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Local Government Professionals: Workforce of tomorrow conference

The Hon. John Lloyd PSM
Australian Public Service Commissioner

Check against delivery

  1. Many of the issues apply across the three levels of government employment.
  2. At a fundamental level:
    1. APS leadership must think and act strategically about HR. Labour accounts for 70% of expenditure. When implementing program changes the people dimension and sound planning of workforce strategies are crucial.
    2. Make better use of workforce metrics. Data on recruitment, termination, employee engagement, leadership, aspiration, location, training, education, turnover, satisfaction, numbers. We conduct a census and surveys. We accumulate engagement, promotion and termination data.
    3. Tight brilliant results are not guaranteed. We are dealing with people, both managers and employees, who can be unpredictable.
    4. Trust in Governments is falling. This is due to a number of factors including performance, community awareness and ubiquitous social media. It follows that the scrutiny on the APS, it's performance, size, entitlements, financial management, responsiveness to business and the community is more intense. We have to develop workforce strategies that recognise these influences. Transparency and accountability are now embedded requirements of public administration.
  3. In the middle of all this is the HR Manager/Leader. They should be at the key decision and planning table. They should have the same status and CFO and CIO. This is not always the case.

HR capability

  1. We are taking steps to lift the capability of the HR Manager to discharge this role. List---.
  2. At the same time those engaged in HR have to improve their knowledge and skills and that of their team. They have to demonstrate that they are credible leaders, who know the business and add value through their advice on HR. They have to be good listeners to line managers.

Local management discretion

  1. This highlights a tension. Local managers of a site or branch often have a strong desire to run their own show with minimal interference from HQ. These tensions are worked out having regard to the circumstances and culture of the particular business. It is a challenge to get the balance right. I think local managers should have a lot of discretion. Central HR should establish and manage a good framework and get involved in solving persistent problems or dealing with issues with an organisational rather than local dimension. Examples DIBP, DHS, DFAT.

Impartial public service

  1. One of the four key notions from the PS Act is that the APS be impartial. This is a bedrock of our system of Government. Some recent developments demonstrate that this is not easy. The active engagement of Victorian government employees in state and federal election campaigns is wrong. CFA employees for example handed out how to vote cards and door knocked wearing uniforms. This would not be tolerated in the Commonwealth.
  2. Curiously the Queensland Government when recruiting departmental heads introduced a criterion of "support for the Government's agenda."  Again I hope this would never occur in the Commonwealth.
  3. The public service supports the Government of the day to implement its policies. If you are unable to support lawful directions to implement policy then you should resign.
  4. A professional public sector is one that conscientiously supports the Government of the day, irrespective of who is in power. There can be no dilution of this obligation. HR has an important role to play in ensuring an impartial APS is maintained. It is one area where the opportunities to compromise are very very limited.


  1. Talent is an area of HR where we are on a change path.
  2. We have no option. The competition for talented staff is intense. We compete against you, the states and the private sector.
  3. In the past we have been reticent to select and intensely develop talent. We were more focussed on equity and perhaps a confidence that talented individuals would emerge from the competition for promotion and selection.
  4. Now we are selecting individuals of potential in the SES ranks. We are rigorously assessing their strengths and areas for development. We will formulate intensive plans for their development. The qualities we look for are that our leaders be entrepreneurial, collaborative, visionary, enabling, inspirational. We also accept that public sector leaders need the personal qualities of courage and resilience.
  5. We are just starting on this journey. We studied how other organisations approached talent. There was no need to start from scratch.
  6. At senior levels we cannot compete on remuneration with the private sector. So we have to think about what the APS offers that is an attractive employment proposition. I think the selling point it public service offers an interesting, varied and challenging career. A career where you are engaged in advancing the interests of Australia. The whole spectrum of national interests is on offer in the APS - security, foreign policy, social welfare, education, employment, energy, the environment, industry, science, transport, infrastructure, economic policy etc.
  7. HR has an important role to play in the talent management within their agency, as well as across the APS. The APSC has published a toolkit to assist.
  8. Also, we have to realise that there are challenges in making a talent program work effectively. Many people change as they move through their career. I have seen employees who reach a stage where they reassess their goals or where a work or life event impacts their attitude to work. Sometimes a mediocre contributor becomes motivated and a standout. And the reverse can happen, where the person of potential flat lines and loses motivation. A talent development system has to be able to accommodate these features.

Staff mobility

  1. Mobility of staff I think is an issue that should be of interest to all of us. The more diverse and varied the skills and background of employees, generally the more healthy an organisation will be.
  2. We are always looking for initiatives to make mobility easier.
  3. Mobility is important. Society and the demands on government are becoming more complex. We need to have a good grasp of what issues are important for industry. We also have to understand the impact of our policies and regulations on business. Business can also benefit from gaining a better appreciation of how government operates.
  4. I see movement between state and APS services. Less interchange occurs with local governments. Our engagement with the private sector is encouraging and we hope to do more. Many fields for senior jobs have high private sector interest.
  5. Opportunities abound for more lateral recruitment and interchange.
  6. HR can help by conveying good career advice, attractive and well placed advertising, simple recruitment practices and good induction.

