For immersive experiences to support individual and organisational development, agencies must be clear about why immersive activities are being offered, who they are being offered to, and have a clear process for managing activities and for harnessing the resulting benefits.
This section provides general guidance for agencies in setting up immersive learning experiences.
1. General guidance
Successful immersive development is based on sound planning.
Agencies may offer immersive activities to meet one or several business needs. The rationale should be firmly linked to the agency's strategic objectives, and might include:
Institutional or organisational capability.
In addition to individual capability gains, agencies might use these activities as a deliberate strategy to build institutional or organisational capability.
Immersive experiences support employee development, when closely matched with identified capability gaps.
Secondments or visits with stakeholder organisations allow agencies to gain insights into stakeholder challenges and ways of working.
Immersive activities may be offered to valued contributors to broaden their range of experiences and maintain engagement. This approach would target consistently strong performers.
Based on the strategic rationale for offering immersive activities, agencies will determine the target audience for each opportunity. The target audience might be identified:
employees identified as having high potential undertake activities to meet identified development needs.
high performing employees undertake activities to gain new perspectives and refresh their thinking. These activities support continuing employee engagement.
employees with specified development needs that could be met through an immersive activity.
Designing an approach for selecting employees for immersive development opportunities is important. Different methods may be needed for different opportunities. If opportunities are limited and interest is high, agencies may need to set criteria linked to the rationale for participation. Criteria might
include the benefits of the experience for current or future roles, or to meet priority areas of development. The main ways in which employees are identified for these activities are:
Identification by senior management / HR:
agencies match employees to opportunities based on known development needs or sustained performance. Taking a strategic approach will ensure capability is being developed in line with an agency's organisational goals. For agencies with structured talent management, a talent council might advise immersive
activities to meet the development needs of high potential employees.
managers nominate employees who meet relevant criteria and who are interested in taking up an immersive opportunity.
interested employees who meet relevant criteria nominate for opportunities, usually with support from their managers.
Including immersive development as a standing item on relevant executive or human resources committee agendas will encourage their use as a development activity.
A range of practical matters need to be addressed to manage immersive experiences. This will help manage expectations and help employees and their managers decide whether an immersive activity is the right opportunity for them. Matters that could be addressed in agency policies include:
Will particular immersive activities be limited to talent pool members? Will certain activities be available only to employees of particular classifications?
Will activities be funded centrally or will business lines be responsible for their employees' salaries? What are the arrangements for funding any backfilling arrangement? What are the arrangements for travel and other expenses, if relevant?
In the case of secondments, they should be long enough for the secondee and host organisation to gain the intended benefits. Current APS secondments range from six weeks to one year in length, but may be any length as agreed between the secondee, their agency and the host organisation. There is no
"set" or "ideal" length for other immersive activities. The Sir Roland Wilson Foundation PhD scholarship is a three year opportunity. Visits and frontline experiences might range from one day to weeks at a time.
Will the activity involve travel away from the employee's home location? Will agencies encourage or discourage families from travelling with the employee, and why? Will employees be able to return home for regular visits?
Will particular activities have implications for employees' ability to gain or maintain security clearances? Will activities result in real or perceived conflicts of interest?
What are the agency's expectations for maintaining communication during the experience? Whose responsibility is it? Will the agency supply equipment to support this?
A range of documentation is available to support successful immersive development. These are:
. For use by agencies, employees, and hosts to support employee development.
. This form is useful for gathering employee information during the nomination and selection stage.
Suggested evaluation approach
. A suggested approach for agency use when evaluating secondments and other immersive development activities.
Memorandum of Understanding.
A template MOU is available to assist in negotiating the terms and conditions of secondments with host organisations. The template includes drafting instructions for agency consideration. Copies are available on request from secondments [at] apsc.gov.au
Used in conjunction with the MOU, the template secondee deed covers confidentiality, intellectual property and conflict of interest matters. Host organisations will decide if secondees need to complete deeds. Copies are available on request from secondments [at] apsc.gov.au
2. Guidance for each stage of the immersive development lifecycle
Figure 2: Recap: The immersive development lifecycle
Stage 1: Preparation
Preparation will vary depending on the type of immersive activity being conducted. In general, agencies and any host organisations (or frontline areas) will confirm arrangements, while the employee will prepare for the learning experience.
