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State of the Service Report 2009-10: Launch 29 November 2010

Let me begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of this land, and pay my respects to elders both past and present.

I welcome my colleagues who have taken the time to be here today.

And, I welcome all of you to the Commission.

This room has a capacity of 175.

We have about 160-170 in here today.

Such is the interest in the State of the Service Report that we could have filled this room twice over.

We will take the State of the Service Report ‘on the road’ early in the New Year, and I’m sure that the level of interest in its contents will be equally intense.

I would like to extend special thanks and appreciation to the agency contact officers who coordinate the response to the Agency Survey. 

This year the agency survey was extensive. 

The burden of extracting and coordinating the response (often from their busy, grumpy and reluctant colleagues) fell to these people.

Today, I would like to acknowledge their efforts and persistence.

We are able to present a large amount of new data and analysis because of their contribution.

I can assure you that Commission will make the best use of all the information you have provided.

And of course, I would like to acknowledge the efforts of Marian Allen and her State of the Service team and the complementary efforts of Sue Johnson and her APSED team.

The APSED team put together the Statistical Bulletin and hard data on APS workforce demographics.

The effort that goes into producing the State of the Service Report is nothing short of exhausting.

Marian and her team have carried the load of coordination, writing and publishing with grace, commonsense and determination.

For Marian, this year’s report is already ‘old news’. They are beginning to focus on delivering the 2010-11 Report.

As I’m sure many of you would appreciate, it is difficult to summarise a 200 page report in a few words.

My goal this afternoon is to draw your attention to a couple of key themes and point you in the direction of some of the new and different insights available in this year’s report.

To that end, I have three key overarching messages for you from this report:

  • first, the APS is performing well;
  • second, the APS continues to evolve and adapt to meet changing needs and community expectations; and
  • third, the underlying analysis and conclusions outlined in Ahead of the Game remain sound and we have some work to do to build the APS’ capability so as to maximise its effectiveness.

This Report gives us some further insights into how to do that. It provides a much stronger analysis around the areas of strengths and weakness in our organisational capability; and, we have new information in the areas of workforce planning, leadership, learning and development, social technologies and workforce trends.

Performing Well

On many measures the APS is performing well.

The key to ensuring that we continue to deliver good value to government and citizens, however, is to maintain our focus on continuous improvement.

The pressure to improve and adapt to changing circumstances is unrelenting—and is best addressed by building the organisational capability which ensures that the APS remains an outward looking, effective, resilient and enduring institution.

Organisational capability is more than our technical skills – it is the combination of people, processes, systems, structures and culture that will allow us to absorb the disturbance of change while ensuring that we can continue to meet the day-to-day demands of our core functions: policy, regulation, service delivery and program implementation.

In essence, the challenge is to become more systematic and more forward looking in the way we build organisational capability that allows us to respond well to anticipated events and to be resilient in the face of the unexpected.

There are many opportunities for us to pick up the pace of reform.

Taking these opportunities will give us our best chance to build on the very strong foundation of human capital and organisational capability that is already present.

This year’s report shows that some significant trends in the demographics of the APS workforce persist. 

I don’t intend to take you through the detail but I will highlight the things that caught my attention.

  • The workforce is becoming more highly qualified. In 2010, 71% of those engaged had graduate qualifications; 20 years ago the equivalent figure was 44%.
    • This is a fundamentally good trend.
    • However, we should also be aware that improved education is often accompanied by higher expectations of work and the work environment.
  • The APS workforce is getting older. For example, the 55+ group (of which I am a proud member) was 13.6% of the total workforce in June 2010.
    • This is more than double the rate of 15 years ago.
    • Indeed, more than half of the SES and feeder group will be eligible for retirement in the next 10 years; up from 30% 10 years ago.
    • I suspect that this is one area where the APS is quietly adapting to change and the Commission will continue to keep a close eye on the implications of this issue.
  • Women are becoming better represented in the SES and its feeder groups (though still less than half).
    • This is an area where the APS has placed a significant emphasis and reaped rewards in terms of enhanced capability.
  • The representation of those identifying as Indigenous or having a disability remains less than in the population at large, but is stable. This year, the Commission worked in partnership with many APS and non-APS agencies to target Indigenous recruitment.
    • These programs have been successful in attracting Indigenous Australians but we need similarly successful strategies and programs in place to retain them. 
    • The proportion of separating employees who leave within one year is much higher for indigenous staff than for other employees, for example. 
    • Puzzlingly, though, indigenous employees (at least amongst those who stay) report more often than their non-indigenous colleagues that their expectations are “well met” in all but one of the top 5 attributes they rate as important in attracting them to their current job.
    • We need to understand better why indigenous employees leave.

The Commission is also working productively with a number of other agencies to promote strategies which will help to improve the representation of those who identify as having a disability. We hope to take these strategies further in the year ahead.

