Uplifting the capability of the APS
The first wave of the APS Reform agenda comprises over 30 initiatives announced so far being delivered by a dozen agencies across the APS. While this challenging implementation task might be daunting to most, for Dr Rachel Bacon, Deputy Secretary, APS Reform Office, it’s exciting.
We were fortunate enough to sit down with Dr Bacon and learn how the reform team has designed the implementation approach to uplift capability and achieve measurable outcomes. While she aims to hardwire capability outcomes into every APS Reform deliverable, she recognises HR professionals have a really important role to play in the delivery approach.
Even after 25 years in the public service, Dr Bacon is conscious there are important changes she hasn’t experienced that need to be understood when making decisions for all APS staff. “The technology we use in our day-to-day work has really changed in the last 20 years and I’m out of touch with how APS staff use technology these days. Even things like email and internet were a newish thing when I started in the APS, and a lot of things were done paper based and manually. Instead of managing things on excel spreadsheets, databases and ICT applications are being built.”
“The tools and the capabilities we use for different functions and in different parts of the service have really shifted but in ways that I don’t have lived experience of. For the things and the tools that I use in my job, as a Band 3, where my job is connecting people and connecting ideas, those tools haven’t changed that radically. I think it’s really important to listen to people at all different levels across the service to really understand how people’s jobs are changing as technology and tools change and evolve. I think it’s important to understand these things when we are making decisions for whole of APS improvement.”
Her conscious decision making, self-awareness, and innovative approach to design best places Dr Bacon to deliver the APS Reform agenda.
Six principles of implementation
A shift in mindset, culture, and capability across the service will be key to achieving the reform initiatives and six principles of implementation have been designed and approved by the Secretaries Board.
The six principles of implementation are:
- Committed and accountable leaders
- Focus on purpose, outcomes, and priorities.
- Measuring and reporting what matters.
- Well-coordinated and fit for purpose delivery plans
- Capability empowerment
- Consistent and clear communication
How HR Professionals will help deliver APS Reform
Dr Bacon recognises the importance of HR Professionals in the process, noting they are “critical to and will deliver so much of the APS Reform principles and outcomes”.
HR Professionals understand the current workforce capability, what is needed in 5-, 10-, and 15-years’ time, and what work is required to ensure the APS has it. HR professionals have a really important role in workforce planning, strategic identification of capability, and how to deliver capability in the right place and at the right time.
Recruitment and retention, particularly of diversity groups that reflect the communities the APS serves. HR Professionals provide an important source of advice to line areas who are doing the recruitment on how to be more effective and how the employee value proposition can be more effective for attracting and retaining the right capabilities and the diversity we want to see in the APS.
Delivering SES Performance Management initiatives. HR expert advice is being drawn on from a number of agencies who have developed Frameworks to create a whole of service SES Performance Framework. This will measure behaviour as an outcome as at least as important as deliverables. What an SES Manager delivers matters but how they deliver it really matters. This performance framework is starting to really focus on how people deliver, how people treat their team, how people work with stakeholders, how people work with colleagues, how people build culture and capability.
Flexible work principles have been agreed on by the Secretaries Board, however, HR Professionals will be implementing fit for purpose flexible work principles that make sense for the different functions and geographic locations of different agencies. These principles will in turn increase the value proposition of the APS as works to attract talent.
Licence to innovate
It’s inspiring and easy to understand Dr Bacon’s excitement and pride in her team as she details the large and comprehensive reform agenda. Dr Bacon is approaching challenging tasks with a revolutionised approach she calls licence to innovate.
Designing an in-house consulting model is one example of a program that is delivering projects alongside capability uplift. Having been announced in the recent Budget, the in-house consulting team will deliver projects in-house, building capability in the APS and reducing the reliance on external consultants.
“As well as delivering the projects, we made the conscious decision to hardwire capability uplift into the model, so alongside delivering every single consulting project, we want to uplift capability. Each agency will have capability outcomes in their delivery plans for each of their initiatives. On in-house consulting, we could have made the choice to design a model that didn’t have that capability uplift, but we thought that it was so important to build capability into everything we do.”
The licence to innovate is being encouraged and applied to every outcome, including designing the APS Purpose Statement. Participatory democracy techniques and methodologies are being used, allowing APS staff to nominate and participate in a deliberative committee.
“The committee will be 40 public servants, from all around Australia, representing both the demographics of the public service and the community we serve. It will have more APS members than SES and we have more public servants outside Canberra than in Canberra, so it will reflect that composition. We have lots of public servants who do service delivery, so it needs to reflect the functions that people have, it’s not only about policy officers. The committee will take their final options to the Secretaries Board, who will shortlist them further, and the public service will vote and pick their Purpose Statement. We want to try something different.”
“We are one APS and having a Purpose Statement that resonates with the whole public service is going to help us feel and think like one APS. The benefits that come from being one APS will flow into how we serve the Australian community and government.”
As the first wave of initiatives is rolled out, the APS Reform Office will continue to incorporate innovative techniques to uplift capability and build a stronger APS.
If you would like to have your say on the APS Purpose Statement, visit https://app.converlens.com/pmc/have-your-say-on-the-purpose-of-the-aps/new-survey-7bca35cb