Successful immersive development takes time and effort. Employees must be clear about their development goals, the work they will be doing during their immersive experience, the support they can expect during and after their experience, and the expectations their agency has of them. Depending on the
nature of the immersive activity, pre-activity discussions might cover:
- the terms and conditions of the activity, including salary and salary adjustments, leave accrual and use, and travel arrangements
- the duration of the activity, and any arrangements for extensions
- arrangements for regular contact with the employee, whether by a central coordinator and/or the employee's line manager
- work, health and safety arrangements
- conflicts of interest, APS Values and Code of Conduct
- the evaluation approach being used to review the experience.
Goal-setting is an important part of every immersive development activity, and would usually be set in consultation with the employee's manager. Goals may include:
- Developing or enhancing leadership, management or technical skills
- Gaining insights into the impact of policy and delivery on business, the community or jurisdictions
- Building resilience – working in an unfamiliar environment.
A development plan negotiated between the employee, their manager and host (where relevant) will enable a clear understanding of how the immersive activities will support the employee to achieve their goals.
Employees must play an active role maximising their development throughout the experience. This could include scheduling regular reflection sessions, keeping a journal to record observations and experiences, and working with a coach on workplace challenges.
Arrangements for agency contact
Regular contact between the employee and their agency allows the employee to discuss progress on their goals and remain in touch with agency news and events. Regular contact helps maximise the immersive experience and smooth the re-entry experience.
APS Values and Code of Conduct
Employees participating in immersive activities continue to be Commonwealth employees. The APS Values and Code of Conduct continue to apply and should guide employees' actions.
Preparing for transition
Employees need to be prepared for the emotional and/or mental challenges that can come with periods of transition and disruption. Completing the APS Core skills program 'Dealing with change', or working with a coach or counsellor might help identify strategies to use during this period of destabilisation.
For a full immersive experience it is important for the employee to hand over their home agency responsibilities prior to starting their development activity.
Agency and host preparation
The agency and the host (where relevant) will negotiate employee activities, taking into account the employee's development goals. Activities might include:
- Completing a specific project
- Shadowing senior leaders or frontline staff
- Completing rotations through different areas of the business
- Completing a PhD or other study on topics of relevance to the APS.
Prepare Memorandum of Understanding
Negotiating an MOU between the agency and host organisation will ensure a clear understanding of the roles and responsibilities of each party. This is particularly relevant for secondments. The MOU should include:
- a description of the activities or role
- the term of the placement
- employment status of the employee
- remuneration arrangements
- leave entitlements
- work health and safety and insurance arrangements
- performance management arrangements
- training and development
- offers of employment (or 'no poaching' clause)
- code of conduct
- confidentiality, security, copyright and intellectual property
- termination of the arrangement.
The host will determine whether the employee needs to complete a confidentiality agreement.
Risk assessment, work health and safety
While hosts are responsible for the day to day work health and safety of employees, agencies continue to have a duty of care towards employees. A risk assessment should be conducted for each immersive activity taking into account variables such as location and the type of work being undertaken. A comprehensive
risk management plan to mitigate identified risks must be implemented. It may be necessary to work with the host to develop an understanding of the risks, controls and mitigations already in place. It is important that any preparation is consistent with the expectations of the Commonwealth's insurers,
Comcare and Comcover.
Welcoming the employee
To ensure a smooth start to the immersive activity, the host should have a dedicated contact for the employee's first day and arrange work space, building and IT access (where necessary). It is good practice for the employee to complete the host's induction program (if available). Any new colleagues
should be prepared for the employee's arrival.
Stages 2, 3 and 4: Encounter, adjustment and stabilisation
The encounter stage covers the first days and weeks of the immersive experience. During this time, the employee will develop an overview of their host organisation. As they begin to understand the spoken and unspoken rules of their new environment and build a new network of relationships, they move into the
adjustment stage. During this period, they will adapt their working methods and style to fit with the host organisation. This leads to stabilisation, the stage in which the employee has found their place in the host organisation.
