ANU to bring a high performance culture to the Public Service?

johnboy 4 January 2012 36

ANU are claiming to have the answers to transforming the Public Service!

The ANU Crawford School, the University of Canberra and the University of New South Wales have joined forces with the Australian Public Service Commission in a new project which will strengthen staff performance.

Together they will develop a strategy to build a high performance culture, and better manage underperformance. The project will address some of the major findings of the Australian Public Service’s Ahead of the Game: Blueprint for Reform report released in 2010 by bringing together the expertise of the Australian Public Service and academics.

Associate Professor Janine O’Flynn from the ANU Crawford School will be one of three academics working to trial and recommend change to the public service staff performance model over the next three years.

“We know that a one-size fits all approach to performance management is not an effective model,” said Associate Professor Janine O’Flynn. “This collaboration will use management diagnostics to determine organisational capabilities then develop a model to provide best-fit frameworks.

“This is not about designing new forms to be filled out. What we need to do is work together with the Australian Public Service to discover what works, where, and when. This will help to drive a high performance culture in the Australian Public Service, and enable public sector organisations to deliver on the goals of government.”

We wish them the best of luck.


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36 Responses to ANU to bring a high performance culture to the Public Service?
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dungfungus dungfungus 10:21 am 05 Jan 12

AG Canberra said :

“This collaboration will use management diagnostics to determine organisational capabilities then develop a model to provide best-fit frameworks.”

This whole sham is summed up in that line. What the f does that sentence actually mean?

Truly a classic in a language that only public servants and academics can pretend to understand.
And all this wankfest nonsense is underwritten by the taxpayer; scandalous.

devils_advocate devils_advocate 10:13 am 05 Jan 12

LSWCHP said :

Given these stories, and all the others I’ve heard over the last 30 years in Canberra, I assess the whole operation (ie the APS) as a dysfunctional goatf*ck, and applying a load of academic bafflegab and bloviation to the copulating goats isn’t going to make a bit of difference.

I think a key stumbling block is that -as with any problem – the key to a solution is admitting the fact that there is, in fact, a problem. More than any place I know, the APS has an almost pathological fear of admitting that something might be going wrong.

devils_advocate devils_advocate 10:11 am 05 Jan 12

what_the said :

Change the system as much as you like, its not going to change the fact that every manager I ever worked fro in the APS across 5 different agencies never addressed underperformance as there are no penalties to enforce.

As I noted above, while I don’t think it’s likely that change will occur, it’s actually not that difficult. The private sector has been doing it since the inception of the business that required more than 1 person, and it’s been part of the corporate law ever since collectives were granted the right to limited liability in exchange for some measure of accountability to owners/shareholders and creditors.

The market imposes a certain discipline on the private sector. If you don’t cull the slackers, you lose money, lose investors and then everyone is out of a job. For listed companies -many of which are smaller than some APS departments – there are specific rules about ensuring proper governance. And despite what people might argue, it’s not rocket science, a lot of it is common sense.

Now obviously not all the frameworks that allow a profit-driven enterprise to run efficiently can be carried over to the APS, but many of them can and should be. Sure, there is resistance from the entrenched internals who have vested interests in maintaining the status quo, but even this ‘organisational inertia’ can be overcome – eg making senior appointments from outside (even – shock horror – private sector people with expertise in management, rather than policy expertise).

So, in summary, while I agree change is unlikely, we should not kid ourselves that for some reason it’s impossible (or even difficult).

Wilco Wilco 9:57 am 05 Jan 12

devils_advocate said :

NoImRight said :

Well with hard core evidence and detail like that who could argue. Lots of urban legends around the PS. It surely would be a first on the internet for someone to justify their ill founded views with a “one time at bandcamp” approach.

