The Post Integration Agenda

DFAT all-staff meeting

Speech

Speaker: Address by Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Mr Peter Varghese AO

National Convention Centre, Canberra

12 December 2014

Introduction

Thank you to our ministers for their messages.

We are fortunate to have two high performing ministers who have shown enormous energy, leadership and initiative in pursuing the Government’s agenda.

Thank you to Violet for your Welcome to Country.

And may I on behalf of all colleagues here also acknowledge the Ngunnawal people, the traditional custodians of this land on which we meet today, and pay my respects to their Elders, past and present.

Colleagues,

It is rare for us to meet in this way but it is the closest we can come to bringing all of the Department together to discuss issues which affect all of us.

So I want to speak not just to those here assembled but to all our colleagues overseas and around Australia.

Through this meeting I wish to do two things.

First, I want to launch two important documents: our Strategic Framework and our statement of values.

Both go to the heart of what we do and how we do it.

They encapsulate the purpose of our department and the culture that underpins everything we do.

Secondly, I want to talk about our management agenda; to outline some of the issues we face and what we need to do to further unify and strengthen our organisation.

But while my focus is on management not policy, the latter will of course frame much of what we do over the next five years.

  • An Indo-Pacific that is fast becoming the global centre of gravity.
  • The implications of a rising China and India.
  • An Indonesia with a larger economy than our own.
  • The effects of climate change in the Pacific and beyond.
  • Poverty in our region.
  • Security in the South and East China Seas.
  • The US pivot to Asia.
  • Epidemics and other humanitarian disasters.
  • Our investment agenda.
  • Terrorism both in our region and further afield.
  • The still-to-be-negotiated free trade agreements.
  • Strengthening the East Asia Summit.
  • The ability of the G20 to stimulate global economic growth.
  • The crisis of multilateralism.

These are just some of the great policy challenges we face now and into the future.

I can’t say how these challenges will unfold. But I can confidently say two things about them.

First, they will have a significant impact on Australia’s place in the world.

And, for a country that is open, free and situated in the world’s most dynamic but potentially volatile region, our place in the world matters more than it ever has before.

Secondly, I can say that, however these issues unfold, DFAT will have a key role to play.

Of course, we won’t be alone. We have many partners across Australia and around the world.

But my point is that, as these threats and opportunities transform our region over the next 5, 10, 20 years, we won't just be on the frontline, we will be the frontline.

That is a challenge faced by this generation.

But success will be determined by the skills not just of this generation but of the next several generations of DFAT officers.

They will be the Ambassadors.

They will be landing the big trade deals, advocating on behalf of Australian businesses, advising ministers.

They will be representing Australia in multilateral and regional organisations, running the aid programs, reacting to the consular crises and humanitarian disasters.

They will be managing the Embassies, and providing the services that Australians depend upon as they travel overseas.

So what we do now will shape the extent to which you and your successors rise to the myriad challenges this Department will face.

That is why today I want to discuss the systems and values which frame the pursuit of those challenges because without a clear and shared sense of who we are and what we do we will not get very far.

A post integration agenda

In this last year we have achieved a lot as an integrated department.

I am proud of the progress we have made.

Success has been delivered through the individual and collective commitment of staff for many of whom it has been a difficult – certainly an uncertain – time.

So I want to thank all of you for making it work as well as it has.

Thank you for your patience over the last year as you have been subjected to a seemingly endless barrage of questionnaires, surveys, polls, interviews, focus groups, working groups, discussion groups, studies and probes of various kinds. Well, I did promise consultation and this is one area where more is better!

Whether from old DFAT, former AusAID, Climate Change or Tourism, we’ve worked hard to combine our talents and to put them to work right across the integrated department.

Of course, it hasn’t been easy. Organisational mergers never are.

We’ve had to farewell some old ways of working; farewell the comfort of former structures; and, let’s not forget, farewell valued colleagues.

And we’ve all had to make adjustments and adapt to our new circumstances.

In one year we have gone from a department of 4300 people in June 2013 to an organisation of 6400 in June 2014, an increase of 33 per cent.

Our budget has gone from $1.5 billion to $6.3 billion, an increase of 320 per cent.

We are, in fact, a new organisation.

