5 Performance Improvement Secrets for the Public Sector

Whether you call it process redesign, or rationalization, or business process reengineering, the goal is performance improvement. And the real challenges in making substantive change have nothing to do with technology, or methodology. Here's a few secrets the prudent manager needs to know about successful change in the public sector.

Secret 1: Senior management vs front-line employees' view of change. Senior public sector managers can get all 'het up' about performance improvement, because they see it as a way to increase efficiency or save money. The front-line employee or first-level supervisor is NOT driven by this motive to reduce costs. From their perspective, change looks like a threat (and they are not always wrong). So, you need to find some other motivator to gain the cooperation and engagement of these folks. This is possible.

Secret 2: Broad change is pretty much impossible. When I've been successful in significant performance improvement initiatives, it's been achieved within the confines of a discreet work unit. Managing change becomes much harder as you expand scope and cross organizational boundaries. Successful change needs a manageable scope that is within the authority envelope of the change sponsor i.e. the grand poobah who authorizes the change.

Secret 3: Successful performance improvement is facilitative rather than directive. There are two good sources of information about what's wrong with a process; 1 - the people working in the process, and 2 - the customers of the process. But you need to tread lightly here. You will most likely face resistance and defensiveness from staff (see Secret 1 above).

You need to see yourself as a researcher, asking questions that will encourage people to tell you how they feel about things, and what they think needs to change. 'What' questions – e.g. 'what is happening at this stage of the process' - encourage communication; 'Why' questions – e.g. 'why do you do the task this way' – encourage defensiveness.

Secret 4: It will take longer. Building commitment to change, and developing readiness for change, and actually leading and managing change, will take longer than you think. Business still goes on while you are making changes. Your organisation and your people can only accept change at a pace that allows them to still function in their jobs. Whatever timeline you set, have tolerance for slippage; it's inevitable.

Secret 5: Some people won't change. Despite best efforts, some people won't adapt to the new processes. Ultimately there may be no choice but to replace them. Thomas Davenport in 'Process Innovation – Reengineering Work Through Information Technology' describes this succinctly:

'Whenever replacement (of personnel) occurs, it sends a strong message to those who remain in the organization. But unless the replacement is seen to be fair, there will be negative consequences'.

So, if even after educating, training, coaching, facilitating and allowing time and opportunity for change some people haven't come on board, they need to go. To do otherwise undermines the change and is not fair to the rest of the organization.

In summary, you have to realize that for most staff, your shiny new process improvement initiative looks like scary change, more work, and little reward. You need to engage and involve key personnel from the start, and have tolerance for uncertainty and 'slippage', or court failure of your project.

New Training for Public Sector Managers: If you are seeking efficiency and performance improvements in your organization, you might be interested in an exciting and excellent new series of training workshops for public sector managers and executives beginning fall of 2012

The courses will be led by top-notch subject matter experts, many of whom are former public servants themselves. I've known many of them for years, and can vouch for their expertise and ability to transfer knowledge (and I'm not much better myself ;-) You will have seen many of the names in Canadian Government Executive Magazine.

I will be delivering one of the courses on 'Business Process Reengineering and Change Management in the Public Sector'. If you need to find some efficiencies in your organization, this course will be a good place to start.

We are currently setting the schedule of courses, so check out the list below; if you are interested in one or more, let us know and we'll give those choices priority scheduling. If you want us to send you more information, include your contact info in the form.

We can also arrange custom training on your site for any of the topics shown below.

I'm interested, tell me more . . .

Business Process Reengineering
Data and Information Management
Governance and Accountability
Integrated Management
Knowledge Management
Planning and Performance Measurement
Risk Management
Strategic Planning/Strategic Management

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