1) my comments were based on 11 years in the APS, including 3 years on 2 different audit committees (one a line agency, one a central agency). In that time I did a range of analyses, including empirical/statistical. And not the cleaned up stuff that goes into the state of the service reports.
2) I tried to structure my comments around the organisational framework failures, as opposed to attacking the people. FWIW, I actually don’t blame individuals for responding rationally to the incentives that are put in front of them. It’s stupid for an organisation to rely on people’s good will and professionalism to produce results when a) there’s no reward for producing results and b) there is no credible threat for screwing up. So I blame the institutions.
3) Some arguments don’t require empirical proof. (Assuming your in the APS) go through your organisation’s guidelines for managing underperformance, and see what is actually required to see that through to its conclusion (ie termination). Now (assuming you’re not a manager) put yourself in the position of the manager and think whether you would go to that effort, or just do as has been suggested above, and avoid the problem by putting the load onto yourself or others.
4) Some arguments can be proven by exception. When a secretary is appointed who does achieve real, positive, cultural change, they write textbooks about it and the guy travels around the country giving seminars on how he did it (*cough*DIAC*cough). Getting rid of underperformers should be the bare minimum for an SES level officer – not something that is celebrated.

+1

devils_advocate devils_advocate 9:38 am 05 Jan 12

NoImRight said :

Well with hard core evidence and detail like that who could argue. Lots of urban legends around the PS. It surely would be a first on the internet for someone to justify their ill founded views with a “one time at bandcamp” approach.

1) my comments were based on 11 years in the APS, including 3 years on 2 different audit committees (one a line agency, one a central agency). In that time I did a range of analyses, including empirical/statistical. And not the cleaned up stuff that goes into the state of the service reports.
2) I tried to structure my comments around the organisational framework failures, as opposed to attacking the people. FWIW, I actually don’t blame individuals for responding rationally to the incentives that are put in front of them. It’s stupid for an organisation to rely on people’s good will and professionalism to produce results when a) there’s no reward for producing results and b) there is no credible threat for screwing up. So I blame the institutions.
3) Some arguments don’t require empirical proof. (Assuming your in the APS) go through your organisation’s guidelines for managing underperformance, and see what is actually required to see that through to its conclusion (ie termination). Now (assuming you’re not a manager) put yourself in the position of the manager and think whether you would go to that effort, or just do as has been suggested above, and avoid the problem by putting the load onto yourself or others.
4) Some arguments can be proven by exception. When a secretary is appointed who does achieve real, positive, cultural change, they write textbooks about it and the guy travels around the country giving seminars on how he did it (*cough*DIAC*cough). Getting rid of underperformers should be the bare minimum for an SES level officer – not something that is celebrated.

switch switch 9:19 am 05 Jan 12

AG Canberra said :

What the f does that sentence actually mean?

“We’ll ask a few mates what they reckon they can do and then we’ll come up with a two-pager.”

AG Canberra AG Canberra 7:48 am 05 Jan 12

“This collaboration will use management diagnostics to determine organisational capabilities then develop a model to provide best-fit frameworks.”

This whole sham is summed up in that line. What the f does that sentence actually mean?

what_the what_the 7:07 am 05 Jan 12

Change the system as much as you like, its not going to change the fact that every manager I ever worked fro in the APS across 5 different agencies never addressed underperformance as there are no penalties to enforce. You practically cannot be fired for unperformance, and the professional bludgers (of which there are many) know this. Some throw up so much inteference the manager lets them sit there and takes on the work themselves or lets the other worker take up the slack. If a manager actually does want to address this, they have to spend a majority of their time monitoring this problem person/s constantly pushing them to just do their job, but I’ve never seen this happen, as it’s ‘too much work’. I’ve seen managers try through performance feedback sessions, but these are usually just a minor speedbump for these bludgers. What ends up happening is anyone decent in the team gets fed up picking up the slack or putting up with their crap, so it becomes a crappy area to work for and good workers are lost. I’ve seen this happen to so many areas, as there’s no repercussions and not incentive to work hard. When there’s no fear of being fired whatsoever, this leaves it open for people to abuse the system.

LSWCHP LSWCHP 10:43 pm 04 Jan 12

What utter crapola.

I work in a very capable private sector organisation. We’re very very good at what we do, and we have a reputation for getting the job done. A few weeks ago, one of my senior staff spent a couple of days dealing with some APS people. The major conclusion she drew from this activity was that she would never, ever wish to work in the APS.

And tonight I had dinner with a recently retired EL2 who mentioned in passing that “There are good departmental secretaries, but there are a lot who shout at their staff, and some even throw things. There’s no comeback, so they keep doing it”.

My wife works in the APS, and she’s been on the end of bullying and abuse.

