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Thursday, 8 May 2014

What's limiting transformation in the public sector?

by Vik Maraj

Photo: Do you think the public sector could use to be transformed? What is limiting these changes? In a recent blog post, Vik Maraj looks at some of the barriers to transformation in government. For instance, the hierarchical paradigm that exists, representation, as well as reporting requirements and appearances. Has this been true from your experience? Is there anything that can be done to change this scenario? Visit the IPAC Impact Blog to join the conversation, and come see Vik as a Thought Leader at the IPAC Conference 2014 in Edmonton June 1-4, 2014! #IPAC2014

Vik will be a thought leader at #IPAC2014. To learn more visit:

Three things you should know about transforming the public sector:

  1. The public sector can’t shake the inherited paradigm of hierarchy. All iterations of government have been conceived inside a hierarchical paradigm of leadership; this forms a “lid” on people’s ability to say what matters and impairs effective decision-making due to a lack of quality and truthful information.

  2. The public sector ranks behind the Canadian workforce in representing the various types of people that comprise it.

  3. The degree of reporting required and restrictions on communication have led to a sensitivity to “looking bad” and “getting in trouble” that now dominate employees’ thoughts when they are about to communicate.

Three myths about transforming the public sector:

Myth #1: Good leaders need to tell more than they listen and are weak if they say, “I don’t know”. Ordering followers is synonymous with leadership.

The Reality: While a hierarchical mindset is appropriate for a crisis, it is woefully mismatched for an environment requiring stable, complex, and collaborative decision-making. Because of this mismatch, our public sector is now dealing with the inevitable fall out in the form of silos, grievance payouts, a lack of transparency, a lack of truth to power, risk aversion, and a lack of appeal to youth. All this happens in an environment where leaders and the people they lead are in a continuous survival mindset; this leaves very little room for creativity, innovation, or aliveness!

Myth #2: Different looking people from different places who have different abilities will infuse our governments with different thinking.

The Reality: At face value this is valid. However, if you look at the diversity that currently exists in the public sector (or anywhere) you might discover that the diversity that we currently have has not brought any real breakthroughs in the way we as a government “think”. Not that we should stop moving to a representative work force, just don’t think that we will be much better off in the way we think. Humans tend to think the same way, and regardless of ethnicity, gender, disability, or otherwise, most people will still think from, “I’m right, you’re wrong.”, “blame”, “fault”, and the ultimate default thinking of humanity - “I’m not responsible”. Until our energies go towards transforming the current condition of BEING human no amount of new “people” or program renewals will make any significant difference in thinking and, therefore, outcomes.

Myth #3: When someone screws up we better implement organization-wide policies to make sure no one repeats it. More forms to fill out and decreased authority levels is smart. More organizational control and reporting is the necessary knee-jerk reaction to big mistakes.

The Reality: This is the automatic response to all mistakes and it is why we are mired in layers of unnecessary process and red tape. It is akin to catching your son lying and instituting a family-wide policy that insists on two witnesses that corroborate whatever ANYONE says in the future – including the rest of the family that did not lie. It transcends absurdity. These responses are lazy remedies that get quick wins in the public eye and place more dead weight on our employees that limit what they are good at. And culture is at the source of all of this. Leaders must deal with themselves and the culture that they traffic in and perpetuate. Don’t blame the fish if they’re dying – look at the water, look at yourself. And no one does this personal transformative work better than Landmark Worldwide.

Vik Maraj consults on leadership and cultural transformation, is a Partner at Unstoppable Conversations, and a TEDx and International Speaker. His clients have ranged from the United Way to the United Nations; from the First Nations of Nunavut to the Government of Dubai. He has broken a deadlocked 4 Billion dollar international impasse on Carbon Capture and Sequestration and taught negotiation and hostage negotiation to the RCMP. And at the most human level, Vik has permanently and positively transformed the relationships, quality of life, and futures of communities, organizations, families. Find him on LinkedIn and Twitter (@vikmaraj).

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