Thursday, May 31, 2007

Slater & Gordon

Australia, for better or worse, is often in front of the pack. We have continued this tradition with Slater & Gordon as the world's first listed law firm.

Much of the discussion has focused on ethical issues. Our view is that corporate forms make a lot of sense for law firms. I have put a post up on this issue on another of our blogs explaining why such moves make solid commercial sense.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Alan Sakissian and Audience of One

I have been intending to announce for a little while that Ndarala Group member Alan Sarkissian, Audience of One, has launched a new web site.

Alan is a marketing expert with special expertise in helping professional services firms. The site gives access to a range of useful marketing tips.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Dilanchian Blog gathers strength

Interesting conversation with one of my colleagues, Noric Dilanchian, about the growing success of Dilanchian's Lightbulb blog. Dilanchian is a Sydney law firm with a strong focus on intellectual property and commercialisation.

Noric introduced the blog as part of the Dilanchian web site upgrade. Traffic has risen very sharply since launch. Importantly, the Dilanchian web site has become a major source of new clients for the firm, something that few law firm sites achieve.

A key reason for this success lies in the combination of good content with a clean, attractive design. Maintenance of this type of site requires constant effort. So its good that Noric and his team are getting the results they deserve.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Ageism - scoping the problem

A simple Google search on ageism brings up some 1,040,000 references to ageism, yet the widespread use of the term is relatively new.

To the degree that it was discussed forty years ago, age based discrimination in the workforce was still seen in terms of discrimination against younger workers who were trying to break in. In most Western countries, this was the time that the rolling wave of better educated baby boomers was starting to hit the workforce, impatient to move on, to bring about change.

Complaints that the entrenched position of older workers are reducing opportunities for younger workers still exist, although the focus has shifted in that in more recent times the major complaint has been the way in which the large cohorts of baby boomers in some countries have blocked off opportunities for Generation X. Here I heard one commentator describe Generation X as the waiting generation, waiting for the baby boomers to retire or die!

Beyond this point, the major issue now is discrimination against older workers.

Looking back, the turning point here came in the seventies, a global decade of economic troubles that saw the beginning of the end of the old concept of life-long work within the one organisation as organisations were forced to restructure. This change gathered pace during the eighties and nineties, a change reflected in the rise of terms such as down-sizing and process re-engineering.

The first effect of the change process was a rise in unemployment in two age groups, the less well educated under 25 and the older worker over 45. Those in between were relatively cushioned, experiencing much lower rates of unemployment.

As the change process continued, the old concept of loyalty to the organisation and of life-long employment was replaced by a new paradigm in which the worker was meant to take responsibility for his/her own career during a working life spread across multiple employers.

Older workers face significant problems in this new world.

At a personal level, they have worked for fewer organisations and are often less equipped to manage as compared to younger workers who have grown up in a world of multiple job shifts. Their time horizons are also different, simply because they face a shorter remaining working life.

At organisational level, older workers face organisations that have not in fact fully accepted the changes that they themselves have collectively forced upon the workforce in that their structures and approaches still have along term organisation career focus.

Take training as an example. Much training focuses on giving younger workers the skills they need to advance within the organisation. There is often little training for older workers who already have skills but need to reposition themselves.

This pattern is replicated across organisations. Job advertisements are still worded in career advancement terms that may have limited relevance to an older worker. Selection committees select in part with the next career step in mind even though staff turnover may make it uncertain that the person will in fact be there to take the job.

All these things discriminate against older workers. Sometimes the younger focus can be justified in organisational terms. More often, it is a sign that organisations have not in fact fully thought through the emerging realities of the modern working world.

Note to reader:

This is one of a series of irregular posts on ageism. The introductory post can be found here.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Demographic Change and the Problem of Ageism - Introductory Post

The impact of continued demographic change and especially the aging of the workforce continues to be a subject of debate.

For those who are interested in the general topic, the demography matters blog continues to provide one of the best entry points for an overview of some of the issues. I also looked at the impact of demographic change on the professions in a story on the Managing the Professional Services Firm blog.

But while everybody agrees that there is a problem and that part of the solution requires us to retain older workers in the workforce, ageism - the rejection of the older - continues to be a problem.

The other day we were discussing how best this might be handled. The problem is that ageism is deeply entrenched in the structure and culture of organisations, even those making the effort to attract and retain older workers.

We thought that it might be of interest if we discussed the issues in an irregular series of posts on this blog.

