as a comparative tool within the APS.

Two methods of assessing capability have been used in the APS since 2010. The interdependent methods are firstly, the capability review model which focuses on leadership, strategic and delivery capabilities. The second and complementary method is the CMM in which APS agencies use a standard maturity model to assess a range of organisational capabilities such as stakeholder engagement, strategic planning, risk management, change management, workforce planning and performance management.

The first method requires a team of independent assessors on-site for an extended period. The second requires an agency to make two self-assessments:  the agency's current maturity status against specified capabilities and secondly, its required (or perhaps aspirational) status in regard to the same target capabilities. The assessments are provided by way of a survey delivered as part of the State of the Service annual census of APS agencies.

In the second method, the CMM method,  the targeted APS agencies rate their current and required capabilities in a maturity model structure of five levels from ad hoc (immature) to optimised (mature). The levels are hierarchical.  Progression from immature to mature is seen as an evolutionary progression through: awareness (immature); general acceptance (defined by tools and databases); managed (with a more centralised, strategic approach); to finally, regular integration of lessons learned and feedback loops resulting in measurable benefits (mature).

The authors define APS agencies by five functional types: policy, large operational, small operational, regulatory and specialist. Capabilities for functional groups can be compared within and against other functional types though the critical measurements are the gaps between current and required capabilities for individual agencies. In this way agencies are able to see increases in current and required capabilities over time and, a reduction in the capability gap over time. As stated in the discussion:

By comparing current capability over time, an assessment of whether agency capability has actually 'matured'; that is, has increased, can be made; this allows agencies to evaluate the progress of earlier capability investments. By comparing their required level of capability maturity over time, agencies are able to identify how their changing business context has influenced their capability requirements; it assists agencies make a critical assessment of their likely future business and what this means for investment decisions in their business processes

More importantly, by examining the gap between current and future requirements, agencies can determine where they might most profitably invest their resources to improve capability across their business processes. This assumes a different view of 'maturity' in that business process maturity is not affected by simple constant improvement, but rather by accurately assessing business needs and matching business process maturity to actual business need. This then allows agencies to evaluate how effective their efforts have been at improving their business processes where the need is greatest. When looked at across an industry, in this case the APS, it assists in identifying systemic areas of weakness to which resources can be allocated with greatest effect – in the APS one area where this can be seen is in the workforce planning capability

While the authors note the limitations of CMM (which will be discussed in the next abstract) they conclude that the CMM offers insights into organisational capability, especially when capability is tracked over time.

At the time of this paper both authors were employed by the Australian Public Service Commission, Commonwealth of Australia Canberra, Australia. Dr David Schmidtchen is the corresponding author

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Australian Public Service Commission 2015 RN 29-15 Measuring Attendance Climate in the APS, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra

Last reviewed: 
24 May 2018