Mindset shifts matter as much as capability

Leadership has been critical to the emerging focus on customers, digital delivery, innovation and collaboration. Agencies report that leadership has also driven a focus on people management as a way to improve service quality.

This has led to some major changes in how services are designed, delivered and evaluated, starting from the way work is done from the bottom up. Putting customers at the heart of service, thinking innovatively about the way services are delivered, and working collaboratively across and outside the sector rather than building their own capability from scratch are just some of the changes.

The NSW Government Sector Core Values of integrity, trust, service and accountability are enshrined in the GSE Act. These set the high standards of personal and organisational conduct and decision-making required to serve the community and the government.

The 2016 Positive and Productive Workplace Guide has moved the focus of bullying, a related indicator of healthy workplace culture, from reporting it to include its prevention. Data provides a baseline of progress in adopting its recommendations, which this chapter will also examine.

This chapter explores how the sector works, its changing behaviour, how bullying is being addressed and other factors.

There are shifts in mindset across the sector

What mindset shifts have been evidenced to drive a high- performing culture, based on the employee, agency and customer data available?

Customer mindset

Chapter 2 examined the work of agency leaders in engineering a customer-first approach to service design and delivery. Chapter 3 analysed employee and agency perceptions of how effective this approach has been from a process and capability perspective. But what has been done to embed customer service into workplace culture?

Customers rate the efficiency and effectiveness of employees highly, particularly in honesty and trust, but there are lower ratings for ease of access and seeing things from the customer’s perspective. The latter is a stronger driver of customer satisfaction than in 2015, indicating a shift in customer expectations.

Early evidence is that while employees support this cultural shift, it is still finding its way into business and process design. Agencies report that they are working with business customers to design services to meet their needs – one step beyond using data to design processes. This may explain why business customer satisfaction scores are generally higher on service feeling seamless and reduced wait times than for individual consumers.

Other agencies note that their leaders provide visible support and reinforcement in weekly communications, and use formal internal networks (such as young professionals groups) to support a sense of ownership. Many have also built customer awareness into their induction programs, emphasising the alignment of customer service, business purpose and values.

Another approach reported has been to replace government with customer service at the top of an agency’s strategy pyramid. This simple visualisation represents a significant cultural change, as the focus has shifted from examining inputs to the quality of outputs. The focus is on creating a high-performance culture.

Spotlight on customers: Service NSW

Service NSW places a strong emphasis on workplace culture and on customer co-design to embed a customer-centred approach to service delivery. Service NSW has worked to ensure that its workforce management and its design of customer transaction delivery complement its culture of customer service.

From its outset in 2013, Service NSW recruited with an emphasis on behavioural traits, with the objective of building a strong workplace culture with the customer at the centre. Recruitment of Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) employees provided experience and expertise in delivering RMS transactions. Employee induction programs are followed by rigorous internal processes to cultivate a whole-of-organisation commitment.

The human and technology aspects of customer service delivery use a ‘customer inside’ model, which prioritises co-design with customers, continual capability development to address evolving customer needs and expectations, and a strong focus on customer feedback and transparency.

A continuous improvement culture ensures that a high level of experience and expertise is always maintained, while building a robust culture around providing excellence in customer service. This is achieved via digital innovation in business technology teams, combined with employees sharing internal best practice and providing employees with a stake in frontline-led improvements. Success is measured by maintaining high customer satisfaction scores at 97%, during a time of exponential organisational growth.

Having embedded a customer-centred approach in design and delivery, Service NSW’s leadership strongly emphasises maintaining employee engagement, which is seen to flow through to customer experience and satisfaction outcomes. For example, regular team ‘pulse checks’ on employee engagement have been undertaken since inception. If the results indicate an issue emerging in a particular location, leaders will conduct constructive ‘deep dive’ sessions to explore the concerns. Action plans with accountabilities and interventions, such as coaching or training are then developed. At the same time, recognition and reward initiatives also celebrate successes and service achievements, to reinforce positive examples. The constructive element of these interventions is evidenced by the fact that while quick intervention enables Service NSW to maintain its high customer satisfaction rate, employees also remain highly engaged, with an Engagement Index score at organisational level of 76.3%, compared to a 65% sector average.

High employee engagement delivers benefits across the network. It is manifested in smaller regional areas, where employees at the service centre are often highly visible members of their community.

The high-performing culture is consistently reinforced throughout the agency, with employee successes and shared milestones communicated through internal social media platforms to reinforce shared values, develop and support camaraderie, and to share examples of best-practice. The platform, in combination with other internal communications tools, provides a forum to identify potential leaders within the business, allows for communal problem solving and celebrates excellence.

Collaboration to achieve outcomes

While customer focus has driven a number of collaborations, agencies are more generally making cross-sector collaboration a key part of their workplace culture.

