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Poll Backs Report Calling for an End to Costly Public Sector Restructuring

Participants support focus of a new report by Colin Coulson-Thomas which sets out a more affordable way of transforming public services

 
 
Prof. Colin Coulson-Thomas
Prof. Colin Coulson-Thomas
Dec. 4, 2012 - PRLog -- Too much emphasis is put upon top-down restructuring and not enough effort is devoted to helping front-line staff according to participants in a poll during a webinar by University of Greenwich Professor Colin Coulson-Thomas. The event was organised to share key findings from his report ‘Transforming Public Services’. The 200 page report advocates better support of people doing difficult jobs as a more affordable route to high performance public organisations than costly and disruptive restructuring.

Given financial constraints and increasing demand, maintaining public services - let alone improving them – is a challenge. While action may be needed, 73% of participants in the webinar poll thought top-down restructuring does not in itself improve public services. “Many in the public sector have had enough of restructuring” claims Coulson-Thomas. “With budgets tight we cannot wait for multi-year transformation and ‘culture change’ programmes to deliver results, even if these were cost-effective and likely to succeed.”

In another poll 80% of webinar respondents thought there is a need for quicker and more affordable ways of improving public services. No-one thought these are not required. Coulson-Thomas has been examining how public bodies could deliver more for less, when ‘traditional’ remedies such as bringing in expensive consultants or recruiting additional high quality staff may no longer be affordable.  

Coulson-Thomas explains: “Successive initiatives and management fads have not delivered. Hence, I approached the evaluation of various options for improving services with some scepticism. Given the complexity of many public services I was not looking for a ‘silver bullet’. I looked for ways of working with existing people and funding to quickly build higher performance organisations that can achieve multiple outcomes and provide clear benefits for employees, taxpayers and the public.”

‘Top-down’ initiatives to improve services have been general, time consuming, costly and disruptive. While ‘traditional’ approaches are implemented, challenges, opportunities, policies, priorities and requirements can change. In an era of uncertainty and insecurity they do not pass affordability and flexibility tests.

The ‘Transforming Public Services’ report sets out an approach that does not require fundamental restructuring or a ‘change of culture’. It suggests costly and disruptive public sector restructuring should be replaced by quicker, cheaper and more sustainable ways of transforming public services. Performance support can be very cost-effective and makes it easier for people to excel at tough tasks.

Shifting the focus from ‘top down’ leadership to ‘bottom-up’ support can deliver multiple objectives and provide an affordable route to higher performance.
In a third webinar poll 85% of respondents thought people doing difficult front-line public service jobs need better support. No-one thought this is not required.

Coulson-Thomas suggests “Public sector leaders have driven changes through organisations rather than enable people to achieve desired outcomes by providing better support. Instead of managing, motivating and leading people, we need to help them, for example by identifying the changing requirements and aspirations of citizens and making it easier for them to achieve their objectives.”

Other approaches seek to re-organise or alter attitudes in the hope that service improvements follow. Performance support focuses upon particular work groups. It concentrates upon helping people rather than attempting to change the culture or structure within which they work. It can have a quicker, direct and more significant impact. It works with existing people and cultures, liberates people and enables them to innovate. Built-in controls can prevent outputs that breach guidelines.

Chat during the webinar emphasised the importance of trust. Helping and supporting is a way of doing this. Exhorting, inspiring and motivating are not enough. However much people are cajoled or ‘set alight’ they may underperform if they lack the ‘tools of the job’. Making it easier for people to understand complex areas and do stressful ‘front-line’ jobs builds confidence and trust. It increases competence and engages people. Costly internal communications and management of change programmes are avoided, as are financial incentives to encourage adoption.

One webinar participant questioned the importance of technology as opposed to people factors. The example of WHO checklists shows that advanced technologies are not necessarily needed. However, devices such as tablets and mobile phones can provide 24/7 support wherever and whenever required. They allow rapid updating when policies and regulations change and ensure consistency of responses.

Another participant questioned the applicability of performance support in less technical areas. Many areas of the public sector are ‘technical’. They are heavily professionalised. Legislation, rules and regulations are often complex. Applications discussed in the report and webinar support interactions with clients and patients, show how best to handle challenging situations, and reduce the need for specialist back-up. People can also be helped to help themselves.

“Performance support of key work groups can deliver multiple objectives and quickly achieve visible impact. It can increase understanding, boost performance, reduce costs, speed up responses, alleviate stress and ensure compliance. Services like healthcare can be transformed. Citizens can be helped to take more informed and responsible decisions,” Coulson-Thomas concludes.

The Webinar entitled An End to Costly Public Sector Restructuring was given by Colin Coulson-Thomas to share key findings from his report ‘Transforming Public Services’ which follows a five-year investigation into the advantages, drawbacks and cost-effectiveness of different approaches to improving services.

‘Transforming Public Services’ by Colin Coulson-Thomas is published by Policy Publications and can be obtained from www.policypublications.com. The 200 page A4 size report contains mini-case studies that illustrate a successful response to a generic challenge facing organisations.

ISBN 978-1-872980-54-6

Prof. Colin Coulson-Thomas, author of ‘Transforming Public Services’ and vision holder of successful transformation programmes, has held public sector board appointments at national and local level. Formerly the world’s first professor of corporate transformation he has helped over 100 boards and management teams to improve performance, and a member of the business school team at the University of Greenwich. Also the author of ‘Developing Directors’ on building effective boards, he can be contacted via www.coulson-thomas.com

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