26 Nov 2015

Sink or swim? An update on performance management in the APS

by Jennifer Wyborn, Jill Brajkovich

All levels of the APS must get on board and participate in the cultural change in performance management, or risk being left behind.

On 1 July 2015, new performance management directions were introduced in the APS.

The new directions aim to lift the bar and focus on nurturing talent, in addition to managing underperformance. One way in which it is hoped this will be achieved is though improving the skills and authority of supervisors. While previous directions in this area focused on the obligations of agency heads, the new directions provide a minimum set of obligations that agency heads, supervisors, and employees need to fulfil. The directions are designed to provide clarity for supervisors about what is expected of them.

Guidance by courts and tribunals

Since the implementation of the new performance management directions we are yet to see any clear indication of what, if any, impact the new directions will have on the way courts and tribunals deal with matters involving performance management.

Commentary by the APS Commissioner

APS Commissioner, John Lloyd, has spoken out recently on a number of occasions regarding performance management in the public service, including at the Australian Human Resources Institute's HR in the Public Sector Symposium in Melbourne on August 25 2015, where he was the keynote speaker. Notably, Mr Lloyd listed improving performance management capability as one of the three focus areas where HR can add the most value to the APS.

Mr Lloyd emphasised the importance of employees receiving honest and constructive performance feedback. He also highlighted the current differences between the private sector and the APS, in terms of performance management. Traditionally, the private sector has shown a far more "cut-throat" approach of managing out underperformers, with a greater emphasis on the accountability of senior management for not addressing underperformance issues. Mr Lloyd then why people and how they perform should be any less important in the public sector, as public resources are as important as those allocated by shareholders.

Mr Lloyd also stressed that the primary focus should be on enabling high performance, and ensuring that systems and processes within the APS do not restrict performance, as well as assisting managers to be able to deal with issues concerning underperformance.

What is clear from these comments is that change is occurring in the APS. In addition to those instigated by the new performance management directions, Mr Lloyd is working to implement cultural change within the APS in order to achieve a more performance-driven workforce. All levels of the APS, including agency heads, supervisors, and employees, will need to get on board and participate in the cultural change happening in the APS, or risk being left behind.

What can I do as an agency head?

As an agency head, it is important that you set an appropriate framework within which employees can strive to become high performers and supervisors have the tools and skillsets to be able to manage performance within their teams. This includes:

  • establishing and maintaining effective policies and procedures for performance management;
  • encouraging and facilitating a culture that supports high performers, and assists and manages underperformers to improve their performance; and
  • equipping supervisors with the tools and skillsets to be able to manage performance.

What can I do as a supervisor?

  • Look for ways to support and encourage high performers.
  • Regularly review the performance of your team so that you are able to identify underperformance issues early.
  • Ensure that underperformance issues are managed in a constructive and supportive manner.
  • Seek guidance and assistance when required.

What can I do as an employee?

  • Look for ways to improve your own performance and become a high performer.
  • Seek guidance and constructive feedback from your supervisors when necessary.
  • Actively engage in performance management processes, and listen to feedback provided on performance.


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Clayton Utz communications are intended to provide commentary and general information. They should not be relied upon as legal advice. Formal legal advice should be sought in particular transactions or on matters of interest arising from this communication. Persons listed may not be admitted in all States and Territories.