Can the Pub­lic Sec­tor Tran­si­tion Suc­cess­fully into the 21st Cen­tury?

The Star (St. Lucia) - - COMMENT - By Jus­tine Charles Ed­i­tor’s note: the au­thor is a Lead­er­ship Trainer/Coach

If one is to ex­plore the fu­ture well, the most im­por­tant thing is to know how much in­flu­ence our par­a­digms ex­ert on our per­cep­tion of the world around us (Barker Joel A, 1993). For most of us trans­form­ing lead­er­ship in the pub­lic sec­tor al­most sounds para­dox­i­cal to the point of im­pos­si­bil­ity. This par­a­digm might be jus­ti­fied given the bu­reau­cratic struc­tures, eco­nomic self in­ter­est and the pol­i­tics that have per­vaded the sec­tor for decades. The big ques­tion is: can the pub­lic sec­tor trans­form to cre­ate some­thing new and dif­fer­ent?

With the ac­cel­er­ated pace of de­vel­op­ment glob­ally, we see the age of knowl­edge cap­i­tal­ism on the hori­zon. There have been slight shifts from his­tor­i­cal cap­i­tal­ism where the own­ers con­trolled the fac­tors of pro­duc­tion (land, labour cap­i­tal). In to­day’s knowl­edge econ­omy, there is no doubt that the knowl­edge work­ers pro­vide the in­tel­lec­tual cap­i­tal that cre­ates value for the or­gan­i­sa­tion. This new en­vi­ron­ment calls for rev­o­lu­tion­ary change and dove­tails the need for a trans­for­ma­tional lead­er­ship ethos to com­pel a vi­sion that will ef­fec­tu­ate the changes nec­es­sary if the pub­lic sec­tor is to sur­vive.

Ac­cord­ing to Hewlett (2006), in the new global en­tre­pre­neur­ial econ­omy, knowl­edge has be­come the clear de­lin­eat­ing el­e­ment of suc­cess. There­fore, the pub­lic sec­tor must jet­ti­son with the old no­tions of pro­duc­tiv­ity based on bu­reau­cratic and hi­er­ar­chi­cal sys­tems of op­er­a­tions to solve 21st cen­tury prob­lems. Bu­reau­cracy is the an­tithe­sis of in­no­va­tion and cre­ativ­ity. The pub­lic sec­tor must es­tab­lish and com­mu­ni­cate the link be­tween knowl­edge, in­no­va­tion, cre­ativ­ity and strat­egy as essential steps in re­struc­tur­ing the sec­tor. It must em­brace op­por­tu­ni­ties for in­no­va­tion and cre­ativ­ity. Knowl­edge work­ers re­quire an en­vi­ron­ment where they can thrive and har­ness their cre­ativ­ity hence “em­ploy­ees who are fear­ful for their po­si­tions will not take risks and will seek to hide behind or­ga­ni­za­tional bu­reau­cracy,” (Hewlett 2006).

The time has come for trans­for­ma­tional lead­er­ship in the pub­lic sec­tor. This will not come easy as it would re­quire a par­a­digm shift in the system. A com­plete over­haul of what ex­ists. To drive change, there must be the par­a­digm shifters. The par­a­digm shifters are the risks tak­ers, the bold ones who have the guts to change the rules. Hav­ing said that, we can­not all be par­a­digm shifters but some of us can be the par­a­digm pi­o­neers. Par­a­digm pi­o­neers put in the ef­fort nec­es­sary to drive the new rules into re­al­ity. They take the risks and help the shifters drive the change ef­forts. The par­a­digm shifters will al­ways have a tough time from the start be­cause “the first time a par­a­digm is of­fered it most likely will be re­jected be­cause those practicing the pre­vail­ing par­a­digm can make a won­der­ful case for that re­jec­tion,” (Barker, 1993).

It is not sur­pris­ing that the young gen­er­a­tion of knowl­edge work­ers find it ex­tremely dif­fi­cult to fit in the old system. Very of­ten we see younger per­sons who joined the pub­lic sec­tor show signs of en­tropy very early in the game be­cause the system is re­plete with per­sons who seek to con­trol and pro­tect their turf rather than lib­er­ate peo­ple to work in an en­vi­ron­ment where they can be free to in­no­vate and cre­ate. One can­not ab­ne­gate the fact that a par­a­digm shift is needed in the pub­lic sec­tor. There is a need for de­cen­tral­ize struc­tures to al­low for more par­tic­i­pa­tion and flat­tened hi­er­ar­chies to fa­cil­i­tate in­for­ma­tion shar­ing be­tween cross-func­tional teams, (Maden, 2002, p. 80). The old com­mand and rule system will not sur­vive in a knowl­edge econ­omy. More­over, the pub­lic sec­tor should do away with bu­reau­cratic com­pen­sa­tion plans that are not linked to per­for­mance re­sults but should de­velop a new ethos to link knowl­edge work­ers’ com­pen­sa­tion plans to its new vi­sion, that of in­no­va­tion of ser­vice of­fer­ings, cost re­duc­tion as a re­sult of more ef­fi­cient ways of do­ing things, cit­i­zen sat­is­fac­tion based on per­for­mance re­sults. Just as ob­tains in some pri­vate sec­tor or­gan­i­sa­tions, the govern­ment work­ers are to be­come the own­ers of the or­gan­i­sa­tion. This will set them free to in­no­vate, to cre­ate, learn, un­learn, and re­learn to bring about the level of com­petive­ness and ef­fi­ciency re­quired to move the sec­tor suc­cess­fully into the 21st cen­tury.

The pub­lic sec­tor must take a sys­tems ap­proach to re­con­fig­ure it­self to change its pur­pose and de­sign to usher in a new vi­sion, cul­ture, strat­egy and struc­ture if it wants to im­prove its abil­ity to re­spond to the global chal­lenges that con­front it. Fur­ther­more, an or­gan­i­sa­tion should not at­tempt to cor­rect struc­ture un­til it is clear what the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s strat­egy would be for now and into the fu­ture, (Burke, 2014). The green pa­per on Pub­lic Sec­tor Re­form en­dorses this point: “in this milieu the build­ing of new or re-con­sti­tuted sys­tems and the de­cay and aban­don­ment of ir­rel­e­vant ones is an im­per­a­tive,” (http:// ar­chive.stlu­cia.gov.lc).

Is it pos­si­ble for the pub­lic sec­tor to make the tran­si­tion? It is not so far­fetched. It will only take a few par­a­digm shifters and pi­o­neers to make it hap­pen. As is of­ten said: those who say it can­not be done should get out of the way of those who are do­ing it.

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