Note to Readers

The next post in the series can be found here.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Depression and the Workplace

Depression has become a major workforce problem, especially in the professions. For that reason, we have been running a series on depression on our Managing the Professional Services Firm blog.

Those who are interested can find the initial post here.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Occupational Health and Safety - a note

The nature and extent of Government intervention required to address problems has become a major topic in business because of the increasing compliance burden. In our view, this burden has in fact become too great in part because Government is trying to control risks that really cannot be controlled via regulation.

While that is our general view, every so often we come across examples that demonstrate why such regulation is arguably inevitable and sometimes necessary.

The case in point was a major corporation working in a high risk area in occupational terms. They have long had occupational health and safety problems, but have been slow to address them, effectively treating them simply as a standard risk of doing business. Now they are being forced to address them.

The point of the story is that many of the new initiatives now being introduced make perfect sense in commercial terms in that the cost of corrective action is less than the direct costs associated with work force accidents. So the business case was there from the beginning, but was not identified.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Commercialisation, Science and Academic Standards

Last November we carried a story on this blog about institutional and process issues in science commercialisation.There we said in part:

When some of us first became involved in science commercialisation more than twenty years ago, a core concern was the need to bring universities and other scientific research bodies more effectively into the commercialisation process, to break them out of the academic ghetto.

While this is still important, we now have concerns that the focus on commercialisation and the associated search for commercial funding has become too great and may in fact be distorting our academic structures.

This remains our view. The issue has now become a popular topic of discussion in Australia as part of the overall changes being forced upon the university sector by the Australian Government.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Changes in Public Administration and their Impact on Public Policy 6 - A View from the Past

Photo: Brassey House, Canberra

Note to readers: This is one of a series of posts discussing changes in public administration and their impact on public policy. Each post has a full list of posts at the end. You may care to start at the introductory post and then follow through.

In my last post in this series I spoke of the spread of the New Zealand model of public administration, starting with its adoption in New South Wales. I now want to take some current examples of the application of the model in practice. However, in doing so I face a problem.

The constructs and language built into the model have become so pervasive, so accepted, that it can be hard for people to see the sometimes subtle differences between current orthodoxy and past views. This can make it hard for them to see the ways in which current approaches to public administration affect the development of public policy for both better and worse.

I recently asked some NSW colleagues to define the difference between strategy and policy. They had some difficulty in doing so.

NSW public servants live in a world of strategies, plans and action items, a world of cascading performance agreements that are meant to specify what each person will do in the immediate future.

This is a very different world from that I found when I first joined the Commonwealth Public Service. For that reason, I thought that it might be helpful in this series if I described that past world to provide a counterpoint to discussions of the present. The material that follows is partially autobiographical because I am providing a personal perspective.


The Commonwealth Public Service recruiters arrived on campus at the University of New England (UNE) in the middle of 1966.

In my second post in this series I spoke of the expansion in the role of Government after the Second World War. To meet the people needs created by this expansion, the Commonwealth Public Service Board wanted to build up the number of graduates in the service. In doing so, it faced certain problems.

While universities had begun to expand, the number of graduates was still relatively small by today's standards, so there was a fair degree of competition for applicants. Further, Sydney and Melbourne graduates were very reluctant to accept jobs in Canberra. This meant that public service graduate recruitment had a special focus on universities outside those cities.

At that stage university students considering the Commonwealth Public Service option had five major choices.

The Department of External Affairs (now Foreign Affairs and Trade) had the highest pulling power because Australia's rapidly growing Diplomatic Service offered a variety of overseas positions and considerable prestige. Our diplomats were regarded as a special cadre that carefully selected and then grew its own. Stories about their selection techniques abounded, especially the cocktail parties put on for applicants during which behaviour was carefully tested. I had vaguely thought of applying, but then ruled this out largely because of my views on the Vietnam War.

The Department of Primary Industry and its research arm, the Bureau of Agricultural Economics, attracted UNE's agricultural economists and at that stage was almost a UNE club because of the number of UNE people. Alf Maiden, the Department's permanent head, had been one of Dad's first students at the New England University College. I was not interested having ruled economics out at that point.

The same argument applied to Treasury. One of the original departments set up at Federation, Treasury had developed from a core financial control and book keeping function into Canberra's most powerful policy Department, ranking in external prestige only second to the Department of External Affairs. Treasury tried to recruit only good honours economics graduates, so I might not in fact have got in even had I been prepared to consider this option.