My brother and his wife have both been driven to nervous breakdowns as a result of long and distinguished careers in the APS. My sister suffered mental illness as a result of working as a senior APS officer, and had to quit to save her sanity.

A hugely capable and experienced engineer of my acquaintance joined the APS and found himself employed in a warehouse counting stock items. His APS career lasted around 3 weeks.

I also had an appalling but luckily brief experience in the APS myself many years ago.

Given these stories, and all the others I’ve heard over the last 30 years in Canberra, I assess the whole operation (ie the APS) as a dysfunctional goatf*ck, and applying a load of academic bafflegab and bloviation to the copulating goats isn’t going to make a bit of difference.

Mr Evil Mr Evil 9:41 pm 04 Jan 12

Well after reading that Crawford School was crowing in the media during March about the fact that they’d trained 13 of the senior managers involved in the Fukushima meltdown, I really worry about what this means for the APS:

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/in-depth/praise-for-anu-trainees/story-fn84naht-1226024314148

Duffbowl Duffbowl 9:02 pm 04 Jan 12

NoImRight said :

HenryBG said :

How do you get rid of somebody who is incapable in the Public Service? There’s only one way – put them up for promotion (to somebody else’s team/department) and give them a glowing reference. Thus the problem snowballs as the most incapable rise to the top the fastest. And these are people who just cannot be employed in the private sector so the APS is stuck with them for life.

Well with hard core evidence and detail like that who could argue. Lots of urban legends around the PS. It surely would be a first on the internet for someone to justify their ill founded views with a “one time at bandcamp” approach.

Is a first hand account hard core enough?

A few years ago, I assisted my manager in moving a person who they no longer desired to be in the section. A position was identifed elsewhere in the organisation where it was felt they would be more appropriately employed (in other words, the EL1 and EL2 I reported to didn’t like the ELs in that team very much), and I assisted the applicant in writing their EOI. I also penned a glowing referees report for them, at the direction of my manager.

Was it the right thing to do? No, it wasn’t. It was one of the things that left me somewhat disprited about serving in that organisation.

Bramina Bramina 8:36 pm 04 Jan 12

I once heard that Google only employs the top people and they are very careful to keep everyone else out.

The theory goes that lower grade people feel threatened by successful people. The see high performers as a threat and obstruct them. Then they hire other low grade people.

I guess in the you could say there are a lot of low grade people in the public service who resist improvement.

dpm dpm 6:25 pm 04 Jan 12

gospeedygo said :

I bet even they don’t know what hell they’re talking about.

What do you mean? This makes perfect, straightforward, sense and is bound to sort things out:
“This collaboration will use management diagnostics to determine organisational capabilities then develop a model to provide best-fit frameworks.”
Hahahaha! Jargon gold! 🙂

cranky cranky 5:20 pm 04 Jan 12

And the citizens of Lower Gurlargambone did rejoice, for they would benefit mightily.

NoImRight NoImRight 4:30 pm 04 Jan 12

HenryBG said :

NoImRight said :

devils_advocate said :

….it is virtually impossible to get fired in the APS …. for the APS – the type of people who are attracted by “job security” are those who value the fact that no matter how incompetent they are, it’s near impossible to be fired. …the good people go to the private sector and flourish, the detritus remain and ‘do their time’ because they have no better option….

I see what you are saying and agree in part but making sweeping generalisations about why people join or leave the PS doesnt really help to provide answers. Even in private enterprise large companies suffer the same issues. Its not solely because its PS.

A good sweeping generalisation is one which reflects a general truth.
In this case, the “sweeping generalisations” were pretty good ones.

How do you get rid of somebody who is incapable in the Public Service? There’s only one way – put them up for promotion (to somebody else’s team/department) and give them a glowing reference. Thus the problem snowballs as the most incapable rise to the top the fastest. And these are people who just cannot be employed in the private sector so the APS is stuck with them for life.

Well with hard core evidence and detail like that who could argue. Lots of urban legends around the PS. It surely would be a first on the internet for someone to justify their ill founded views with a “one time at bandcamp” approach.

