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Part 3: Summary assessment


PM&C

is an organisation comprising quality people who are extremely self-motivated and committed to advising and supporting the Prime Minister and Cabinet on matters of national security, international relations, domestic policy (including Commonwealth-state relations), Cabinet, operations of government,
and ceremonial, hospitality and official establishments' matters.


PM&C

has much strength, which is exemplified by:

  • the overall commitment and motivation of its staff
  • its clear focus on its role of providing high-quality policy advice and support to the Prime Minister and the Cabinet
  • its ability to adapt flexibly to the priorities of the Prime Minister and government of the day
  • its understanding and control of the processes that support government under the Westminster system
  • the senior executive's depth and strength of networks within the

    APS

    and beyond
  • its willingness to adopt innovative technologies to support the Prime Minister and facilitate Cabinet processes.

In performing its primary role now and into the future, there are areas for improvement. To build capability, the department can focus on:

  • broadening internal and external understanding of the senior leadership's vision of leadership through collaboration
  • ensuring clarity of purpose and ways of operating by specifying the desired 'PM&C craft' and then promulgating it, in particular by improving the ability of staff to focus on strategic priorities by communicating what is important
  • filling capability gaps and building the workforce of the future through a strategic approach to recruitment and people development
  • improving the department's ability to operate in a strategic and integrated way by strengthening the foundation of governance and corporate infrastructure and empowering staff to choose wisely in their use of time and resources.

Leadership through collaboration

As the head of the public service, Dr Watt has a responsibility to ensure that departmental secretaries work together in a way that provides the best support for the government and the

APS

. He has strengthened the role of the Secretaries' Board and taken an approach based on leadership through collaboration, which is strongly supported by his colleagues.

The department's primary objective—to provide high-quality policy advice and support to the Prime Minister and the Cabinet through a coordinated approach to the development and implementation of government policies—is well understood by all departmental employees. As the head of the public
service, the Secretary of

PM&C

also has a role in ensuring that this department role models the behaviours expected across the service.


PM&C

's executive has been progressively articulating its vision through actions and decisions. However, the absence of an explicit vision statement has created some confusion in employees' minds, particularly among those who are new to the department. The executive has expressed to the review that its
vision is leadership through collaboration, which can be described as leading the

APS

through collaborative practices and consistent with the

PM&C

craft (see below). It is now timely for this to be clearly expressed within

PM&C

and externally to the broader

APS

. The Secretary began that process in his speech of November 2011, and has provided the review with his detailed future speech program to build upon that foundation.

The importance of internal and external stakeholders in achieving departmental objectives is well recognised within the department, but employees' understanding of the senior executive's vision of leadership through collaboration is mixed. To ensure clarity of understanding, the Secretary should be
supported by all levels of

PM&C

leadership to 'cascade' the vision.

PM&C

's regular all-staff meetings, which are highly valued by employees, provide the executive with one avenue to do this.

Some external stakeholders stated that in the past trust in their relationship with

PM&C

has been eroded because

PM&C

took a more competitive approach to developing policy. They also said that while they can see the influence of the executive supporting an approach based on collaboration and while the competitive approach is used less frequently now, some officers still use a competitive approach in dealings with
their peers, and that a more consistent approach is needed.

It is difficult for the executive to see and assess the quality of the wide range of external relationships that the department needs to maintain.

PM&C

would benefit by taking a more structured approach to capturing the views and concerns of external stakeholders, including about the extent to which the department has consistently moved to an approach based on leadership through collaboration.

The review team suggests that the department's executive:

  • expresses and continues to articulate the vision within the department and to the wider

    APS
  • improves the cascading of internal communications
  • considers taking a more structured approach to seeking feedback from external stakeholders.

Enhancing strategy and delivery through the

PM&C

craft

While there was widespread agreement on the department's primary purpose of serving the Prime Minister, views expressed by internal and external stakeholders indicate that the strategy to achieve that purpose requires further clarification. Individuals are seeking a better sense of the strategy to
guide their actions, which can be conceptualised as the '

PM&C

craft'. To the review team's knowledge, the craft has never been codified, as it has been learned on the job as 'the way we do things around here'. During the review, the executive agreed that the craft can be expressed as:

  • What we do
  • How we do it
  • How we organise for it.

What we do

  • Focus on the Prime Minister—know what is important and what will become important
  • Intervene with discrimination—influence what matters
  • Support good government—work closely with departments to ensure that the Cabinet and government have clear advice, that policy debate is well informed and choices are clearly presented, and that government decisions are effectively conveyed and acted on
  • Lead through partnership—but do not avoid acting if things are going off track, or big change needs to be inspired or supported from the centre.

How we do it

  • Through first-class analytic, writing and oral communication skills—excel in being able to present what the Prime Minister needs to know at the time, with the clarity and at the length that is appropriate, presenting clearly a preferred outcome, highlighting any risks, and guiding the Prime Minister
    in handling conflicting parties
  • By choosing wisely where we spend our time to influence what matters
  • By consulting within

    PM&C

    and presenting a whole-of-department view—looking out for the interests of other parts of

    PM&C

    and sifting intelligence, developing strategies and presenting advice
  • By maintaining a close but independent relationship with the Prime Minister's office
  • By building strong relationships of trust and mutual respect with central agencies and line departments through reciprocal relationships and sharing experience and knowledge to achieve a common goal
  • Through effective negotiation with other governments, the private sector and civil society
  • By developing strong and respectful professional relationships, networks and linkages with key officials in the states and territories, the private sector and civil society
  • By maintaining professional skills through relationships with the best and brightest in line departments and among external thinkers, and by being aware of international best practice
  • By understanding how government works—in particular the Cabinet process, the budget cycle, legislative process, the major structures of intergovernmental relations domestically and internationally, and public administration and capability (including effective allocation of policy responsibilities
    across agencies)
  • By planning ahead wherever possible and not mistaking tight deadlines for crises.

