Having the right conversation about staff mobility
Cassie Alexander says it is the tricky and sometimes uncomfortable conversations she has had with colleagues over her career that set her up for roles in the top ranks of the Australian Public Service.
Cassie is now a Senior Executive at the Department of Finance. However, back when she was an ambitious acting EL1 a boss told her “you’re good, but you’re not as good as you think you are – you still have a lot to develop”.
She looks back on the remark as “feedback I could work with”.
Cassie feeds this kind of experience into the way she runs her own branch, and says mobility is a big part of her workforce management toolset.
She has built regular career conversations into her leadership approach, to find out where her employees want to get to in their careers and to suggest ways they might fill gaps in their skillset.
“I always think – if people hadn’t had frank conversations with me and taken the time to give me constructive feedback, where would I have ended up?”
During these conversations, Cassie will ask staff what they think they’re good at and whether they’re being stretched in their current role. She will ask people if they enjoy what they are doing, and whether their work overlaps with their passions or interests.
Her aim is to find out what staff aspire to and what they will need to get there.
“Some people are very focussed on the level or promotion thing. And I get that – I was too once upon a time”.
“I want to show staff the skillsets they will need to get to the level they want. That’s where you flip the conversation around.”
Mobility is one of the ways managers and executives can develop staff and help them gain new skills and experiences. The APS Mobility Framework encourages managers and employees to consider job swaps, talent program rotations, graduate rotations, central and line agency secondments and even sabbaticals to the private sector or academia as learning opportunities to build well-rounded and high performing employees.
If her employees are keen to take a move, Cassie takes them through a decision matrix to make sure they are making the decision for the right reasons. In four corners she will canvas the reasons they want to move, the reasons they’re afraid to move, what skillsets they’ll get from a new role, and what skillsets they could from where they are now.
If they still want to take the move, Cassie says she will always try to release them, and hopes other leaders in the APS would do the same. She says it’s the sign of a good people manager to think ahead about succession and be prepared for a dynamic workforce.
“Managers should see it as part of their role that at some stage, their workforce is going to be mobilised.”
“They need to set up a team where it doesn’t impact on deliverables if there is turnover…Their role is to help their staff throughout their career,” she said.