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Protecting the Bureaucratic Soul

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Building Entrepreneurial Talent in the Public sector

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Protecting the Bureaucratic Soul

  1. 1. PROTECTING THE BUREAUCRATIC SOUL Solving the challenge of the over-worked, overwhelmed, highly distractible public servant. “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.” How building entrepreneurial talent in your teams brings clarity, power and focus to their work and massively increases accountability, productivity and job satisfaction Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
  2. 2. TABLE OF CONTENT Confronting the Challenge of a Risk-Averse, Command-and-Control Administrative Hierarchy 3 Solving the Problem of a Risk-Averse Bureaucratic Culture 4 How Traditional Training is Failing the Public Service 5 Disruption has come to the Public Sector 6 Protect your Heart 7 Building the Intrepreneurial Approach 8 Benefits of an Embedded Training Approach 16 A Bureaucratic Intrepreneurial Training Program 16 More About the Author 17 End Notes 18 2 Solving the challenge of the over-worked, overwhelmed, highly distractible public servant
  3. 3. CONFRONTING THE CHALLENGE OF A RISK-AVERSE, COMMAND-AND-CONTROL ADMINISTRATIVE HIERARCHY The contemporary public service faces multiple challenges, not least of which are an ever- expanding work-load and diminishing resources. Coupled with a radically expanded remit for public engagement and responsibility, the pressure on the people tasked with delivering public services is increasing every year. For good or ill, the days of line-of-sight delivery of traditional government services to an easily- definable target market are over. Many of the challenges we face as leaders in the public sector are incredibly complex. Achieving clarity and effectiveness is often easier sought than accomplished. Both the degree and the kind of engagement required of public administrators has changed and we are, in many areas, struggling to catch-up. The impact on our staff, the level of demand this environment places on them, can be overwhelming. In the best scenarios, good people come together and creatively translate policy outcomes and strategies into well-defined workplans and then support each other through delivery. All too often however, faced with a seemingly endless barrage of work and without an alternative approach immediately available, people fall-back on procedures that privilege process at the expense of product generating confusion instead of clarity. This occurs because, without an alternative pole of attraction, the bureaucratic context will always generate a tendency to avoid taking responsibility and an implicit agreement (reinforced through practices, habit and language) to remain within a sphere of engagement we are comfortable with - a sphere bounded by the knowledge and relationships we already have - rather than accessing or developing the knowledge and relationships we may actually need. This produces a self-reinforcing feed-back loop that invariably stymies change and innovation and ultimately, new ways of delivering government policy and public goods. Despite the inevitable bureaucratic tendency to replicate failure and embed resistance to change, alternative poles of attraction that bring new forms of engagement and delivery can be embedded in both large and smaller bureaucratic entities (though there must always be more than 2 people going through the transition at any point, it’s simply too hard to go-it-alone). Despite the commitment our people exhibit to their work, many Australian public servants are unprepared for the quality and quantity of the demands being made on them. As a consequence, they are often frustrated and sometimes overwhelmed, working harder everyday with the experience of ever-diminishing returns for their investment of time, passion and skill. In the worst- case scenario, the best burn-out and the worst are promoted. The work of government is hard. Its challenges are wicked. Problems do not always have defined boundaries, solutions can (and should) be contested and authority is ambiguous. Political change can occur unexpectedly and at breakneck speed. Administrative change generally takes place in an almost imperceptible fashion but can be transformative in nature. Prof. Peter Shergold AC Secretary, Prime Minister & Cabinet 2002-07 “Learning From Failure”: An APSC Report from the independent review of Government processes. p. ix 3Solving the challenge of the over-worked, overwhelmed, highly distractible public servant
  4. 4. SOLVING THE PROBLEM OF THE RISK-AVERSE BUREAUCRATIC CULTURE Effective change management within an organisation requires two things: 1. A deep appreciation of the practices, habits and language your teams work with and the results they actually produce (as distinct from the results you wish/hope and sometimes tell others your teams produce), and; 2. A focus on building an alternative Pole of Attraction that privileges the practices, habits and language that will actually produce the results you want to see produce. In this context, it can be useful to use the psychological distinction of the Anti-Social Personality Disorder (ASPD) – or colloquially called ‘psychopathy’ - to delineate the automatic Pole of Attraction people (and leaders) must grapple with if they are to build intrepreneurial talent within their organisations. As any bureaucratic leader would attest, confronting this institutional tendency can be challenging. Psycopathic Tendencies …amoral (not morally dictated); exhibits antisocial behaviour, lack of ability to love or establish meaningful personal relationships, egocentricity, failure to learn from experience. ASPD, Defined by the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” (DSM) Intrepreneur - A Definition A person within an organisation who takes direct responsibility for turning an idea into a valuable outcome through assertive risk- taking and innovation. The American Heritage Dictionary For all its potential and capacity for good, both public and private bureaucracies exhibit the same tendency: whatever the quality of the people working in the organisation the foundational institutional bias is for the organisational behaviour that protects the ongoing viability if the organisation itself. Without active and dedicated mechanisms for engaging, training and ongoingly supporting staff in their journey through the enterprise, this psychopathic Pole of Attraction will inevitably result in the operational habits we so rightly abhor: an impulse to self-preservation; a tendency to inaction (or misplaced effort); a lack-of accountability; a culture that is risk-averse, penalises creativity and innovation; frowns on excitement and passion and, ultimately undermines people’s confidence in themselves and in their ability to achieve real, valuable and lasting results. Bureaucracies are not a natural locus for the development of the emotional intelligence and rich interpersonal relationships that underpin the intrepreneurial approach. However, empowered, creative and open-minded individuals and teams can flourish in this environment if there exists a sufficiently strong Pole of Attraction for such forms of interaction. 4 Solving the challenge of the over-worked, overwhelmed, highly distractible public servant
