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Public Sector Capability Framework: the top 4 risks caused by a rushed foundation

By Nicola Vass - 3rd March 2018  |  Capability Framework , Government

We’ve all been here before. Yet another legislative change that requires reform or new adjustments. We usually implement reforms because we have to or are forced to adapt, but the most appropriate and satisfying time to implement any change is when we can clearly see the benefits. Change is not easy, but when implemented correctly, we can use it to minimise the disruption, reduce risk, and create a workforce for the future.

The launch of the Government Sector Employment Act provided the new legislative basis for state government employment in NSW and implemented the priorities needed to reform the structure and management of the NSW public sector. As you probably already know, part of the reform was a new NSW Public Sector Capability Framework which replaced the 2008 Capability Framework and the draft Executive Capability Framework.

Local Government NSW saw the potential benefits and recently launched their own Local Government Capability Framework. While not tied to a legislative mandate like NSW state government, it enables the same benefits and adds support for elected officials: mayors and councillors.

But what does it all mean? Forget the fact that NSW government has to implement the framework. Compliance is only one part of the equation. Take the bull by the horns, as the awesome change leader you are. Use this fantastic tool to help you create roles, recruit into those roles, manage performance, develop the capability of your staff, help in career planning, and assist in workforce planning.

What happens if you don’t? From our experience, we have identified the four main risks from a rushed implementation of the Capability Framework and have outlined them below.

Risk 1. Poor understanding of the Capability Framework

One of the key factors in successfully implementing any change is the right staff education and communication. As leaders in HR, it’s our responsibility to not only provide tools to managers and staff but to ensure these tools are presented in ways that are helpful and understood by staff. This ensures we provide staff with the means to perform at their best, and you get a return on investment from introducing them.

What happens if the Capability Framework is poorly implemented? The downside is you risk your HR Department’s reputation and credibility, which may impact the effectiveness of other HR activities. Not only that, it also creates more work for HR since all processes that can be improved by using the framework become ineffective. The bottom line is if you have a framework that is only understood by a select few it all becomes a waste of time & money, compromising the organisation’s performance goals.

People need to have a sense of ownership and see the benefit of the framework. They need to understand the ‘what’s in it for me’ factor before they’ll even bother trying to understand the framework and how they use it. It’s our role as leaders to make that connection for them.

We suggest taking an informal poll as you speak with staff across the organisation. Find out what they know of the capability framework to see if you have this issue. Think about how you can run a refresher awareness and understanding campaign that is engaging, and how you can avoid it being dry and dull – like any framework or conceptual topic can be.

Risk 2. Badly written role descriptions derail staff performance

Why is a good role description important anyway?

When written well, a role description (RD) can be an effective way to recruit, set performance expectations, highlight performance gaps and for staff to plan their career path. When poorly written, they cause confusion, lead to miscommunication, and people may end up misunderstanding what is expected of them.

When an organisation has good role descriptions, people performance becomes easier, attracting the right talent is easier and managing their performance is straightforward. Nobody wants to recruit people with the wrong skill set. And nobody wants to waste time and money on staff development, which is often due to the mistake incorrectly outlining the required capabilities for a role. Or worse, constant recruiting as retention rates fall with the loss of talented employees, as they don’t see a clear career path in the agency.

Role descriptions must remain current and not become stale and irrelevant. One of the most obvious times to update the RD is when the position becomes vacant, another is whenever there is a change in the role or structure of the team, or when the agency launches a new strategic direction. Keeping RDs current results in everyone being on the same page with what they are expected to do and how they contribute to the overall goals of the organisation. Expectations are clear and aligned with the organisation’s current goals.

Government capability framework


Having well-written and right-levelled role descriptions can also help facilitate staff mobility, within and between agencies. Using the Capability Framework as the foundation for creating great role descriptions results in consistency across the public sector, which in turn supports seamless mobility.

In reality, role descriptions tend to make their way to the bottom of the to-do list for HR (or the line manager). This is often because current role descriptions are too complex or overly general. They are often written with a person in mind, rather than taking an objective look at the role. And when someone does get to updating it, the person will often rush the job because they’re not aware of the guidelines for what makes a good RD.

