Lessons learned in the design of public sector organizations

We recently conducted a survey of over 20 senior public sector leaders in order to learn from their experience in the design of public sector organizations. More specifically, their successes and challenges and to see if there are common themes that may be informative to other leaders as they consider potential changes in the design of their organizations.

Based on the research, there were several general observations and conclusions that are worth noting:

  • Defining and understanding the organizational strategy and target outcomes are seen as important in the design of any organization since they provide the direction and focus for the design effort. However, it was also commented that they are not always explicitly defined and/or widely communicated;
  • There are different approaches used to design public sector organizations yet there are commonalities between them – understanding the current organization and operating context, confirming design principles and developing and evaluating options iterating to the preferred design;
  • People are seen as critical in the successful implementation of the final design – as many would say “people make a design work, or not”. Yet there was a question raised, with different answers, as to when to consider existing staff in the design process;
  • Leadership is felt to be important in terms of providing visible and ongoing support to the design effort but also as a stakeholder that needs to buy-in to the final product; and
  • Engagement and communications are also felt to be critical, and increasingly important, to the overall success of any design initiative even though the approach to engagement can vary and is often driven by the leader’s own experience and preferences.

In addition to the above, the interviews and additional research suggested a number of common themes in the design of public sector organizations including:

  • Change is the most common driver of organizational design;
  • Several factors are seen as critical to successful design;
  • There are various forms of stakeholder engagement;
  • There are potential challenges and issues that need to considered and addressed;
  • Size doesn’t matter;
  • There is no one right approach to design;
  • There are a number of organizational design principles that could be considered;
  • Culture and leadership are important to success;
  • The role of the Board is to provide strategic guidance and advice – not to design the organization;
  • Implementation is where change really starts; and
  • Failure in organizational design results from a number of factors.

Each of these themes is discussed in greater detail in the article entitled “Designing Public Sector Organizations: What has been learned” (contact ismith@strategycorp.com for a copy of the article).

The research also identified several other areas of interest including the challenges of innovation, culture and its impact on organizational performance and measuring success in the absence of a commonly accepted set of performance indicators. More to come on these topics.


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