Public servants believe leadership is resistant to change: survey

By Jackson Graham

February 24, 2022

a long, outside walled concourse at parliament house, canberra
A federal Labor member of parliament confirmed in a tweet that a court-sanctioned protection order was made for him last week. (Image: Adobe/r-o-x-o-r)

New international research has shed light on barriers public servants see as preventing change in their organisations, with leadership standing out in Australia as a key obstacle. 

The research, commissioned by software company Unit4 in partnership with Vanson Bourne, found 53% of public sector workers surveyed in Australia believed their leadership team resisted change. 

This was slightly above the average of 44% of public sectors who believed leadership constrained change, according to public servants surveyed across the US, Canada, UK, Belgium and Sweden. 

Further to this, fewer Australian public sector workers than in the other nations believed their organisation did not plan well for change or know how to react, or have the right staff or skills to adapt quickly. 

Among all countries, digital transformation was a top priority. But the researchers found that while nearly all organisations had a digital-transformation strategy, only 29% believed it had been fully implemented. 

The report authors argue this figure should “ring alarm bells” for public sector organisations.  

“Already, the public sector lags behind other verticals, and there’s the risk of that gap widening, as others build on their digital advances from remote working,” the report says. 

“Within the public sector, there are relatively low levels of adoption of different technologies that improve back-office systems, but high levels of exploration.” 

The Mandarin reported this month that in Australia, nearly three-quarters of APS agencies were experiencing a shortage of expertise in technical data and digital skills. 

The APS is addressing the issue with a range of entry pathways and pilot programs to attempt to build capacity. 

Unit4 head of strategic motions Mark Gibbison said that as the global public sector emerged from the challenge of the pandemic, it had demonstrated the possibilities of digital transformation. 

“However, organisations face an even tougher task in the years ahead to maintain essential public services and continue to invest in innovation to deliver significant improvements,” Gibbison said in the report.

“It will require a mindset shift to embrace the change needed to modernise the public services and a willingness to be more agile, accepting that disruption will ultimately lead to operational efficiency, cost savings and therefore better value for citizens.” 


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