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Be the Change: Organizational Transformation in the Public Sector (Part II)

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

By Michael L. Summers

The Journey

 In the beginning, there was the usual spectrum of reaction towards this venture:  excited to be here; tacit approval, not sure where this was going but they trusted me; to “why am I here?” I understood this and launched into this effort whole heartedly and with excitement about the possibilities ahead. As I have learned over the years, I go in with a plan of action but have to be prepared to make adjustments. We did in fact make adjustments based upon workload demands, the temperature of the group and the progress being made.

Initially I introduced a concept to the group that had a major impact in guiding us through this process and gave us a realistic approach. The paradigm was “building a plane in the air.” Imagine a commercial airplane that is half built but flying with passengers. There are construction workers literally building the plane while it is flying and perilously serving customers. Metaphorically, it represents the concept of delivering day-to-day services and products while simultaneously improving as an organization. No small task. But in my mind, this is the public sector mandate and opportunity.

To their credit, the group did a great job of building the plane in the air. They continued to move forward on their commitment to growth and improvement while delivering stellar service on a daily basis. They were given permission to allot time for organizational improvements (“building” time) into their daily schedules (“flying” time).

The Prize 

In the end, the group’s effort birthed a new name (“Vision 6”), a new logo, mission and vision statements, six core values and 25 action items to transform audio visual services into a 21st century, highly-productive government entity.  For example, the group has developed a contract and protocols for successfully negotiating projects with clients in order to deliver the highest level of product quality. They have developed tools to better manage their workload and match product offering with customer need. They have developed a dazzling Intranet website that describes all of their creative services, allows a customer to request a project online and even offers documentation on how to create a video production. All totaled, the group has significantly raised their business acumen and could compete with any local or private video production business as a possible revenue generating center.

On another level, this effort produced a stronger and more-highly motivated team to self-propel this organization forward. This is perhaps, the most powerful result of the effort. Of the 25 identified action items, all are complete. Some have been altered or discarded as no longer appropriate (i.e., continued organizational learning). They are now self-perpetuating.

We had the opportunity to present their story to the executives of the department. At the end of the presentation, I asked people to introduce themselves and state whatever they wanted to say about the effort. Statements like “they appreciated that they were given the opportunity to even go down this path,” or “they felt invigorated and inspired that they were influencing their environment and destiny” or “there is a stronger sense of a team and energy” were some common themes expressed. The executives of the department were blown away! In the summer of 2011, DMV recognized the many accomplishments of Vision 6 by honoring the group with the department’s Superior Accomplishment Gold Star Award.

The Promise for the Future 

So what is the significance of this story about one little organization, in one public sector department? It is a real-life manifestation of what Ted Gaebler and David Osborne foresaw as the new, creative emerging public institution. Recall the three premises I introduced about the prospect in the public sector reform: self- induced; best business practice utilization; answers from within.  This little band of video and graphical production zealots demonstrated through their energy and commitment that transformation in the public sector is possible.

But it takes courage to launch and feed this type of organizational endeavor and that means leadership. In my years of traversing this organizational development journey in the public sector, I have come to understand three leadership statements (i.e., commitments) that are critical to set the stage and provide the energy and path for this organizational transformation:

1) Why we can’t stay the way we are (sense of urgency)?
2) I have an incredible vision for our future (possibility).
3) I invite you to participate and help create this future (self-actualization).

Managers and leaders in the government must embrace these commitments with full force and pursue them with impassioned energy. This is where the “building the plane in the air” comes to play. We must not only meet our daily commitments to the public, we must simultaneously invigorate and give those in our organizations the permission and opportunity to create the new world.

The Vision 6 story gives testament to what a small group of energized government workers can achieve if given the opportunity. I would hope that this particular microcosm of government reform provides other public sector leaders with the incentive and courage to act. Remember, the revolution is among us. The public is demanding that we as government leaders respond. Planes can be built in the air. You can do this. Be the change!        

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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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