In the past, failed transformation projects have created a fear of change in the Public Sector, negatively affecting organisational culture and sometimes leading to reputational damage. With budget restrictions often forcing Local Authorities to focus on reducing expenditure, the potential long-term value of these projects can sometimes be forgotten.
Historically, a lack of understanding about the key drivers for change, as well as understaffing, have acted as barriers to embracing transformation. A limited understanding of change and its impact has also stood in the way of transformation projects being a success. So, how can the Public Sector overcome these hurdles whilst preserving a positive culture?
The last year has proven that change doesn’t have to be negative. At an uncertain time, the Public Sector was forced to focus on flexibility and quickly adapting to Government guidelines using innovative ways of working. Technology solutions were required in a way they hadn’t been done before, to maintain service continuity and over time, it became evident that with the right tools, Local Authorities could still be successful in terms of delivering key statutory customer services, without a physical office presence.
This need to adapt and rethink the way the Public Sector works has accelerated the shift towards a more modern operating model and helped to influence the perception of change within Local Authorities. However, in order to build on this and continue realising improvements, the Public Sector must adopt a more people-focused approach. Developing a deeper knowledge of the potential long-term benefits that change projects can deliver as well as an understanding of the failings of past projects, can help to drive the success of future transformation initiatives.
As well as adapting to the rapid pace of change in the Public Sector, Local Authorities are often expected to deliver transformation projects with reduced expenditure and inadequate resources. These factors, along with short deadlines for delivering improvements, can affect organisational culture and negatively impact people’s perceptions of change. Organisational change takes time, so the need to have a robust strategy in place from the start of the project should not be overlooked. Potential complications should be anticipated early on, so realistic and achievable timelines can be set. During the planning stage, a clear understanding of what the project is aiming to achieve, and how that can be delivered, also needs to be established.
Due to the fast-evolving nature of the Public Sector landscape, employees often have the misconception that transformation projects always result in job losses. For this reason, clear communication about what change means when crafting and delivering improvements can help to prevent misunderstandings. Having open and honest messaging will also ensure that employees understand and appreciate the goals from the outset. What is more, involving staff in all stages of the project can help to secure their buy-in with the project’s objectives and encourage a positive view of transformation.
Offering employee consultations as part of organisational development activity can be a particularly effective way of understanding employee attitudes to change initiatives and defining responsibilities. By fostering an environment of accountability and through clear communication, from managers down to individual employees, Local Authorities can work to create an organisation that thrives on positive change.
Transformation is not something that can be achieved overnight, and Local Authorities should implement processes that can be continually assessed and tweaked over a period of time to ensure its results are long-lasting. Inviting employers and employees alike to partake in honest and open discussions is also key to achieving project goals. Encouraging local citizens to be involved in conversations is also a good way to create a positive perception of the sector and establish trust within the community.
As we begin the return to some form of normality, after what has been a turbulent time, the public will be looking at Local Authorities to create job opportunities and help restore communities. In order to achieve this, it is crucial that the Public Sector assesses the systems they introduced during the pandemic and look to see how they can continue to build on them moving forward. In order to adapt to the new normal and succeed in delivering positive improvements, Local Government organisations must continue to focus on flexibility, while improving employee wellbeing and making the most of digital technologies.
Julie Smith is a Senior Consultant and Public Sector specialist at business change consultancy, Entec Si.