  5. 5. HOW TRADITIONAL TRAINING IS FAILING THE PUBLIC SERVICE Many of us recognise that our best performers exhibit an uncanny ability to navigate complexity, bring clarity to confusion and effectively create and lead teams that cross administrative, and sometimes and even sectoral boundaries. We know we need more of this capacity, but it is hard to put a finger on what these skills are and how best to reinforce, replicate and leverage them. The reality today is that no matter their formal job description, everyone working in public service is required to be entrepreneurial in their approach. This requirement is demanding new skills, new approaches and most importantly, an increasingly high level of personal accountability. In the past, these have not been attributes instinctively associated with public bureaucracies. The pressure is on to transform the culture and approach of public administration in this country, but the internal support and training regimes we associate with public-sector training continue to be built on traditional educational models, usually built around the school classroom model we grew up with. Educational categories, such as Change management, Influencing People and even Leadership, delivered as stand-alone modules divorced from ongoing operational delivery can provide excellent content. However, as outlined in the precious sections, unless the context is carefully managed, the results of such training is generally short-lived at best. Most studies still show a 60-70% failure rate for organizational change projects — a statistic that has stayed constant from the 1970’s to the present. Harvard Business Review https://hbr.org/2013/04/change-management- needs-to-cha Training in processes for “Stakeholder Engagement” epitomises the limits of this approach. I have seen situations where well-delivered classroom-based training in this area has result in a substantial decrease in productivity and engagement over a fairly short period of time. Newly trained (and excited staff) diligently applied the new distinctions and practices they had learnt, leading to a massive expansion in the number and depth of the relationships they had to manage, an increase in confusion regarding roles and targets followed by a vehement return (and hardening) of previous, traditional arms-length management of external and internal stakeholders with a concomitant loss of engagement and effectiveness. Traditional training approaches are no longer sufficient for embedding organisational change. Skills-development regimes must be embedded and adaptative with multiple ‘touch-points’ and opportunities for self-paced and monitored growth. People learn-by-doing, not by listening. Skills- growth needs to be intrinsically linked to daily deliverables in people work for real training to occur. 5Solving the challenge of the over-worked, overwhelmed, highly distractible public servant
  6. 6. DISRUPTION HAS COME TO THE PUBLIC SECTOR The dynamics of public service is changing rapidly and it can be very confronting. As in so many sectors of the economy, disruption has come to the public sector. Depending on your attitude and skill- set, this represents either a blessing or a curse. The Public Service Commissioner John Lloyd recently outlined the changes and challenges facing the public service in this regard: “… the old structures and hierarchies have gone or are being modified. The digital revolution combined with the access to big data is going to visit massive change upon the modern workplace. Some postulate that 40% of current jobs will disappear by 2030. Turning and turning in the widening gyre. The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world WB Yeats, ‘The Second Coming’ It is just possible that the outcome … will be more flexible and productive work places populated with more interesting jobs. Some of the institutional arrangements around work will be challenged and if they do not adapt they will languish. I think we have to get involved with this. Basically get with it or be left behind. “ In Australia, downsizing is evident in public sector employment trends which previously represented 26 per cent of the working population in 1984 but now represents approximately 16 per cent (in 2006). Kryger, T. (2006), The Incredible Shrinking Public Sector, Parliamentary Library. Adaptive government involves directing performance towards the achievement of outcomes in an increasingly competitive environment. Prof. Peter Shergold AC Secretary, Prime Minister & Cabinet 2002-2007 p.x At the heart of John Lloyd’s statement is the prognosis that flexibility - both in terms of staffing, job description and attitude, as well as a requirement that people be accountable for delivering on ‘vision’ as well as a work plan - will increasingly be the norm in our workplace. There is a rapidly growing need for an entrepreneurial approch to the formation and delivery of public goods. In the words of the Public Service Commissioner: “Basically get with it or be left behind.” * http://www.apsc.gov.au/publications-and-media/speeches/2017/workforce-of-tomorrow-conference 6 Solving the challenge of the over-worked, overwhelmed, highly distractible public servant
  7. 7. PROTECT YOUR HEART People working in public administration have enormous hearts and a massive commitment to their work. However, what is required of us is changing. Our working environment is changing and success, satisfaction and effectiveness (not to mention promotion) are predicated on our willingness and ability to change with it. Being entrepreneurial and accountable for outcomes no matter where in the organisational hierarchy we sit occurs risky from the ASPD perspective. In reality, the real risk lies in not being entrepreneurial! As leaders in public service it is critical that we recognise the pressures this shift in mindset imposes on ourselves and on others in our environment. As in so many industries, the skills and attributes required for success are evolving faster than the structures that exist to provide those skills and to support us. We need to be conscious and gentle: carefully husbanding and protecting our energy and passion and making sure the effort (and the resources) we expend is directed at the most valuable and 28 per cent of public sector employees advised that they were ‘always’, ‘often’ or ‘sometimes’ bullied at work compared to 10 per cent reported by private sector workers. D’Aleo, N., P. Stebbins, R. Lowe, D. Lees and D. Ham (2007). p.91 …it is more stressful to work in the public [than the private] sector because of significantly higher