Towards the end of the 1990’s there was a great deal of political rhetoric about the cost and inefficiencies of a multiplication of agencies of state operating around the daily life of the citizen. By getting rid of this multiplication and streamlining through a ‘bonfire of the Quangos’ the citizen would be serviced by a much more efficient state and the by-product would be reduced personal tax burdens and more cash in the individual’s purse. This redesign as part of a ‘new wave’ of modernisation whilst it may have delivered certain benefits has failed to make much of a difference in other areas.
On closer examination it seems that one key facet of profound state redesign is continually overlooked – that of the mindset of the people of work within the system. There appears to be an assumption that if you relabel services, cut out intermediate agencies, introduce new policy themes with flashy business-like titles then staff will blindly follow and accept willing the changes made to their working patterns. The problem here is well known, ask anyone who has to manage major change in any enterprise, if you need to make a fundamental change to the way things are done then you need to make a serious investment in the people who are tasked with coping the day to day change. There are a few underpinning theories here that are worthy of discussion – lets take for example work that done some years ago that sought to understand why when a entire tranche of public service was redesigned and politicians felt that refreshed leadership was required to embed this change in large complex public institutions. The new leaders who were brought in (at great public expense) were to be ‘transformational’ , ‘visionary’ and ‘charismatic’ – the complete antithesis of the public administrators who has for years run these organisations. What the researchers ( Kakabadze et al) uncovered was these new imported leaders were so visionary they were immune to the day to day issues that staff were experiencing. The researchers coined the phrase ‘differential time’ to express the gulf that existed between the attention and agenda of the senior leaders and the remainder of the organisation.
The second important underpinning theory is that of ‘patterned behaviour’. Put simply people like certainty and predictability. If that sense of predictability and certainty is disturbed and tomorrow looks less attractive than today then many people will act each day as if it were like the day before and will resist the less attractive, less certain and unpredictable condition they are being driven towards. What is perhaps quite astonishing is that patterned behaviour theory suggest that it is for many a totally unconscious process. So, if we couple this less than effective leadership condition with the condition of passive resistance to change we have a recipe that begins to explain why still have multiple organisational boxes, strong fortress like identification that many staff have with the immediacy of the surrounding organisation or profession and a frustrated government still trying to address the frustrations of citizens who find it near impossible to understand why we have public services that make little or no sense to them.
There are however examples of where this is changing – and it is not changing because the agencies of state are changing it – it is because there are leaders and non-traditional thinkers who are just so bloody minded they are forcing changes through sheer force of personality and through frustration that we are continually repeating the mistakes of decades.