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Part 3: Summary assessment

For the purpose of this review, the organisational capability of DoFD is defined as the sum of the expertise of its people and its capacity, as evident in its systems and business processes, to apply this expertise.

The review team concluded that DoFD staff and their expertise, along with the department's access to a significant body of service-wide information, represent its major strengths. The further development of its systems and business processes constitute its greatest opportunity.

For the most part, DoFD's staff are highly skilled and professional in their approach. Moreover, there is a remarkable spirit within the workforce which shows in satisfaction and engagement levels that are not only high in most groups but, on many measures, comparable to or above international public and private sector benchmarks. This spirit is particularly evident when the department is dealing with a crisis or issue requiring the rapid marshalling of expertise and resources. Staff hold their Secretary in high regard and support his efforts to build a positive collaborative culture across the department.

The consequence of this professionalism and commitment is a generally high level of performance. Yet such high levels of performance do not mean that there is not room for improvement in organisational capability.

The review team is also aware that, while individual sections often have strong skills, knowledge and processes, the same capabilities do not exist uniformly across the department. As such there is an opportunity to share good practice more systematically and encourage its adoption across DoFD.

In an environment of tightening resources and downsizing, the department's tendency to over-rely on particular staff, combined with the relative weakness of its systems and business processes, means there is some degree of inefficiency and ineffectiveness in its operations. These are qualities that no department moving into a challenging future can easily afford.

DoFD's own assessment acknowledges that it faces a number of challenges, including the tightening fiscal environment, a shortage in some key staffing capabilities, changing legislative requirements, and better leveraging emergent information and communication technologies. In addition, the department believes it needs to balance its roles within government and the APS as an independent policy advisor, fit-for-purpose regulator and promoter of better government through increased accountability, transparency and efficient service delivery. The department has equally made clear to the review team that it is looking to improve its delivery and capability through increased stakeholder collaboration, better use of information and more strategic workforce planning. This appreciation of future challenges is welcomed by the review team and bodes well for further development of the department's capability.

In addition, the review team believes the Secretary, senior leadership and all staff within the department need to be cognisant of the following issues and may wish to consider the following suggestions and ideas:

  • It is clear to the review team that group identity and a siloed approach dominates at the group manager level. Executive Board members—along with the leadership generally— need to take steps to ensure greater collegiality and collaboration across group boundaries. Indeed, the visibility of the Board to staff, and the Secretary as leader of the Board, could be enhanced in the interests of promoting even greater collaboration with emphasis on demonstrating as much as communicating the need for such collaboration.
  • To this end it may be useful for the Executive Board to shift its current focus from the group—which is the unit of operation most closely tied to individual deputy secretaries— to divisional level. This would have two benefits. First, it would provide the Board with opportunities for deputy secretaries to stand back from their respective groups, along with the more detailed knowledge that it requires to make the 'corporate' decisions about priorities and resources it will inevitably face in the near future.
  • Second, it would likely translate into Band 2 and Band 1 SES feeling more empowered to take responsibility for, and control over, decision making; redressing the propensity for such authority to elevate upwards. While the DoFD Strategic Plan is a highly useful document welcomed by the majority of staff, the department could benefit from a clearer articulation of its purpose and priorities within the plan. This will allow for a sharper link between the strategic plan and business planning than the current behavioural and aspirational focus permits.
  • While the Secretary and senior leadership have, in recent times, understandably focused on 'how' the department goes about its business, advocating among other things a more collegiate and collaborative approach, what is problematic for many staff is the absence of a unifying 'purpose statement' that makes clear in practical and concrete terms how their individual efforts contribute to departmental objectives. The need for such a statement has been acknowledged by DoFD's leadership in its thinking around possible unifying principles and a departmental 'philosophy'.
  • In considering such purpose and priority, the review team suggests that the department build on and leverage its comparative strength, particularly in information about whole- of-government administration, policy and programs, and the potential this provides for analysis and evaluation to refine the articulation of its contribution relative to the other central agencies.
  • The review team encourages such efforts and equally warns against the casting of such a statement in terms designed to accommodate specifically every branch or section in view of the complexity and reach of the department's functions.
  • While there has been emerging emphasis on workforce planning and development, as yet there is no systematic approach to this area within the department. In moving quickly in this regard, the department could consider greater support for formal and informal mobility within the department at both SES and non-SES levels.
  • For, as evident in many interviews conducted by the review team, increased mobility and diversity of work experience are well recognised across DoFD as of significant benefit in dealing with some of the department's current issues. Increased mobility also has benefits for individual career development, and a conscious effort towards active and full-scale implementation of such a program would assist in building organisational capability.
  • Equally, while the diversity of functions within the department must be recognised, this does not preclude distinct operations profiting from greater interaction and understanding. Indeed the review team considers there is more commonality across the department in functions and associated skills sets than is often appreciated.
  • Departmental systems are generally undervalued and underdeveloped, making knowledge or information management a challenge. This has consequences for the ability of the department to manage its performance, assess whether it is achieving its priority objectives or determine where resources should be concentrated to achieve those objectives. It equally limits the effectiveness of staff and leads to an over-reliance on person specific knowledge. More broadly the lack of systems that build business intelligence limits the ability of the department to move beyond its historical 'gatekeeping' roles for individual departments and use what it gathers to create greater strategic value for government.
  • It is noted that the Secretary, in his communication and in the latest iteration of the DoFD Strategic Plan, has encouraged a greater level of innovation and appropriate risk taking. This is appropriate given the potential benefits that may flow from fostering a creative ethos. However, in an organisation such as DoFD—which is understandably risk averse when it comes to some of its operations—some greater clarity or 'practical definition' of what 'innovation' and 'risk taking' mean would greatly help staff in understanding what is meant by innovation within the context of the department.
  • There needs to be greater ownership of corporate matters across the department. In a well- functioning organisation these issues should not be the responsibility of the corporate area alone. In the interests of generating shared responsibility for developing corporate solutions, DoFD could consider expanding its governance arrangements and working models.
  • This could be in the form of cross-group taskforces taking responsibility for matters like workforce planning and information management or other fora dedicated to fostering cross-group collaboration and planning. This effort will counteract the current tendency for the Chief Operating Officer Group (COOG) to be held solely accountable for matters that are in fact the responsibility of the whole leadership cohort.
  • Finally, the department could consider whether its current structural arrangements are both efficient and appropriate for the future. While structural reform in and of itself cannot solve issues of capability, in the opinion of the reviewers some measured structural change could help build a common identity across groups and allow disparate parts of DoFD to leverage the skills, wisdom and resources of others.

Overall, DoFD is well placed to take the next step in its evolution.

The Secretary is well aware of this and has expressed his wish for the department to take up its full role as a central agency contributor. As he recently noted in an all-staff message, DoFD staff together ...

"... play a key role in ensuring fiscal responsibility and sustainability in government, and it has rarely been as visible and important as now."

Assisting the government of today and governments of the future in meeting policy, program and service delivery objectives in the most cost-effective way possible will require a focus on the quality of expenditure, a capacity to look beyond traditional divides and established roles and the effective deployment of DoFD's considerable body of service-wide operational information.