demands, despite higher levels of resources. Within Australia, workers’ compensation claims … caused by mental stress are higher in the public sector (57 per cent) than in the private sector (43 per cent). Bailey, TS, McLinton, SS, Dollard, MF. (2013). pp.63-89. efficient tasks, not squandered. It is my belief that every person in public service must confront the fact that the willingness to personally evolve and grow has become a pre- condition for both enjoying and for being good at our jobs. The alternative - to resist the new realities of work – is to become progressively, and in many cases rapidly, redundant. Worse perhaps, resisting the demand to transform our own and our teams’ operational behaviours actively undermines and bogs-down attempts to create change in other parts of the organisation. The personal and professional resources available to each of us are limited and must be carefully managed and directed. This is especially true now the demands being made on each of us, our teams and our organisations, are inherently greater than the systems and structures set-up to respond to those demands. In this environment, learning how to prioritise, focus and direct your limited personal and professional resources is more critical than ever. 7Solving the challenge of the over-worked, overwhelmed, highly distractible public servant
  8. 8. BUILDING THE INTREPRENEURIAL APPROACH 6 LEVELS OF INTREPRENEURIAL GROWTH There are 6 recognisable stages of development in an organisational culture as the capacity and context for intrepreneurial engagement increases. Each level represents a quantum in effectiveness and productivity for both the individual and for the team. There is a direct (though not linear) correlation between effectiveness (the ability to fulfil on goals and targets) and job satisfaction. In my experience, there also exists a strong, though hard-to-verify, correlation between effectiveness and return-on-resource investment. Level Modality Effectiveness 6 Super Networked - Non-foundational Massively engaged cross-organisational/sectoral teams. Leadership is de- personalised Organisational boundaries exist as indicators only. Delivery is spontaneous x10 5 Networked - Network functionality Powerfully engaged cross-functional/organisational teams. Resources seem to ‘appear’ as and when required. Organisational boundaries provide access to different modes of leverage. Clarity goes viral x8 4 Multi-layered Engagement - Foundational Effective internal and external participation and focus on common goals Organisational boundaries define engagement but don’t limit it. Excitement is contagious x6 3 Multi-level Engagement - Institutionally focussed Well operating internal teams engaging at arms-length with external parties Organisational boundaries strong and definitive but permeable. Excitement is permissible x4 2 Internal Engagement - Internally focussed Variable levels of cooperation and collaboration internally Organisational boundaries define the scope of operational effectiveness. Calm & strategic x2 1 Individual Operation - Individual self-interest rules Cooperation dependent upon immediate overlap of personal interests The organisation is a world-unto-itself. No effective ‘outside’ the organisation. Low energy x1 8 Solving the challenge of the over-worked, overwhelmed, highly distractible public servant
  9. 9. 1. Individual Operation The lowest level, best captured in 19th century novels such as Kaftka’s The Castle, is unfortunately not-yet completely extinct. This is where individual self-interest is the predominant motivator for action and engagement. People identify and engage with their immediate surroundings only. Delivery is defined by ‘ticking- the-box’, energy is low. Passion, excitement and creative thinking is resented or deeply suspect. 2. Internal Engagement This level remains prevalent in some parts of the public service in Australia. With some internal team-building and collaboration, the predominant experience working in this environment is usually one of calm and stability. Engagement with internal stakeholders is normal practice but effectiveness is relatively low because real creative ‘churn’ (which is invariably uncomfortable) is generally kept at the conceptual level only. Innovative input is not greatly valued and the distinction between policy formation and delivery is rigidly enforced. At this level, leadership and direct accountability is rarely called for and usually occurs both risky and unnecessary. The concept of engaging with and proactively managing (let-alone assuming) personal risk is essentially non-existent. The organisation’s boundaries naturally define the scope of influence/realm of action and the available resources. Common complaints associated with this level of operational effectiveness reflect an embedded (and hence sometimes invisible) lack of accountability for delivering on outcomes and can include: “the goal-posts keep shifting”; “people in authority refuse to take the lead” and; concerns about “lack of clarity”. In this context, both individual and collective effectiveness is limited to what can be imagined within pre-existing organisational conceptions and to variations on previous or extant processes and/or programs. Process is invariably privileged over productivity; organisational boundaries are rigidly (if sometimes unconsciously) enforced and; there is generally little hierarchical overlap or tension (perceived as a positive outcome). 3. Multi-level Engagement This is the level most public entities in Australia are currently approaching/striving for. At this level, the experience of internal staff is that they work well together, but that once beyond the immediate environment of team members, staff and line management, constructive engagement and stakeholder input tends to be either inconsistent or alternatively, overwhelming. At this level, both internal and external engagement can easily become an end-in-itself rather than a vehicle for program or policy improvement leading to the common refrain of ‘an endless round of endless meetings that get us nowhere fast’. In this environment, clear- value propositions can be hard to identify and articulate and by attempting to serve everyone all-the-time, no-one is well-served. This level is an essentially transitionary, unstable, uncomfortable and often frustrating one for a public institution to be operating at. Managing people, institutional structures and culture through the transition from the calm, steady single-direction Internal Engagement environment within the organisation (level 2) to Multi-layered Engagement within, across and outside the organisation (level 4) can be extremely challenging. Older habits and processes still have great affective influence and provide an ever-present refuge from the challenges iterated throughout this paper. Managing this transition for a public service leader takes a great deal of courage, a minimum of internal and hierarchical support, and good external and internal mechanism to develop and embed the new operational modalities. 9Solving the challenge of the over-worked, overwhelmed, highly distractible public servant