How we organise for it

  • By recruiting the best 'up and coming' people, including from line departments and through graduate programs, and giving them at least three years experience in

    PM&C

    , while valuing and providing a career path for a cadre of

    PM&C

    experts who have longer experience
  • By using taskforces consisting of experts from line departments and outside the public service when appropriate, together with central agency staff, to work on matters of priority for the Prime Minister and Cabinet
  • By protecting the capacity to do strategic policy work and over-the-horizon scanning on the big issues while also ensuring that line divisions maintain the capacity and responsibility to participate in the forward policy agenda in addition to handling urgent or day-to-day pressures
  • By ensuring that

    PM&C

    has people who are delivery experts as well as policy experts
  • By being clear about our priorities, and providing a supported and integrated

    ICT

    ,

    HR

    and financial environment.

One of the most important elements of the

PM&C

craft is how staff decide to focus effort to influence what matters.

PM&C

would benefit from a focus which ensures that weight is given to those activities that can only be done by this department, especially where policy and delivery needs to be integrated across portfolios or where cross-portfolio problems need to be resolved.

There would also be value in ensuring that staff know what is expected of them as priorities change, so that they feel empowered and supported in making choices on how to best spend their time.

Combined with this, a greater devolution of decision-making authority will free up senior officers' time and give junior officers more authority.

The review team suggests that the department:

  • articulate the craft in a form that is accessible to all departmental employees
  • focus development efforts to promulgate the craft, such as
    • appropriately targeted induction
    • mentoring and coaching by more experienced employees
    • appropriate on- and off-the-job opportunities to learn
  • regularly clarify changes in priorities to staff by ensuring effective cascading communications
  • empower and support staff to make wise choices on how to best spend their time, including prioritising those activities that can only be done by

    PM&C
  • ensure that accountability and responsibility for decisions are held at appropriate levels.

Workforce of the future


PM&C

has the potential to attract the best and brightest from across the

APS

, and working in

PM&C

is seen to provide significant professional development. However, it is also evident that some key issues affect the

PM&C

workforce.

During the review, it became apparent that capability in some areas of

PM&C

is not consistently strong. This appears to be the result of a high turnover rate, coupled with taskforces taking on high-profile work while line areas focus more on business-as-usual activity. This has also resulted in a less consistent understanding of how things should be done in the department
(the

PM&C

craft). To build capability, the department has been introducing 'new blood', and those efforts need to be balanced and tailored to the department's needs. This can be achieved by implementing a careful mix of strategic medium-term appointments of the best and brightest from line departments, making
strategic use of short-term transfers from other departments and appointing a small number of carefully chosen lateral recruits at senior levels from outside the

APS

.


PM&C

staff are highly motivated and achievement oriented. The review team observed a focus on technical and subject-specific knowledge, contrasted with a relative lack of experienced people managers. This presents a risk that the department relies too heavily on employees' personal commitment.

The executive is committed to employee development, and a range of targeted initiatives has recently been put in place. There is an ongoing challenge for

PM&C

to ensure that time and effort continue to be made available for employees to take up development opportunities. There is also recognition that employees are seeking more on-the-job development experiences.

To support a high-performing workforce in an environment of higher than average turnover, the review team suggests that the department:

  • ensures that the

    PM&C

    craft is widely understood and put into practice
  • identifies current gaps in capability and targets recruitment and development accordingly.

Strengthen the foundations

Given the climate of constrained resources, the time is right for a greater investment in corporate infrastructure to produce future efficiencies. The department has taken positive steps, which should be commended, to make improvements in this area, including setting up a People and Leadership Committee
and Investment Review Committee. However, efficiencies will only be realised by developing a stronger foundation of fit-for-purpose, light-touch systems and processes that support the department, minimise duplication of effort and learning, and free up resources to focus on the things that really matter.

The review team believes that

PM&C

is well placed to settle on the right mix of corporate governance, infrastructure and delegation levels. These improvements will require commitment to change by all groups and levels of the organisation.

Organisational health can be improved in the future by better integrating strategic priorities and enabling infrastructure (

ICT

,

HR

, Finance), as well as by ensuring more solid links between strategic priorities, business plans and individual performance plans.

The review team suggests that the department maintains its focus on improvements currently underway in the areas of governance and corporate infrastructure, paying particular regard to:

  • better integrating strategic priorities and business, financial, people and

    ICT

    planning
  • continuing the work that has been commenced to strengthen and integrate the governance committees within

    PM&C
  • having leadership across the department take responsibility for the success or failure of corporate initiatives to ensure success in delivery.

The way forward

The department is on the right track. The foundation for further improvement will be effective change management and communication, starting from the executive and involving every level of leadership. The executive should continue to articulate and regularly communicate the desired vision and strategic
direction for the department. This then needs to be consistently and regularly communicated by all

SES

and managers in the department to their staff. The rationale for improvements, how changes will be staged, and a clear picture of what the future will look like should be part of all leadership communications. Assigning accountability to individuals for the success of improvement initiatives will create
ownership and maintain focus.