Building capability is a core pillar of ongoing APS reform – but what can public sector leaders do to make it happen? Dr Rachel Bacon from the APS Reform Office and Dr Subho Banerjee from the APS Academy share some practical tips on our recent episode of Work with Purpose.
Capability in the public sector is as much about jobs and people with different backgrounds and training, as it is about the skill sets that are needed today and in the future for the public sector to succeed.
Leaders who want to help their teams grow and build capability will have to be mindful of this and make a point of honing ‘APS craft’.
“It’s not just job classifications that are important, but it’s also [about] the skill sets that are required, particularly in emerging areas like digital and data,” Dr Subho Banerjee, Deputy Commissioner and head of the APS Academy and Capability at the Australian Public Service Commission says.
“Our interpretation of craft is that it’s how you exercise those skills towards excellence in public service.”
Make time for it and be intentional
That excellence can only be achieved if leaders intentionally invest time and effort.
With capability being a core focus of APS reform, you now have the chance to harness momentum from across the public service to make this happen.
“Investing the time – we know that it gets a return. It’s [about] how we carve out the time to invest in building the capability of our people,” Dr Rachel Bacon, deputy secretary, APS Reform, says.
“It is really important to be intentional about capability building and learning and development, or more broadly doing your job better over time,” Subho adds.
Rachel recommends, “with stewardship as a new value that’s currently before parliament in the Public Service Act amendment bill, [it’s key to] think about how we would live stewardship as a value. I think capability investment is part of the way that we do that.”
Understand what your people are interested in
Once you have set time aside to come up with a strategy to lift capability in your team, make sure that you focus on your immediate sphere of influence.
Subho says it’s crucial to be curious and get an idea of what people in your area are actually interested in.
“Have a discussion once a week about something that catches someone’s attention. Doing that at different levels in the team, where the grad or more junior people can talk about different perspectives. Often, they’re reading different things or consuming different podcasts to people at higher levels in the team.”
Have hard conversations
With growth can come uncomfortable conversations – that’s no different when it comes to uplifting capability in your team.
“Sometimes to coach someone or to support someone to lift their capability, unlock their potential, you do need to have those deeper, meaningful conversations at times as supervisors, as leaders of people.
“And that requires vulnerability. So, I think there’s something about leadership, at all levels across the service, perhaps needing to get a little more comfortable with vulnerability to be able to give ourselves to building the capability of others,” Rachel says.
Use the tools at your disposal
First and foremost, know that you’re not alone in this. The public service has a range of tools available that can help, including the APS Academy.
“Take advantage of the range of different development mechanisms that are out there,” Subho says.
Today’s public service is a high-pressure environment – but don’t let that get in the way of making capability a priority.
“It’s the performance pressure, it’s the busyness. It’s very, very difficult to step back and really commit the time and effort to be able to develop in that way,” he says.
“Leaders are often very, very much guilty of this. You’ve got to set the right example that if you want your team to be able to take the time, you’ve got to take the time and make sure that you show that you’re role modelling that behaviour as well.
“It’s a combination of formal and informal learning, a whole range of different things, but in the end, it is just a more fulfilling way to be. It’s a more fulfilling way to be at work and it’s a more fulfilling way to work with purpose.”