With audit reports consistently identifying failures of probity in public sector decision-making, training and leadership emerge as the missing pieces in the probity puzzle.

A 2014 report of the Victorian Ombudsman comments that, in many of the cases investigated by that office, “agencies have appropriate policies and procedures in place. However, employees are either unaware of the requirements contained within them, do not understand them or they are not enforced by management.” [1] These observations are not unique – they echo similar statements in reports of the Victorian Auditor-General and ANAO in recent years. [2]

Probity in a public sector context is so often a passive concept, existing in the form of policies and plans that seem largely unconnected with the day to day activities of the organisation. But that need not be the case.

To be effective, probity must be a mindset: a standard against which all actions and decisions are tested in real time for suitability. This requires an organisational culture in which probity is seen to be valued at the leadership level. When employees understand that probity is important to the most senior people in their organisation, they have an incentive to prioritise it in their own conduct.

There are simple strategies organisations can employ to foster a culture of probity, and maximise public confidence in the way you do business.

1. Identify your goal

Articulate why probity is important to your organisation. Compliance is easier when you have a clear motivation.

2. Revisit your policies

Are they clear and accessible? Are they practical, or merely principles-based? If your existing probity policies are complex and lengthy, consider preparing a shorter, more practical guide or FAQ document to assist understanding.

3. Communicate the message

Put a statement on your intranet and website about the organisation’s values and why they matter. Ensure probity concepts are central. Support this with an internal email campaign that also emphasises the very serious consequences of non-compliance.

4. Focussed training

Look at the probity content of induction training for new employees and ensure it is given the priority it deserves. Consider a separate online training module for existing employees that must be completed at least every second year to ensure currency of knowledge around organisational policies, underlying legislation and monitoring and compliance requirements.

Support general training with targeted sessions for managers. Focus on identifying risk areas and managing probity issues effectively once they have been raised by team members. Use case studies so they can see how the principles play out in activities relevant to them, and be sure they understand how and when to escalate high-risk issues.

5. Lead by example

Encourage managers to attend project specific probity briefings with their teams, and to reinforce key probity expectations at branch or section meetings.  Incorporate probity awareness and compliance into all performance reviews for senior personnel to keep managers personally accountable for probity compliance in their teams.

Culture change

The overwhelming influence of organisational culture can undermine any policy statement or training course quickly and effectively. Policies and manuals can be filed away, but the expectations of the team working around each individual will impact the way in which every task is performed and every decision made.

For probity to become part of the everyday thinking of an organisation, leaders and managers must demonstrate the value they place on probity by talking about it openly and seriously, and by demonstrating probity-awareness in everything they do.