We are no longer old DFAT, nor are we a simple blend of the old DFAT, the former AusAID and parts of Climate Change and Tourism.

DFAT today is a different place to when I was appointed Secretary two years ago and certainly to when I joined the department in 1979.

At that time, the department was yet to integrate with the Department of Trade.

IT barely existed.

The “Communications” section of an Annual Report from that time consisted of two lonely paragraphs triumphantly announcing that the department would purchase one laser printer in the coming year but hastily adding the disclaimer that it would take at least six months to install.

And don’t say some things never change!

In short, we have become a different organisation and we must make sure that it is more than the sum of its parts.

Integration has been an enormous task, and it is not complete.

We have largely concluded the structure of integration.

We have rebased our staffing numbers to reflect the new structure.

We still need to work on aligning culture with structure but that too will come with time.

It would be wrong to say mission accomplished. But a year on, it is time to look to the post integration agenda.

That is my key message today.

We need to focus on department-wide challenges.

We need to articulate and unite behind a common understanding of what DFAT now is and what we aspire to become.

And each one of us needs to play our part in realising the kind of department we want to be.

A great Department of State that does work which matters; that delivers; that is influential.

A department where each one of us feels engaged and challenged; recognised and empowered; valued and respected.

Strategic Framework

It is entirely appropriate that our post integration agenda starts with a simple and clear statement of purpose: our Strategic Framework which I am delighted to launch today.

The Strategic Framework fills two critical gaps identified by the 2013 Capability Review of DFAT which said that we could do better both internally and externally to tell a clear and consistent story of what the department does and why.

And that a strategic framework was important for planning over the medium and long term.

Now, for a department of diplomats whose tradecraft is anchored in the skills of advocacy, persuasion and influence, that’s a serious finding and one we cannot dismiss lightly.

But from the moment work began on this, it was clear that we needed far more than a simple mission statement.

Like any good story, ours has a number of parts, not just a title.

What is our purpose?

What is it we actually do for government and our community?

How will we do it, through what means and by what values?

That was the story we needed to define and to tell.

We have therefore spent some months discussing this right across the Department.

I am delighted with, and enormously grateful for, the level and quality of responses from you on this.

I want to thank Peter Tesch and his team for their work in leading the consultations on the Strategic Framework.

This is DFAT’s first ever Strategic Framework.

Now some of you may be sceptical about this and say surely what we do is obvious to all of us.

So let me explain why this is an important document.

I see it as a unifying framework: a clear statement of our driving mission.

A document that establishes a clear line of sight between every work unit and the larger purpose of the Department.

A document that enables each one of us to relate what we do each day to the bigger story of why we have a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

The Strategic Framework defines our core purpose: advancing our security interests; creating better conditions for trade and investment; promoting growth in our region that reduces poverty; shaping our external environment; public diplomacy and providing high quality passports and consular services.

Each component part of our story – whether policy, program, service delivery, or organisational management – is as important as the next.

This is the sense in which it is a unifying Framework.

And I hope that to know the story is to own the story.

That, ultimately, will be the test of its value.

The Framework is strategic in the sense that it provides the foundation stone for the systems of reporting and evaluation that sit below it.

We now have a common reporting model for Divisions and Posts which turn the high-level statements into accountable business plans.

In turn, these inform and define the work of Branches, Sections, work units and individuals.

I also see the Strategic Framework as underpinning the new DFAT Risk Management Handbook which we are working on.

The handbook is part of a broader strategy to shift the risk curve in the Department: to encourage better risk management; to allow more space to colleagues to test alternate approaches and to embed the value of innovation in everything we do from policy to service delivery.

Alongside this, we will shortly have a unified financial management plan.

We will launch the Innovation Strategy early next year.

We will soon have a unified workforce plan.

And next year will also see the final reports of the Working Groups set up under the Capability Action Plan.

We have conducted an external review of our IT performance which all our staff surveys tell us is a continuing concern for staff.

We have already begun major changes in this area and I will be announcing more in the new year.

I am determined to ensure we have the IT systems we need and can afford.

Effective and efficient IT systems are the rails along which our global network runs.

We cannot afford IT systems which do not run on time or go off the tracks.

If we are to have the IT systems we need we will have to tackle systemic issues, reopen the business relationship model and review our IT governance arrangements.

