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Strengthening the performance management framework

Two high-profile reports this year made findings about the performance of the APS in relation to the management of programmes and the interface with Ministers—the Independent Audit into the National Broadband Network (NBN) Public Policy Processes4 and the Royal Commission into the Home Insulation Program5 (HIP). Both reports called for the APS to have sufficient technical expertise and industry experience in programme design and delivery and highlighted the importance of providing full, frank and timely advice to Ministers. The Australian Government has said it will use the recommendations of the NBN audit to improve the governance of the project and the Department of Communications is taking that work forward. The HIP Royal Commission concluded ‘there were seven significant failings in the design and implementation of the HIP’. It also said that ‘many of the shortcomings in the HIP are failures of senior managers’.6 These reports highlight deficiencies in the clarity of roles and performance expectations, individual accountability and responsibility, and in the systems to report and provide feedback to agency executives on key issues and risks.

The Commission's work with agencies also highlighted instances where management of underperforming employees, in particular, was severely hampered by the absence of a formal or relevant performance agreement, the lack of timely feedback on employee performance and the absence of clear measurable goals, the importance of which had not been communicated to employees. Improving the skills of managers to support more effective performance management within work groups is likely to lead to the better management of poor performers, better talent identification and development, and more systematic approaches to identifying and developing appropriate skills and capabilities in the workforce to remedy capability deficiencies.

Effectively managing employee performance is a core responsibility of all APS supervisors, and the Public Service Act 1999 (Public Service Act) requires ‘effective performance from each employee’.7 The Public Service Act also provides for a reduction in classification or the termination of employment in the case of non-performance or unsatisfactory performance of duties for ongoing APS employees.8

The provisions and tools to assist supervisors to effectively manage performance are readily available and managers are required to provide clear links for employees between their work objectives and agency priorities. Effective performance management requires managers to regularly review the structure, management and administrative systems that support and enable individuals to meet the expectations and responsibilities required of them. Combined, these systems, processes and tools assist managers and employees to focus on how individual performance can be sustained and improved.

Improving the performance management skills of APS managers will likely lead to better management of under-performing employees and improve talent identification. Performance management provides the means to identify where investment is required to build workforce capability, individually and collectively. For example, it allows agencies to systematically identify and develop appropriate skills and abilities in the workforce to remedy existing or emerging workforce capability deficiencies.

Improved individual performance can be achieved through the clear communication of expectations and effective application of performance management policies and processes. In recent years, the Commission has worked closely with agencies on initiatives to strengthen the culture of performance management, including by:

  • increasing the focus on the enablers of agency performance through the independent assessments of agency Capability Reviews (and agency responses to those reviews)
  • recently introducing new learning interventions to build workforce capabilities such as performance management, structuring work and managing change, with new programmes in development focusing on personal responsibility and accountability and effective decision making through the APS Leadership and Core Skills Strategy (see Chapter 5)
  • diagnostic tools to assist agencies to assess their capability and strengthen their capacity to improve performance.

Additionally, the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 (PGPA Act) and amendments to the Public Service Act strengthened legal requirements for high performance through:

  • Amendments to the Public Service Act in 2013 that introduced the APS Values and Employment Principles as drivers to shape the culture of the APS. The Values and Employment Principles are core components of a positive culture, stewardship, high performance, and leadership—and fostering ‘one APS’. The Employment Principles specifically require effective performance from each employee and all APS agency heads and employees are required to uphold the APS Values and Employment Principles.
  • The PGPA Act requires two new documents—corporate plans and annual performance statements—intended to improve the standard of organisational planning and reporting, and potentially provide greater transparency and accountability for individual employee performance.

The Commission and the Department of Finance have worked closely to communicate the complementary nature of these legislative changes; in particular, the need to better manage performance and the provision of new tools to do so. Together, the reformed legislative framework, new training options, and new diagnostic and measurement tools provide strong underpinning support and improve the ability of managers to better manage performance.

During 2013–14, through the ‘Strengthening the Performance Management Framework’ project, the Commission developed a Performance Management Diagnostic (Diagnostic).9 This Diagnostic was designed to:

  • gauge the extent to which an agency's practices and its people capabilities align with those that have been demonstrated to positively impact performance
  • assist APS agencies to assess their baseline condition, identify areas of strength and weakness, and required actions to achieve more consistent and better practice
  • use quantitative and qualitative inputs to identify key areas requiring improvement and provide suggestions for action.

One component of the Diagnostic is a performance management survey which explores employee and manager perceptions of manager behaviours and agency processes. The 2014 employee census included the performance management survey to establish an APS-wide baseline for performance management and to provide insight into areas of common strength and weakness. The following section reports these findings.


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Footnotes

4 Scales, B 2014, Independent Audit NBN Public Policy Processes, Audit report presented to the Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP. Documents presented out of sitting (Senate) and tabled 4 August 2014.

5 Hanger, I 2014, Report of the Royal Commission into the Home Insulation Program, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra.

6 Hanger, I 2014, Report of the Royal Commission into the Home Insulation Program, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, p. 5, 302.

7Public Service Act 1999, s. 10.

8Public Service Act 1999, ss. 23(4)(e), 29(3)(c).

9 More information on the project can be found at: Australian Public Service Commission, Strengthening the Performance Framework Project, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, viewed 23 October 2014, http://www.apsc.gov.au/projects/performance-framework.