SA public service boss wants to build inclusive workplace culture with focus on performance management

By Shannon Jenkins

Thursday December 12, 2019

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The head of the South Australian Public Service has called for his department to build an inclusive workplace culture that nurtures talent and improves performance management.

In a memo sent to all Department of Premier and Cabinet staff this week, Jim McDowell argued an inclusive workforce would improve employee engagement, performance, and wellbeing, as well as reduce harassment and discrimination in the workplace.

“As the head of the Premier’s department, I am responsible for setting the tone and influencing the culture of the organisation to ensure we have the best possible working environment,” he wrote.

“We’re striving for a workforce that is reflective of the community we serve, that embraces the individual skills, perspectives and experiences that our employees bring to the workplace. I want our people to feel included and valued, to be treated with respect and dignity and to have access to opportunities on an equal basis to support their full participation at work.”

He said the department must have adequate resources, policies and systems in place in order to create that kind of culture, such as mandatory training that educates employees on unconscious bias, and public sector values.

“Earlier in my career, surrounded by white western male peers, I wasn’t aware of my unconscious bias and its detrimental effects,” he said. “Now, I’m more empathetic and mindful that my background affords me a level of privilege that others cannot so easily expect. By designing processes that anticipate unconscious bias, we can help minimise its ability to discriminate.”

He argued the department improve its leadership development and performance management, emphasising the “critical” need for front-line leaders to receive training that equips them to effectively recruit, manage, develop and lead their teams.

It has come following criticism from the state’s corruption watchdog towards SA Health. The Independent Commissioner Against Corruption Bruce Lander recently reported that the agency had a workplace culture which was vulnerable to bullying and harassment, which discouraged staff from reporting misconduct. McDowell will lead a Cross-Agency Implementation Taskforce to help respond to the issues raised in Lander’s report.

“Culture can be a difficult thing to set or change, it is situational and evolves over time. Unfortunately, it can also be easily disrupted, even by one individual, and differs between business units,” McDowell wrote in the staff memo.

“The consistency that I would like to achieve is for us all to have a rewarding experience in an environment that’s fair and open.

“I want our training, recognition and reward activities to continue to foster a culture of hard work, tolerance, purpose and excellence. In my view, if people feel safe to express objections, then that’s a sign that they feel comfortable. People will often forget what you said today but they will remember how you made them feel. So remember to be polite, help others and do your best.”

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