We have begun that task.

Taken together, these management and IT plans will give us the necessary tools better to align resources with priorities and also to ensure that we have the right skills in the right places at the right time.

My hope is that this will make all our jobs easier.

Easier for individuals who want to see where their own work fits into the bigger picture and how to plan their careers, through to the Senior Executive who will get better information to guide the big whole-of-department decisions.

As resources tighten, we simply can’t afford not to get better at this.

We can’t afford to have resources wasted on activities that no longer matter.

Or not to have the skills to do the tasks given to us by the Government.

The Strategic Framework and the planning systems which flow from it will force greater discipline around the hard questions of what we’re trying to achieve, why we’re operating in a particular way, and whether there are better ways to get an outcome.

It will enable us to make informed decisions on doing less with less.

Management tools, frameworks, policies and guidelines alone won’t get us there.

We need to understand them and we need to commit to them.

And we need their consistent application.

In this, every one of us has to play their part.

Everyone has to accept their responsibility for delivering on our objectives.

Statement of Values

And that takes me to the next stage: values, behaviours and culture.

Or how we do what we do.

As I said in the speech I gave on my first day in the job two years ago: values matter.

They are the basic principles that influence our thinking, our judgement and the way we behave.

Values help us determine what is right or wrong, good or bad, professional or unprofessional.

And they shape how we see ourselves and how we are perceived by others.

So there are compelling reasons for DFAT to unite behind a common set of values.

Before I talk about the Values Statement, I should say that values haven’t always been closely associated with foreign ministries.

Tallyrand, the master diplomat of 19th century France, had some fixed ideas about what values his foreign ministry officials needed. 

In describing French foreign ministry officials to his successor he said:

"You will find them loyal, intelligent, accurate and punctual but, thanks to my training, not at all zealous… except for a few of the junior clerks who, I am afraid, close up their envelopes with a certain amount of precipitation, everyone here maintains the greatest calm. Hurry and bustle are unknown."

Tallyrand spoke of an earlier era.

And even the Australian experience has shown that over time, the Australian Public Service has evolved from a rigid rules-based organisation to an expressly values-based culture.

We are now guided not just by the APS Code of Conduct but also by APS Values, common to all public servants.

The outgoing Public Service Commissioner, Steve Sedgwick, uses a useful mnemonic to capture these core values: “I CARE”.

I is for impartial, C is committed to service, A is for accountable, R for respectful and E for ethical.

A simple formulation well worth remembering.

For DFAT, our Strategic Framework unites us behind a common purpose.

And now our own Values Statement – the second document I’m launching today – sets out the way the department chooses to deliver that task.

Anchored by the APS Values, we commit ourselves to: achievement, leadership and accountability, valuing people, and collaboration.

These are the four key values you helped to shape and identify through a broad consultation process on a desired departmental culture.

This collaborative, inclusive process was a model of our values and in many respects is as important as the final outcome.

I’d like to thank everyone who participated.

It is my expectation that our values will create a sense of shared identity and will define how we work and interact with each other, our partners and clients, and the broader community.

Our values constitute a positive vision for what we stand for as an organisation.

Our goal now must be to make these values pervasive throughout the department.

They will need to be championed and defended.

And here too each and every one of us has a responsibility to be a role model for our values.

Our values are a commitment to the Australian Government, to the Australian community, to our partners, and to each other as colleagues.

Success will be determined by the extent to which we live these values and that includes not turning a blind eye when they are ignored or breached.

There is nothing more corrosive to the values of an organisation than when colleagues observe that breaching them carries no cost or, worse still, does not exclude reward.

That’s why we’ve embarked on regular staff surveys to establish baselines and measure progress.

That’s why we’re taking steps to hard-wire measurement and reporting of behaviours alongside standard business outcomes reporting in our management systems.

You’ve seen this already in the new business planning model which now includes elements on corporate management and leadership.

And that, in turn, will inform forthcoming changes to the performance management system to make it less task-focussed and more reflective of the behaviours we wish to see embedded in the department.

So what will happen if we don’t act on the two documents I have launched today?