  10. 10. The advantage we have in Australia is that any one group/team/institution trying to make this transition is not doing so alone. The ambient level of organisational engagement in Australian public institutions is rising rapidly. Nonetheless, waiting for the tide to simply lift everyone together is not sufficient for many leaders. At this level, excitement about new possibilities (and associated risk) is permissible but progress can be patchy and the balance between providing leadership and allowing input hard to navigate. A key challenge for leadership is to continually distinguish between the appropriate maintenance of existing legacy processes and ‘loosening the bonds’ to allow for new modes of interaction and engagement. A key risk for people operating in a level 3 environment is that the more entrepreneurial staff (including yourself) can easily become cynical and burn-out. The public sector leader needs to keep a weather-eye open for those key individuals (and sometimes small groups of people) who are willing to charge ahead of the pack only to find themselves ‘yanked-back’ by a slower moving culture and resistance either above or below them in the hierarchy 4. Multi-layered Engagement Some public sector entities have broken-through to this level of operation, and reaped the benefits. The distinction between multi-level and multi-layered engagement may seem fine, but the operational tempo, level of accountability and engagement of staff up, down and across the hierarchy is profoundly different. The energy generated doing ‘the hard—yards’ in the previous stage starts to pay-off at this level and the momentum for change becomes self- generative. A self-reinforcing dynamic of innovation and momentum becomes operational and serves to pull all levels of the organisation forward by increments. This dynamic occurs because relationships within, across and outside the organisation have become premised on functional engagement and trust rather than organisational positioning. The quality of these relationships were often forged at the previous (highly uncomfortable) level of operational effectiveness and allow for new ideas to be mooted, developed (discarded) and modified in a safe and highly creative environment. Relevant information and perspectives are readily available from multiple sources both from within and without the organisation and organisational friction is minimised as people feel free to work up and down the hierarchy without overt reference to formal position or role description. In this context, creative-thinking is incentivised and rewarded with the respect of one’s peers and the process of innovation is ‘de-personalised’ as projects, models and approaches rapidly becomes the property of everyone. The relationship with ‘Risk’ (the bogey-man of previous levels) transforms at this level. Rather than a factor to be addressed and managed (often managed ‘out’), risk becomes a useful component of the bigger picture as it helps people distil discrete value propositions for key stakeholders and informs the iterative design process as implementation progresses. In this context, risk starts to play an important role ‘signposting’ progress as the profile evolves. Open-and creative discussions around risk also helps keep program implementation targeted and true to the initial policy-motivation and to real-world impacts. Critically, as common-goals and program value is progressively (re)defined in forms both internal and external stakeholders can identify with, the resources available to the project increase beyond those immediately available within any given organisational context. When this last outcome occurs, a critical step-change has been achieved and the self- perpetuating dynamic that characterises this level of operational effectiveness comes fully into play. As stakeholders identify their own and their institutional interests with a project, resource- constraints recede as a determining factor of project design and implementation and the scope for mutually-reinforcing creative-thinking by the people driving the project expands. This in turn expands the scope for proactive engagement 10 Solving the challenge of the over-worked, overwhelmed, highly distractible public servant
  11. 11. with risk and the identification and articulation of value. With an ever-clearer and more targeted conception of the value-proposition for key stakeholders (and resource-holders) people are incentivised to release further resources to the project, once again opening the scope of creative- thinking, and the self-generating dynamic kicks-in. With this dynamic operational, energetic, motivated and tightly interconnected teams (often cross-sectoral and cross-institutional) naturally coalesce around and drive innovation in all areas of the organisation. This approach, once embedded in an organisational context, is contagious. It is particularly attractive because it tends to cause people to play to their strengths, something people love to do. In this environment, people are pulled to make available the skills, temperaments, personal resources and attributes they bring to work with them, but which are often under-utilised. Staff satisfaction with work can be extremely high at this level of operation. Profoundly innovative and viable opportunities become realisable that, without this dynamic in place, were previously (literally) unimaginable. At this operational mode, trust acts a bit like a currency that is carefully husbanded, traded and most importantly, banked as capital. In a well- operating organisational market-place, trust (well- spent) serves to eliminate most organisational friction and, like other forms of capital, can substantially increase the returns (more trust) available from functions that were already operating reasonably well. The effect is somewhat like that of a mechanical ‘Flywheel’: energy stored in the slow building of relationships and creative discussion (often through the process of transitioning through level 3) can be expended in short, extremely productive bursts to produce truly fantastic, and seemingly instantaneous, results. For the public service leader committed to growing the level of effectiveness of their teams and institutions, seeing this dynamic come into existence is intensely rewarding. However, it also requires of them a fundamental change in their role; a transition that can be personally challenging but one that, if not achieved well, will undermine the stability of this operational level very quickly. That change is the shift from a manager responsible for content (outcomes), to a leader responsible for context (operating state) as well as content! This requires a new conception of leadership and engagement, but it also requires a willingness to ‘step-back’ from some of the emotional perks of leadership. A second risk that presents itself to the public sector leader at this operating level is the (generally unnoticed) adoption in the conversational environment of a self- congratulatory sense of a ‘journey completed’ allied to an implicit sense of superiority. People can begin to relate to the transition of the institution as complete and to look at other sectors (especially those still operating in the previous, ‘messy’ level of operation) with disdain hidden in words of advice and wisdom. At this level, it is more important than ever for people to remember that the fundamental context of a large organisation such as a public sector bureaucracy is institutional self-preservation (the psychopathic context). If the new modes of engagement and institutional momentum are not carefully nurtured, progress can be lost very quickly. 