How the ACT Public Service is growing future-ready leaders


A leadership program designed for the ACT Public Service is helping to create a sustainable pipeline of capable and resilient leaders.

In 2021, when working through numerous issues brought on by the pandemic, members of the most senior leadership team in the ACT Public Service (ACTPS) realised they had a problem: they were overly reliant on their go-to people and didn’t know enough about the leadership pipeline behind those individuals.

For assistance with the seemingly endless series of challenges, each leader was reaching out to the same few executives they knew personally. There was a risk of those already-busy executives burning out.

“That worried the leaders,” says Janet Wilson FCPHR, Executive Group Manager of the Future Workforce Strategy Group, ACTPS. 

“They were asking, ‘Why don’t we know who else is around? Why is it that whenever there’s a problem, we only have our go-to people? What can we do about it?’”

This prompted a conversation about how they could develop the leadership capability of executives.

“How do we help leaders see great people who are beyond their line of sight? More importantly, how do we ensure leadership success into the future? We needed a systematic approach to doing that.”

Wilson was the person who would bring that approach to life. The resulting project would form the basis of her case study to achieve HR certification via AHRI’s Senior Leaders Pathway.

What does a future-ready leader look like?

Prior to designing a solution, Wilson took a deep dive into the current workforce, segmenting the review into three focus areas:

  • Current state of the senior executive workforce, including leadership strengths and challenges, and how leadership capability is developed.
  • What the future of work would demand from leaders, and identifying the capabilities required to develop and respond.
  • A new approach to move the ACTPS from its current state to be better prepared for the future, developing leadership capability for today’s public service while also preparing for tomorrow’s public service.

“It takes time to build a cadre of people who have the necessary leadership skills,” says Wilson. “So if you just build it for today, by the time you’re finished, you’re already out of date. You’ve got to build for five to 10 years down the track.”

Key findings included that executive jobs had become more dynamic and ambiguous, and that leadership qualities required in the future would include adaptability, flexibility, learning agility and creativity.

The research also identified a critical need for a sustained approach to leadership development, to ensure future needs would be met and that current problems wouldn’t re-emerge, while also ensuring today’s challenges could be addressed.

Importantly, only a small part of the analysis was about leaders knowing more of their senior executives. That was simply the issue that drove the desire for change – a symptom pointing to a far more complex challenge.

“In any organisation, there has to be a driver behind this type of program, and typically it’s a specific problem,” says Wilson. “In this case, it was about leaders not knowing the executives who were outside of their typical focus.

“For example, in a hierarchical structure such as the public service, where people naturally tend to look to their leaders to have all the answers, how do we create the culture for people at all levels to contribute to defining the problem and generating the solution, bringing more diversity of experience and perspective into our work?”

A hands-on approach to leadership development

The agreed approach for the first year of the program, as recommended by Wilson for 2021-22, involved: 

  • Building a small team to establish a specialist executive development presence within the ACTPS.
  • Design and delivery of an executive induction program.
  • Design and delivery of an executive career development and mobility framework.
  • Design and delivery of an initial leadership development program.

The leadership program, which has expanded to cover more target audiences and is now delivered up to four times annually with up to 24 participants per program, is anchored in an adaptive leadership practice. The program responds to the need to be focused on continuous change, adaptation and the future.

Feedback has been highly positive, with much of the program based on experiential learning.

“Our work is not about lots of content-heavy PowerPoint presentations,” says Wilson. “It’s about having experiences that are carefully orchestrated, and which offer insights about themselves, about other people and about the system they work in.”

“How do we create the culture for people at all levels to contribute to defining the problem and generating the solution?” – Janet Wilson FCPHR, Executive Group Manager, Future Workforce Strategy Group, ACTPS

Almost 50 per cent of the senior executive team have now added their names to a new mobility register, which enables executives to move to another area within the ACTPS for a short period of time – up to six months, or just a few weeks. 

“Feedback is indicating the approach effectively broadens people’s experience and exposure to others across the ACTPS. We are now being asked to extend this to more junior levels.”

The induction program came online in 2021. Initial results were strong, but as more experienced executive-level staff moved laterally into the ACTPS, the program proved too junior for their needs, so it has been briefly paused for review and redesign. 

“[There will be] a focus on them getting to know other senior executives and understanding the work undertaken across the ACTPS, and on understanding the nuances of the ACTPS context including processes, responsibilities and accountabilities.”

Asking the right questions

The success of year one led to increased funding and more deliverables for year two, including the expansion of the leadership development program.

Year two results include:

  • 100 per cent of leadership program participants saying it was “engaging”.
  • 94 per cent agreeing they could apply their learnings.
  • 100 per cent saying the program was valuable and they would recommend it to peers.

Wilson attributes the success of this program to having a strong evidence base and asking the right questions.

“How does an organisation help its leaders rise above the busyness? What is needed in the toolkit of skills, capabilities and attitudes over the next 10 years? Where does our culture need to be changed? 

“We’re trying to give our executive team a framework… to be able to continue to effectively lead the ACTPS to serve the Canberra community. And we’re making very good progress.”

A version of this article first appeared in the December/January edition of HRM Magazine.


Demonstrate your HR expertise and signal to your professional network that your skills are aligned with best-practice HR by undergoing AHRI’s Practising Certification Program.


 

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John Neylon
John Neylon
18 days ago

Great read – thanks for posting!

