The Smarter way to better Business
Managing Transformational Change within the Public Sector
by Mark Edmonds, GCL Management Consultants


Pick up any public sector journal, read any sample of CPA reports and you will undoubtedly see reference to a Change or perhaps 'Transformational' Programme. Council departments are quickly becoming 'Departments of Change Management' and senior officers may well be the Head of Transformation with member portfolios also reflecting this new phenomenon.

All councils large and small seemingly have a programme underway and whilst managing change is nothing new in local government - far from it - embracing change within a defined programme certainly is.

But do authorities really know what it is they wish to change, and are they aware that around 70% of programmes of change fail to deliver the benefits first anticipated?

For some a transformational change programme may simply be a headline under which other, often disparate initiatives, are pulled together. For others it is simply seen as externalisation by another name, and for one or two, dare I say, it may simply be little more than a PR exercise to demonstrate that the council is forward thinking, yet achieves little save for demoralising the workforce and antagonising the wider community.

However, for those many authorities that see a robust programme based around organisational and cultural change as being the key to sustained service improvement, our experience working in the public sector has shown that there some important ingredients to consider.

The framework for this is based on our 'old friend' performance management - what are we seeking to achieve - what are the mechanisms for delivery - and the measures of success - how do we communicate and get commitment and how to we make sure it actually happens. Key components include:

Setting the Objectives Objectives - Be clear from the outset what it is you are seeking to change and what the benefits are likely to be, and ensure this is agreed and communicated. Clarity of vision can engender commitment and ensure focus throughout the programme. Time spent at this stage will pay dividends later on.

Measurement of success - What are the criteria by which success of the change programme is to be judged and what are the important milestones along the way. As a company we have seen a growing interest in the use of Balanced Scorecard. Such a tool assesses success from a number of complementary perspectives, avoiding the risk of addressing issues in one dimension that may create problems in another.

Planning the Way Forward Robust proposals for change - The options for change need to be assessed and the best way forward decided. This needs to embrace all 'levers' for change - not just 'let's re-organise'. Re-organisation's which are just that - without changes in culture, ways of working (processes) and where appropriate, investment, inevitably fail. In this respect many authorities have not fully understood the impact and importance of process change.

Project and programme management - Planning and preparation can never be too complete. A robust programme must be put in place. This should be properly resourced, and include a clear activity schedule, together with realistic timelines and milestones, which is tracked and regularly updated. Putting it bluntly, any change programme without this level of planning will be doomed to failure.

Risk assessment and management - A key foundation for a robust and successful change programme is a meaningful assessment of the main risks and the identification of the actions that will be needed to mitigate these.

Communicating & Committing Communication - Change creates uncertainty, and often insecurity. Those officers directly involved in management of the programme and those who are or are likely to be impacted by the change must be kept informed, and at regular intervals. Communication is crucial in managing fears and expectations, and to be effective must be properly planned. It is an essential part of winning commitment to the 'new ways of doing things around here'.

Resources - Too often there are inadequate resources put in place. Council officers are often asked to be involved in strategic programmes of change, but as part of their day job. Be clear that dedicated resources will be needed to succeed and this must be factored in to the planning.

Relevant skills - Have those leading or engaged in the project got the right skills for the task ahead? In some authorities change management skills now form part of the authority's training and development programmes. Desired skills that might typically include project management, process mapping, IT and risk management should be defined, and a match between the range of skills and the officers to be involved, need to be established.

Implementing Project managing the change - Change is a major project and has to be managed in that way, with all the associated project management techniques and disciplines.

Benefits capture - A key part of achieving the expected objectives set at the beginning is to make sure that there are clear accountabilities for capturing the benefits and that these are turned into 'real benefits'.

Monitoring and Revising Re-assessment - The change programme needs to be regularly reviewed and updated, with mechanisms for ensuring that lessons are learnt for the future.

Essential to supporting these key components is drive and commitment from the top - senior management and members. Without this, the programme will not succeed. The importance of the programme must be evident to everybody within the organisation, and must be core to discussions and agendas at all levels in the organisation. Lead from the front with enthusiasm and energy ensuring that everybody knows how important the programme of change is and what it seeks to achieve.

Change in the public sector is here to stay and recognition that this requires effective performance and project management to succeed is an important step forward. With growing emphasis being placed in both these areas, councils are well placed to ensure that their programme delivers real improvements.

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