Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Change in the public sector

Change is endemic throughout life - and especially in the public sector at the moment.

Coming from a large corporate that has undergone very significant change over the 26 years I worked there - and went from pariah to paragon of excellence - I believe that the predominant public sector change model is fundamentally flawed and inevitably leads to dissatisfaction and mediocrity. 

As a change leadership professional I am often appalled at the slow pace of change in the public sector. Some of it is understandable in that the stakeholder model inevitably requires more consultation etc. However, too many consultees do not seem to understand the difference between consultation and democracy - "I can and will consult you, your views may or may not influence the decision" is very different to "Vote for A or B, I will accept the result of the ballot". Moreover, I often see a lack of understanding of the need for real involvement, that goes beyond simply holding consultation workshops; it is by really involving people that the deep issues are exposed and addressed and long-term committment to the solution achieved.

Then the decision processes are far too drawn out and I often wonder if the purpose of the processes, typically involving layers of committees, is to avoid being able to hold anyone to account.

What business has to contribute is the urgency and recognition that change can and should happen faster - if I had a philosophy in this arena (and this is a deliberate caricature) it is "make the change and sort any mess out later" (there will always be mess!), whereas the public sector seems to be "try everything we can to avoid any mess" - a forlorn hope. How much more effective could we be if we applied the Pareto Principle rather than trying to get everything 110% right before moving. By the time the public sector has consulted, considered, decided, planned, consulted about the implementation plan, etc, the goalposts have changed!

As Governors we can force the pace - don't let 'the system' slow you down. Set challenging timescales and hold people to them; the first death-knell of rapid change sounds as an unmet deadline goes rushing by. Don't let it happen to you!

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