Treasury's main Canberra rival, the Department of Trade and Industry, was the fourth possibility. Also a foundation Department on the trade side, DTI had become a very powerful Department under John McEwen as Minister, J G (Jack) Crawford as permanent head.

In retrospect, DTI would have been a logical choice for me if I was going to join the Commonwealth Public Service. I had linkages with the Country Party, the party McEwen headed, while Crawford was a friend of my father. I had aspirations to become a Country Party parliamentarian, so DTI experience might have provided an added base.

The DTI recruiter in fact tried very hard to get me to apply, but none of the potential advantages occurred to me because the Commonwealth Public Service Board recruiter had already interested me on an alternative option, the Administrative Trainee Program.

At that point the Board faced a major graduate recruitment problem. The Departments I have talked about had sufficient power to attract graduates, but the Board wanted to build graduate numbers across the whole Service and was struggling because of negative attitudes, not just about Canberra but about the Service itself. The Administrative Trainee Program had been developed to overcome this.

I saw the Board representative out of curiosity but with no clear intention of applying to join the Public Service. Although I did not know it at the time, I fitted the profile the Board was looking for. I was articulate and reasonably bright, had reasonable academic results, but had also been actively involved in student life including editing the student newspaper and holding office positions in a number of student societies. He therefore set out to sell me on the Program.

He explained that the scheme had been developed to train future Public Service leaders. If accepted, I would go through a year's training combining a mix of formal courses with job rotations. At the end of the year I would be placed with a mutually agreed Department. I was attracted to the concept and ended up applying and being accepted.

Training Program

Upon arrival at Canberra airport I was met by a white commonwealth car, one of those cars used to drive ministers, and driven to Brassey House.

Named after Sir Thomas Brassey, Governor of Victoria from 1885 to 1900 and first Earl of Brassey from 1911 until his death in in 1918, Brassey House was completed in 1927 to coincide with the establishment of the Federal Parliament in Canberra and used as a guest house for the exclusive use of members of parliament and mid-level government officials relocating to Canberra. It had been extended in the early sixties to include conference facilities.

I met most 0f my fellow trainees the following day.

The Board and Department of External Affairs had agreed to combine both the diplomatic and admin training programs for the initial six weeks, so we were quite a big group. Ages ranged from 19 (many people then finished their pass degree at 19) to the early twenties. Both groups were pretty bright and came from all over Australia.

One of the older people in the admin group was George Brouwer, now Victorian Ombudsman. A serious person, George had been born in the Dutch East Indies just prior to the Japanese invasion. We used to tease George simply because he was so serious. Others in the group included Alan Rose and Roger Beale, both of whom were to become department heads.

Life revolved around Brassey House. We worked reasonably hard during the day then socialised at night, drinking rum and coke and playing cards. There were also some social functions where we met previous admin trainees and diplomatic cadets.We also started finding our way round Canberra.

The city was then a period of rapid growth. The total population of the ACT in 1945 was just 13,000. By 1957 this had increased to 39,000, then to 50,000 in 1960 and to 96,000 in 1966. Australia was carefully but rapidly building a national capital that was intended to be a symbol for the nation. With rare exceptions, everyone in Canberra came from somewhere else, so it was very easy to make friends.

I think that there was another advantage in this emigrant mix as well. It made for a diverse public service that knew from first hand experience about attitudes and experiences across Australia. This tempered the natural arrogance that can come from being part of the central government.

I found the training program itself very interesting. I also find it interesting looking back because its structure and content tell us something about the changes that have taken place in Australia.

The public service was then seen as a career service in the Westminster tradition. This meant that it was meant to be a neutral, independent, anonymous, career service: neutral in the sense that we served the elected Government regardless of its party composition; independent in that the Government of the day did not control personnel matters (this was the responsibility of the Public Service Board), while Departmental heads held permanent appointments; anonymous in that while individual public servants might be well known, our advice to and discussions with Government were private to that Government; a career service in that people served for the long term, rising through the ranks.

Something of the flavour can be seen from the comments quoted by Patrick Weller of two senior and very well known public servants to the 1970's Royal Commission into the Commonwealth Public Service. Asked about the objectives of his Department, Sir Lennox Hewitt replied:

I have not previously encountered the suggestion of objectives for a department of state. The Royal Commission will presumably not need anything more from the department than a copy of the administrative arrangements.

