Guidance for executives
This guidance is for SES officers and managers who lead medium to very large teams (tens to thousands) and have responsibility for making strategic decisions about their group, including workforce planning.
Supporting mobility as an executive
Supporting employee mobility can help you achieve your goals as an executive, with both short and long-term benefits, and can be incorporated into your strategic planning when looking at the deliverables and outcomes you are responsible for, organisational needs, workforce plans, affirmative measures and other talent management programs.
The benefits of mobility:
- Helps you deliver on Government, agency and whole-of-APS enterprise priorities.
- Better utilise APS labour, skills and expertise across the APS, including surges and peaks and troughs in workload.
- Establishes collaborative relationships and forges stronger links across sectors.
- Assists in succession planning and developing future talent.
As an executive, you can ensure your group or organisation gets the most out of mobility by:
- Considering it among other options in strategic planning, including allocating appropriate funding and resources to set and achieve goals.
- Championing its use and supporting a One APS mobility mindset starting from a position of yes.
- Encouraging temporary moves outside your organisation and across sectors.
- Creating a repeatable mobility program in line with your strategic objectives, if required.
- Addressing barriers.
Consider mobility in strategic planning
To use mobility in keeping with the objectives of the APS Mobility Framework, consider opportunities that will best deliver on your business and departmental/agency objectives, including mobility to assist with peaks in demand, solving complex problems and developing employees. Mobility can be effective for a short-term capability gap, but if you expect that you will need an ongoing capability, permanent recruitment may be a better longer term approach.
It’s important to engage with your HR practitioners on the workforce planning process. They can assist you with analysing your workforce, forecasting needs, identifying any gaps in capability, and developing strategies where mobility may fit alongside other options to help you deliver on your priorities. Analysing your workforce will help understand any systemic problems.
Keep an eye out for uses of mobility that are not aligned with business and organisational priorities. For example, mobility is not a solution for underperformance or conflict in a team.
If there isn’t a lot of mobility in your group and you believe it is the right mechanism to achieve outcomes or build capability, you may need to consider how to properly resource it. This may be through bringing in extra help to design initiatives, but you should also consider explicitly resourcing moves or the backfilling of employees who take temporary moves. A common concern of managers about temporary moves is the difficulty of continuing to deliver with fewer resources – addressing that part of the challenge may be the most effective way to increase the likelihood of mobility working for you.
When mobility is most effective
Mobility to address surges or peaks in demand
- Short-term movements
- Fast on-boarding needed
- Unpredictable cause
- Predictable peaks where specific training is useful and a cohort can be trained in advance
- Systems or policy improvements won’t eliminate the need for extra people
- Generalist skills required
Mobility to solve complex problems
- The policy or delivery challenge requires response from multiple agencies or would benefit from a diverse or multi-disciplinary approach (e.g. legal, policy, IT involvement)
- Solving the problem cannot be easily done through engagement or co-design
- Specialist skills required
Mobility to develop employees
- Employee would benefit from an investment in their skills
- Employee will share new skills with their team on return
- Agency needs to build a rare skillset not readily available through the recruitment market
- Moves are complemented by other development methods
Setting goals for mobility
Whilst there’s no perfect amount of mobility you should aim for, you should set appropriate expectations, and possibly goals and targets for mobility in your group or agency.
As a starting point, encourage managers and HR practitioners to focus on making small, practical improvements to how they use and support mobility. If mobility is rare, you may need to allocate additional resources specifically to workforce planning or supporting mobility in your team.
Some considerations to keep in mind when setting goals and targets:
- Align goals with the problems you need to solve in the next 12 months: If you’re anticipating a surge or peak, you could focus efforts around internal and external moves to support that specific mobilisation need. If you need to develop digital or data skills (the most in-demand skills according to the APSC’s 2020 Agency Survey), you could set objectives for more moves in these areas, and consider leveraging the professions.
- Consider a focus on external mobility: Encouraging employees to take opportunities outside your agency or the APS can build understanding of other sectors and jurisdictions, or the needs of the agencies you regularly partner with.
- Set targets for yourself: Executives can greatly increase the success of mobility by putting their own time and attention into it. If you need your employees to apply a broader perspective, consider whether you should personally commit to negotiating a regular exchange program with another organisation to better enable access to experts, or support better alignment of policy and delivery.
- Be careful with blanket targets: If you are already experiencing disruption or loss of corporate knowledge due to turnover, setting a target such as “10% of the agency to take a temporary move to another agency in next year” may exacerbate the issue. In setting a blanket target, you might also create adverse consequences – employees and managers may feel incentivised towards temporary moves that are not in the best interest of the employee (either personally or professionally) or the agency just to meet a pre-determined target.
