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

Public Sector Incompetence is a problem … says who?

Is the government view of our public sector accurate? Could it be both unfair and untrue?

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. Where does the incompetence lie, with Leaders (politicians) or employees (civil servants)?

Stuck needle … myth or reality

For the record: I believe the spread of capability, competence and commitment in the public sector is just as good as any other sector. Of course cultures are different – is it conceivable that public sector competence might be affected by, your starter for seven:

  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. ignorance leading to ineptitude, and
  7. mendacious spin

… at the helm?

I say, there is huge potential in our public sector people. There is no justification for devaluing a national asset – our human capital. I have …

First hand experience

My good fortune was my work and (real-world) research came together with an aching need.

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 … Money was tight. Large swathes of middle and senior managers being retired early. I remember one Local Authority where their described the approach as equal misery. Cuts were applied without strategic thinking or much thought about future-need beyond the short-term.

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.

These people weren’t the finished article when they started off. They faced many challenges and overcame many challenges. Enough people came on board and made change both 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. It’s worth noting that not all feedback and measurement is negative. 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 part of the solution.

Of course over the years I witnessed tragedies and met people with expressive nicknames like: Rottweiler. I also experience 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