5. Networked Despite the exciting progress accomplished at the previous level, yet higher operating states can be observed in some large and small public and private institutions. At the Functionally Networked operating level, drawing analogies with the internal practices and culture of some major private sector corporations such as Apple or Google (or Lulu Lemon and Atlassian in the Australian context) is instructive. A common characteristic of this level of operation is that, no matter how big the institution, people report their experience to be one of working in a 11Solving the challenge of the over-worked, overwhelmed, highly distractible public servant
  12. 12. small, interconnected and supportive community. The progressive reconfiguration of the role of organisational boundaries observed at previous levels comes to fruition here. While at previous levels, structural (institutional) boundaries and cultural (operational) boundaries were coterminous, at this level from an operational perspective, organisational boundaries tend to fade into the background leaving only the bones of the institution to guide and direct the flow of operational behaviour and thinking. Organisational boundaries begin to occur like markers between functions rather than definitional indicators of roles and responsibilities. This evolution in the fundamental influence of the organisational structure embeds the kind of fluid ecosystem of operational units we saw come into existence at the previous level. The fundamentally hierarchical operating structure of public institutions does not disappear. It continues to provide the framework for defining individual roles and accountabilities, and linking policy with definable outcomes. Nonetheless, in a Functionally Networked operating environment the way things are done has shifted dramatically, with a substantial increase in both efficiency and effectiveness and scope for very rapid turn-around between conception and delivery. Indeed, one of the more easily recognisable features of an entity operating at this level is the criteria upon which people are assessed for inclusion or exclusion from project or policy teams. The institutional role and position of individuals becomes simply one of a number of attributes associated with them rather than a defining characteristic of their potential contribution. In this environment, traditional organisational siloes disappear and the energy released powers new levels of trust and innovation. Cross organisational and cross-sectoral adaptive groupings continually spring-up upon the identification of new problems and possibilities. The framing of a challenge or a possibility is inherently fluid and the discursive response naturally flows to where the greatest level of interest and capacity lie. The opportunities for individual leadership are extensive and stepping into them requires very little internal political capital or hierarchical backing. This level sees the self- generating dynamic of innovation and momentum discussed in the previous level embedded into the organisational framework rather than being something people do ‘despite’ their institutional environment. At this level, and for the first time, the institution itself is largely reimagined. This reflects and catalyses a profound change in the kinds of discussions that can and do occur within the organisation; one that most of us desperately hanker for and one that fulfils on the reason most of us initially entered public service. Previously, the institution itself (or rather the institutional environment) provided the foundational context in which all discussion occurred. Without the fundamental reimagining that occurs somewhere on the path of evolution between this and previous operating level, the psychopathic Pole of Attraction introduced at the beginning of this paper inevitably frames all discussions within the enterprise. This includes every aspect of engagement both social and professional and it cannot be avoided, only accounted for. At the level of Network Functionality, and for the first time, the role of the institution itself is reimagined and fades into the background as the distinguishing feature of engagement within, between and across instructions. The consequence of this is that the context in which discussions occur also shifts, opening new possibilities we are only starting to explore . 1 One of the most obvious, and positive, indications that an institutional environment has shifted to a Functionally Networked operating state is that people are willing to explore and dwell-in the real impacts of institutional decision-making at all levels and in all spheres of the organisation’s operations. This may seem like a self-referential statement as making a positive impact in the real-world is what government exists to do. It is certainly something most of us strive to achieve in our-day-to-day work. However, the reality is that despite the best-of intentions until the structural shift from a multi- layered to a Functionally Networked operating state occurs, internally-oriented processes will invariably trump externally-oriented impacts. As 12 Solving the challenge of the over-worked, overwhelmed, highly distractible public servant