What will happen if this Strategic Framework and Values Statement follow the path of many similar documents in the public sector and beyond and become pieces of laminated wallpaper decorating the walls of cubicles around the department, not much read, except around promotion time?

Truthfully, probably not much in the short-term.

We will go on pretty much as before – a high achieving department, doing great things.

But in the medium term we will pay the price for losing an opportunity to reimagine who we are and what we do.

We will have lost the opportunity to redefine our purpose, recalibrate our priorities and take stock of our assets as an integrated department.

We will have lost the opportunity to entrench a set of values that will help us:

  • release the potential of our people;
  • ensure our workforce is itself more representative of the country we represent abroad, including indigenous Australians;
  • provide the flexibility to respond to new and unexpected challenges;
  • give us the determination to be innovative;
  • develop the skills to navigate the crowded international landscape; and
  • allow us to be the powerful advocates we will need to be to help safeguard Australia’s place in the world.

Teddy Roosevelt once said that life’s greatest good fortune is to work hard at work worth doing. 

If that is true, then at DFAT we are truly fortunate.

We do work that it is meaningful and valuable and I see examples of this every day.

But the work we do also relentlessly reinvents itself and we must have the nimbleness to deal with that.

The Values Statement and the Strategic Framework are important milestones in the process of redefining who we are and what we do.

If we laminate them and then forget about them, we will eventually pay a price.

But if we put them at the heart of everything we do in DFAT, we will be better prepared for the great challenges that lie ahead.

Let’s not forget that we’re not starting with a blank slate here.

With the Capability Review, the Capability Action Plan, a new government policy on risk and a wealth of staff engagement during the last year, we know what it is that we want to see strengthened and embedded as defining values and capabilities.

Collaboration: working better together for better outcomes.

Innovation: harnessing creativity, challenging risk and learning from failure.

Risk: engaging with risk to identify threats and opportunities and regular conversations within teams and work units to review the risk management settings.

Sharing information and knowledge: passing on what we know.

Strategic thinking: for better policy outcomes.

Effective engagement with the APS: to play a full, influential role in government.

These behaviours apply at both the individual and organisational levels.

Get them right and we will see the capability lift that we all want.

I want in particular to see how we can better reflect these in our decisions on recruitment, placements, postings and promotions.

We also need to review our incentives systems. They are very much biased towards postings.

Yes, the global network lies at the heart of our value add to Government.

But if we are to do better at “domestic diplomacy” we need to find ways to signal that work in Australia is also crucial to our standing as a Department.

Leadership

There is much work being done across the Department on building our organisational capability.

I would like to thank all those who took on the role of Responsible Officers and the many non-SES colleagues who contributed as members of the Working Groups in following up particular conclusions from the Capability Review:

  • John Fisher who led on our values statement, workforce planning and some other corporate management work-streams
  • Harinder Sidhu who led on strengthening DFAT’s engagement with the APS or what we refer to as ‘domestic diplomacy’
  • Brendon Hammer who led on strategic thinking and policy making
  • Clare Walsh who led on building a collaborative culture
  • Allaster Cox who led on innovation
  • Jeff Roach who led on business planning and risk management
  • Blair Exell who led on knowledge and information management
  • Paul Wood who led on strategic financial management; and
  • David Nethery who oversaw the work of converting the Capability Review outcomes into our Capability Action Plan.

Much of this work will come together in the first half of next year.

Also in the pipeline for early in 2015 is a particularly significant piece of work for the department: a leadership strategy.

Leadership, as distinct from management, was a key focus for staff in the consultations on culture and in each of our staff surveys, including before integration.

Leadership is the key ingredient in fostering an effective department.

Unlike management, hierarchies and positional authority, leadership isn’t about seniority.

It is not something we can leave to the Secretary or the senior executive or to the SES.

It is not someone else’s responsibility.

This is why our Values Statement says that we exercise leadership at all levels, in our individual responsibilities and for the Department's broader priorities.

Leadership is a practice, not a position.

We all share the responsibility for modelling our values through our behaviours.

Of course, there are increasing expectations, and therefore escalating requirements, on staff as they progress through the organisational hierarchy.

Our strategy will make this clear and will place an increasing leadership imperative on managers from EL1 upwards as they take on greater responsibility for advancing the work of the Department.