  • APS employees continue to report high levels of commitment to their work.
    • This year, for the first time, we have compared APS employees’ perceptions with their counterparts in the UK and US on a number of dimensions of employee engagement.
    • The APS is tracking well but this also highlights that we share the same weaknesses.
  • Employee perceptions of the ethics and integrity of the APS continue to be encouraging.
    • This year’s results showed that 83% of employees agree that their agency actively encourages ethical behaviour and 71% of employees agree that their agency operates with a high level of integrity.
    • Our values and ethical standards are the bedrock of the APS culture. So, these results are both affirming and reassuring.

So, to summarise, my first message to you from this year’s report is that the APS is performing well on a number of key workforce measures and this performance reflects well on the quality of our people and the efforts of our leaders and managers.

Adapting to Changing Circumstances

My second message to you is that this Report contains clear evidence that the APS continues to adapt to changing circumstances. 

For example, this year’s findings show that APS agencies are adopting more innovative practices and encouraging the use of new technologies.

The key points are shown on the slide and I won’t read them out. However, I would like to focus on the broader implications this has for the APS beyond the place of these technologies as simply a vehicle for delivering information.

Social media technologies provide opportunities for public servants to become active in policy debates and this brings with it particular challenges.

For example, it is quite acceptable for APS employees to participate in political or public activities as part of their life within the community.

However, in doing so they may not disclose information that should be held in confidence or that may prejudice the effective working of government.

They may also not act in a way that undermines public trust in the ability of the APS to provide impartial advice to the government of the day, irrespective of its political persuasion.

This imposes an obligation on public servants—even when they are acting as private citizens—not only to conduct themselves civilly in any discussions that they may be a party to, but also to avoid comment that is so extreme that it would raise concerns about their ability to faithfully serve the government of the day.

This point is equally true whether the commentary is in respect of the views of the government or of members of possible alternative governments.

These concerns should not distract us from exploiting Web 2.0 or responding to the government’s commitment to openness.

The government’s encouragement of public servants’ use of these new technologies is, however, tempered by the need to conform to the APS Values and Code of Conduct.

The Report also cites examples of approaches taken by agencies to improve their interactions with external organisations.

In particular, the work cited in the Report on stakeholder engagement underway in DEEWR, Finance, Infrastructure, and Medicare come to mind.

Similarly, the work on providing citizens with improved access to services by the ATO and ABS are also worthy of closer consideration.

These are not the only examples of this type of work across the Service – our challenge continues to be finding best practice, learning from it and transferring that understanding to others.  

We will extract most value from this work if we can go beyond describing the approaches used and become more adept at translating these lessons across organisational boundaries such that they become reflected in improved practice and outcomes for government and citizens.

Increasingly, the APS is working with non-government service providers to deliver services to the public.

This year, a National Compact between government and the ‘third sector’ (community and not-for-profit organisations) was launched.

The Compact outlines how government and third sector organisations will work together in new ways to improve social, cultural, civic, economic and environmental outcomes, building on the strengths of individuals and communities.

The Report shows that whole of government collaboration remains at a similar level to previous years – but with the same barriers identified.

We are unlikely to see a significant shift in these results until the Blueprint recommendations to facilitate collaboration and accountability are fully implemented.

The Commission has been tasked with exploring the feasibility of a citizen survey to improve the quality of APS service delivery.

This is an approach that offers substantial opportunities to improve organisational performance.

Canada and, more recently, New Zealand regularly survey their citizens and report considerable benefits from doing so.

For example, Canada, which has been conducting biennial citizen surveys since 1998 as part of a broader service delivery reform agenda, recorded a 12% increase in citizen satisfaction with government services in general between 1998 and 2005.

The results of the citizen survey are used by citizens, agencies, government and parliament as part of an integrated, targeted approach to service delivery reform.

This year’s State of the Service Report examines the range of citizen-centred feedback initiatives that agencies currently use, including evaluation and review mechanisms.

This data shows there has been a slight decrease over the last three years in the number of agencies using surveys of the general public to evaluate services they deliver.

Independent analysis of these surveys showed that their quality is highly variable.

So, there is evidence that the APS is adapting to changing circumstances. We are testing new ideas, new technologies and new ways of operating.

However, ours is, rightly, a culturally conservative institution.

Our approach to innovation will always be deliberate and considered.

However, we all know that the best way to address the pace of change is to experiment with new ideas and question existing practice.

And this can lead to tension between those who want to move faster and those who need to manage the risks.

This tension is natural and is another way that we will build the organisational capability we need – capability that responds to foreseeable events and is resilient when faced with the unexpected.

Confirms Ahead of the Game

My third message to you from this report is that, not surprisingly, it confirms a number of the key messages of Ahead of the Game.

The findings show that we need to address organisational capability issues more systematically – and this is at the heart of the Blueprint.

Indeed, we have taken the opportunity to explore some of the issues raised in Ahead of the Game in greater depth and provide more targeted analysis of the core organisational capability issues. 

The importance of taking a more systematic approach to building organisational capability and governance is evident in a number of recent ANAO reports.

In a number of cases agencies were asked to assume functions, especially delivery functions, where there was limited portfolio experience or appropriately skilled resources upon which to draw.

Sometimes the essence of the policy response was the need for speedier than desirable implementation in such circumstances, the risks of which may not have been fully appreciated at the time.

However, history suggests that various components of the APS will experience stress for which they are unprepared at different times—either because the organisational culture has become too fixed, as was highlighted through the Comrie and Palmer inquiries of Immigration earlier this decade, or because they were dealing with the unexpected, as in the cases of OzCar and the Home Insulation Program.

This highlights the value in nurturing a management culture and skill set that proactively examines and manages its organisational capability.

Many agencies not directly involved with these matters are examining these reports in order to learn from them.

I commend those agencies that are taking this opportunity.

The challenge, however, is to avoid drawing lessons that focus too heavily on changes to processes and not enough on the need to develop the organisational capabilities necessary to secure good outcomes.

Compliance with process is no substitute for maintaining an open, enquiring mind or for exercise of prudent and informed judgement to achieve program objectives in a timely fashion.

These issues are best addressed within agencies by building capability which extends, as previously noted, beyond technical competence to embrace matters like the breadth and quality of supporting experience, judgement, oversight and the openness and inquisitiveness of the workplace culture.

This year’s Report is grouped around three themes:

  • Leadership and Culture,
  • Capability, Innovation and Collaboration, and
  • Human Capital Management.

Ahead of the Game has made a number of recommendations about opportunities for the Commission to work with APS agencies to improve human capital and organisational capability through sharing good practice.

The Blueprint also included specific recommendations to build the elements of organisational capability, including:

  • coordinating workforce planning;
  • implementing Capability Reviews,
  • taking another look at our approaches to leadership, learning and development;
  • streamlining recruitment and improving performance management,
  • exploring ways to better manage talent across the APS; and
  • improving our human capital diagnostics.

This Report confirms that we have much to do in each of these areas. For example, the Agency Survey showed that:

  • only 21% of agencies reported having a documented workforce plan in place;
  • only 17% of agencies had developed a risk profile for their workforce in order to strengthen succession management for critical roles and leadership positions; and
  • only 10% of agencies reported having an active talent management strategy in place this year, though just under half recognised that one of the barriers to managing talent in their agency is a lack of a talent management strategy or framework.

Importantly, Ahead of the Game recognised the value of systemic solutions to improving human capital as the vehicle for building institutional capability. 

It did this by putting renewed emphasis on the APS as a long-lived institution with responsibilities to the future and not just the present.

The benefits of this long-term, systemic view are clear to me:

  • strengthening organisational and workforce capability will improve the quality of outcomes for government and citizens;
  • institutionally, we will have the means to take coordinated action to identify and address the persistent workforce and capability issues, such as ongoing skills shortages, growing wage dispersion among agencies, red tape, and deficits in leadership skills;
  • we will be able to readily identify and address overlaps, duplication and gaps in our capability building programs; and, perhaps most importantly,
  • the APS will work steadily toward leading rather than following on these issues.

The Blueprint Advisory Group reminded us all that the APS is an enduring institution with responsibilities not only to faithfully discharging the agenda of the government of the day but also to look ahead and anticipate issues that may not emerge until well beyond the current electoral cycle.

We need to nurture the capability required to meet this challenge.

So, the Blueprint is built on a foundation of respect for current practice—it’s not all broken—while also acknowledging that more can be done to build the institutional capability for a more forward looking APS.

This year’s State of the Service Report reinforces that message.


My key messages from this report are that:

  • the APS is performing well;
  • the Service continues to evolve and adapt to meet changing needs and community expectations; and
  • the underlying analysis and conclusions outlined in Ahead of the Game remain sound.

I intend to progress the Commission’s contribution to the Blueprint Reforms as quickly as resources will allow.  

These reforms reflect the strategic direction the Commission would be taking anyway.

It is true that additional funding would have allowed a more rapid and widespread approach to implementation.

However, in the absence of additional resources, the Commission will work with others to achieve what it can within the resources available.

This will include collaborating with agencies to deliver the reform agenda.

We have already received tremendous support from agencies to progress the workplace relations agenda, for example, and I would like to thank my colleagues for their generous assistance. 

However, it is inescapable that with reduced funding, implementing the Blueprint will take longer than originally anticipated and there is less certainty that we will be able to achieve all that we are responsible to deliver.

We hope to work with others, however, to build on the undoubted momentum for reform that currently exists and help the APS to stay ahead of the game.

I have concluded the Overview to this Report by saying that the challenge for the Commission and the wider APS is both considerable and exciting. I believe this, and I hope that you do as well.

Thank you/Questions

Last reviewed: 
21 September 2018