Talking to the chiefs: Greg Moriarty (part 2)

As Defence embarks on a series of massive and complex building programs, the department’s secretary, Greg Moriarty, has warned that it needs to become more effective at managing projects.

‘A lot of very good work has been done’, Moriarty tells The Strategist. ‘But Defence does need to get more effective and more efficient at capability delivery. A lot of good reform has flowed on from the First Principles Review, but is there room to improve? Of course there is. The government expects us to be as efficient at major program management as we can be’, Moriarty says.

‘It’s an exciting time to be in Defence with the recapitalisation of the navy, but also the introduction of joint strike fighters and the new range of armoured vehicles for the army. These programs will face challenges. It’s for us in Defence to build robust systems to identify issues early and then respond. The government has invested a lot of faith in us to acquire these capabilities, in partnership with defence industry, some of them over decades.’

Moriarty has looked at the ways in which large defence and private-sector organisations acquire the capabilities they need, especially when they’re adopting leading-edge technology. ‘There are always risks.’

The shipbuilding program will be particularly challenging, Moriarty says. ‘It’s a national enterprise we haven’t embarked on before. We’re building a national enterprise around continuous shipbuilding. We’re having to grow the skills of our own people. We’re having to develop different and new trusted partnerships with industry that we haven’t had before and, all of the time, we’re working within tight budget constraints.’

That means upgrading project management skills, and continuing to drive the reforms that were introduced by his predecessor Dennis Richardson and ADF chief Mark Binskin after the First Principles Review. Moriarty says that’s an important part of his agenda.

‘We need to continue on the path of the reforms within the system. Program officers in our Capability Acquisition and Sustainment Group, partnering with industry, will be fundamental to ultimately delivering and sustaining the capability required by the ADF.

‘There are a lot of clear benefits for Defence in implementing the review’s recommendations. So as secretary I don’t feel compelled to come up with a brand new idea, a new management theory’, he says. ‘A lot of very good work has been done already and I need to embed those reforms.’

Moriarty believes it’s particularly important to pursue the need identified by the review to establish a strong, strategic centre to strengthen accountability and top-level decision-making.

‘It was clear that Defence accountabilities were often diffuse’, he says. ‘We had way too many committees and too many layers, whereas the First Principles Review talked about reducing the layers and having a consistent end-to-end capability development methodology.’

Moriarty says the review also had a strong focus on people—involving fewer people overall but ensuring that the workforce has the right skills. There also needs to be a strong focus from all of those involved that they work for the whole of the Defence organisation and not just a particular service or unit. ‘To get a better outcome, we need to maximise the benefits by combining the capabilities of our ADF people, our civilians, and our contractors and consultants to make it genuinely a whole entity rather than dealing with the groups and services in silos.’

Moriarty says that, in terms of reforms in Defence, a lot has been achieved but the changes need to be embedded. ‘If cultural change isn’t embedded, it can become a rubber band. People respond to the changes but if the pressure driving the reforms is eased off, we can snap back to bad habits. We need to keep the pressure for reform going and never be complacent about it.’

In a big organisation, it’s a challenge to drive cultural change across the whole place, Moriarty says.

He says the idea of One Defence is about respectful, collegiate, professional interactions across the organisation—‘being determined to get a better outcome by deliberately building a diverse and integrated workforce’.

The organisation has to keep on getting better using the expertise brought to it by its component parts.

In the past, many individuals and groups within Defence didn’t instinctively regard themselves as responsible for the whole organisation and the Defence mission.

‘That’s not how we’re thinking of it now’, Moriarty says. ‘The One Defence methodology is about delivering better outcomes across the whole of Defence, to deliver real change to all members which can be felt every day. An example is improving the processes around how we post members of the ADF to make it easier for those individuals and their families.’

Since September last year, Moriarty has been one half of the diarchy which runs the Defence organisation—where the civilian secretary shares the leadership with the chief of the defence force (CDF).

He believes the diarchy improves the quality of the advice Defence gives government. He works very closely with the CDF, daily and on a wide range of issues.

‘Obviously, there are areas that are predominantly mine, and some that are the CDF’s responsibility. One of the fundamental things I think you have to know as secretary is that the CDF has the sole prerogative to command the ADF. I respect that prerogative. It’s an enormous responsibility and one that I know Mark Binskin feels very heavily.’

But, says Moriarty, many areas are grey, particularly those where policy and military operations intersect. ‘There are shared leadership responsibilities. We have to jointly provide integrated, high-quality and timely policy and strategic advice and set goals and responsibilities, approve group and service plans, and manage performance.

‘I’ve found Mark Binskin exceptionally committed to the idea of One Defence, where you look for the best quality advice, and you try to build a team that brings together the civilian and the ADF skillsets to get the best possible outcome for Australia.

‘The diarchy is an interesting model but, in the time I’ve been secretary, I’ve not found a particular challenge with it. I’ve really enjoyed working with the CDF. I think that Defence, through the diarchy, is better placed to give holistic, quality advice to government.’

Moriarty says the work of Defence is fascinating, important and challenging. ‘But it’s not just the strategy and capability aspects that are fascinating. This is a huge organisation, and managing at scale—and, for the CDF, commanding the services—in an organisation that’s very big, very diverse and geographically dispersed brings its own challenges.’

So, too, does managing a workforce made up of uniformed personnel, civilians and contractors.

‘I’m enjoying the strategic aspects of the job, providing policy advice, working with the CDF to build national power and to deploy Australian military power. But there’s also the question of how we lead, motivate and build capability across the organisation.

‘They’re fantastic issues to be working with. In so many ways, it’s a dream job.’