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Be the Change: Organizational Transformation in the Public Sector

*This article is part one of a two part series.*

By Michael L. Summers

The revolution is coming. In fact, it is already here. It’s not being fought with guns or bombs or planes; not with ground troops or weapons of mass destruction. Rather, it is being waged in the hearts and minds of the American people. It is certainly the right and duty of the people of a free society to question, assess the operations of its government, even demand that its government adjust and be responsive and accountable to the people. And the American people are very dissatisfied.

change 3Across America, the public is demanding the government spend its money prudently and with demonstrated value. That it build systems and services that cater to the needs of the people, not the other way around. That it be creative and flexible in the way it thinks and operates. It’s a powerful force not to be denied. The question is, “can and will our government respond to this demand?”

This is a huge challenge. Unfortunately, the traditional, free enterprise market forces that affect the private sector do not necessarily apply to the public sector. For the most part, the service the public requires of its government is the only game in town. However, there are other forces at play and they are growing with incredible strength. The challenging economy, emerging technologies and the increasing demands and expectations of the public are powerful forces that must be recognized and addressed by the public sector. Yet, there is hope.

In their landmark book, “Reinventing Government,” Ted Gaebler and David Osborne foresaw the possibility in government excellence by proclaiming:

“Slowly, quietly, far from the public spotlight, new kinds of public institutions are emerging. They are lean, decentralized and innovative. They are flexible, adaptable, quick to learn new ways when conditions change. They use competition, customer choice and other non- bureaucratic mechanisms to get things done as creatively and effectively as possible. And they are our future.”

I too share their optimism of the future in the public sector. It is this vision of possibility that has taken me down my chosen professional path. However, my optimism is not just whimsical. It is based on three key premises about the public sector that I have witnessed and been a part of:

  1. These transformational or organizational improvement efforts can be internally (self) induced (leadership).
  2. Good business practices from the private sector can be successfully employed (best practices).
  3. 95-100% of the answers already exist in the organization (competency and desire).

So, building on these three premises, is this type of self-induced, government transformation possible? Yes it is. The following example is but one case and highlights just what is possible in terms of transformation in the public sector.

The Vision 

As an Assistant Training Officer for the California Department of Motor Vehicles, I oversee the department’s Audio Visual Services Group. For years, this group has produced high-end video and graphical productions for internal training uses and for the public at large. When I first arrived, I could see that this talented group could be even better but needed an opportunity to reinvent itself. It had operated in the same fashion for years, but technologies were emerging and new product lines were being introduced. They were ripe for an organizational adventure.

The Road Map 

In my years of organizational development experience, I have utilized and perfected a tried-and-true organic model to guide and move organizations forward. I found a road map to motivate this organization from good to great. I employed an industry-standard “As Is – To Be – Gap Analysis model” that is modified to be consistent with my practice and which addresses the specific needs of public sector organizations. This model is a hybrid of classic strategic planning and organizational assessment and is geared to produce tactical, tangible results to advance an organization.

I facilitated the entire process, which meant I served them. Though day-to-day I am their second-level manager, I was not their manager during this entire process. My job was to give them the greatest opportunity to rediscover themselves. As their guide, I led them through a labyrinth of brainstorming, assessment, conceptualization and eventually a new collective view of who they are and wanted to become accompanied with a plan of action. Every strategy and every creative idea derived from the process was theirs.  They owned them and that was powerful!

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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