Leveraging the Ripple effect to improve performance

By David Donaldson

Wednesday August 24, 2016

Performance management has something of a patchy history in the Australian Public Service.

But the Australian Public Service Commission hopes its first ever app, which will ask staff a single question each day, will help address longstanding workforce management challenges.

In a pilot that started this week and runs until December, more than 2500 people from 30 APS agencies will help test out the Ripple app by answering varied questions on topics “everyone should be thinking about in the course of their job”, such as how they communicate, their career goals, contribution to corporate objectives, and individual accountability.

“We hope that Ripple will encourage people think differently about what on-the-job performance actually means, and get them talking about it.”

Ripple is a “conversation starter”, says the agency, examining a range of causal factors related to individual performance, from feedback to business planning, and everything in between.

“The concept is simple: one question a day on performance issues delivered to your smartphone, with accumulative APS-wide results available immediately. It’ll help you think through what’s important to you about your job, and may even make you better at it. It’s a simple approach to a complex topic that’s built on the idea that a productive dialogue begins with a good question.”

The APSC hopes that by making APS-wide results available after a question is answered, curiosity will help convince public servants to use the app regularly. The questions are not tailored to users’ roles or classification, and they’re not being released at this point, to preserve the integrity of the pilot.

“The APS has thrown a lot at performance management over the years,” an APSC spokesperson told The Mandarin. “It’s tried to address performance issues through learning and development, moral suasion and legal, system and cultural initiatives. These things are all pieces of the puzzle, but the APSC thought something was missing.

“It’s designed to be low friction and fit into users’ daily lives. It delivers just one question each day — a commitment of less than a minute.”

The app’s design is based on insights from a range of sources, including psychology, the sociology of internet “like” behaviour, the APSC’s experience with uptake of the Employee Census and the broader demand for pulse surveys and contemporary app design.

“Ripple reaches out directly to the people who are important — employees — and aims to get them talking about the underlying drivers of performance. This includes a range of causal factors, from feedback to business planning, and everything in between,” said the spokesperson.

Interestingly, in developing the app, the APSC has taken up the approach promoted by the Digital Transformation Office: create a minimum viable product and test with real users as soon as possible. After developing the idea themselves, the commission engaged Brisbane-based company Liquid Interactive to develop Ripple, which grew from an idea on a page to an app in just six months.

In addition to being the APSC’s first app, it will be the first APS-wide app specifically for employees.

Lucy Poole, group manager of APS Reform at the APSC told The Mandarin the app “is very much an experiment for us”.

“We wanted to bring something entirely new to performance management in the APS, and we think Ripple does this. At the very least, we hope that Ripple will encourage people think differently about what on-the-job performance actually means, and get them talking about it,” she said.

The pilot will be conducted along the lines of a randomised controlled trial, with participants equally assigned to control and treatment groups. If you’re not involved at this point you’ll have to wait until it’s rolled out to everyone next year, though — numbers have already been filled. More information about the Ripple app is available at the APSC site.

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