The public sector has adapted to the crisis commendably, while offering a vision for the future

The public sector has been forced to adapt to COVID-19 more than any other. Meeting the needs of citizens has never been more crucial, whether that means delivering frontline healthcare, enhancing social service supports, teaching children remotely, or facilitating funding for businesses to continue trading.

This has required enormous effort, involving a near-instant adaptation of processes and structures, introduction of new technologies, and reallocation of talent, yet public servants across the globe have taken these challenges in their stride. Thanks to their efforts, while we may never return to the old ‘normal’, we can tentatively look forward to the new.

For public services leaders, significant opportunities beckon. The response to the current crisis has shown that fast, powerful, and positive people transformation is possible within public sector organizations. It offers a blueprint for investment that goes beyond allocating budget to new tools and revised structures designed to improve the citizen experience, to enhancing the experience and contributions of public sector workers themselves.

Tomorrow’s public sector must be smart and adaptable to remain effective

A citizen’s experience of public services is defined by face-to-face contact with public servants, as well as via digital channels. However, even after large swathes of the economy have incorporated automation, it is almost certain that the public will still demand people-centric public services.

While some processes can, have, and will be automated, citizens still want many of their services to incorporate tangible, physical human interactions. They want to be able to digitally apply for a passport or submit their taxes, but still deeply value face-to-face contact, be it receiving medical assistance from a nurse, engaging with police officers to gain peace of mind or the inclusion of social, classroom-based approaches in their children’s education.

While standalone process and technology investments go some way to enhancing citizen service experiences, people-centric investments, which incorporate new technology and processes in a holistic way, provide much more engrained improvements. Well-organized, flexible, and innovative workplaces attract and retain public servants that are more skilled. They are happier and more productive, which is not only beneficial for employees, but also helps them continue to meet the public’s needs and demands.

What’s more, people-centric improvements will also help public services better weather an uncertain future. Whether the next crisis is a pandemic, climate change, or something entirely unprecedented, public services must be flexible, innovative, and resilient, ready to assist in the subsequent recovery. A focus on public servant experience enables this.

A powerful, organizational approach to public sector change management

The change management approaches required to unleash the benefits of public servant experience already exist. Many may already have been implemented due to the pandemic, but all require embedding.

  • Support and develop staff – Balance specialist and generalist roles to provide career opportunities, provide training to ensure continual skills development, and ensure the wellbeing of staff. This will improve retention and help public servants become innovative problem solvers, as opposed to process followers.
  • Reallocate talent and funds – By automating roles that do not depend on a people-centric service, you can reallocate budget and upskill staff to services where caseloads are high, enhancing working conditions while improving service levels.
  • New ways of working – Public sector employees must be provided with collaboration tools, unified systems, precise data and analytics, and overarching work and HR processes that support new and improved work patterns, as opposed to replicating traditional approaches digitally. Efforts must span the physical and digital to ensure public servants can work flexibly and contentedly while providing adaptable, efficient services.
  • Adopt interdepartmental approaches – Revise multi-agency structures so service users can have their needs reliably and easily met, even if these span multiple departments.

As we celebrate the achievements of our public servants, it’s time for positive transformation within the sector that goes beyond efforts purely focused on citizen experience. By acting now, we can improve the public servant experience while simultaneously bolstering public service provision. This will establish and normalize a bold, new approach that improves productivity, job satisfaction, employee wellbeing and resilience – a blueprint for tomorrow’s public services and workplaces.

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  • Andrew Montgomery

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  • Andrew Montgomery