As discussed in Chapter 2, the Premier’s Priorities have encouraged increased cross-sector collaboration. To achieve such ambitious objectives has required working across:

  • all clusters (for example, ‘Improving government services’ and ‘Driving public sector diversity’ priorities)
  • multiple clusters (for example, ‘Reducing domestic violence’ and ‘Tackling childhood obesity’ priorities)
  • many disciplines and agencies within a cluster (‘Improving service levels in hospitals’ and ‘Improving education results’ priorities).

The approach requires collaborative leadership that can design and deliver improvements using the capabilities across the sector, find partners in other sectors, and evaluate and correct the course where necessary.

Employee perceptions of inter-team and inter-organisation collaboration were discussed in Chapter 2, and its role as a driver of engagement was discussed in Chapter 5.

In focus group discussions, one agency said the days where funding for an area could not pass the agency gate were ending and a broader approach to considering all players in the ecosystem was emerging. Clear evidence of this can be found in place-based schemes such as in Bourke where all agencies (even across jurisdictions) work together to serve the vulnerable in regional communities.

Nominations for the NSW Premier’s Awards provide an indicator of increased collaborative skill, although they do not prove a trend across the sector. However, outstanding achievements in delivering government services, and the success of nominees’ achievements were often underpinned by their working collaboratively to meet the needs of a specific community.

For example, Sydney Children’s Hospital (SCH) Randwick developed a new model of integrated care between Child and Family Health Nursing, Community Child Health, speech pathology at SCH, the Benevolent Society and three further key child and family community agencies in the non-government (NGO) sector in the Botany area of Sydney. The model was designed to increase the number of pre- school-aged children from culturally and linguistically different backgrounds accessing SCH developmental clinics and early-intervention services. This demographic was historically under-represented in these services with few referrals from the NGOs and, as a result, many children did not receive the early interventions that would help them have the best start at school. The hospital worked with the NGOs to build skills in the early detection of possible developmental delays and making referrals, and the collaboration resulted in significantly more children accessing the services needed. The initiative is now being adapted to pilot in the St George area.

Agencies also note the importance of leadership. For example, one agency’s leaders provide a template for operational collaboration, and are empowering districts to collaborate at the local level. The leadership team created a model of shared decision-making, consistency and accountability across all areas of responsibility and districts were then funded and given a mandate to collaborate locally and work autonomously.

Innovation mindset

Innovation is an emerging strength for many leaders, but while 66% of agencies report mature practices for leaders to actively encourage a culture of innovation, most still don’t have the organisational resources and processes in place to support it.

Looking again at nominations for the Premier’s Awards, however, shows there have been some outstanding examples of innovation across the sector that provide early evidence of a shift in mindset towards its use. A number of nominations highlighted low-cost initiatives that provided highly effective outcomes, demonstrating the ability to drive innovation without significant investment.

One large cluster reported emerging strengths in marrying end-to-end customer, operational and employee data to build a dynamic picture of service effectiveness. This data is used to monitor daily operations and is fed into service design, which is complemented by behavioural data from customers. This has been driven by the leadership team, as the insights from the data help create a better understanding of current and potential customer needs and the strategies necessary to attract more of either type.

Transport for NSW launched an Open Data platform in April 2016. This platform enables the community to innovate in improving transport information and service delivery, with open access to a number of transport data sets, many real-time, attracting over 1,850 registered users. In just three months, the platform has been used 7.2 million times for advanced analytics, research and other applications, with transit application developers using the data to provide NSW citizens with real-time information about transport services.

Open data also drives both transparency and innovation. Data.NSW is a whole-of-government portal for agencies to share information with the public. The average number of site visits was 2,938 per month in 2014–15, the most recent figures available. This was an increase of 115% on the previous period (1,364). Data quality has improved as well, with the ICT survey finding a 183% increase in high-rating data from 2013–14 to 2014–15, again the most recent figures available. The results demonstrate agencies’ commitment to open data.1

Figure 6.1: People Matter Employee Survey 2016 results for Government Sector Core Values

Figure 6.1: People Matter Employee Survey 2016 results for Government Sector Core Values

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  • This graphic shows that 60% of employees generally agree integrity is upheld
  • This graphic shows that 68% of employees generally agree trust is upheld
  • This graphic shows that 77% of employees generally agree service as a value is upheld
  • This graphic shows that 63% of employees generally agree accountability is upheld

Source: People Matter Employee Survey 2016

Values are a common cultural thread across the sector

The public sector is large and diverse, and so are the drivers of its culture. However, exploring the government sector values from employee, agency and customer perspectives provides insight into the way a high-performing culture works. While this year’s employee and customer surveys found strong support for the values overall, there are some areas for improvement.

Employees across the sector value practices that demonstrate service and trust.

