Building transformation capability in the public sector

Feb 24, 2023 | Public Sector

The global pace of change continues to accelerate with the public sector by no means exempt. There is, therefore, an increasing need for public sector organisations to possess the necessary capabilities to enable them to respond to change drivers and maintain relevance.

The Review of culture and accountability in the Queensland public service (Coaldrake, 2022) noted that there had been a ‘hollowing-out’ of capability within the public sector.  When coupled with the acceleration of the changing operating environment, there is clearly an urgent need for the public service in Queensland and more broadly, to provide focus to building or in some instances re-building capability. The following pages provide some key considerations in building transformation capability in the public sector.

Think organisational capability not just skills

Many organisations can fall into the trap of thinking about capability building purely from a skills and knowledge viewpoint. Whilst this is an important component, to maximise delivery success capability should consider organisational capability more broadly.

We encourage clients to focus on the components in the GSA Transformation Capability Framework © (seen to the right) defining ‘what good looks like’, as well as establishing an understanding of the current state. Understanding the gap between the current state and ‘what good looks like’ enables clients to develop a roadmap and supporting action plan to drive them towards their intended capability vision.


Be clear on what skills you need in-house versus buying in

Establishing capability doesn’t necessarily mean that all skills and competences are required to be held by employees. It is likely that there is not a need (or desire) to build all capabilities internally. Consideration should be given to alternative options to building internally (where relevant) including secondments from other Government Agencies, not-for-profits and private sector, as well as use of contractors, and/or consultants. The key is for clients to systematically assess the skills and competencies required and to determine their preferred profile. This assessment should consider a range of factors including organisational strategy, workforce planning, and availability of candidates with the required skills in the market.

Focus on building talent

The most successful organisations use transformation programs to help build organisational talent. Extracting high performers and future leaders from their substantive positions may feel risky, but by dropping them into transformational roles not only will clients strengthen the transformation effort but will also supercharge talent development. Building organisations and leaders that have the skills, capabilities and capacity to lead change is no longer rhetoric or an afterthought – change leadership capability must be the cornerstone of future leaders.

Be realistic about investment

Constant change is the only certainty for almost all organisations given the advances of technology, climate change and globalisation to name but a few key drivers. In addition to this, changes in Government and Government Policies also contribute to the significant and constant flux within the public sector. The ability of organisations to be agile in response to a changing operating environment is now required as a core capability for almost every organisation. With this in mind, building and sustaining capability should be viewed from a longer-term perspective instead of simply focusing on building the capabilities to navigate the challenges thrown up by the latest disruptor.

The most forward-thinking public service organisations globally are investing in building and sustaining capability and capacity on an ongoing basis. This dedicated capability and capacity allows the organisations to be far more responsive to the changing operating environment, and importantly, greatly enhances the organisations ability to navigate the changes and thrive rather than simply survive.

Be deliberate in building skills and experience

Based on Learning and Development Model (Lombardo, Michael M; Eichinger, Robert W, 1996).

We often see government agencies talk about the importance of building skills and experience in-house but then overlook the mechanisms that are required to achieve this outcome. There often appears to be an assumption that capability building will occur organically and a tendency to underestimate the focus that is required.

Capability building of individuals in terms skills and experience must be managed deliberately to achieve the desired outcomes. We advocate the 70:20:10 model (seen to the right).

Clearly setting out the skills and experience required organisationally and for each individual allows tailored capability building plans to be established and executed, monitored managed, and achieved.



“Building organisational transformation capability provides one of the biggest challenges and opportunities that I see for the public sector in the near term. Organisations no longer require these capabilities for a finite period but instead will require them on an ongoing basis if they wish to successfully navigate the future.”

Neil Greenfield, Managing Director
[email protected]

Heath Smith, Managing Director
[email protected]


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