The public sector goes private.

As wretched as the economy is for many individuals and businesses right now, there are a few reassuring signs of intelligent movement.

Public sector organisations are starting to apply commercial thinking to service delivery and train their staff accordingly.  ‘Customer service’ was not a commonly used term until recently, if you tend to hang out in the hallowed halls of central or local government.  But now ‘users of public services’ are being given the recognition they deserve, as the consequence of ignoring them could be terminal.

The underlying reason for the enforced sea change is often financial.  Funding frequently now has to seen to be earned, by quality and timely delivery of whatever it is the organization does.  To survive in the public sector in the new era of austerity requires as much attention to ‘customer engagement’ as to costs and ticking boxes.

Perversely, private sector experience now becomes invaluable to public sector recruiters, and the supply of available expertise is increasing daily – for all the wrong reasons. 

Though born out of massive spending cuts, these attitudinal adjustments should be welcome.  Mould-breaking becomes easier when old ways show their cracks after even a modicom of scrutiny.  In truth, many new approaches simply demonstrate the application of common sense.  Reduce wastage, increase efficiency, make everyone in the organization accountable for their individual goals and innovate.  Then act fast if it isn’t working.

As reported elsewhere


in this blog space by Mike Barker, the North West is leading the way with the NHS harnessing the channels of social networking to make relationships with their ‘customers’ work more effectively.  Great credit must go to the public sector innovators who made it possible.  We all need more of this to happen, until it becomes embedded in the culture of everything we do and everything which is done for us.

I was asked recently by a very senior public sector executive whether ‘selling’  skills weren’t a little inappropriate for his role, where he had to work on sensitive issues with similarly senior executives from other public sector organisations. 

I suggested to him that a good day for him would be a resolution of a difficult situation, where the other party recognized that his hard work and his expertise had been a major contributing factor.  He agreed.  That would be a good day.

“Unfortunately”, I added, “the other party is not going to ask for your help in the first place unless someone ‘sells’ him the idea that your intervention is going to solve his problem.   And you have to sell even harder, if your prospective ‘buyer’ has a choice.”

This is a fairly common barrier in some public sector organisations, when the language of the private sector makes decision-makers feel uncomfortable.  It’s unfortunate that it’s taking some terrible economic circumstances to help sweep these barriers aside but we will collectively be the beneficiaries as these new approaches prevail.

It’s now a reality of life that every public sector body has to succeed in a world where ‘users’ are ‘customers’, expectations are high and response to failure is ruthless.




Ray Hanks