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Managing change needs to improve in the APS

Experience in the private sector confirms that mergers are difficult to achieve successfully. They place a high premium on change management skills. APS agencies report that change management skills are lower than desired.6 Less than one-quarter of agencies covered by the 2013 agency survey believed their change management capability is at the desired level. Indeed, change management was rated the second lowest of the eight capabilities that agencies were asked to assess. This assessment tends to be confirmed by the findings of most capability reviews and employees' generally poor perceptions of how well change is managed in their agencies.7 Change management was also one of two capabilities assessed in both 2011 and 2013, where agencies reported that little or no improvement had been made. The key to successful machinery-of-government changes is a highly skilled approach to change management. This will require close attention in the years ahead. An update on the capability reviews and an overview of key findings to-date are included in Chapter 10.

One potential benefit of a machinery-of-government change is to bring service delivery together around a common client group. This was, for example, part of the rationale for the creation of Centrelink in the late nineties and the integration of several service delivery agencies into the Department of Human Services (DHS)8 in 2011. Such an approach potentially simplifies coordination across multiple programs to provide a more ‘joined up’ face of government to the citizen. Research suggests, however, that care needs to be taken to ensure that previously external boundaries to collaboration are not simply replaced by internal ones after a public sector merger.9 How well change is managed and the ability of senior managers to find common cause between employees who previously worked in different departments is key to success.


6 The 2013 State of the Service agency survey used a capability maturity model to assess key organisational capabilities across the APS. Agencies were asked to assess their current and required positions on a five-level maturity model (chapters 2, 6 and 10 present results from this model in detail).

7 Results from the 2013 APS employee census demonstrate that more than one-third of APS 1–6 (35%) and Executive Level (EL) (41%) employees disagreed that change is managed well in their agency. A further 32% of APS 1–6 and 33% of EL employees were ambivalent (these results are discussed in more detail in Chapter 2).

8 In July 2011, former human services agencies, CRS Australia, Centrelink and Medicare Australia, were integrated into DHS.

9 See, for example, F Buick, ‘The culture solution? Culture and common purpose in Australia’ and CL Talbot and CR Talbot, ‘The structure solution? Public sector mergers in the United Kingdom’, in Crossing Boundaries in Public Management and Policy, J O'Flynn, D Blackman and J Halligan (eds), Routledge, New York (to be published 2014).

Last reviewed: 
29 March 2018