Our public servants must lead the world in 2020

Global lock-down provides the opportunity. Let’s take it.

The world is watching us and our public officials, such as Dr Ashley Bloomfield, are demonstrating in calm, measured ways what’s possible when you build and motivate a team of 5 million people.

I’ve always thought New Zealand was perfectly placed to lead the world in terms of the operation and productivity of its public service. And what better time to explore this opportunity when Covid-19 is testing the frailty of all our institutions and embedded thinking. After all, we’re open for business and the rest of the world is closed. Lock-down plays with your head; drains you of energy; and creates anxiety and doubt. But all going well we are through that so let’s seize the opportunity to help everyone else by demonstrating what’s possible when you need to get agencies and institutions operating once again.

Admittedly we have to divest ourselves of all our imported frameworks, methodologies, consulting and technology frameworks and map out our own way forward. Frankly looking at the organizational sludge that gums up our agencies this process of divesting is long overdue. If we don’t do this then we will stay stuck in a place that screams mediocrity.

There’s a powerful piece of research that says most of your organizational innovation already exists in the business; in your people. This makes a huge amount of sense. If we accept this is the case then our key strategies must focus on how to mobilize our people at the very time when many will be wondering about the security of their jobs.

There are three key elements to management innovation in today’s highly fluid world.

I often ask executive-level managers what they think about complete transparency across their business and they always posit they are in favour of it. However, if you dig a little deeper there are an awful lot of ‘buts’ which invariably means transparency is very limited. We need to up our game. I’ve started thinking about the concept of truth-in-plain-sight as a non-negotiable for organizations that recognize trust is a foundation element when engaging people. The key outcome is simple. You should always know exactly how well your business is functioning (people, teams, investment, work, strategies) and where you should invest advice, time and money. And you should feel comfortable with your people and stakeholders having that same view. You’ll need technology to bring all this together. It’s out there. It’s available.

With truth-in-plain-sight as a core operating principle you can look at every person in the business and invite them to consider how to Work. Better. Together. Executive-level managers, for example, map out strategies. Imagine if they’re able to see data in real-time from their project teams, all over the business, that informs their strategic thinking. And imagine how those teams will feel knowing that their information they provide informs decision-making at the highest-level.

This approach removes shackles. For example, instead of going through an extensive, expensive procurement process to purchase a PPM tool, you buy a rich off-the-shelf Cloud-based tool-set and free up time to concentrate on bigger, more sustainable, higher value outcomes – better projects – better teams – better results. The conversation always comes back to Working. Better. Together. This can be applied to any person in any job in the business and represents a very practical way of democratizing the way you work.

The first two elements then position you to consider what may well be the key management challenge of our generation and that is people-in-work. The global pandemic has put companies, agencies and people at risk. Many businesses will not survive. There’s huge uncertainty about what jobs look like in the future, and where people will actually work. None of us know the answers. At the very least organizations should have flagship strategies around people, their jobs, the value they bring, and what the future might look like working inside and outside of their current organizations. We need to acknowledge the challenges, start talking about them and share what we learn as widely as possible.

We have all the ingredients to create virtual global Centres of Excellence where people can engage in different, unanticipated ways. This is the time when kiwi pragmatism comes to the fore with simple, practical, scalable innovations. Let’s partner up. Let’s do it together.

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