Performance management

  1. Performance management is a regular task of HR.
  2. I dislike formal and complex systems. Systems focussed on an annual meeting of supervisor and employee. The outcome of the meeting can often be a form filled out, boxes ticked and rating allocated. Victorian Department example of 16 page guide.
  3. Good performance management is crucial to an efficient workforce that achieves results.
  4. Many of the practices that support employee performance also impact on job satisfaction, retention and loyalty.
  5. The key to improving high performance is to ensure performance conversations occur regularly between managers and employees.
  6. What is an effective performance conversation?
  7. They are forward looking and connect employees to their organisation and other relevant stakeholders. They also highlight the contribution an employee's performance makes to the organisation's success. They have to be honest and informed about how people are actually performing.
  8. The employee has an obligation to make the system work. They should come prepared with ideas about their performance and their future aspirations.
  9. In our 2016 employee census we asked if the last informal and formal feedback helped improve performance. In both cases less than 50% agreed. This shows that there is scope to improve performance conversations.
  10. HR has a role to play. It has to ensure that a constructive and regular conversation is the norm in the organisation.
  11. To help facilitate improved performance conversations, the Commission developed Ripple. Ripple is a smartphone app that reaches out to employees directly to get them talking—and thinking—about the factors that drive performance in the workplace. Ripple is a conversation starter with a simple concept - one question each day on performance issues, delivered to participating employees' smartphones, with accumulative APS-wide results available immediately.
  12. Ripple was trialled with around 2,000 EL 1 employees from across the APS last year.
  13. Early results from the evaluation of Ripple show that it was generally well-received. The majority of users reported favourably on most aspects of the trial. It was not a burdensome additional task in their day. The key issue is did it change people's behaviour? 

Future of work

  1. I have been working for over 40 years and for most of that time in workplace relations. We have often encountered periods where we told the nature of work was up for significant change. And change has occurred at various times. Change has usually been incremental, evolutionary rather than incremental.
  2. Now we are told in 2017 that the nature of work is in for massive change. The digital revolution combined with the access to big data is going to visit massive change upon the modern workplace. Some postulate that 40% of current jobs will disappear by 2030. Disruption is occurring across the economy and natural. But significant shifts in the way we work are going to occur.
  3. The important news for us is that government work will not be immune. We will have to plan and adapt. Our HR professionals and leaders will play an important role. They will be challenged. It is just possible that the outcome in many workplaces will be more flexible and productive work places populated with more interesting jobs. Some of the institutional arrangements around work will be challenged and if they do not adapt they will languish.
  4. Work has changed dramatically over the recent decades. Our workforces today are diverse in composition. In the APS an array of employment types - full time, part time, casual, job sharing, ongoing, non-ongoing, work from home, contractor, labour hire, peer to peer and gig. The Secretary of Defence said this week that his Department employed more contractors than employees.
  5. Now I think the array of work types or modes are good. Many people, not all, embrace the opportunity to work in flexible ways. Others welcome the ability to control their own affairs through contracting in preference to being an employee. For Government businesses it offers flexibility to make best use of resources by offering a better fit between work, business planning and budgets.
  6. I think we have to get involved with this. Basically get with it or be left behind.
  7. So here is an exciting challenge for HR to plan and devise strategies for the future. I suppose a starting point would be to assess the impact of future technology and consumer demands on your market and role. Then to devise short, medium and long term HR plans to equip the organisation with the personnel it needs to discharge its tasks. If you are in the private sector the added dimension is to grow wealth, shareholder value and market share.
  8. In planning HR will face some conundrums. Younger people have different attitudes to work and aspiration than older workers. Studies suggest they shun hierarchy and eschew a lasting connection to the firm or agency. Basically, they are more freelancers.
  9. The challenge for the HR Manager to create a productive and harmonious workplace will be significant. I think workplaces that excel have a partnership type of culture. The employer empowers the workers to be creative and reasonably committed. They have fair pay and conditions. The workers' personal circumstances and life demands are accommodated. The employees are connected to the goals and operating challenges of the firm or agency and want the outfit to succeed. This sounds reasonable but is not easy to achieve.
  10. The institution's HR professionals work with are going to be challenged by the future. A highly regulated labour market characterised by enterprise agreements of 100-200 pages of complexity, awards, national employment standards, workers compensation, superannuation and tax law will require some adaptation for Australia to be competitive. Unions generally appear to be well off the pace as they labour under old notions that bosses are about ripping off the worker and they are the moral guardians of the dignity of work. They are too embedded in a system and values that are disappearing and accordingly their membership languishes at historically very low figures.
  11. So the future of work challenge is complex. It engenders hope and opportunity for some and concern and despair for others. HR will play an influential in achieving a good outcome.


  1. HR like Australian workplaces is changing. The challenge to adapt and change is constant. Excellent HR gets ahead of the trends and anticipates the impact on the workplace. It is an honest broker and trusted adviser of line areas. It makes good use of data and has a seat at the table that makes decisions to chart the future of the business.
Last reviewed: 
29 March 2018