Champion the use of mobility
“The people that I have had the good fortune to work with since I joined the APS, the supervisors I’ve had, mentors I’ve had, leaders I’ve had, have encouraged the depth and breadth, have encouraged mobility, have supported me to do different things. So, of course, I want to do exactly the same for everybody else.”- Helen Wilson, Deputy Australian Statistician, Australian Bureau of Statistics
Your managers and employees are key to the success of mobility, and their openness to the possibility depends on clearly communicating its benefits. As an executive, you are uniquely positioned to encourage mobility by:
- Sharing your personal experiences with mobility amongst your managers and employees, and encouraging other senior executives to do the same.
- Providing a space for employees who have recently taken temporary moves to share their experience with others.
- Using your networks to enable mobility across sectors – your personal network will open doors your managers and employees may struggle with.
- Recommending managers discuss the potential for temporary moves as part of performance agreements or career discussions with employees.
- Encouraging managers to consider using mobility to solve business problems.
- Working with managers to reprioritise, delay or cease other work when a higher priority taskforce or surge requirement needs to be delivered, and backfilling is not an option.
- Encouraging managers to take on temporary employees who work part-time, live and work in regional areas, or work from home. This opens a wider talent pool and supports flexible working arrangements.
- Implementing a policy within your group that sets an explicit default of approving a move when requested and/or collecting data about approvals and refusals.
“Within Treasury, and particularly under Secretary Dr Steven Kennedy, it’s a ‘One APS’ mindset. He strongly encourages people to move, and one of our SES officers here, he’d been in the building for 20 years and he’s now off to another department and that’s a celebrated thing. So that messaging and that kind of expectation from the top is incredibly important.”- Katrina Di Marco, First Assistant Secretary, Department of the Treasury
Championing mobility may be important if there is a sense in your organisation or work area that temporary moves are not for high-performers. Your endorsement of mobility can help change this mindset.
Encourage moves outside your organisation for diversity of experience
APS employees can be more effective in their roles if they can draw on a broader base of experience. For example, someone working with legislation will better understand the impact of a decision if they have some experience working in business or for a regulator and seeing the challenges first hand. Employees who have worked in more than one organisation may have broader networks that can help in addressing whole-of-government challenges. Working in another environment also gives a new perspective on how work can be done.
“We need to look at mobility more broadly - it's not just about the APS. The private sector and the not-for-profit sector have a broad range of abilities we need. The APS shouldn’t operate in a vacuum; we work with the private sector, we work with not-for-profits—we need to bring in that experience and have APS staff develop knowledge of other sectors too.”- Rachel Houghton, General Manager, Services Australia
Mobility programs can be useful in workforce planning, especially if you consistently require similar temporary resources from similar places, or frequently need to develop employees in similar ways. There are a number of whole-of-APS current mobility programs that can assist as well as established programs targeting internal mobility, such as the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ Mobility Strategy.
If there is not an established program that is fit-for-purpose, you can also work with your HR practitioners to design a program in line with your strategic objectives, or consult them for practical advice on establishing a small scale trial.
When designing your mobility program, it is important to:
- Establish a clear vision for the program. Make sure it communicates the benefits for all participants, including home and host organisations, as well as the employees themselves. Everyone should be on board.
- Align the program with Government policy and delivery priorities, as well as your overarching organisational or business strategy. Consider the high value use cases identified under the Framework – this will greatly increase support from other stakeholders, and the chance of success. This could be using temporary moves to support a major program, or putting a multi-agency project team to work on scoping a policy response to a high profile challenge.
- Build partnerships or agreements with other agencies into the program. This will make it easier to rapidly move employees if you want to encourage moves outside your organisation.
Common barriers to mobility and how you can respond
There are often pressures to prioritise delivery over succession planning and employee development.
- Support your managers as they plan for mobility. Consider tracking requests, approvals and refusals of mobility opportunities; if temporary moves are consistently deprioritised or blocked, you may need to address a capacity risk or cultural challenge that may require further conversations.
- Consider creating an Average Staffing Level (ASL) pool in your agency to support temporary moves, and encourage employee exchanges or job swaps.
- If managers are consistently unwilling to release high performers, or become dependent on individuals to carry out the team’s function, you may need to have further discussions with them on their team structure and succession planning, and how they can better manage these scenarios. You may then need to contact your HR practitioners and conduct a wider review of the group’s capability.
It can be difficult to persuade managers to approve mobility if there is a history of talented employees not returning.
- Promote mobility as an opportunity that offers career pathways and professional development; this is a key factor in employee retention.
- Address underlying causes of turnover and embed a culture that employees will want to return to.
- Encourage managers to provide support to employees during temporary moves, continued career conversations will let the employee know they are valued. A Mobility Plan may help your managers facilitate this discussion.
- Work with managers to give returned employees projects relevant to their new skills.