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Business Creativity & Innovation

Leading Public Sector Change

In the current economic climate the public sector in the UK is under extreme pressure to continue to deliver the services that we need while cutting budgets. The remedies adopted by those who class themselves as leaders seem to fall into two categories:

  1. slicing thorough the organisation
  2. undergoing some form of ‘transformational change’

The first remedy is easy to implement. If we need savings of 10% then let us trim 10% from everything. This takes no account of what we do, it is just simple belt tightening and when services start to suffer our leaders just cry ‘we had to do it to make ends meet’ and ‘its all the fault of the government’. For those who cannot understand why this approach is bad, let us use the metaphor of a soccer team. A club that has a large ground, a reasonable squad of players and ground and catering staff. Times get tough and the accountants in charge cut 10% off everything each time there is a round of spending cuts. What can happen?

  1. We lose seating capacity in the stadium (10% each time) so eventually we have to lock out fans
  2. We lose ground and catering staff so eventually the pitch does not get prepared and we are also unable to generate extra revenue through match day catering and functions
  3. The number of players eventually falls below 11 so that we do not even enough players to form a team
  4. We can no longer function

In these situations common sense should prevail and we should prioritise but compare this to the public sector where this course of action is being actively pursued.

And now we come to the dangerous part. For those who have realised that simply hacking off 10% is not good we now introduce the ‘Transformational Change Programme’. My own personal view is that if an organisation must change then it is up to the leaders and managers to first of all decide on the reason for the change, what the post change organisation will look like and then make the change happen. However, it appears that many public sector organisations are  embarking on a course of action that goes something like this:

  1. Decide on an arbitrary cost saving
  2. Create a transformational change programme at a cost which will save an amount equal to or more than the above
  3. Draft in one or two outsiders who have successfully achieved this elsewhere (unlikely as this is not a good way of doing things)
  4. Set up a standalone project to analyse the organisation using ‘Lean’ or similar techniques
  5. Implement the streamlined processes

On the face of it this looks like a good plan but there are flaws. LEAN is meant for manufacturing or situations which can be treated as such, with highly replicable processes and little or no scope for the ambiguity that humans introduce. LEAN does not cater for humans.

Next, because of cutbacks the composition of our change projects means that they are staffed internally. This can mean that one or both of the following happen:

  • Staff are taken away from their ‘real’ jobs, leading to an accidental accelerating of our 10% cut strategy
  • Many staff are untrained for carrying out the required business analysis or project management tasks with little context specific knowledge

This may then lead to a lean looking set of business processes which can be flawed but which are then forced upon largely unsuspecting employees, reducing motivation and increasing fear and uncertainty in the current economic climate. Many leaders will say that they will ensure that this never happens but both of the above can never achieve their desired objectives.

What does work then? Well a system that:

  1. Gains buy in from front line staff
  2. Increases effectiveness
  3. Reduces management overhead
  4. Can reduce the need for compulsory redundancy
  5. Uses your own staff with minimal outside intervention
  6. Is low cost (compared to the alternatives)

Such a methodology exists. Colleague Dr Paul Thomas has coined the phrase Simplexity as a combination of simplicity and complexity theory. It has now been successfully trialled in a number of organisations. Get in touch to find out more, or see my other blog posts Ban The Boss and Ban The Boss – update.


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