Public sector transformation needs focus on leadership and culture

A new report suggests that only seven per cent of public sector employees at middle manager level and below view the public sector as an empowering environment.

The study, Invigorating the Public Sector Revolution, explores how a public sector cultural revolution is essential to lead a progressive workforce to empower the digital citizen and discusses how people, culture and leadership are not only key barriers but also enablers of wholesale change.


Balancing the books

The sector’s imperative to balance the books is still driving significant spending cuts across the majority of services. Although the public sector has started to make some head-way in its journey to deliver redesigned and integrated services in the run up to 2025 and beyond, this latest Solace and Civica report identifies a need for leaders to empower the wider workforce and create an organisational culture and structure that supports and drives transformation.

The research found that 34 per cent of public sector employees at middle manager level and below believe leaders need to alter the entire organisational structure, with 30 per cent claiming a lack of clear direction is holding the sector back from effective change.

Kim Ryley, Former CEO and Chair, Solace in Business, commented: “The biggest barriers are not technology or resource based, they are people’s attitudes. Public sector organisations need a style of leadership that creates a sense of purpose where they can sell hope to the people, and visibly walk the walk.”


Three strands

The report encompasses the perspective from Civica’s Leadership Forum of public and private sector executives, which agreed that there needs to be a radical change, not only in leadership style but in organisational structure and culture across the sector to reflect three main strands:

1)      Everyone is a leader – Every revolution needs strong leadership to drive on-going success in the face of daunting challenges. Public sector leaders need to encourage motivate everyone across the organisation to take accountability for delivery and improvement. Leaders must give employees a voice and empower people to make decisions.

2)      Constant evolution – To inspire a revolution, the public sector needs a different working environment. The public sector has spent decades working in professional silos, leaders need to encourage barriers to be broken down and create teams that work together across agencies. They need to drive ongoing learning and improvements for everyone to see that their role is constantly evolving.

3)      Light touch rules – There is no quicker way to suffocate original thinking or genius ideas than by punishing failure and not giving people space to innovate and take risks. The Leadership Forum agreed that a democratic and agile structure falls flat if it lacks the checks and balances to keep everyone on track.

After seeing the benefits of a successful restructure first-hand, Henry Branson, senior head of infrastructure, Eastbourne Borough Council, explained: “The pressure to do more with less, without letting service levels drop, is unrelenting for most organisations within local government. Alongside the technical transformation, the restructure of our organisation – creating an empowered culture – has been crucial in delivering the improvements we needed. Having a clear vision and strong leadership has been fundamental to the success of our transformation.”

Invigorating the Public Sector Revolution outlines five practical steps to help public sector leaders invigorate a cultural revolution in the sector. It is the third instalment in Civica’s ‘Changing Landscape’ report series.

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