The SES, of course, do have a special role to play on leadership even if it is not an exclusive role.

I want to see our SES take greater responsibility for the broader leadership of the Department.

Their role as leaders should not be confined to leading posts, branches and divisions.

They should not be passive bystanders when it comes to shaping, implementing and advocating our management agenda.

This will be a central principle of the proposed leadership strategy.

And for it to work it needs an incentive structure and a promotions system which reinforces this broader sense of leadership.

One that signals that good behaviours, as much as task-delivery, will be measures of success within DFAT.

Looking to 2015 and beyond, I want to see a commitment to leadership becoming a central tenet of what it means to be a DFAT employee.

Women in DFAT

One issue which goes to the heart of the capability of DFAT but which was not specifically addressed in the Capability Review is the low levels of women we have in leadership roles.

Although we have been recruiting roughly even numbers of men and women graduates since the mid-80s, only thirty per cent of our SES are women.

This number is lower when you look only at the Band 2 and Band 3 levels.

At both those levels only twenty per cent are women. Overseas the number is even lower.

Only seventeen per cent of our SES Heads of Mission are women.

This concerns me. There is no performance related reason why this should be the case.

Our performance data indicates that women are performing at all levels in the Department as strongly as men.

We need to get to the bottom of this.

We need to find out why the Department is not getting the most out of fifty per cent of its staff.

This is an important factor in building a more inclusive and effective workplace.

And it is a bigger issue than workplace diversity.

In order to do this I have decided to engage an independent expert to get behind the data to find out what factors may be at work.

In addition to interrogating the data, the expert will engage with officers to get a better understanding of what we can do to address this issue.

I am confident that there are many women in the Department whose performance indicates that they would perform well at the SES level.

For some reason, perhaps many reasons, women are not adequately represented in the SES.

I do know that historically there are fewer women applicants than men for SES positions.

I want to find out why that is the case and whether there is anything the Department can and should do about it.

I anticipate that we will find some cultural barriers within our organisation and some unconscious bias in our systems that we will need to tackle.

While I expect the first phase of identifying the barriers and determining what action to take will be completed during 2015, it will take much longer to effect lasting change.

And it will require all staff, particularly those in leadership positions, and via the Workplace Relations Committee, to work with me to ensure this process is successful.

I am committed to progress in this area.

But, equally, I want it to be clearly understood that this is about ensuring the merit principle is central to our promotion processes at all levels.

It is about ensuring that our systems and our culture recognises and rewards merit and deals honestly and directly with barriers, implicit or explicit, to that objective.

Conclusion

Let me conclude with these thoughts.

In conversations leading to this speech, many staff said that they wanted to hear my vision for the Department.

Now what George Bush Senior used to call the vision thing is clearly important.

But it is only part of the picture. Nelson Mandela once said this about vision:

“Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision is merely passing time. Vision with action can change the world.”

In my remarks today I have sought to find this balance between vision and action.

There is a place for poetry in defining a vision.

But in my experience the language of management change is often too evangelical, replete with platitudes about change being a constant, with analogies of burning platforms and with dire warnings of Armageddon if we do not reinvent ourselves.

Yes, we have to be a department that embraces change, that looks for new ways of doing old things, that is nimble enough to deal with an international environment which will always surprise, and a domestic budget which will inevitably place more pressures on us.

But we will get there not by radically reinventing ourselves but by working with the grain of our organisation: setting achievable goals, articulating sound principles and understanding our strengths and weaknesses.

So my vision of DFAT is written in both poetry and prose.

A Department that is respected across government and globally for its policy ideas and for the influence it brings to bear, in Australia and overseas.

A Department with a unique mandate but which sees itself as part of the broader Australian Public Service.

A Department renowned and valued for the high quality of the programs and services it delivers.

A Department that understands its purpose and is confident of what it does and how it does it.

A Department that challenges, nurtures and rewards its employees, enables them to achieve their potential, and treats them with respect and fairness; where policy courage and professional courtesy are touchstones.

A Department of professionals with a commitment to the values and virtues of public service.

In short, my vision for DFAT is for an even stronger, even better Department, at the very centre of the Australian Government’s engagement with the world.

Last Updated: 30 January 2015
Peter Varghese AO, Secretary, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade