Public Sector Agility


I was mentioning to my wife the other night that I seem to read a lot.  Sometimes I feel that I read too much … and then I read that reading more expands your horizons and helps you think of innovative solutions for problems because you know more than what is in your domain.  And sometimes I read because of a catchy title.  Like this one:  How the public sector can remain agile beyond times of crisis.

Now, I must admit that my enthusiasm was tempered a bit because of other misleading titles promising me millions of dollars in cash, or free vacations or a cure for my receding hairline.  But this article actually seemed to have some meat behind the title.  Kind of refreshing, like Irish Spring soap.

The public sector responds with amazing agility during times of crisis:

Because they get clear directions about how to achieve their mission and enough autonomy to make decisions at the front line; a burning platform for change replaces the cultural aversion to risk taking that’s characteristic of public-sector organizations; and teams work within and across agencies to achieve rapid results

The examples they gave were predominantly American in nature, but we have to look no further than the Fort McMurray fire to see how rapidly government at all levels was able to respond to an ever-evolving situation.  But why doesn’t the public sector act this way all the time?

  • Cultural aversion to risk
  • Functional silos
  • Organizational complexity

The authors of the paper had a few simple solutions:

  • Strategy. A shared vision and purpose
  • Structure.  A stable, simple structure
  • Process. A set of standardized, minimally specified core processes.
  • People. A culture of self-improvement and stretch goals

It seems so simple, doesn’t it?  And I guess that is another point that needs to be emphasized:  the more complex the solution, the less likely it is to be the right solution.  Things don’t need to be complex to work properly, to work efficiently.  The human mind craves simplicity and the farther we move away from that the harder it is to exist in that environment.

Now here is my homework for you.  The authors put together a little chart, a self-assessment as to where your organization fits.  I’ve done it, answering honestly from my point of view, as to where we fit as an organization and I was actually surprised where I felt we ended up.  And it wasn’t a pleasant surprise.  Give it a shot and, if you’re brave enough send me where you think we are.  I won’t tell anyone.

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