Organisational strategy: don’t forget the government’s priorities

By David Donaldson

Thursday June 1, 2017

A clearly articulated organisational strategy provides a clear reference point for staff, helping them understand how their own job fits in with the overarching direction of the government.

So if an agency does not incorporate the government’s objectives into its own organisational strategy, it runs the risk of undermining the government’s goals, warned the Queensland Audit Office in a report released yesterday.

But most of the 18 departments it reviewed had not linked their organisational strategy to the state government’s objectives.

“The Queensland Government sets the strategic agenda for the public sector, outlining the state’s objectives and key deliverables. Public sector agencies must be aware of the government’s strategic direction and subsequently develop a strategy that supports the delivery of government objectives,” the report argues.

“Without clear accountability for these objectives, the government may not be well positioned to effectively deliver its overarching priorities.”

Aligning strategy and structure

While strategy has to accord with government goals, it’s not much use unless an agency’s structure springs from its strategy.

If organisational structure is not linked explicitly to strategy, “they run the risk that their strategy will not be realised,” the auditor stated. “The organisational structure should be fit-for-purpose and support the delivery of both the agency’s strategic objectives and the government’s objectives.”

Maintaining this focus can also help keep costs under control by ensuring superfluous staffing and expenditure is noticed and addressed.

All 18 departments have linked their organisational structures to their strategic objectives, said the auditor, “which lowers the risk of not realising their strategies due to unclear or misaligned organisational accountabilities.”

But staffing is not given as much energy. Of the three departments it looked at in greater detail, two do not routinely analyse their staffing levels or workforce profile to ensure they have the right staff to meet key deliverables, functional needs and service outcomes. “Those departments that do not regularly analyse staffing levels and workforce profiles cannot demonstrate that they are efficiently and effectively utilising their employees,” the report argues.

The third department does review its structure periodically, focusing on staff capability and capacity, while ensuring an equitable and appropriate number of employees. “This demonstrates that better practice in workforce efficiency and effectiveness is achievable and valued,” it says.

Making clearer how individual jobs, especially at lower levels, fit into the government’s and agency’s strategy would strengthen accountability. While high-level positions already tend to be clear about their relationship to overarching objectives, incorporating priorities into more performance criteria would help “ensure that employees clearly understand how they contribute to realisation of the agency’s strategies and outcomes.”

Departments can also improve their ability to realise their strategies through better measurement and monitoring of progress, as current approaches to performance reporting generally remain inadequate, it says.

Cost sustainability concerns

The audit office also noted the disproportionate growth in staffing numbers at higher classifications over recent years.

While there may be valid reasons why agencies employ more staff at higher levels, such as increased complexity of government service delivery, “there is a simple but significant financial risk”, the report says.

“With existing controls in place for managing overall public service employee costs, it will be difficult to maintain a financially sustainable public service if this long-term trend continues.”

Strengthening controls around managing the public service workforce profile “is warranted”, it concludes.

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