A dose of corporate reality for the public sector?

According to some, public sector leadership and management have been failing for some time. However, what has been all too apparent over the past couple of years is that many parts of the private sector were not performing much better. Until, that is, they had to.

The private sector has had nowhere to hide over the past two years and throughout the downturn businesses have had to raise their game to survive in what has turned out to be a real blood-on-the-streets recession.

Now the time has come for public sector reform and we are about to see how well-equipped public sector senior management teams are. The public sector will never look the same again.

However, the challenges faced by the public sector are not new; the same challenges have been faced by the private sector for the past few years.

What I would like to see is some of the larger public sector organisations learning from the lean-and-mean private sector. In the private sector, when redundancy rumours start, it’s always the best people we worry about losing – they’re the ones who can compete in the open marketplace and the only way to keep them is to have absolute clarity on the future direction of the organisation and the opportunities that will exist.

While the public sector has made headline news with stories of cuts, its counterparts in the private sector have been getting on and learning how to cope under significant pressure in terms of budget and manpower.

And the ones worth their salt have done so convincingly – they have continued to invest in meaningful development activities in terms of staff and the business as a whole, and have created space for their best people to get involved in shaping their future. Crucially, these companies have owned up to the fact that their leadership had got them into this mess in the first place, but have then developed that leadership and invested in it.

Behaviour in the private sector had to change, and change it did. Leaders have had to start listening to the people on the front lines and investing in processes that will make them more effective in future.

When the recession hit, companies took one of two lines of thought: some saw it as a golden opportunity to grow leadership through change and challenges; others slowed down and waited for the storm to pass. Public sector leaders cannot afford to be in the second camp.

The message for public sector organisations has to be that leadership and life go on, even during the tough times. And maybe this isn’t the time to be asking whether or not public sector employees can pick up jobs in the private sector, but rather whether or not this a time for talented, engaged, fresh-from-the-fight private sector leaders to step into the public sector, bringing a dose of corporate reality with them. Any takers?

James Pentreath is the founder of leadership development programme provider Leadership Consulting Partners. Leadership Consulting Partners has delivered its results-driven development programmes to large organisations including AXA, Visa, UBS and Betfair, and has a pool of consultants working on a global scale. Leadership Consulting Partners is also responsible for accrediting independent consultants, giving them the opportunity to deliver their programmes to new and existing clients, and also to employees who can then offer leadership and development interventions within their own organisation.

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