HenryBG HenryBG 4:01 pm 04 Jan 12

NoImRight said :

devils_advocate said :

….it is virtually impossible to get fired in the APS …. for the APS – the type of people who are attracted by “job security” are those who value the fact that no matter how incompetent they are, it’s near impossible to be fired. …the good people go to the private sector and flourish, the detritus remain and ‘do their time’ because they have no better option….

I see what you are saying and agree in part but making sweeping generalisations about why people join or leave the PS doesnt really help to provide answers. Even in private enterprise large companies suffer the same issues. Its not solely because its PS.

A good sweeping generalisation is one which reflects a general truth.
In this case, the “sweeping generalisations” were pretty good ones.

How do you get rid of somebody who is incapable in the Public Service? There’s only one way – put them up for promotion (to somebody else’s team/department) and give them a glowing reference. Thus the problem snowballs as the most incapable rise to the top the fastest. And these are people who just cannot be employed in the private sector so the APS is stuck with them for life.

gospeedygo gospeedygo 3:29 pm 04 Jan 12

I bet even they don’t know what hell they’re talking about.

NoImRight NoImRight 3:00 pm 04 Jan 12

devils_advocate said :

I totally agree this will be as useless as all the similar projects in the past.

The irony is, building a high performance culture and managing underperformance are the two main things the APS could do to make massive improvements – but nobody has the guts to do it.

RE: Managing underperformance, it is virtually impossible to get fired in the APS unless you actually engage in some serious misconduct, ie view innappropriate material on internet, misappropriate money etc. However, in the private sector, the meaning of underperformance is just that – not performing to the required level. So this might include not meeting deadlines, not bringing in clients, etc etc. In the private sector people can and do get fired for simply not doing a good enough job.
This in turn creates an adverse selection problem for the APS – the type of people who are attracted by “job security” are those who value the fact that no matter how incompetent they are, it’s near impossible to be fired. Changing the procedures for firing people in the APS would cure about 80 per cent of the problem.

The other problem is not retaining good staff. I attribute this problem to the fact that, despite its claims, the APS is not merit based, it is tenure based. Being capable is a neccessary but not sufficient condition for promotion – you have to have been in the seat long enough and ‘done your time’. It’s ridiculous. Again, because the private sector selects based on capability, there is an adverse selection process – the good people go to the private sector and flourish, the detritus remain and ‘do their time’ because they have no better option. Start promoting based on merit – rather than just paying lip service to the merit principle – and I reckon that would solve the remaining 20 per cent.

I see what you are saying and agree in part but making sweeping generalisations about why people join or leave the PS doesnt really help to provide answers. Even in private enterprise large companies suffer the same issues. Its not solely because its PS.

devils_advocate devils_advocate 2:13 pm 04 Jan 12

I totally agree this will be as useless as all the similar projects in the past.

The irony is, building a high performance culture and managing underperformance are the two main things the APS could do to make massive improvements – but nobody has the guts to do it.

RE: Managing underperformance, it is virtually impossible to get fired in the APS unless you actually engage in some serious misconduct, ie view innappropriate material on internet, misappropriate money etc. However, in the private sector, the meaning of underperformance is just that – not performing to the required level. So this might include not meeting deadlines, not bringing in clients, etc etc. In the private sector people can and do get fired for simply not doing a good enough job.
This in turn creates an adverse selection problem for the APS – the type of people who are attracted by “job security” are those who value the fact that no matter how incompetent they are, it’s near impossible to be fired. Changing the procedures for firing people in the APS would cure about 80 per cent of the problem.

The other problem is not retaining good staff. I attribute this problem to the fact that, despite its claims, the APS is not merit based, it is tenure based. Being capable is a neccessary but not sufficient condition for promotion – you have to have been in the seat long enough and ‘done your time’. It’s ridiculous. Again, because the private sector selects based on capability, there is an adverse selection process – the good people go to the private sector and flourish, the detritus remain and ‘do their time’ because they have no better option. Start promoting based on merit – rather than just paying lip service to the merit principle – and I reckon that would solve the remaining 20 per cent.

dpm dpm 1:50 pm 04 Jan 12

“The project will address some of the major findings of the Australian Public Service’s Ahead of the Game: Blueprint for Reform report released in 2010 by bringing together the expertise of the Australian Public Service and academics.”

Wow, bringing together public servants AND academics! That’s gotta be the most productive group ever!! Hahahaha!

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