More on HRM

How the ACT Public Service is growing future-ready leaders


A leadership program designed for the ACT Public Service is helping to create a sustainable pipeline of capable and resilient leaders.

In 2021, when working through numerous issues brought on by the pandemic, members of the most senior leadership team in the ACT Public Service (ACTPS) realised they had a problem: they were overly reliant on their go-to people and didn’t know enough about the leadership pipeline behind those individuals.

For assistance with the seemingly endless series of challenges, each leader was reaching out to the same few executives they knew personally. There was a risk of those already-busy executives burning out.

“That worried the leaders,” says Janet Wilson FCPHR, Executive Group Manager of the Future Workforce Strategy Group, ACTPS. 

“They were asking, ‘Why don’t we know who else is around? Why is it that whenever there’s a problem, we only have our go-to people? What can we do about it?’”

This prompted a conversation about how they could develop the leadership capability of executives.

“How do we help leaders see great people who are beyond their line of sight? More importantly, how do we ensure leadership success into the future? We needed a systematic approach to doing that.”

Wilson was the person who would bring that approach to life. The resulting project would form the basis of her case study to achieve HR certification via AHRI’s Senior Leaders Pathway.

What does a future-ready leader look like?

Prior to designing a solution, Wilson took a deep dive into the current workforce, segmenting the review into three focus areas:

  • Current state of the senior executive workforce, including leadership strengths and challenges, and how leadership capability is developed.
  • What the future of work would demand from leaders, and identifying the capabilities required to develop and respond.
  • A new approach to move the ACTPS from its current state to be better prepared for the future, developing leadership capability for today’s public service while also preparing for tomorrow’s public service.

“It takes time to build a cadre of people who have the necessary leadership skills,” says Wilson. “So if you just build it for today, by the time you’re finished, you’re already out of date. You’ve got to build for five to 10 years down the track.”

Key findings included that executive jobs had become more dynamic and ambiguous, and that leadership qualities required in the future would include adaptability, flexibility, learning agility and creativity.

The research also identified a critical need for a sustained approach to leadership development, to ensure future needs would be met and that current problems wouldn’t re-emerge, while also ensuring today’s challenges could be addressed.

Importantly, only a small part of the analysis was about leaders knowing more of their senior executives. That was simply the issue that drove the desire for change – a symptom pointing to a far more complex challenge.

“In any organisation, there has to be a driver behind this type of program, and typically it’s a specific problem,” says Wilson. “In this case, it was about leaders not knowing the executives who were outside of their typical focus.

“For example, in a hierarchical structure such as the public service, where people naturally tend to look to their leaders to have all the answers, how do we create the culture for people at all levels to contribute to defining the problem and generating the solution, bringing more diversity of experience and perspective into our work?”

A hands-on approach to leadership development

The agreed approach for the first year of the program, as recommended by Wilson for 2021-22, involved: 

  • Building a small team to establish a specialist executive development presence within the ACTPS.
  • Design and delivery of an executive induction program.
  • Design and delivery of an executive career development and mobility framework.
  • Design and delivery of an initial leadership development program.

The leadership program, which has expanded to cover more target audiences and is now delivered up to four times annually with up to 24 participants per program, is anchored in an adaptive leadership practice. The program responds to the need to be focused on continuous change, adaptation and the future.

Feedback has been highly positive, with much of the program based on experiential learning.

“Our work is not about lots of content-heavy PowerPoint presentations,” says Wilson. “It’s about having experiences that are carefully orchestrated, and which offer insights about themselves, about other people and about the system they work in.”

“How do we create the culture for people at all levels to contribute to defining the problem and generating the solution?” – Janet Wilson FCPHR, Executive Group Manager, Future Workforce Strategy Group, ACTPS

Almost 50 per cent of the senior executive team have now added their names to a new mobility register, which enables executives to move to another area within the ACTPS for a short period of time – up to six months, or just a few weeks. 

“Feedback is indicating the approach effectively broadens people’s experience and exposure to others across the ACTPS. We are now being asked to extend this to more junior levels.”

The induction program came online in 2021. Initial results were strong, but as more experienced executive-level staff moved laterally into the ACTPS, the program proved too junior for their needs, so it has been briefly paused for review and redesign. 

“[There will be] a focus on them getting to know other senior executives and understanding the work undertaken across the ACTPS, and on understanding the nuances of the ACTPS context including processes, responsibilities and accountabilities.”

Asking the right questions

The success of year one led to increased funding and more deliverables for year two, including the expansion of the leadership development program.

Year two results include:

  • 100 per cent of leadership program participants saying it was “engaging”.
  • 94 per cent agreeing they could apply their learnings.
  • 100 per cent saying the program was valuable and they would recommend it to peers.

Wilson attributes the success of this program to having a strong evidence base and asking the right questions.

“How does an organisation help its leaders rise above the busyness? What is needed in the toolkit of skills, capabilities and attitudes over the next 10 years? Where does our culture need to be changed? 

“We’re trying to give our executive team a framework… to be able to continue to effectively lead the ACTPS to serve the Canberra community. And we’re making very good progress.”

A version of this article first appeared in the December/January edition of HRM Magazine.


Demonstrate your HR expertise and signal to your professional network that your skills are aligned with best-practice HR by undergoing AHRI’s Practising Certification Program.


 

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1 Comment
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John Neylon
John Neylon
18 days ago

Great read – thanks for posting!

More on HRM