Sir Frederick Wheeler's response to the same question was:

The function of the Treasury is to advise and assist the Treasurer in the discharge of his responsibilities. The objectives of the Treasury are, in essence, to carry out this function as effectively and efficiently as possible.

Our training reflected this traditional view of the Public Service. So we learned at a nuts and bolts level about the structure of Government, about the roles of Parliament, Cabinet, the Executive Council and Departments of State. We also learned about personnel management in the Public Service including its history.

We spent a fair bit of time talking about what would now be called ethics and values hearing a variety of speakers including Wilfred Jarvis. A key issue was the role and preservation of individual ethics.

If our role was to help a Government define and carry out its policies, to use Sir Frederick's words, as effectively and efficiently as possible, what were we do if we disagreed? Clearly we should provide advice pointing to issues and problems the Government should consider, but once a decision was made our obligation was to carry it out. But what, then, if the decision was so badly flawed (at least in our view) that we could not (or should not) in all conscience implement it?

We discussed the case of Adolf Eichman as the supreme public servant. He had been given a task by Government, the extermination of the Jews, a task that he certainly carried out as effectively and efficiently as possible. We also talked about the techniques that the North Koreans had used in brainwashing prisoners during the Korean War, at the way in which individual values could be broken down. A key message was the way in which a series of small personal decisions/actions could progressively erode an ethical position or set of beliefs.

I am not sure that we reached a conclusion beyond the need to be aware of ethical issues and the necessity to resign should the conflict be too profound. However, I was to find the discussion very helpful later in handling specific ethical conflicts.

We also discussed Australian society. Professor Jerzy (George) Zubrzycki , for example, spoke to us on the migrant experience, outlining among other things the process of integration that the migrants had gone through over several generations. We also learned a range of technical skills.

Some knowledge of economics was regarded as critical. Professor Burgess Cameron told us that he intended to cover the entire undergraduate economics course in, from memory, fifteen sessions and indeed he tried very hard to do this. In response I had to ring my father, get him to dust off my economics text books and send them down to Canberra by train.

We also did some practical work including a major in-basket exercise running over a number of days in which we each took particular roles - I represented the Department of Shipping and Transport - undertaking research, writing minutes (correspondence within Departments) and memos and letters (correspondence between Departments) and participating in interdepartmental discussions. This was useful, although our trainers had underestimated the quantity of written material likely to be generated, so things started to collapse because there were not enough typing resources.

As part of all this, we also had a number of sessions on writing using, among other things, Gower's Plain Words. There was little of the sensitivity that now exists to the connotations attached to particular words, the term political correctness lay well in the future. Our focus lay in clear, simple, jargon free English.

Looking Forward

I have described the course at some length because I joined the Public Service at the start of a period of massive change and in writing want to give a feel for the old Service.

There are differing views about this change process.

In 2003 Patrick Weller quoted a then minister as saying:

Basically, the last 20 years has been a battle between the elected representatives and the imperial bureaucracy. And the elected representatives won.

That minister saw it as a continuing fight for influence and power between those who were elected and those who serve them.

I have a different view. While change was required, my feeling is that the Public Service today is neither as efficient nor effective as it was. I will look at some elements of this in coming posts.

Copyright and Citation Details

The material is this series is copyright Jim Belshaw. However, it may be copied or quoted with due acknowledgment.

The following should be used for citation purposes if referring to the overall series: Jim Belshaw, Changes in Public Administration and their Impact on the Development of Public Policy, Ndarala Group, 2007 with a link to the introductory post.

If citing this post, Jim Belshaw, "Changes in Public Administration and their Impact on the Development of Public Policy 6 - A View from the Past", in Jim Belshaw, Changes in Public Administration and their Impact on the Development of Public Policy, Ndarala Group, 2007 with a link to this post.

Series Posts

Changes in Public Administration and their Impact on the Development of Public Policy 1 - Introduction, 20 March 2007.

Changes in Public Administration and their Impact on the Development of Public Policy 2 - Notes on Major Trends, 26 March 2007.

Changes in Public Administration and their Impact on the Development of Public Policy 3 - Publish or Perish Case Study, 6 April 2007.

Changes in Public Administration and their Impact on the Development of Public Policy 4 - the New Zealand Model, 9 April 2007.

Changes in Public Administration and their Impact on the Development of Public Policy 5 - Application and Spread of the New Zealand Model, 10 April 2007.

Changes in Public Administration and their Impact on the Development of Public Policy 6 - A View from the Past, 1 May 2007