Now is the perfect time to invest the time in developing new role descriptions for your agency, with the introduction of the Capability Framework. A good role description should succinctly describe 4-8 accountabilities and 3-4 key challenges. They should outline the role (not the person), and describe it in terms of outcomes rather than tasks.

Role descriptions constantly evolve over time, so it is important to have triggers in place to review these. A good routine check is at the time of performance reviews. You may want to do a bulk role description update when rolling out an update to your recruitment, performance development, or other people process.

Remember to effectively align your new role descriptions with the Capability Framework, as this will set employees up to develop the right capabilities, be engaged in managing their career, and achieve better performance management outcomes.

Risk 3. A stagnant pool of talent

We’re all fighting the war for talent. Once you’ve successfully recruited talented staff with the potential to make a significant difference to agency performance now and in the longer term, you don’t want to let them go. By successfully managing your talent pool, you can build a high-performance workplace and promote a continuous learning environment which is a win-win for everyone.

The Capability Framework provides a clear career pathway for staff to assess where they are now and what areas they need to develop to progress further. In combination with a good set of the role descriptions in their agency, staff can plan out their career pathways and identify what capabilities they need to develop to progress to their desired role. This is central to any current public sector career planning solution.

Nobody wants a disengaged workforce. Failure to integrate the framework into all areas of HRM such as onboarding, performance development, and talent management will result in a workforce that ceases to develop itself. When staff development stops, they start to become stale and lose the performance edge that you hired them for. And the longer the workforce remains stagnant, the more difficult it will be to make changes, and the more drastic those changes will have to be.

What capabilities are required in both current and ‘next step’ roles? Ensure your performance development process requires your managers and stuff to answer this question. Using the capability framework provides an objective as well as a common language for having performance and development conversations.

Risk 4. Missing opportunities from reform

Public service is often evolving to meet the needs of the elected government, providing a broad range of essential services to the community. For this reason, restructures and reforms are commonplace. This can cause upheaval to the lives of many employees in public service and if not managed carefully, can quickly and negatively affect morale, performance, and the culture of an agency.

Managing a successful structural change is a crucial aspect of an HR manager’s work. We know this can be one of the most difficult aspects of your role and managing in this environment is challenging. You’re often thrown at the deep end, with insufficient resources, and when you really don’t want it.

Rather than relying solely on the advice of frontline managers about which staff to keep, reassign, or release, you can validate their advice against whole-of-agency and divisional capability models and guide them towards the best workforce transition design. Using the Capability Framework for Workforce Planning will give you a common language and reference model for analysing and deciding what roles your agency needs, the capabilities those roles need, and who from your current staff has those required capabilities.

It is essential to properly utilise the Capability Framework to achieve positive outcomes. The framework can support you in managing the disruption because it has standardised the definition of roles and organisational capabilities. This can make it easier to find roles for any displaced staff, and employees can readily see where else they could fit in the organisation or across the sector. When you have properly implemented the Capability Framework, you will never be caught short, and you’ll get the support you and your employees need.

Consider your organisation’s workforce capability model. Is it current and complete? Look at your current organisational structure. Is it consistent with the capabilities you need now and into the future? Even if reform isn’t around the corner for your agency, forward planning the capability requirements is as critical as managing day-to-day performance. Not being able to deliver services because your agency didn’t foresee a capability shortage is a failure from the HR department.

Create a strong foundation

Utilise the opportunity to create an agile and responsive workforce for our community. Maybe you’ve implemented the Capability Framework to meet compliance obligations, or maybe you’re about to start the adoption of a capability framework and want to avoid these risks. Now it’s time to ensure you have laid a strong foundation as it underpins all the workforce performance processes. Not doing so runs the risk of poor performance results.

In the journey to create and maintain a high-performance workforce, compliance is only the first step. In our experience, government organisations that are proactive in addressing these four risks have a much higher level of performance.

Read our article outlining the benefits of the Capability Framework and the results it can achieve for you, your workforce and the community.

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