Phil Minns FAHRI, the NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet’s deputy secretary, government and people group, shares his views on how change can be achieved in the public sector and what characteristics leaders need to do so.
Q. You’re speaking at the Public Sector HR Conference on Tuesday 19 August. What do you see as essential characteristics leaders need today to drive real change?
Organisations need a compelling vision about why things should be made better and how to start doing it; they need persistence in the face of good times and bad.
Leaders need humility that enables them to seek advice and listen to it. They need balance in themselves and the top team because people are looking for more than a coherent strategy; they’re also after human warmth and a sense that leaders will defend them when they need support.
Finally, they also need personal integrity, so that they act with the intent of a steward of the organisation, looking after the interests of its customers, its citizens and its people – it was only on loan to their care for a while.
Q. What is the role of HR in achieving change across the public sector?
As a profession, I would like HR to call itself culture and performance because it’s at the intersection of these two things that we add the most value.
In my experience, the best department secretaries and CEOs are concerned with how culture is impacting performance and therefore service, innovation, efficiency and outcomes in the public sector; along with profit, customer satisfaction, brand value and shareholder value in the private sector.
After the CEO, we have the next best reason to be concerned about how workplace experience and the resultant culture is impacting organisational performance. That’s why it’s such a great role.
Q. You’ve been responsible for initiatives to address cultural change in the public sector. What are your insights from this experience that would benefit other practitioners?
I believe that there are three simple themes:
- To lead cultural change in an organisation, you have to be certain of your role and motivation. This idea relates back to personal integrity. Ask yourself two questions: what is my mandate for leading this change and what are my personal objectives and motivations?
- Is the top team fully committed? If so, how did they become committed? This idea goes back to the theme of ‘assumptions are best avoided’ in the world of organisational change programs. A top team is only fully committed if they bear the scars of the data-driven debates that informed and framed the change strategy. If there was no contest of ideas about the problem, the options in response and the competing futures for the organisation, you can objectively determine that they’re not committed… because it was too easy.
- Organisational change isn’t an abstract construction; it’s in peoples’ faces and it’s personal. People are constantly searching for evidence that supports the message about ‘why we must change’ and ‘to what’. They are often more inclined to sift the available data for the evidence that disproves the necessity or integrity of the message. So you have to ‘be the change’ that you’re seeking to ‘make happen’. Another way to imagine this idea is to reflect on how discordant another grand change program can be with your people. If this change is really about a new approach, conduct the change program in new ways that signal this reality.
Phil Minns will be at the Public Sector HR Conference, 19 August 2014, speaking on a panel about ‘Strategic HR leadership in the public sector’. Registrations close 7 August 2014.
Read Phil Minns’ views on achieving real change in the diversity space in HRMonthly’s August 2014 issue.