Immersive development opportunities are challenges to be embraced. They bring a productive amount of discomfort and disruption, creating excellent learning opportunities. This discomfort contributes to the vertical development referred to previously. More detail on vertical development is available here.
Taking part in social activities and engaging with new colleagues will help employees adjust to their new workplace. Completing the host's induction program will also help with the adjustment.
Depending on the nature of the immersive activity, access to agency pastoral support, a coach, and/or mentor will help the employee get the most out of the experience.
Host organisation support
This section may be less relevant for some types of immersive experience such as visits.
A practical step to support the employee's integration into the workplace or university is a 'buddy'. The buddy would help the employee understand the organisational culture, ways of working, and expectations. The buddy should help the employee develop their networks across the organisation.
Soon after arriving at the host organisation, the employee's host manager should organise a time to discuss their goals and how they will be achieved. This is also an opportunity to discuss the host's expectations of the placement.
The host manager should provide ongoing support and performance feedback throughout the placement.
Ongoing communication between the agency, host and the employee should be maintained throughout the immersive experience to monitor progress and keep all parties up-to-date. The frequency of this contact can be determined on a case-by-case basis.
Stage 5: Exit
Research suggests that preparation is needed for the smooth conclusion of an immersive experience. Uncertainty during the exit stage can strongly impact the experience and success of re-entry.
During this stage, the employee finalises their work, hands over and debriefs with hosts. Their agency works with them to review the experience and develop a re-entry plan.
Planning for reintegration
The agency should confirm with the employee and their host the arrangements for finalising the placement. The agency should also begin planning the employee's reintegration, including:
Confirming the role the employee will be returning to, especially if a different opportunity has been identified for them. A review of secondment research recommended that, where possible, if the secondment (or other immersive activity) is 12 months or longer, the employee return to a new role. This
would not apply if the immersive activity was undertaken with the intention of building skills for use in the employee's current role.
- Updating the employee on recent agency news and activities.
- Considering options for making use of the employee's new skills, experiences and insights.
Depending on the duration of the immersive experience, the employee may feel apprehensive as it comes to an end. In general, employees begin to feel comfortable at their host organisation and may have concerns about returning to their agency. The employee should work through these concerns with their
manager, coach or mentor.
The host should ensure arrangements for completing the immersive activity are in place well in advance of its conclusion. This includes any final reporting or briefing, and completing a performance assessment (where agreed).
Stage 6: Re-entry
This is the final stage of the cycle, where the employee returns to their agency and re-establishes workflows and relationships. If managed well, re-entry will ensure that the experience and knowledge gained during the immersive activity is applied and that the returning employee fully re-engages with
Home agency re-entry support
The returning employee should be debriefed. This would usually involve the individual who conducted their goal setting discussion. The discussion is an opportunity to understand how the immersive experience met the original goals and explore how new skills and insights might be applied.
Putting new capabilities or insights to use
Research shows the importance of employees providing feedback regarding new skills and capabilities, and then putting those new skills to use.
The agency should take the time to explore and acknowledge the new skills, knowledge and networks the employee brings back from their experience. Employees must play an active part in this. It is important that employees are provided with opportunities to use their new capabilities and to share their
experience more broadly. This could include staff presentations, meetings with senior executives, intranet articles and feedback to business lines about their learnings.
Evaluation is an important part of all development. A suggested evaluation approach is included in the toolkit. The approach should be tailored to each immersive activity.
 Ruepert, A., Wilkinson, J., & Galloway, L. (2010). Neither fish nor fowl: exploring seconded and contracted teachers' experiences of the university sector. Australian Educational Researcher, 37(3), 39-55.
 Workplace Research Associates (2015). Enhancing the Re-entry Experience for Individuals and Organisations
Following Secondments: A Review of the Research Literature. Commissioned by the Centre for Leadership and Learning.
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ending: the organisational challenges of deploying and reintegrating civilian police peacekeepers (a Canadian perspective). Policing and Society, 19(2), 134-146.