More HR skills support coming to NSW senior executives

By Harley Dennett

February 1, 2016

A new human resources capability set is coming to the New South Wales public service, but the workforce watchdog is urging senior executives to not leave people leadership to just specialist HR staff.

The HR capability set, aimed for release early in 2016, follows damning internal assessments that showed only 65% of the state’s senior executives were “competent or above” at human resource leadership.

The assessments also ranked the competency of HR leaders slightly lower on average than other executives.

Graeme Head
Graeme Head

Public service commissioner Graeme Head, responding to an audit of public sector management published on Thursday, said there have been significant improvements as a result of reforms since the Schott report in 2013. However the workforce reforms still have not been fully leveraged. He wrote:

” … successful embedding of workforce management reforms is ultimately dependent on strengthening the human resource management capabilities of leaders and managers, rather than only focusing on human resource leaders.”

It appears the workload of ensuring strategic capabilities of human resource leaders under new “ambitious” reform settings in the state, has fallen on the shoulders of the Public Service Commission’s 110 employees, rather than agencies themselves taking ownership.

Acting auditor general Tony Whitfield was critical of the commission for not acting sooner to develop the HR capability set and explain the rationale and linking of the public sector reforms to agencies’ leadership teams. This could have helped agencies take up more of the burden of identifying capabilities that would have helped in the new reform settings.

The commission, however, didn’t think it was appropriate to view HR capability in isolation of broader leadership capabilities.

Its executive development program, Delivering Business Results, had 64 senior executives take part between 2012 and 2014, but only nine participants were HR leaders. An alternative program, the HR Leaders Development Centre Pilot, was scraped in favour of the job-specific capability sets.

Whitfield was also critical of the way the Commission and other agencies gauged their readiness and capability to implement the state’s public service reform agenda. Rather than consultations, the Audit Office wondered why full surveys weren’t undertaken.

Explain rationale for public sector reforms

The Audit Office also thinks the state’s public servants should have had the full scope, rationale and benefits of the recent reform agenda explained to them. A sceptical public servant will only treat the reforms as a new procedural requirement, it feared. Head agrees:

“Now that the key regulatory and policy elements are in place, the PSC will work with the sector to encourage an integrated approach, linking the various elements with improved workforce performance and organisational outcomes, in line with the findings and recommendations of the December 2015 report on the State of the Workforce Reform, commissioned by the PSC.”

People Matter needs push

The People Matter Employee Survey isn’t getting a wide participation in small agencies, the Audit Office was also concerned. But the Head thinks those agencies have what they need:

” … smaller agencies typically have a more immediate understanding of the workforce climate and the factors that effect it, enabling them to contextualise their PMES results and decide on future actions taking account of all inputs.”

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