Change in public sector organizations (or public sector organizational realignment) is an urgent need that should be implemented yesterday rather than be a subject of discussion today.
It is not business as usual in government organizations within the business environment of today since the opportunity cost of bureaucracy is real and alarming. This old-fashioned mode of conducting business, bureaucracy, was an effective internal consultative decision-making process. It is merited with being deliberative and detailed but the community of today sees this from a very different perspective.

Two factors namely community pressure and the electoral cycle of a sovereign nation work against bureaucracy. The community of today is part of the decision-making process and is not prepared to take the back seat waiting for the deliberative process regarding pressing and complex issues such as democracy, climate change action etc.
The digital community doesn’t see the public sector as a “we work from 8 am-5pm” business operation. This community has need for information and assistance that with digital tools such as social media the government cannot afford to fail to answer questions and requirements from their citizens 24/7.

The New Normal

So what is the way forward after all these rantings about the need for public sector change?
A research observation made by Hay group working with public sector organizations in the developed democracies came up with the following realizations:

  1. The changing operating context is raising demands on the public sector
  2. Changes are driving increased specialization i.e. leaders who are subject experts rather than generalists who move across streams
  3. Increased specialization has a direct impact on public sector models and organizational structure evolution
  4. Public sector leaders need to ensure this evolution is actively planned and not a knee-jerk reaction

Role of Specialization in Evolution

The world today is more often than not called a global village; if you are not aware then you live under a rock. To put it into context, a global village implies that the entire world has diminished into a community of people from all walks of life who can be in touch with each other using a magic tool called the internet (World Wide Web).

Amazing right? Wrong. In the wake of globalization, new technology, and e-Democracy this interconnectivity of the community works against old fashioned public sector organizations. This is because today’s media environment and populace demands instant and accurate answers from government agency officials.

Specialization is the panacea to this public sector leadership headache since specialists survive better than generalists in this “immediate news” environment. Traditional public sector individuals now realize having generalists at the helm puts them under threat because of the increasing need for speed in accountability. Specialists thrive in these complexities.

Talent Vs Leadership

Specialization as a catalyst of public sector evolution requires special consideration to figure out how it impacts the organization’s ability to develop future talent. This is coupled with deciding a suitable mix of whether the organization is best served by specialists or generalists because it has a bottom-line implication on leadership development and career pathing. Others to consider are collaboration across specialization areas, clarity of accountability and structure that can host several operating models.

Organizational structure and design

Focus on specialization has a direct impact on the new operating models and organizational structures that are emerging in the public sector.
The shape of public sector agencies is changing with three key ‘specialization’ streams emerging:

  • Regulatory functions and oversight.
  • Service delivery.
  • Policy development.

Figure: Emerging specialization in public sector

public sector reforms

Managing Evolution

Adapting to changes in the operating environment especially for public sector organizations involves ensuring structure, design and strategies are aligned towards this new operation environment.

Again, planning for change should be a precursor to smooth evolution rather than drastic reactionary measures. This requires meeting the following condition

  1. A robust organizational structure to dispense its mandate in the present and in future.
  2. Guaranteed human capital (talent) to drive this change agenda.
  3. Sustainable strategies to keep the agency objectives a going concern.

Building blocks for successful evolution

The following building blocks require to be keenly observed for public organizations that dare to chant the evolution path:

public sector reforms

Specifically, these 4 line building blocks can be elaborated as:

  • Strategic context– an organization must have a clear understanding of its mandate.Deliverables must be outlined and the relevant pertinent stakeholders. An ad-hoc review of inter-agency roles and responsibilities is key step in realignment
  • Operating model– after a clear strategic context has been understood, an operating model can be therefore be developed. This can be summarized by (three) 3 principles: policy guidelines, preferred methods of management of the agency and work culture.
  • Organizational design– with the strategic plan plus the operating model in place, an organizational design can be realized. Redesign and realignment begins here. Some conditions have to be in place for the structure to be put on paper. These are: articulation of key elements and functions, accountabilities, and delegations, fit for purpose test of the proposed structure and capability tests of current workforce
  • Implementing change- once all the 3 prior building blocks have been determined and tested it is then possible to proceed to the implementation phase. The organization will now reform to this structure and enable it to operate more effectively.

Future of the public sector

The public sector of the coming years will be shaped around understanding and implementation of specialization. The folks at the leadership helm who play a generalist role have a limited time at their spots to pave way for the specialists.
As the sector continues to evolve, the structure and design of the organizations will have to adapt to the changing needs and complexities by stakeholders.
The topline is that public sector leaders need to proactively manage any changes in a planned way to ensure the sustainability and long-term ability of their agencies to deliver services into the future.

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