Achieving outcomes with the Commonwealth Performance Framework

27 September 2020 4 min. read

The Commonwealth Performance Framework has been embedded in legislation for seven years. All Australian Government agencies must meet their obligations – to plan, measure and report.

Given the maturity of the framework, Paulette Robinson and Angus Allan, Synergy Group’s leads for organisational performance and governance, are encouraging agencies to move beyond “ticking the compliance box” to achieve more by using an integrated approach to planning and performance.

Corporate planning

Effective planning and reporting are good practice. Large multinational companies have an obligation to their shareholders for ongoing performance. For government, the Australian public is the shareholder, with similar rights to information about results.

“I believe that many agencies often see this vital part of the business cycle as a compliance exercise rather than an opportunity to drive continuous improvement,” says Angus. “Business planning can be a change enabler, not just a ‘tick a box’ process.”

In the not too distant future, agencies may be reconsidering their corporate plans in light of the upcoming October 2020 Federal Budget, or gearing up for the next corporate planning cycle, and it’s a good time to reflect on current practices.

“The obligations of the Commonwealth Performance Framework are now largely settled and it is time for agencies to turn their attention to maturing the system,” says Paulette. “An agency’s Executive plays an important role to push the agency to use their corporate plan for more than just compliance purposes. When developed and utilised effectively, the corporate plan can be a powerful communication tool to ensure the agency is focusing on the right things.”

“The corporate plan communicates internally, through the alignment of integrated business budgeting and planning, to drive a shared understanding of the agency’s priorities and drive the right behaviours, and publicly to tell the story of the agency and how it achieves government outcomes.” 

As leaders, an agency’s executive should use the corporate plan process to look up and look down to ensure there is alignment between the priorities of the government of the day, and the activities in the agency at branch, program, project and individual levels. 

“We don’t want to create extra levels of governance, but it is worth agencies going beyond the corporate plan – looking up to align their work with government priorities, and looking down to make sure all activities are integrated with a shared purpose,” says Paulette. 

The corporate plan is key to ensuring alignment is achieved at the intersection between operations and government priorities. 

The government has been clear on its intention regarding the role of agencies in improving that alignment at the intersection. Following the Independent Review of the APS (the Thodey Review), the government made a commitment (via the Delivering for Australians report), that Ministers will be accountable for performance measures on whole of government priorities. 

“Various Ministers and senior APS leaders have spoken publicly about working as one APS to deliver outcomes for Australia,” says Angus. “Performance measurement and reporting play crucial roles in improving the transparency of the work of government, the consumption of public resources and the achievement of goals that our politicians have committed to.” 

‘Delivering for Australians’ also makes commitments about the APS working effectively across portfolios, with the Secretaries Board driving this behaviour. Does the current framework of performance planning and reporting reflect this ‘one APS’ vision? 

Integrated performance

According to the Department of Finance: The performance measures developed by Commonwealth entities and companies should have regard to the entity’s or company’s operating environment, organisational capability and risks, and meet any requirements specified by the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Rule 2014 (PGPA Rule).

While the legislation focuses on agency-level performance cycles, Angus suggests this process of business planning doesn’t necessarily encourage teams to look to cross-agency results, or to look down to project level results. 

“More often than not, many of the dollars and publicity is tied into projects and programs, but there is not always a direct and transparent link between the priorities of the agency and the outcomes of the project or program,” says Angus.

“While we would not seek to extend what’s legislated, leadership behaviours can ensure a complete integrated framework. There needs to be a shared sense of ownership and accountability.”

Synergy believe agencies need to consider the use of structured tools to address the shortcomings of current planning and performance practices – and to help tie everything together – such as integrated planning models and logic maps.