Public sector = Bad people?

There’s a move afoot. People in the public sector are having to shift how they think about their job and how they work. Four years into the Scottish Government’s outcome-based approach, the advent of Scotland Performs and Single Outcome Agreements, the power of outcome-based planning is starting to be understood – if not realised.

Over generations, public sector workers have been held accountable for activity. Put together a plan at the beginning of the year and review progress on that plan. Success was largely about whether you did what you said you would do – or made a case for why it couldn’t be done.

Now we are moving to a world where plans start with the difference we intend to make rather than the things we put in place. This means that simply delivering what you said will not be enough – if it didn’t make the difference you intended.

Many public sector organisations are way more complex than private sector companies. Getting things done means collaborating with varied interest groups, in your own organisation and others. Making a difference means doing that – plus doing it in a much more flexible way.

Middle managers in particular now need to think in terms of the impact they have on citizens and service users, not on the programme of work they have committed to. They need to reflect on the effectiveness of what they are doing; monitoring impact, changing course in mid-stream and taking complex partnerships with them as they adapt.

The deep organisational culture change implicit in this is the single biggest lever in delivering efficiency while still delivering better services for citizens. To achieve this we need to see accountabilities deep in public sector organisations shifting dramatically. People need to see their roles framed differently and managers need to be able to coach and support staff through the change – and beyond.

There is a human danger in this. People who have worked in one way and with one mind set, for their entire career, will have to change. Many of them know only an output-based or process-based world. Indeed, either through career choice or inertia, they have selected to work in this world. They need to change. Some will not want to and we need to allow them to leave with dignity. Others will find the changes required difficult to understand or implement – they have no experience of this new way of working.

The danger is that they are branded as “bad people.” The reality is that this kind of fundamental shift can be enormously difficult. Trouble is I hear a lot of talk about service redesign (“real or imagined” is for another blog) but little focus on organisational and human development to make the change work. We need a step change in culture and in management capability if we are to meet the coming challenge.

Are our public bodies taking this seriously?

Cognitive Fitness – Get your brain sweating

Looking after yourself generally means exercising and watching what you eat.  New research in neuroscience is now showing that it is just as important to exercise and feed your brain as well as your body!  We know that the brain is split into 2 sides with the left side taking care of the practical, ordered side of life whilst the right hand side if the imagination and creativity.  Opinions vary as to which side you should focus on but one is linked to the other so both sides should be developed.

It used to be thought that as we got older we “lost brain cells’ and that it was impossible to get them back.  The new research however proves this not to be true. In fact it is quite the opposite, you can actually increase the connections and neurons by exercising your brain.  4 simple steps can help you (adapted from Gibley & Kits, HBR Nov 2007) –

1. Understand how experience makes the brain grow.  Look at how you learn and the different ways in which we learn, for example – through observation, by listening, reading, getting professional qualifications in a structured manner, by learning languages or studying sport.

2. Work hard at playing.  Play improves your ability to reason and understand the world.  It can be a learning or a social activity and increases our enjoyment of life.  Play has an important role in learning skills, helping us set goals, developing our mental imagery and our memory amongst other things.

3. Search for patterns.  Your brain’s ability to scan the environment and create order and meaning from all of the information out there.  By doing this we can then assess a situation and decide the best or most appropriate course of action to take.

4. Seek novelty and innovation.  It was traditionally thought that this only develops the right side of your brain however, we now know that it is actually develops the connections and neuron growth in both sides.  It is also what keeps your mind open to new ideas and other people’s views, opinions and thoughts.

Here are some quick ideas that might get you started

  • Manage by walking about – chat to other people in your life/work, listen to what they have to say and don’t live in a silo.
  • Read humourous books or watch comedy programmes.  Laughter not only makes you feel good but also boosts your immune system and allows you to cope with the physical and mental strains in life much better.
  • Play games, not just physical ones but do crosswords, suduko, play chess.
  • Act on what you have learned to get physical and theoretical  experiences.
  • Take a look at what you don’t know, get feed-back from others, fill the gaps, open your mind to new ideas and experiences.
  • Get the most out of your business trips, make time to visit a place of interest, speak to local people, read a book about the area.
  • Take notes on things that interest you, ideas, thoughts of others.  Read them back and make use of them even if it is to help create other ideas.
  • Play with new technologies, download music/funny video clips onto your ipod, get the latest gadget and share with friends.  Technology uses a whole range of senses giving you a complete workout in one.
  • Learn a language or instrument, this will give your brain a top workout.
  • Exercise your body.  The chemical reactions that take place in your body during and after exercise also help your brain develop.