Managing post-election change

Renee Leon

Left: Elizabeth Mildwater, IPAA NSW councillor and Secretary of the Department of Enterprise, Investment and Trade. Right: Janet Schorer, IPAA NSW vice president and chief delivery officer for TAFE NSW

In part two of the Insitute of Public Administration Australia (IPAA) NSW’s post-election series, Elizabeth Mildwater, IPAA NSW councillor and Secretary of the Department of Enterprise, Investment and Trade and Janet Schorer, IPAA NSW vice president and chief delivery officer for TAFE NSW talk about embracing change and staying focused on your work.


Thinking back – can you identify a moment of post-election change in the past that created opportunities for you to improve the way you worked or the work that you did? 

Elizabeth: New ministers will be eager to hear from ‘outside’ voices, and so take a lot of meetings at the request of stakeholders. We should welcome this, prepare ministers for those meetings, and provide them with information to either complement or balance what they might be hearing from stakeholders. It is also important to follow up with the minister after any meeting to share key takeaways and discuss the way forward.


Janet: I worked during last change of government in NSW and it was an opportunity to get a fresh perspective on things, particularly after a long period of incumbency. It is a chance to think about the organisational systems and processes that have built up over time under the old government and look at what works and what doesn’t. It can feel a bit tumultuous but it’s healthy and it brings you back to a focus on what the role of public servant – and the public service – actually is…


Are there ideas/insight that helped you to make the most of that opportunity moment or resources that helped with adapting to that new way of work? 

Elizabeth: Building good relationships at the right level with ministerial offices is essential, even as they go through periods of establishment and change. Between us all we need to make sure ministers have the best possible transition into government and that the workload is shared as much as possible between them, their staff and the public service.

Janet: There are always people who have worked through a change of government before and they can help you get perspective on what you might be feeling. There is also always a period of setting in – so don’t sweat stuff you don’t need to. It’s also worth remembering that people’s experience of this type of period can be quite different: for some people it can be a period of immense disruption, but others can feel relatively unaffected. 


Change can sometimes be quite confronting personally. How do you manage yourself when you are working through moments of uncertainty or change in your work?

Elizabeth: Just chill a bit! Only push for decisions that are absolutely needed right here, right now. While the government settles in, if something can wait, then it should wait. Show personal leadership – if you think your work needs to change or doesn’t fit with new priorities, own that up front and suggest ways to address it.  
Janet: Our sector has the privilege of doing amazing work, so stay focused on what your work is about and not the noise outside. Things can seem messy at first but they will settle down. If you are a leader, it is particularly important to manage yourself – know when you need to take a break and make sure you set boundaries between your work and your personal life. For everyone, keep the perspective on the chatter and what the rumour mill is saying. Finally, don’t forget to look out for your colleagues and think about what they might be going through.