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Public Sector People are Incompetent – Political

Public Sector, Incompetent? Says who

Is the public sector, as a rule, incompetent? Of course, examples can be tripped out, but one swallow doth not a summer make, right? Culture and norms may have an impact on performance. After all, isn’t the leadership responsible?

It is a far, far better thing to have a firm anchor in nonsense than to put out on the troubled sea of thought. J K Galbraith

Do you believe the potential of people who work in the Public Sector is every bit as good as people in other sectors.

That’s the Way the Money Goes reports on a huge waste of public money in government procurement. It’s worth asking, where does incompetence lie, with Leaders (politicians) or employees (civil servants)?

Stuck needle … incompetent, myth or reality

For the record: I believe the spread of capability, competence, incompetence and commitment in the public sector is just as good as any other sector. Of course, cultures differ – is it conceivable that a representation of our public sector as incompetent suits an alternative agenda? Seven examples:

  1. political agendas
  2. denial of reality
  3. short-termism and lack of vision
  4. lack of relevant expertise
  5. ingrained pettiness and infighting
  6. political incompetence leading to silly decisions, and
  7. mendacious spin

No matter who is at the helm? Why must anyone deny, there is huge potential in our public sector people.Can there be any justification for devaluing a national asset – our human capital.

First hand experience – incompetent? Really?

Years ago, my work and research (real-world) research came together with an aching need.

Imagine, I was around when Compulsory Competitive Tendering (CCT) burst like a bomb in the public sector in the mid-eighties – yes, I’m that old. It’s fair to say that money was tight. At a stroke, large swathes of middle and senior managers found themselves retired, early. I remember one Local Authority where their described the approach as equal misery. What a rush as government cuts by incompetents, applied with thorough incompetence, happened without strategic thinking or even much thought about future-needs beyond the short-term.

With sadness, I met people in pain. On the upside, I assisted top management at the start of a new contracting organisation, created to meet the requirements of CCT in Northwest England. They achieved major success for many years. Their enthusiasm, nettle-grabbing and self-belief was profound.

Truth to tell, these people weren’t the finished article when they started off. In good heart, they faced and overcame many challenges. With clear enthusiasm, people came on board and made effective change happen, and stick.

Fact-facing leadership

People realised their success depended on openness and adaptability in response to Margaret Thatcher’s political tidal wave against public sector incompetence.

The Director of the first team I worked with was both politically astute, facilitative and encouraging. Tough decisions were backed by honest communication and fact-facing. It started at the top.

What success demanded

Apart from clear measurable goals and fearless performance measurement. The process helped teams focus on learning and then develop the relevant skills, knowledge and behaviours in the right order.

Ongoing measurement and feedback continued with real world realities faced and overcome on the way. There was much to celebrate.

What about the political leaders?

In the above case, the politicians engaged with a were-in-this-together mind-set. These Councillors were engaged and part of the solution and not sitting as dictators.

Of course over the years I witnessed tragedies and met people with expressive nicknames like: Rottweiler. I also experienced many heart-warming outcomes. I engaged in similar projects in both the Public and Private Sectors in small and internationally known organisations. Through these experiences, over many years, I learned about human potential and the power of goodwill … even in scary adversity.

Public sector incompetence, really?

It’s not public sector incompetence that limits us. The root cause is political ineptitude and poor leadership.

Then, of course, there’s a lack of understanding about how organisations actually work and the nature of working culture — it can’t be prescribed.

Shame on our Westminster bubble.

Now then, where should change begin?  Great things can happen if we let them!

© Mac Logan

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