What the Public Sector Needs in Order to Change


William O’Brien, former CEO of Hanover Insurance Company and present member of the board of governors of the Center for Organizational Learning of MIT, reflects that “extraordinary changes are taking place in the business universe today. The changes go far beyond imbalance of supply and demand, or the advance of new technology”.

During the industrial growth period called the modern industrial age, major corporations required several driving forces to be successful. The dynamic steps taken in this period included the efficiency of manufacturing, effective marketing to the public, rapid enactment of technology, financial focus and systems, and the development of people skills in a developing environment. Successful adaptation and application of these forces were essential to establish and sustain positive results for employing organizations. For the public sector, the private companies have served as the business template for the execution of their missions in meeting the needs of the citizens.

As the demands on government groups are often measured by comparison to the private sector’s results, there must be a discussion concerning the additional burden faced by public entities. First and foremost is the drag applied to agencies based upon an extremely dysfunctional budget process. Unlike the private sector, government organizations are dependent on a smooth budget process in order to properly plan for the execution of their missions. The recent budget battles for the federal sector is a continuation of nearly a decade of political turmoil.

The sustained use of continuing resolution or CR budgeting has fostered wastefulness in the planning processes of the federal, state, and local governments. A political resolution needs to occur that corrects the budget process of the federal government. Success in budgeting will allow agencies to plan and execute strategically rather than the present haphazard system that exists. It is also important that our legislative and executive branches realize the hindrances that the political rancor places on the agencies for which they demand efficiency.

With the dramatic demographic shift in the workforce, plus the technological advancement explosion in many aspects of business, there are some additional “ingredients for success” needed to operate in the future.

While the common buzzword of “empowerment” is touted in business circles there is a caution to its use being a dangerous approach. A more modern approach of dispersing power should be to encourage an approach of self-discipline. This would present an environment that “replaces bureaucracy with aspiration, values, and visions”.

By providing a stability to the budgetary process, another attribute for ensuring success is “systematic understanding”. Through removing chaos in budgeting, strategic planning and execution can be implemented so that organizational changes and modifications become normal in the application of programs.

One of the greatest tools needed as we develop our work teams and organizations is the development and encouragement of “constructive conversation”. The formation of an environment that invites open, true, and differing opinions should become the norm for inclusion. This will allow institutions to grow from dialogue and debate rather than rigid dogma. Lastly in this modern approach, a shift from leadership mandates to the establishment of “followership” needs to be encouraged. This approach will require leaders to surrender thinking in terms of control. This will require leaders to create an atmosphere that encourages trust, honesty, and true integrity.

In examining our approach to being organizationally successful, the new methodologies of 21st-century thinking should build on the foundational doctrines established in the “Age of Industrial Technology.” It should be a point of emphasis that for government organizations to achieve the expected efficiencies of the citizens, the budget process must be established to create the stability needed to achieve the policies placed on our dedicated government workforce.

Darryl Perkinson is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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