Being more like the private sector


My colleague posted this the other day. It’s a short but very much to the point challenge to those who say “why can’t the public sector be more like a business?”.

Well, because REASONS, that’s why. Very good reasons, at that. But, as Carl says, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some little things we could learn. His challenge is to actually come up with examples of things we could usefully emulate, rather than implying that Borkshire Council can simply transform into BorkCorp plc. I’ve just seen that a commenter says it’s annoying when people say “When I worked in the private sector that task was done this way …”. I agree – my opinion is that by far the most significant lessons are nothing to do with the way we do things. It’s about how we think.

Some observations from my own experience of both sides of the fence:

Stop assuming that because things have been like this for a while they’ll be like this forever.

Things change and better ideas appear. You can and you will adapt. The public sector has seen enough large-scale, shocking change recently for this to be obvious, and yet there are still many who think that local government has a particular flavour and path that is unalterable. Nothing is sacred any more, and pretending any different is not going to help.

Stop thinking that your customer is some nebulous cohort of needy unfortunates that you will never meet.

You’re getting confused. Your organisation’s customer is every citizen in your designated geographical boundary. Your customer* is the person you hand your work to. Find out what they need and why, and make sure they get it.

Stop referring to customers as “these people”.

Minorities. The vulnerable. The let’s face it, just plain downright not-like-us. Teenage parents, NEETs, DVA victims, drug users, lesbians, immigrants, Auties, Aspies and Spoonies. “Of course the problem with these people is …” or “What these people need …” It makes you sound snarky and elitist, like These People couldn’t possibly be at the same level as you. Well, guess what? These People are sitting right next to you in that meeting. These People work in your office. These People’s parents, These People’s friends and These People’s life partners are all around you. These People are standing beside you while you snark, and they don’t like your tone.

Ok, so I’ve had my rant about the public sector behaviours that annoy me personally. Very cathartic it was, too. But how will it improve things, if we change them?

1) We will be less scared of the future. Which means that we will be less passive about shaping it. We cannot fight for things to stay the same – we have already lost that battle. We can, however, fight for a future shape that we believe will do some good.

2) We will focus on providing what we are asked for in the most effective way, and we will question what we are asked for if it seems like it has little or no value. Because we are not focusing on a vague future benefit (the project outcome) but rather on producing the very best example of a report or a proposal or a performance analysis, so the people we work with are better informed and in turn can provide better information to their customer.

3) We won’t be casually offending our colleagues, suppliers, partners and visitors. We are victims of stereotyping ourselves, and unfortunately the one about us behaving like repressive but well-meaning handwringing middle class parents is absolutely justified. Let’s stop that, shall we? Just saying.

*That’s not to say they aren’t also a needy unfortunate; that would be between you and them, however.


About jargonaut

Unashamed geek lost in policy land. Frequently required to believe three impossible things before breakfast, and implement them by tea time.
This entry was posted in Future Landscape, Organisational Development and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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