We realise that you have not sought any advice from us or other interested parties external to the Department but we believe that such a significant change in the operating model is a conservation matter of national importance.
We know that organisations and their culture change and evolve over time in response to changing circumstances and we acknowledge that how the Department discharges its functions is your decision. We have listened and heard your explanations for why you believe a new operating model is necessary.
What we have not heard is why you think the new model will deliver better conservation outcomes and what those better outcomes will be; specifically better outcomes for indigenous biodiversity since you have stated that the ‘light bulb moment’ was the review of the NZ Biodiversity Strategy.
We are concerned that the separation of those who plan, strategise, integrate and build partnerships from those who know the lie of the land, the reality of relationships and understand sense of place will not serve conservation well. There is a whiff of the partnerships and national integration streams being of a higher status. We hope that we are wrong and there is appropriate equity between the streams and all staff will feel their work is valued. We are also concerned about the impact of staff reductions on the social fabric of small communities and the consequences for their support for the Department and its strategic direction.
Additionally, we are concerned that undertakings through Treaty settlements and discharge of the Department’s section 4 responsibility may be diluted by the greater focus on partnerships with business and others. Unravelling Treaty settlements is not going to deliver better outcomes for conservation.
Having recorded these concerns, we had some particular observations arising from the presentation we received that we consider important to advise you of, and we hope that our comments above and recommendations below will be helpful to you and your team as you move to make final decisions.
We found the language used to be a barrier to our understanding. For example "value exchange" may be well understood within the Department but we do not know what it means and it appears to be fundamental to the whole partnerships concept.
The absence of key phrases was also, from a public perspective, puzzling. There is no mention of words fundamental to the Department's core functions - indigenous biodiversity, species, historic heritage, or recreation.
We understand the purpose of the restructure is to achieve better conservation outcomes and the partnerships stream is intended to forge relationships with others to do that. To achieve support from your primary constituency (the public), there has to be understanding that the Department's core functions have not been abandoned but, rather, will be better delivered by this new organisational model.
Recommendation: that you use common-day language that the public associates with the Department's core functions in your final report and announcements.
2. DDG roles
The roles of the respective Deputy Director-Generals, how they relate to and interface with each other, and how they will result in better efficiencies was a gap in the information we saw.
Recommendation: that the respective accountabilities and connections between the Deputy Director-General leadership roles be included in the approved operating model and public explanations.
3. Service and partnership regions
We did not understand the rationale of having six service regions and five partnerships regions and a national integrating role. On the face of it, this seems an unnecessarily complex structure. One thought was that a sixth partnership region with the least predicted work load also be given the integrating function.
Recommendation: that you explain in the final model the benefits of this more complex structure, if retained, over the simpler one of aligned service and partnership regions.
4. Middle management
We consider that cutting out middle managers is the easiest path to restructuring but believe that this approach presents considerable organisational risk. Middle managers are the glue that provides organisational cohesion and the interface between upper and lower levels. They are where the institutional knowledge, core competences and expertise reside, and where your future leaders are tried and honed.
Recommendation: give careful consideration to the levels and number of management that are being removed.
5. Conservation partnerships with neighbours
The focus of achieving better conservation outcomes appears to be dependent in large measure on new partnerships, especially with business, to be forged by the Conservation Partnerships stream.
The Department is the biggest land manager in the country and as such has the largest number of neighbours of any landholder in the country. All of these neighbours could be contributing to conservation on their land: a veritable army of potential conservation partnerships, one might say, and at the forefront of conservation with communities. Effective relationships with neighbouring land owners/managers rely on knowledgeable people speaking the same language, working within the same environment and facing the same challenges. This 'work' is therefore integral to the service role and should not be regarded as a distraction from managing public conservation land.
Recommendation: that the final model recognise the critical importance of conservation partnerships with neighbouring land owners/managers and identify how the chosen model will deliver better conservation outcomes with them.
I look forward to receiving your response to our advice.
Dr Kay Booth