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”
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’
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.”
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’
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’
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’
“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.
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-