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Improving change management capability in APS agencies

Building and sustaining the organisational capability required to manage continuous change is difficult. Less than one-quarter of agencies covered by the 2013 agency survey believed their agency change management capability was at the desired level. This result was largely unchanged from 2011 and suggests that APS agencies are aware they need to maintain focus on this capability.

It is evident from published Capability Reviews that agencies with stronger change management capabilities have a clear and coherent vision, plan for change and communicate the imperative and potential impact of reform initiatives. Additionally, having a leadership group committed to planning, executing and communicating change programmes is more likely to see improved levels of employee and stakeholder acceptance and success. As the Department of Agriculture case study shows, responding to the recommendations of a Capability Review have led some agencies to develop and implement comprehensive reform initiatives.

Department of Agriculture: Service Delivery Modernisation

The Department of Agriculture (Agriculture) provides advice and support to the Australian Government on matters involving agriculture, food, fisheries, forestry and related industries, while delivering programmes and services to meet government objectives and support clients and stakeholders in these sectors.

The 2013 Agriculture Capability Review highlighted the need for improvements to the department's service delivery and reported its service delivery operations as being behind APS best practice.

To address these issues, over the last 12 months and in accordance with findings from the Capability Review, the department embarked on an internally funded programme of modernising its service delivery and related workforce management arrangements.

The vision of the service delivery modernisation (SDM) programme is to modernise the department's service delivery infrastructure and arrangements to increase the convenience and cost effectiveness of service delivery and/or facilitate compliance with regulatory obligations.

The initial focus of the SDM programme was to define a future state for service delivery within the department by adopting an evidence-based approach to understand current service channels, services, client needs and expectations. Through this, the department has set an agenda for the SDM programme over the forward estimates period to streamline and improve business processes and client service through better use of organisational capabilities, modern service delivery arrangements and technology. The changes proposed will also deliver significant productivity improvements for the department.

Delivery of the SDM programme is progressing well and the department is already seeing some positive results. Agriculture has already achieved, or is on track to achieve, these outcomes:

  • enhanced channel choice—by delivering more services to external clients online, including the introduction of an online lodgement and processing system for importation documentation in September 2014
  • reduced administrative burden—by better enabling mobile employees to perform more functions online, remotely and in real time, through the deployment of mobile technology in 2014–15, the department has reduced paperwork, inefficiencies (such as secondary processing) and administrative processes
  • compliance with accessibility requirements—by improving the department's website to meet whole-of-government accessibility requirements by December 2014
  • improved channel management—by establishing contact centres and using a new telephony platform, modern call handling and workflow management capabilities
  • improved resource management—by using modern call handling and workflow management capabilities to better utilise the workforce through national processing queues and related workforce management arrangements, which has also enabled national consistency of service and performance
  • better jobs for our people—by designing services and service delivery arrangements that improve employee satisfaction, including those working in a contact-centre environment, through better cross-skilling and work mix.

Agriculture will continue to progress the SDM agenda over the coming years to become a modern, flexible and responsive service delivery agency.

The 2014 agency survey asked agencies to identify the barriers to improving change management. While agencies identified a broad spectrum of barriers, two general themes provide insight into agency change-management experiences in 2013–14.

The first theme relates to the volume of change agencies were required to manage. For example, MoG changes that occurred during 2013–14 required agencies to implement organisational change programmes quickly. This had the potential to result in ineffective implementation practices. In response, some agencies put in place a ‘change management office’ that was responsible for implementing governance arrangements, de-conflicting initiatives, supporting executive decision-making and assuring change management outcomes.

Similarly, in response to the requirement for transformational change (as discussed previously in this chapter) within the agency, the ATO established an organisation-wide Change Network as a key engagement mechanism for employees to be involved in its significant change agenda. The ATO Change Network is made up of more than 750 self-nominated Change Agents from APS 1 to SES levels, 45 nominated Change Enablers at Executive Level 1 and 2 and a small group of Change Champions at SES level. Concurrently, the ATO is developing and will progressively roll out a suite of change management training and support materials. These range from targeted and intensive face-to-face training modules aimed at building specific manager capability in managing people, productivity and performance during change, to introductory level, self-paced e-learning products and self-help tools available to all employees. The ATO has further supported this work by embedding change management philosophy and principles into project methodology to ensure that the people side of change is considered in all projects.

Responses to the agency survey demonstrate that the complexity of change touched every aspect of the operation of some agencies. For example, the bringing together of APS employees from 10 agencies into the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet required not only short-term processes and operational changes but also long-term integration to address organisational cultures. The department established a dedicated change management team within its Indigenous Affairs Group to manage the restructure process and developed mechanisms to track, measure and report on progress. Specific change management and engagement work started in June 2014, to engage the SES leadership group in the change process and build employee capability to lead and adapt to change.

Similarly, responding to the volume of change led the Department of Social Services (DSS) to raise the need for APS agencies to develop and embed ‘change readiness’ as an organisational capability. Change management implies a return to stability at the completion of the ‘change’ but the experience of DSS illustrated that change is a constant feature of organisational practice. As a result, agencies might focus more productively on developing and embedding change readiness into day-to-day management processes.

The second theme related to lack of breadth and depth of skill in managing change. The majority of agencies (67%) reported that work was underway internally to improve change management capability. This was particularly evident in large agencies (87%) and less so in small agencies (52%), perhaps reflecting the broader functional nature and greater communication challenges inherent in larger agencies. Examples of activities underway include:

  • The Australian Bureau of Statistics convened an SES Band 1 focus group on change management to address issues identified through the 2013 employee census. Recommendations from this focus group have been implemented, including centralising change communication and coordinated messaging about change.
  • The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade offered internal and external change management learning and development programmes to employees, including change management workshops and managerial development programmes such as strategic people management.
  • The Department of Veterans' Affairs developed a Change Management Toolkit to assist managers to lead people through change. Additionally, an e-learning course ‘Change in the Workplace’ was made available to all employees as part of the department's e-learning suite. The information in this course complements tools and resources available through the Change Management Toolkit.

The development of employee skills and expertise was identified as a key barrier to improving agency change management capability. This requirement was identified at senior levels of the APS. The APS Core Skills Project has moved forward the development of training and development packages designed to assist employees and managers in dealing with, planning for and managing change. These training and development packages were made available in July 2014.


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