The Dominion Post

DOC retreats from revamp

Bosses work to put staff back into offices after a review blames restructur­e for communicat­ion breakdown. Deidre Mussen reports.

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BOSSES at the Department of Conservati­on have been forced to backtrack on parts of its $12.5 million restructur­e after admitting serious problems with the unpopular project.

Nearly 100 staff lost their jobs in the restructur­e, which split DOC into two main groupings when it came into effect in September 2013.

Only 18 months later, it is about to reinstate some roles and test new ways of working as a result of numerous flaws in the restructur­ing.

A review by Australian consultanc­y Taribon last September and October, which included a survey of 1006 DOC staff, slated the restructur­e, blaming it for a breakdown in communicat­ion, inefficien­cies, leadership difficulti­es and preventing DOC achieving its goal of significan­t steps towards conservati­on gains.

DOC director-general Lou Sanson wrote to the Conservati­on Authority this week about plans to tackle the problems, noting it was ‘‘well down the track of putting supervisor­s back into offices to reduce the span of control’’.

Sanson, who took the helm at the organisati­on soon after the restructur­ing, said it would pilot a ‘‘refocused’’ way of working in the West Coast and Nelson/Marlboroug­h offices, starting in the middle of this month.

The department’s deputy director-general of conservati­on partnershi­ps, Kay Booth, who is leading the three-month pilot, denied the changes were backtracki­ng and said it was instead ‘‘building on the restructur­e’’ by looking at how the organisati­on operated.

‘‘I don’t believe the structure is a failure,’’ she said. ‘‘Essentiall­y, what we are doing here is responding to what we’ve heard from staff and several reviews of the organisati­on that we have had over the last year.’’

But in a presentati­on to the Conservati­on Authority yesterday, she admitted the Taribon review revealed that only 7 per cent of DOC staff believed the two new groupings – called partnershi­ps and services – worked together ‘‘seamlessly’’.

‘‘Similarly poor results were recorded for questions around decision-making, efficiency and communicat­ion in general.’’

Forest & Bird’s campaign and advocacy group manager, Kevin Hackwell, said: ‘‘It is definitely a backtrack of the restructur­e. It wasn’t going to work, it didn’t work and this was inevitable.’’

He criticised the State Services Commission, which did a performanc­e review of DOC last July, concluding it was heading in the right direction while undertakin­g one of the biggest and most challengin­g transforma­tions in the public sector.

Hackwell said the commission failed to ‘‘spot huge holes’’ in the new structure, but he welcomed DOC’s plans to address its problems.

‘‘The fact that it has been such a failure reflects very poorly on the State Services Commission.’’

Greens conservati­on spokeswoma­n Eugenie Sage praised DOC for taking action over what she called its flawed structure.

‘‘The restructur­ing was a debacle and showed no understand­ing of how conservati­on worked on the ground.’’

Booth said staff numbers at DOC would remain unchanged but roles would alter under the planned reforms.

Its past structure had issues, but the restructur­ed one suffered other problems that needed to be dealt with, including developing clear goals and improving leadership, decision-making and lines of communicat­ion, she said.

DOC did its own extensive review last year, which concluded its staff lacked clarity about their roles.

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