Archive for the 'Public Sector' Category


I spoke yesterday at HRINZ on change and HR. It was version 1.o of some thinking I’ve started on these two topics. It was a start. One of upsides of the current economic turmoil is that its forcing individuals and organisations to think again about ‘value’.

I often encounter unflattering comments about HR’s value from senior and line managers in organisations. I wonder if HR has become overly preoccupied with process, systems, tools, technologies and frameworks.  It reminded me of the IT industry. And led me to thinking about how pervasively we use the web today. It’s a long way from the IT industry I knew in the late 80’s.

The internet has transformed itself from simply a transport mechanism into something that delivers real value to people. The current term being used is Web2.0.

Web2.0 is about technology:

  • as a platform for it’s users to create individual value (eg Flickr)
  • as an architecture of participation (eg blogging)
  • as a means of harnessing collective intelligence (eg Wikipedia)
  • providing users with a rich user experience (eg RSS)
  • letting users pull information to meet their immediate demands (eg Google)

WEb2.0 has lead to an exponential rise in the use and creativity of the web. No change management plan here!

What would HR2.0 look like?

As a starter I’d suggest that HR 2.0 could:

  • insist managers are responsible for achievement of goals aligned with the overall strategic intent of the organisation.
  • let individual managers decide what they need (from HR and others) to achieve those goals. And who, when and how those needs are met.
  • focus at least 70% of their effort and resources (budget) on meeting the individual in-action needs of managers striving to achieve clear goals.
  • work within an organisational framework of clear values, culture and shared sense of accountability.
  • offer a suite of useful tools, frameworks and resources without advocating any.
  • inspire people to be bolder in their sense of possibility and potential.

Interested in talking with anyone interested in further developing this thinking.


Influence without Advocacy

I had a boss once who was a master of making you think it was your idea.

George was able to create the right  context. To get you thinking. To wait to recognise behaviours and conversations that seemed to be heading in the direction he wanted. He would ask great questions, which although leading didn’t appear to be driven by his agenda. He’d tell stories and leave them hanging, without explaining. He’d let others join the dots. But would take care in where the dots were. He built great relationships and others admired and respected him.

He didn’t lead with his position and agenda. When others would have. He could influence without advocating a position or agenda. He had them, but didn’t advocate them. He let others arrive at his conclusions. They were always their positions and their agendas. Without obvious positions and agenda, he was irresistable!

George made  subtlety work. With great questions and illuminating stories.

I’ve seen examples recently where well-meaning and genuine advocacy has polarised stakeholders.

Is advocacy as an influencing tool losing its effectiveness? Is it time for subtlety?


Trying to focus on achievership (the discipline formerly known as leadership!) by thinking of the questions that achievers should ask themselves daily.

  1. What is my personal purpose?
  2. What am I doing about it in terms of a personal mission?
  3. Who needs to be committed to achieving my mission?
  4. What needs to be done today to achieve my mission?
  5. Am I on course?

Looking at our world there seems to be plenty of challenges and opportunities to make a difference. Pick one. Get started.

Value for Money

VFM is a bit of a catch-cry at the moment. There’s a lot of talk, but I doubt whether any significant improvement in VFM will occur. For three reasons:

  1. Reducing head count and other resources puts more pressure on day-to-day operations and people have to pedal faster to keep up with business as usual. There is less time to think systemically about innovating and improving value from the public’s perspective.
  2. Reviewed budgets line-by-line while appearing to save money can actually result in cost increases elsewhere in the system.  So overall costs can go up. But more importantly missing the bigger opportunity to make larger system-wide improvement.
  3. And talking about the system … the wider political system is inherently highly risk averse. It would be a brave CE who would risk his reputation and career by being bold and failing.

To make significant improvements in VFM we need to:

  • think systemically about what’s happening and understand the demands placed on the organisation.
  • consider ‘value’ from the perspective of the consumers or public.
  • identify a limited number of focus areas (no more than 5) for significant improvement. (I hear, that even Microsoft has there 3 big bets!)
  • find ways to manage (rather than avoid) risk taking.

Interested in thoughts from the front lines.

Low tide

Lunch with a friend yesterday. Mentioned that it was interesting to observe the behaviours of some, when the tide goes out. He shared a personal experience of a public sector manager behaving unethically and probably illegally. Using power and position to disadvantage my friend. No doubt he rationalised it by thinking of the current economic situation.

It made me think of the character aspect of leadership. Some things illuminate character. Adversity for instance. It seems that many leaders stand out in times of adversity. Is it because they find their character? Is it because they have the opportunity to exercise their character? Is it that the character of others is exposed through negative behaviour (… and they stand out)?

Someone once said that you can judge a society by how it cares for it’s most vulnerable members. Ditto leaders. Judge leaders by how they behave towards others more vulnerable. When the times are tough. Anyone can look good on a rising tide, when things are going well. But for some, low tide is a different story.

Character boils down to behaviour. Having the courage of your convictions and treating others as you would be happy for them to treat you.

I believe that we all have a responsibility to robustly confront poor behavior by:

  • naming the specific behaviour
  • articulating the impact of that behaviour
  • telling the person how we feel about it.

Letting people get away with poor behaviour, only accepts and encourages it.

Inside the box

It’s a cliche today to “think outside the box”. Everyone seems to want creative, innovative ideas. Few are prepared to invest in making them happen though!

I had lunch with a friend last week who talked about her boss’s interest in thinking outside the box. Liz had a different point of view. Liz was passionate about the need for more thinking “inside the box”.

I have just finished reading John Seddon’s book “Systems Thinking in the Public Sector”. It’s a sobering critique of the British government’s reform agenda. He uses some compelling examples of how ideological approaches to improving public services are in fact increasing cost and lowering quality. He takes a systems approach and draws on the thinking of Edward Deming and Taiichi Ohno. Ohno was the developer of the Toyota Production System.

Anyway, here’s a quote from Ohno.

“Everything you need to know in order to make improvements will be found in your own system. If you go looking elsewhere, you will be looking in the wrong place”

Liz is right, lets think inside the box! I think Liz sees plenty of opportunities for improvement right in front of her.

a NZ leader

Over the last 9 years I’ve worked with many NZ organisations on communication and leadership. I’ll often ask “who do you think of as a great leader?” There has been only one organisation where the people answer with their own Chief Executive’s name! It is always the first name replied. That organisation is New Zealand Post and it’s CE John Allen. In fact people replied with his name before he became CE.

He’s about to leave NZ Post and become the Secretary of Foreign Affairs and Trade. A very interesting career move, that highlights a significant change to a new breed of public sector leaders.

There’s a great Radio NZ interview with John at:

I like what he’s saying about leadership. That it’s learnt, not taught. That it’s co-created, not individual. That it’s thoughtful, not about easy answers. Also the importance of advocacy, debate & diversity, and theatre.

Hope you get a chance to listen.

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