ATO: Change culture and empower staff to stop the return of red tape

Accountability Projects (Department of Finance)

(10 November 2016) At the Red Tape Outreach Session in September 2016, hosted by Finance at One Canberra Avenue, Jodie Thomas, Executive Director, ATO Corporate, spoke about efforts to drive cultural change at the ATO. The goal of the cultural change: preventing red tape coming back.

The main message from the ATO’s experience:

If you don’t have a culture that actually supports [red tape reduction], which includes courage, and being empowered and trusted, a lot of the red tape reduction examples and strategies being implemented can actually come very undone.

This reflects the ATO’s experience. As an early adopter of the Independent Review of Whole-of-Government Internal Regulation (the Belcher Review), the ATO has worked to remove a lot of red tape already (see their great story on streamlining internal policies and instructions). But without a deeper cultural change, Jodie’s team found that some red tape was starting to creep back.

We thought we were successful in some areas, but when we actually unpacked that and had a look at it, we had a little bit more work to do [in some areas] said Jodie.

This is a natural consequence of any cultural change. The key is to plan for it and address it. To address the cultural issues, the ATO targeted internal processes, putting the customer at the centre of everything and encouraging staff to move away from the old procedural manuals. One example Jodie gave was the Small Business Fix-it Squads, where small business owners, tax professionals, federal, state and local government agencies work together to examine problems for small business owners, and adopt a rapid-design approach to create solutions.

We’re very proud as an agency. We’re one of the largest reductions in regulation for external purposes. And we’re working very hard to replicate that internally.

Check out Jodie’s full presentation:

And if you're interested in the ATO's full red tape reduction story, check out “Reducing red tape – streamlining internal policies and instructions”

Have you cut red tape at your agency, only to see it come back? What have you done to stop the reappearance of red tape?

Themes: Red tape reduction and culture, Australian Tax Office, Accountable Authority Instructions, change management, cultural change, review of internal procedures, procedural manuals, fix-it squads.