Culture Is Key to Public Sector Transformation: 5 Actions to Help Change it

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Public Sector Transformation: We all know the importance of using metrics to evaluate performance, wherever you work. But when it comes to the public sector, performance is only half the battle, according to McKinsey’s Government transformations in times of extraordinary change: Key considerations for public-sector leaders1.

Organizational health is just as critical. And, furthermore, it needs to be approached in exactly the same way.

Organizational health matters

According to the surveys they conducted for their Organizational Health Index (OHI);

“More than 82 percent of public-sector organizations have below-average organizational health… and show particular challenges in the areas of culture, coordination, and capabilities.”

In short, there’s a cultural malaise at the heart of the public sector, with the result that;

“Civil servants often fear that they are more likely to be penalized for failure than rewarded for innovation.”

And you can’t hope to transform either your department or the organization as a whole without addressing this. Here then are the five steps they set out.

5 Actions to help Public Sector Transformation:

1. Establish baselines

As you would when measuring performance metrics, the first thing you need to do is to establish a set of baselines against which to chart your progress. Agree on ways to measure the likes of leadership, motivation, innovation, and direction. Then set a series of goals, which you review and appraise throughout the course of the year.

With motivation, for instance, you might increase the opportunities for rewards and recognition. While innovation could be stimulated by getting feedback from a series of regular, internal surveys.

The accuracy or reliability of the measurements you come up with isn’t so much the point. The very act of engaging all the employees in this way will highlight the importance you are giving organizational health and will create its own momentum.

2. Demonstrate leadership buy-in

Culture is very much a top-down dynamic, so it’s vital that any changes are actively championed by senior leadership, and in a way that’s clearly genuine. Small but simple signals can be given using internal emails and message boards, and even good old-fashioned postings in breakrooms and cafés. And the more personal they are and the higher they go, the better.

3. Have clear ‘from-to’ goals

You need to describe the journey you want everyone to go on in a clear but very broad way, so everyone knows where you’re taking them. You might, for instance, say that what you want is a move away from ‘department-focused’ to ‘customer-focused’.

As well as giving direction, this will give everyone the terminology to flag times when people revert to the old way so that they can be nudged to approach the issue in a new way.

4. Link organizational health to performance initiatives

When devising initiatives to improve team performance, include cultural elements as part of the process. For instance, if you’ve come up with a way to improve a particular procedure, send out a questionnaire about ways to improve actually implementing it.

This will encourage people to start seeing performance and culture as part of the same process.

5. Encourage and facilitate up-skilling

Some of the changes you’ll be looking for from your employees will require skills that they don’t have, or don’t have sufficient mastery of. Especially around digital and customer experience.

If necessary, pay for online courses, workshops, round-table discussions, and pilot testing. Not only will this arm them with the necessary skills, but it’ll also further encourage them to get on board with the new regime.

Track and monitor everything

These steps will help management and leadership to completely re-configure the way they engage with the workforce. And this new way of leading and executing will produce demonstrable results, because;

“Similar to performance, organizational health should be measured, tracked, and kept front and center.”

Organizational health isn’t an optional extra. Nor is it an either-or with performance. On the contrary, once you start thinking seriously about workplace culture, everyone’s performance will improve. Therefore a success in Public Sector Transformation.


Published by McKinsey, August 3rd, 2021

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