Saturday, July 13, 2024

Infrastructure’s niceness not helpful when it comes to staff underperformance

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The omnibus Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communications and the Arts’ perceived “niceness” could be impacting its ability to have difficult conversations, according to its capability review.

It said that in order to retain talent, the department should value staff development.

“The review heard the friendly nature of the department can sometimes translate into a reluctance to have difficult conversations, particularly in the context of underperformance,” the review stated.

Only one staff member was placed on a formal underperformance process in 2021-22. According to the APSC’s employment data, the department had 1936 employees in 2022.

“Beyond written guidance, the department needs to make sure the cultural settings are in place to support frank and useful career conversations and ensure it is supporting managers to effectively engage with their staff,” the review stated.

“While enabling functions have a role in ensuring managers have skills to do this, the department needs to signal that performance management is everyone’s responsibility, starting with the secretary and the ELT.”

Another talent issue identified in the department was the tendency for staff to be based in Canberra. As of December 2022, 88.7% of the staff were Australian Capital Territory based.

“The Canberra market is tapped,’ an interviewee told the review.

Noting the department’s Regional Development and Local Government Division has used location-blind recruitment, the review said that the division’s experience should be shared and built on.

For those who do join from outside Canberra, the review said more work should be done to make sure onboarding processes recognise this.

“[Current onboarding processes] seem to assume you are in the office and that you will just learn things by osmosis,” said one unnamed interviewee.

The capability review was led by former NSW Health secretary Robyn Kruk, Treasury deputy secretary Roxanne Kelly and then ANZSOG CEO Adam Fennessy. Fennessy is now DAFF secretary and Kruk was a reviewer for that department’s capability review.

In response to the review, secretary Jim Betts said he was “particularly pleased to see that the review acknowledges that the staff in our department are indeed kind and inclusive”.

“The way we treat one another speaks directly to the calibre of our organisation, and ensures we are genuinely focused on achieving our purposes of connecting Australians, enriching our communities and empowering our regions,” Betts said.

“It reaffirms that there is no tradeoff between our values and delivering results for the government and the people of Australia.”

Betts added the department was working on an action plan to address the review’s findings.


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