  13. 13. discussed earlier, in the context of an inherent psychopathic operating environment (page 4), until the fundamental relationship people have with the institution shifts ALL discussions within an institution (both professional and social) occur within a reference of self-preservation. This is not to say that longer-term outcomes and a relatively broad definition of social value cannot guide bureaucratic outcomes at lower operating levels, but that directing institutional effort (and capital) towards these goals requires quite substantial and continued effort. Something any committed public administrator and leader can attest to. The good news is that, from a policy and program development and delivery perspective, the self- generating dynamic of innovation and momentum that came to fruition at the previous level becomes at this level, the natural state of interaction. The preservation of institutional structures as a guiding principal disappears as a context for engagement and the experience of what is possible through public service starts to fulfil on the impulse that led so many of us to choose this as a career-path in the first place. At its most basic level this means that access-to-resources concerns simply disappear from the lexicon and there comes into existence a belief that, with good ideas and the right people, the resources required will simply become available as they are needed, and invariably they do. For a public sector leader, the key to maintaining this operating level is to ongoingly notice it and to consciously compare it to what came before and what probably exists around you in other institutions/working groups. This operational state makes work a real buzz, but it also quickly becomes the water-you-swim-in and thus unremarkable. That many of the individuals and stakeholder groups you work with do not experience this operating state can be hard to recognise because the distinctions between levels 4 and 5 are largely internal (organisational operating structure and processes remain essentially indistinguishable). At this level, the key mistake people make is not noticing and managing these differences. Failing to notice, or failing to appropriately ameliorate the internal narrative leads to personal disappointment and to seemingly inexplicable hurdles and dislocation in work relationships that bleed into internal working arrangements and rapidly undermine the operating state. To maintain this level, staff morale and personal growth must become the absolute and primary focus of every person in the entity, especially the hierarchical leadership. In fact, at this level maintaining this operating state and focussing on the internal experience of the people working in it will become the key, and almost only, real responsibility of the organisational leader. This is a major shift in the definition of leadership from previous levels and requires an extremely high level of empathy and humility to be adequately fulfilled. 6. Super-Networked It is difficult to ascertain the degree to which this level of operation exists in an institutional context but the outlines of its operational style are increasingly becoming clear as people and organisations push up against this operating level. There are pockets of truly extraordinary institutional engagement and effectiveness that have unique but consistent characteristics and seem to fit the evolutionary paradigm that has been identified for the previous five levels. At the Super-Networked operational level, the organisational structure is relegated to providing an administrative and governance function only, with extremely limited strategic carriage in terms of policy and project development and delivery. This represents yet another shift in terms of what it actually means to be embedded in, and represent an organisation. It is still difficult to ascertain exactly what this means from the perspective of the individual working in that organisation, but the ramifications from a procedural perspective are much easier to identify and describe. Firstly, many of the distinctions we implicitly rely on to define the parameters of institutional engagement seem to be inverted or disappear entirely. This includes dichotomies such: ‘work’ and ‘play’, ‘public’ and ‘private’ or ‘senior’ and ‘officer’ 13Solving the challenge of the over-worked, overwhelmed, highly distractible public servant
  14. 14. (junior) roles. In particular, the content of the terms ‘hierarchy’ and ‘leadership’ seems to shift completely in level 6 operating environments. In a natural progression from the previous level, operational outcomes are achieved iteratively by progress through a fluid ecosystem of overlapping teams, individuals and groups with little reference to institutional or hierarchical position. These networks operate within and across sectors in pursuit of a dynamic set of public goods and outcomes that are continually being developed, reinforced and retired through engagement with multiple levels of society and government. Again, this does not mean that the hierarchical structure disappears or dissipates in any way. To the contrary, hierarchical relationships remain extremely important, but their functional reality changes substantially. As in lower levels of operational effectiveness, responsibility for the delivery and development of services and programs remains largely embedded in the middle and lower echelons of the hierarchy. What is new at this level of operational effectiveness is that decision-making and operational authority finally come together within the ambit of this ‘fluid ecosystem of overlapping teams, individuals and groups’ - a network that consists, overwhelmingly of people positioned at the lower levels of the organisational hierarchy. In effect, this means that the most important decisions regarding policy-direction, resource distribution and key internal procedural decisions such as hiring/firing, remuneration and performance management rests with people at what we would now distinguish as at-or-below the middle management level. It must be remembered that the realignment of operational and decision-making authority described here, and its ramifications in terms of the devolution of authority within the administration of public goods, does not occur particularly revolutionary in the context of what is only a minor step-change from the level 5 operating environment. It does however represent a revolutionary change from the perspective of the lower operating environments where the majority of Australia’s public sector institutions current sit (Levels, 2,3 and occasionally level 4). Indeed, from the perspective of people who do not have experience working in a level 5 (Functionally Networked) operating environment, what we are seeing as the outlines of the level 6 operating environment challenge our fundamental conceptions of what is possible within an hierarchically-organised entity premised on the appropriate distribution of public-goods . 2 At this stage, it is worth outlining a couple of the key ramifications of the potential the realisation of this operating state provides because, in each case, the ‘bones’ of this evolution can already be observed within Australian public institutions. Firstly, it is reasonable to expect that remuneration structures will follow this effective devolution of responsibility, though at a slower rate than the cultural and functional changes underpinning them. The initial stages of this evolution have been initiated in the Australian context and are well- advanced in some international jurisdictions. These include: the increasing transition from permanent to contract-based staffing arrangements; well- advanced discussions around the inclusion of performance-based pay for public servants (a framework that is already well-established in some American and European environments) and; the progressive revaluation of technical and skills-based expertise with commensurate pay- scales that are not referenced to the traditional hierarchical pay-grade system . 3 Secondly, in a Super Networked operating environment dysfunction manifests in a profoundly different way than at lower levels. Rather than being referenced to a systemic failing, dysfunction is directly referenced to a set of personal (not organisational) characteristics. This represents and reflects a profound alteration in the experience of working in an institution operating at this level. At previous levels (at least up to level 4) referencing personal behaviour and states-of-being divorced from the implicit protection of an institutional role is inherently alien to the way we conceive of institutional work except in the most extreme cases (e.g. explicitly corrupt or inappropriate behaviour). 14 Solving the challenge of the over-worked, overwhelmed, highly distractible public servant
