Background to the Workplaces of the Future Forum II

There are many challenges and opportunities that confront our workplaces in 2011. They include;

  • Productivity; stalling performance over the past decade.
  • Changing Demographics and skills shortages; the need for us to better utilise the skills of people at work and to better engage people in the work place that have a disability, are older, from a wider range of ethnic backgrounds, located in regional areas or confronting any challenge which gets in the way of their participation.
  • "Two speed economy"; the strength of our resources industry in contrast to the challenges confronting our manufacturing industry.
  • Technology; the need to embrace the opportunities of new technology and in particular the potential of the National Broadband Network.
  • Environmental Sustainability and the need to transform our industries to be more energy efficient.
  • Financial Sustainability and the need for organisations to address investor and stakeholder concerns post the Global Financial Crisis.
  • Competitiveness: The World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report 2011-12 shows Australia slipping to #20 from #16 a year ago.
These challenges and opportunities in large part play out in workplaces across Australia and may not be successfully addressed without new thinking and action.

It is time to act

Making progress requires collaboration between government, business, unions, academics and other important stakeholders. A new conversation is needed which looks at the roles, influencers and mindsets which define and influence the working environments and lives of Australians.

The Workplaces of the Future Forum II is intended to bring stakeholders together to create a common vision for the future of our workplaces and to develop an action plan of National significance that can help accelerate our efforts to address the challenges and opportunities we confront.

The Workplaces of the Future Forum II has been inspired by a number of events and activities over the past three years;

  • Workplaces of the Future Forum I (July 2009)

    Hosted by the then Deputy Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, this forum assembled more than thirty people from a wide range of stakeholder groups to discuss the need and opportunities for a new conversation about the future of our workplaces which go beyond the traditional focus on industrial relations.

    The reaction from stakeholders was positive, with support and some caution expressed by members of the Union movement.

  • DEEWR Consultation process (November 2009 - March 2010)

    Following the Workplaces of the Future Forum in 2009, the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) conducted a series of conversations with more than 50 key stakeholders to gauge support for and input into the scope of a Workplaces of the Future Program for Australia. Such a program would place specific focus on the development of workplace performance and productivity including the leadership, culture and management practices that achieve high returns for all involved.

    Stakeholder support was largely positive, with broad agreement on the need to collaborate and apply new focus if we are to address the productivity and performance challenges and opportunities that we face at the workplace level. Stakeholders however urged for further thought and definition of the actions that might be pursued before such an initiative would be undertaken.

  • Workplace Australia (2010)

    In 2008 a network of practitioners convened to make a contribution to the 2020 National Summit on the future Australian workplace. This network numbers over 200 members across Australia. Workplace Australia was formally established in 2010 to build on this momentum with the goal of advocating for the steady development of workplaces that are sustainable, innovative, productive and participative.

  • Initiatives and Emergent Research on Australian Workplace Performance and Productivity

    In parallel with the consultation process, Federal Government departments, The Department of Industry Innovation Science and Research (DIISR) and DEEWR have funded two large scale research projects to acquire knowledge about the productivity impacts of good management performance and leadership practices in Australian Workplaces.

  • "Management Matters" Research - funded by DIISR (2010)

    This research project benchmarked management practices in Australian manufacturing firms against the global best.

    The project was undertaken by a research team from the University of Technology Sydney, Macquarie Graduate School of Management and the Society of Knowledge Economics, and was part of a world-wide study led by the London School of Economics, Stanford University and McKinsey & Co.

    The findings suggest that while some of our firms are as good as any in the world, we still have a substantial 'tail' of firms that are mediocre, especially in their approach to people management. This is a key differentiating factor between Australia and better performing, more innovative countries.

    The research also finds that there is a clear link between the quality of management - scored across 18 dimensions of people, performance and operations - and enterprise productivity.

    The study demonstrates that a cost-effective way of improving the productivity performance of Australian firms is to promote a transformation in the calibre of the management and leadership of our organisations. This is the key to a more innovative, dynamic and sustainable economy into the future.

  • High Performing Workplaces Research - funded by DEEWR (2010-11)

    On October 6, 2011, the Society for Knowledge Economics released the results of a 2 year study into leadership and workplace productivity at the Prime Minister's Future Jobs Forum.

    The research, carried out by researchers from the University of New South Wales (UNSW), Australian National University, Macquarie University and the Copenhagen Business School, UNSW, found a strong correlation between progressive leadership practices and business performance, including productivity and profitability.

    The report Leadership, Culture and Management Practices of High Performing Workplaces: The High Performing Workplace Index is the result of extensive research into workplace productivity and leadership that involved close collaboration with 78 companies and over 5,600 employees in the Australian services sector.

    The Australian services sector is a large and growing part of the Australian economy contributing over 75% percent of Industry Value Added to gross domestic product. It employs over 85% of all Australian workers.

    The research, funded by the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations as part of the Workforce Innovation Program, found that high performing workplaces are up to 12 per cent more productive and three times more profitable than their peers.

    High performing workplaces are not just much more profitable and productive, they also perform better in many important 'intangible attributes', such as encouraging innovation, leadership of their people, and creating a fair workplace environment.

    Leaders of high performing workplaces prioritise people management, involve their teams in decision making processes, are more responsive to customer and stakeholder needs, enable their staff to fully utilise their skills, and instil a sense of pride and feelings of being valued throughout their workforce.