Peak 1: Vision—Defining and Communicating the “Why”
Defining the why of public sector transformation efforts can be tricky owing to two fundamental features of public sector organizations: they serve many masters who have many different goals.
That is, while for-profit companies may have multiple stakeholders, public sector actors have especially large and heterogeneous assortments of constituents. In public education, for example, stakeholders include students and families, teachers and teachers unions, school administrators, private suppliers, public and private funders, political parties, and local authorities.
Likewise, while private, for-profit organizations are typically oriented toward a single, ultimately monetary objective such as “sustainable value creation” or “cash,” the public sector must address multiple, sometimes conflicting, objectives that can be subject to rapid, politically driven change.
In the face of these challenges, establishing the vision for a public sector transformation requires a great deal more effort than for a private sector one.
Ensuring Legitimacy and Building the Case for Change
Employees need to be convinced at the outset both that the case for change is compelling and that the change effort enjoys support from the top levels of the organization. In the public sector, a transformation effort must have legitimacy with the public as well. Building both the internal and the external cases for change entails a number of steps:
- Assessing social needs and citizen expectations by drawing upon a full range of quantitative and qualitative sources—such as public data and reports, benchmarks, academic studies, press reports, feedback from both citizens and other ministries and/or levels of government. In its work with public sector clients, BCG also uses its proprietary MindDiscovery approach to move beyond traditional focus groups to capture customers’ needs, desires, and attitudes.
- Anticipating possible obstacles and identifying the main barriers to change
- Aligning decision makers at the highest political and administrative levels to gain visibility and help maintain commitment over the long term
- Drawing lessons from past failures of similar reforms and policies
- Building employee, citizen, and other stakeholder consensus on the need for action
- Defining both how digital disruption is affecting service delivery and the goals and expected gains of digitizing processes
Setting, Prioritizing, and Communicating Clear Objectives
With legitimacy established, public sector leaders need to address both their internal and their external constituencies by:
- Defining and communicating clear, ambitious but tangible, measurable goals, with timelines for reaching them
- Explaining expected results
Peak 2: Design—Creating Policy and Action Plans
In the next phase of a public sector transformation, organizational leadership must translate the vision into action.
In transforming the way government delivers services, public sector actors must focus on delivering value for citizens, a concept that involves both the quality of service and its cost. One example of value-based public-policy is value-based health care, which taps existing data on health-treatment outcomes to identify and disseminate evidence-based best practices proven to work. Such an approach unites all the stakeholders in medicine around a shared objective and transparent goals.
The same value-based lens for public policy could, for example, be used to measure and improve outcomes in education, public safety, and social policy, among many others.
Policies should also be designed for both short- and long-term impact. Short-term results are especially important for convincing both citizens and public employees that it is indeed possible to transform the way government provides public services.
And they must be designed from the start for both sustainability and scalability, keeping internal and external constraints clearly in mind.
Finally—and critically, given the special challenges the public sector faces—the policies must be designed to be implementable.