  15. 15. However, at this level of operation, referencing dysfunction to the individual becomes spontaneous and commonplace. This dynamic represents a natural progression on the steadily rising requirement for personal integrity observed from at least the Multi-Layered Engagement level (level 4). At the Super Networked level of operation, it becomes virtually impossible to ‘hide’ any divergence between espoused and expressed values. At this level, there exists a permanent and very public operational dynamic that ensures any divergence has an immediate and measurable effect on the work environment, an effect that has real and immediate impacts on people who are in a position to remark and react. The dynamic is very simple. People instinctively withhold the gift of trust from people whose actions are not aligned with their personal or the collective understanding of appropriate values. In an operating environment where trust in relationships is the primary currency of interaction, people who are disempowered, dissatisfied or frustrated simply cannot be trusted to the degree required to maintain the ambient level of functionality extant in a level 6 operating environment. Over-time, as trust is withheld from particular individuals, their ability to effectively engage decreases and they are progressively excluded from effective input. In the extremely dynamic and creative environment that exists at this operating level, such exclusion shows-up very quickly and must be promptly dealt with or risk impacting the operating effectiveness of the whole group. One positive of this dynamic is that at this operating level it becomes difficult to hide emotions such as upset or anger (or depression) from colleagues . 4 BENEFITS OF AN EMBEDDED TRAINING APPROACH Best-practice learning is achieved on-the-job not in the class-room, so, to be effective, professional development for public sector staff should be structured around embedding the distinctions and lessons of Bureaucratic Intrepreneurship in daily work over an extended period. We know that people learn in multiple ways and that the average person needs to hear or see a concept at least seven times before they truly understand it. Training consequently needs to be tailored to maximise the opportunities for your staff to learn, practice and display the distinctions being taught. At the heart of a learning regime of this nature should, wherever possible, be real programs and outcomes. If a leader wants to move their teams and organisations from Multilevel (level 3) to Multi-layered (level 4) engagement it is critical that their staff are ‘on-the-hook’ to deliver outcomes using the new approaches, and that they have the opportunity to do so with others who are grappling with the same challenges. As the role of government evolves, so too does the role of the public sector leader. In an increasingly competitive environment, keeping you and your teams empowered and equipped to deal with evolving challenges is critical. Using Bureaucratic Intreprenership methodologies and approaches will help you to accomplish this. 15Solving the challenge of the over-worked, overwhelmed, highly distractible public servant
  16. 16. A BUREAUCRATIC INTREPRENEURSHIP TRAINING PROGRAM Built off twenty-years’ experience in the adult education, not-for-profit and public sectors, this program is aimed at unearthing and developing entrepreneurial and leadership talent in organisations and teams. The equivalent to a Company Directors’ course for public servants, this package represents the ultimate professional development program for rising stars in public administration. As the role of government evolves, so too does the role of the public sector leader. In an increasingly competitive environment, keeping you and your teams empowered and equipped to deal with evolving challenges is critical. As a leader, this program will help you develop and embed the entrepreneurial skills required of modern public sector employees in your staff and teams and further your career. It gives you confidence your staff will have the skills and support they need to be focussed, proactive contributors to the development and delivery of government policy in your department(s). As a participant, the program provides the tools and training required to remain focussed and be effective and influential in a rapidly changing environment and advance your career. The program is delivered in 90, 180 or 360 day components. Each component is built around a core set of distinctions that complement each other and form a complete 360-degree overview of what it means to understand, practice and eventually implement the skills of an entrepreneur in a public sector organisation. Ask for a Bureaucratic Intrepreneurship Training Prospectus or contact Sonny Neale if you would like to know more about the training programs that are available. Bespoke one, two or three full or half-day programs can be delivered according to the specific needs of your staff, circumstances and organisation. Solving the challenge of the over-worked, overwhelmed, highly distractible public servant16
