While all organisations seek to be as simple and efficient as possible, the public sector faces specific challenges: the rationale for transformation may not be clear and may be hampered by legal, regulatory, and bureaucratic hurdles. Responding to these challenges, Whiteshield Partners has developed and uses an organisational transformation model adapted to the public sector. First, Whiteshield Partners helps public sector organisations develop a compelling case and impetus for reform to better deliver their mandates without the profit imperative that is present in the private sector. Second, as public sector regulations may hinder reallocating employees, Whiteshield Partners engages organisational leadership and management to redeploy employees.

Case: Public sector transformation lessons learned

Whiteshield Partners has developed its organisational transformation model based on lessons learned for the public sector:

  • 1) Reduce constraints, while maintaining institutional knowledge: Public institutions have legacies which may hinder work. For example, strict reporting or personnel requirements may constrain civil servants from completing their jobs. Skilled civil servants may have informal workarounds, including knowing the right people, understanding the policies and procedures to follow and those to ignore, and being aware of political factors. Any organisational change should reduce constraints when able, while ensuring civil servants can develop workarounds as needed – for example, by not haphazardly reshuffling entire departments’ personnel.
  • 2) Identify and concentrate talent to solve critical objectives: Public leadership may have less power to influence staff composition than in the private sector. Therefore, transformation programmes should identify pockets of talent, engage that talent, and concentrate that talent. For example, forming cross-department projects can concentrate talent on achieving critical organisational objectives.
  • 3) Show value through tangible results: Just as in the private sector, civil servants need to see the benefit of transformation. First, civil servants need reassurance on their future in the organisation. Then, civil servants may question how transformation benefits the organisation. Tangible results are therefore critical. Developing useful products or services, such as a project monitoring system that saves staff time or analytical tools that provide further depth to the organisation’s monthly reports, can show value. Importantly, these products or services should be developed with the organisation employees, oftentimes as part of a cross-department project, to help realize goals of transformation.

An organisational transformation starts with a common vision of its end state

Successful government transformation combines structural and behavioural changes. The structural changes close gaps between the current state of the organisation (“who are we”) and where it wants to be (“Who do we want to be”). Working across 10 pillars, Whiteshield Partners begins by helping the organisational leadership define a clear direction, including a vision, mission, values, and strategy. The government’s mandate, organisational hierarchy, operating model, and competencies help drive the organisation in the identified direction.

Figure 1: Whiteshield Partners Transformation Framework

Structural changes lay the foundation for critical behavioural changes

A greater challenge than transforming organisational structure is transforming employee behaviour. People generally resist change. They often view change as “disruptive and intrusive”. Civil servants may be set in their ways, and also may not have the skills to work in the new organisational structure. Consequently, encouraging behavioural change should be thought of as a journey. It begins with structural change and ends only after several iterations of coaching, training, and, most importantly, doing.

Engaging employees in the transformation journey can change behaviour

To facilitate this journey, Whiteshield Partners engages civil servants from the start in the structural changes. Training in areas such as project management and client communication prepares employees for new roles and responsibilities and offers an opportunity to assess capabilities and gaps to address.

To strengthen buy-in, civil servants should help drive change, by imagining, shaping, starting, and directing transformation. The transformation journey also acts as a training in itself. Selected civil servants contribute to the adjusted vision, mission, values and implementation mechanisms – such as a new competency grid or a communication plan – that improve their work environment and ability to deliver. Results are continuously communicated to all staff members to ensure widespread buy-in and employee ownership. Over time, and with solid leadership support, employees modify their behaviour, to help the organisation achieve its objectives.

Stebel, Paul. “Why Do Employees Resist Change”. Harvard Business Review. 1996.