Public sector transformation demands greater focus on leadership and culture

6th March 2017

New report from Solace and Civica explores how changes in culture and leadership style are critical to achieving wholesale transformation

Key findings:

  • 47% of public sector workers think their leadership team lacks the management skills needed for a period of massive and accelerating change
  • 36% want public sector leaders to invest in creating a more flexible and adaptive working environment
  • Only 7% view the public sector as an empowering environment to work in

16 February 2016, London: A report published today by Solace and Civica, a market leader in specialist software, technology and outsourcing services, reveals that only 7% of public sector employees at middle manager level and below view the public sector as an empowering environment.

The report, ‘Invigorating the Public Sector Revolution’, explores how a public sector cultural revolution is essential to lead a progressive workforce to empower the digital citizen and discusses how people, culture and leadership are not only key barriers but also enablers of wholescale change.

The sector’s imperative to balance the books is still driving significant spending cuts across the majority of services. Although the public sector has started to make some head-way in its journey to deliver re-designed and integrated services in the run up to 2025 and beyond, this latest Solace and Civica report identifies a need for leaders to empower the wider workforce and create an organisational culture and structure that supports and drives transformation. Civica research found that 34% of public sector employees at middle manager level and below believe leaders need to alter the entire organisational structure, with 30% claiming a lack of clear direction is holding the sector back from effective change.

Kim Ryley, Former CEO and Chair, Solace in Business, commented: “The biggest barriers are not technology or resource based, they are people’s attitudes. Public sector organisations need a style of leadership that creates a sense of purpose where they can sell hope to the people, and visibly walk the walk.”

The report encompasses the perspective from Civica’s Leadership Forum of public and private sector executives, which agreed that there needs to be a radical change, not only in leadership style but in organisational structure and culture across the sector to reflect three main strands:

1) Everyone is a leader – Every revolution needs strong leadership to drive on-going success in the face of daunting challenges. Public sector leaders need to encourage motivate everyone across the organisation to take accountability for delivery and improvement. Leaders must give employees a voice and empower people to make decisions.

2) Constant evolution – To inspire a revolution, the public sector needs a different working environment. The public sector has spent decades working in professional silos, leaders need to encourage barriers to be broken down and create teams that work together across agencies. They need to drive ongoing learning and improvements for everyone to see that their role is constantly evolving. As Kim Ryley, Former Chief Executive Officer and Chair, Solace in Business, explained: “There are examples where silos are breaking down. I have set up multi-agency roles, bringing together seven different agencies under a single management, where they all had different terms and conditions, etc. But it didn’t matter as they came together to focus on delivering the best job.”

3) Light touch rules – There is no quicker way to suffocate original thinking or genius ideas than by punishing failure and not giving people space to innovate and take risks. The Leadership Forum agreed that a democratic and agile structure falls flat if it lacks the checks and balances to keep everyone on track. “There needs to be a balance of control, accountability, flexibility and trust,” said Stephen Curtis, Director of the Centre of Excellence for Information Sharing.

After seeing the benefits of a successful restructure first-hand, Henry Branson, Senior Head of Infrastructure, Eastbourne Borough Council, explained: “The pressure to do more with less, without letting service levels drop, is unrelenting for most organisations within local government. Alongside the technical transformation, the restructure of our organisation - creating an empowered culture - has been crucial in delivering the improvements we needed. Having a clear vision and strong leadership has been fundamental to the success of our transformation.”

Wayne Story, Deputy CEO of Civica, concluded: “As the pace of change accelerates, not everyone has the necessary skills to manage and build on the shifts taking place. Public sector leaders need to be able to empower and inspire the wider workforce and take responsibility for building a culture that encourages employees to innovate and try new ways of working without fear of failure.

“Whilst excellent public sector training and development exists to support individual challenges, we would propose introducing a nationally-funded programme to arm leaders with the skills they require to meet future demands and effectively manage the significant change and increasing expectation using tools and technology available to encourage collaboration and innovation.”

‘Invigorating the Public Sector Revolution’ outlines five practical steps to help public sector leaders invigorate a cultural revolution in the sector. It is the third instalment in Civica’s ‘Changing Landscape’ report series.