Chapter 3 provided evidence that employees, agencies and customers rate service capability highly.

Most employees believe their teams and workgroups strive to achieve customer satisfaction (85%), and also rate their organisation highly for providing high-quality services and striving to match customer needs (80%).

Agencies have increasingly mature processes for asking their customers and employees if their services align with their values. The percentage of agencies assessing customer perceptions has nearly doubled to 36% in 2016 from 19% in 2015, as has the percentage of agencies asking their employees the same thing, to 51% in 2016 from 26% in 2015.

Agencies are taking other steps to emphasise a customer service mindset. One agency asked all executives to wear the same uniform and style of name badge as front-line employees. It also empowered employees to leave their desks to engage with customers, providing the equipment and data needed to solve typical issues. While the overall level of customer satisfaction is now at the ‘excellent’ benchmark the agency had set, further work is being done to improve how this satisfaction is achieved – including the values embodied by agency employees – to drive further improvements.

Most employees believe their immediate workplaces are built on trust and respect, with scores regarding workgroups and managers at 72% and 76% respectively. Most (86%) believe their workgroup treats customers/clients with respect and 83% of respondents believe their organisation strives for a high level of public trust.

Customer results for service support this, with increases in perceptions of values-related performance attributes from consumers and businesses.

Most employees (67%) say their immediate colleagues are open, honest and transparent in their dealings. A similar proportion also believe their organisation provides an appropriate environment to avoid conflicts of interest (63%), and that their immediate manager would take appropriate action on any decision-making found to be biased (65%). However, employees’ scores on the extent to which senior managers are role models for the public sector values are low at 48%.

Employees broadly scored their organisation well on accountability, but there are some areas of concern. While 70% agree that workgroups use their time and resources efficiently, fewer agree when asked whether people take responsibility for their actions (48%).

In agencies, 85% say they have mature processes for senior executives to update their Declaration of Private Interests annually. Two-thirds of agencies (67%) instruct their employees at induction on how to use the core values at work, and this is supported by reports in focus groups of values-driven induction programs with senior leaders. However, less than one in two agencies have mature processes to train employees on public interest disclosures, conflicts of interest or refresher training in ethical conduct. While two-thirds of agencies say individual performance reviews generally include an assessment of whether conduct is consistent with the core values, the training results indicate that fewer agencies provide consistent ongoing messages.

Customers rate the values of integrity and trust and honesty highly across the sector. There were increases from the 2015 results for the attributes of accountability for services and providing good value, although the ratings were slightly lower than the other values for processes and employees.

Bullying rates continue to decline

Bullying is defined as “repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or a group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety. Bullying behaviours include actions such as shouting and non-action such as not passing on information necessary to doing a job. Bullying should not be confused with legitimate feedback (including negative comments) given to staff on their work performance or work- related behaviour; or other legitimate management decisions and actions undertaken in a reasonable and respectful way.”2

Based on this definition, 20% of employees responding to the survey say they have experienced at least one instance of bullying in the past 12 months, down from 23% in 2014 and 29% in 2012.

Figure 6.2: Employees experiencing at least one instance of bullying, 2012–2016

Figure 6.2: Employees experiencing at least one instance of bullying, 2012-2016

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2012 29%
2014 23%
2016 20%

Note: The 2012 question text was slightly different than 2014/16

Source: People Matter Employee Survey 2016

Employees with disability or a mental health condition experienced bullying at higher rates than the rest of the sector, at 34% and 37% respectively. While bullying rates for employees with disability also decreased from 2014, the decrease (two percentage points) was smaller than the sector average. 2016 is the first year that statistics for employees reporting a mental health condition have been collected.

Consistent with 2014 results, immediate managers/ supervisors are the most frequently cited source of bullying (26%), followed by fellow workers at the same level (25%), then senior managers (23%).

36% of respondents say they witnessed bullying, a decline of five percentage points from the previous survey. However, while 63% say they have reported misconduct, 22% of respondents had concerns about a lack of protection after reporting it.

Agencies are acting, but can use data better

Following the publication of the Positive and Productive Workplaces guide in April 2016, agencies were asked to rate their practices against some of the key preventative initiatives in the guide.

78% of agencies say they are mature in setting expectations that leaders and managers must respond promptly to poor behaviour that could lead to bullying, and 67% report they are mature in training employees clearly on expected behaviour. 63% are mature in developing people leaders with the ability to handle unreasonable behaviour.

However, reflecting a generally low uptake of predictive data across the sector, 33% of agencies report maturity in using data to identify key drivers of bullying, such as the Understand Bullying app in the Workforce Dashboard.


1 NSW Government, Report on NSW Government ICT Metrics Program, including ICT Survey 2014–2015.

2 People Matter Employment Survey, Public Service Commission, 2016