  17. 17. Sonny Neale is a coach, mentor and trainer for public sector and not-for-profit entities. He is passionate about the potential entrepreneurial thinking can bring to public administration. Through his work with local, state and federal government agencies and statutory bodies, Sonny has experienced first-hand the truly extraordinary results passionate public sector leaders and teams can achieve when they have access to the right skills and training. He is obsessed with the role government and the not-for profit sector has to play in solving contemporary social challenges and believes the potential for creative, innovative and transformational thinking and engagement in the public sector around the world has only begun to be show itself. Starting in adult education, Sonny has twenty years’ experience as a manager and leader in the public and not-for-profit sectors including five years leading Australia’s largest PEAK Local Government Sustainability Alliance (CVGA). Landmark accomplishments include playing a key role bringing the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) to Australia, managing advocacy programs (Southern States) for the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) and leading the federal Government’s SME renewable energy research program. In these roles Sonny leveraged his position to create a range of extremely innovative projects including the country’s largest-ever street-lighting infrastructure upgrade (through 16 municipalities) and a national, award-winning Emergency Management Mentoring Program in partnership with Australian Army, Federal Police and all state governments bar WA (endorsed through the Council of Australian Governments). Sonny continues to write on inter-government collaboration and delivers coaching and training programs, as well supporting the development and delivery of innovative public sector programs. MORE ABOUT THE AUTHOR Please contact me if you would like to know more about the Bureaucratic Intrepreneurial Training Program and approach or specifically what it might take to move your teams and organisation through the Stages of Effectiveness. www.sonnyneale.com www.linkedin.com/in/sonnyneale sonny@sonnyneale.com 0409 937 916 17Solving the challenge of the over-worked, overwhelmed, highly distractible public servant
  18. 18. We Care But You’re Responsible. So please be sure to take specialist advice before taking on any of the ideas. This white paper is general in nature and not meant to replace any specific advice. Sonny Neale disclaims all and any liability to any persons whatsoever in respect of anything done by any person in reliance, whether in whole or in part, on this whitepaper. COPYRIGHT © SONNY NEALE 2017 You have permission to post, email, print and pass along this white paper for free to anyone you like, as long as you make no changes or edits to its content or digital format. To reproduce the content in any form, electronic or otherwise, you must have the permission of the author. We reserve the right to publish this material in other forms and formats for distribution or re-sale. REFERENCES • Bailey, TS, McLinton, SS, Dollard, MF. (2013). ‘Psychosocial risk factors for stress and stress claim differences between the public and private sectors’, Human resource management in the public sector, Publisher: Edward Elgar Publishing Limited (UK), pp.63-89. • D’Aleo, N., P. Stebbins, R. Lowe, D. Lees and D. Ham (2007), ‘Managing workplace stress: psychosocial hazard risk profiles in public and private sector Australia’, Australian Journal of Rehabilitation Counselling, 13 (2), 68–87. • Kryger, T. (2006), The Incredible Shrinking Public Sector, Report, Australia: Information and Research Services, Parliamentary Library. • Martin, S. and D. Parker (1997), The Impact of Privatisation, London: Routledge. McKenna, D. (1995). • Richard N. Haass (1999), The Bureaucratic Entrepreneur: How to Be Effective in Any Unruly Organization, Brookings Institution Press (US). • Prof. Peter Shergold AC, (2015); Learning from Failure: Why large government policy initiatives have gone so badly wrong in the past and how the chances of success in the future can be improved, Australian Public Service Commission – Report from the independent review of Government processes for the development and implementation of large public programmes and projects. Solving the challenge of the over-worked, overwhelmed, highly distractible public servant18
  19. 19. 1. There are very few institutions that have made the transition to level 5 operational effectiveness. Some have but it can be difficult to recognise them because the differences are largely expressed in the internal relationships between people and things, while organisational structures and processes remain more-or- less unchanged. The best examples of level 5 institutional operations that I know of exist in some of the northern Italian regional and municipal governments with a smattering in north American not-for-profit and smaller government agencies. There are certainly others, but as indicated here, they can be very hard to spot. 2. Two particularly interesting, and optimistic, consequences of the potential realisation of this operational state is that: it seems likely that moral and ethical criteria become more naturally linked to the processes that result in the functional distribution of public goods, and; secondly, engagement with public administration starts to provide real scope for the growth and expansion of the human spirit (another way of saying that the ‘psychopathic’ tendency of the institution no longer represents a Pole of Attraction within the institutional environment). 3. It is worth noting that everything described here in the context of employment in a level 6 operating environment already exists in a limited form in Australian public sector entities operating at much lower levels. This includes an increasing number of people whose careers increasingly consist of regular, limited- term contracts with a generally limited number of institutions with substantial policy cross-over who are employed because they exhibit key skills and attributes of interest to the institution. These contracts are usually situated near the bottom of the organisational hierarchy but exhibit almost all the characteristics of a level 6 operating state including being: directly accountable for specific outcomes; provided with a surprising high level of effective decision-making authority and; paid substantially more than their hierarchically-equivalent peers (and increasingly more than their managers). Expect to see a great deal more of this! 4. A fascinating and confronting corollary of this public requirement for personal integrity is that the traditional flow of accountability from the bottom to the top of the institution is functionally reversed. At this operating level, the more senior a leader, the more likely they are to be held to account by people lower in the hierarchy than they are, further entrenching the inversion of current traditional institutional norms. An appropriate analogy that describes this dynamic is the traditional coach/coachee relationship. The hierarchical framing of this relationship is foundational to its existence but the kind of authority embedded within it is very different from more traditional conceptions of the scope and limits of hierarchical authority. For example, the coach is expected to provide both the framework in which a coaching conversation occurs and the relevant distinctions, yet they have no authority to command or require any actions of the coachee. Conversely, the coachee provides all the content but has no authority to question the coach. END NOTES 19Solving the challenge of the over-worked, overwhelmed, highly distractible public servant
  20. 20. NOTES Solving the challenge of the over-worked, overwhelmed, highly distractible public servant

Building Entrepreneurial Talent in the Public sector

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