Transformation in the Public Sector: 3 Steps for Sustained Success

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According to a 2021 paper by the Boston Consulting Group1,

“70% of change programs fail to achieve their goals (and) 92% of public sector employees believe better change management would improve citizens’ customer experience.”

But rather than dwell on past mistakes, they go on instead to identify the three steps that you need to plan for if you’re working in the public sector and you want to orchestrate that much-needed transformation within your organization.

1. Create momentum

The key is to start by making relatively minor, short-term changes, that will have an immediate effect. To begin, in other words, by “think small” rather than big. This will produce two results.

First, it will demonstrate, to both your employees and the public, that you really are serious about changing the way you do things. And second, it will, hopefully, free up much-needed resources that can then be used to fund further changes.

2. Focus on medium-term

Once you’ve created that initial momentum, you need to then move on to phase two. This is where you make those more substantive changes to the way your department or organization actually operates.

This is what will improve the services you provide to the public. Which is, after all, the only metric that matters. So these changes will be structural in nature and will need 3-5 years to properly bear fruit.

3. Sustain the change

All of which needs to be maintained and rigorously seen through. All those carefully calibrated aims and lofty aspirations are a waste of time if, as so often happens in the public sector, they’re forever diluted and eventually abandoned. And, they conclude;

“Unless the right team, structure, operating systems, and culture are in place, the transformation will be short-lived.”

Before you start, take stock

All of which will produce results. But before you start trying to execute your transformation plan, you need to do an internal audit. Because they insist, it’s impossible to devise and then implement a plan of action unless you first begin by taking stock of where you are as an organization.

What kind of changes are needed, and how ambitious do they have to be? Is it just the department, or across the whole organization? What’s your record like historically when it comes to change, and what sort of time scale are we talking about? And how constrained are you from above, or for legal reasons, when it comes to taking action and making changes?

Select the right tools

All of which will tell you what it is that needs fixing, and which tools you’re going to need to get it done. As;

“In the public sector, it (transformation) often involves becoming more digital, agile, and responsive… (and) the best transformation programs create an activist program management office (PMO) to track initiatives, increase transparency, and measure impact.”

In other words, it’s your internal, organizational structures that will tell you where you are, what you need to change, and the tools you need to make it happen. And unless you get that right, genuine, sustained change will remain forever out of reach.


1. BCG is, together with Bain and McKinsey, one of the ‘Big Three’ US consultancy firms, and their paper, published on April 28th, 2021, is Transformation in the Public Interest

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