Magazine article New Zealand Management

Leadership: Calling All State Sector Leaders

Magazine article New Zealand Management

Leadership: Calling All State Sector Leaders

Article excerpt

Byline: Reg Birchfield

Leadership is the single most critical success driver in any change management programme. It's hardly surprising therefore, that the Advisory Group behind the Government's agenda for once again revamping the nation's public services recognised the fact.

But identifying the obvious and recommending actions to successfully deliver better public sector leadership will be challenging. Many trolls lurk under many bridges on the route to this political destination -- Prime Minister John Key's house of Better Public Services.

That we need better public management to meet the more exacting demands of an increasingly complex and unpredictable world is self evident. On the other hand, we can say the same of New Zealand's private sector. Its leadership and management record doesn't offer many examples of best practice management in action. It struggles, for instance, with lifting productivity, developing management competency, growing successful global businesses and, according to statistics, is becoming more corrupt.

But back to the state of the State. Public servants can obviously do a better job when challenged, as indeed they were by the Canterbury earthquakes (see this month's cover story), and society and the economy need them to do so more often. As Key pointed out in his BPS speech, the state services account for the management of almost 25 percent of the economy. But, like employees of any enterprise, they need best practice management and sound leadership to perform to their best.

So what's actually wrong with our public services? Unlike our private sector, New Zealand's public sector has, from time to time, ranked among the world's best. On most international measures it still rates among the least corrupt, most transparent, business friendly and efficient in the world.

Some of the authors that contributed to the Victoria University's School of Governance book Future State think this latest round of public management changes will be different from those rammed through by the transforming Labour government of the 1980s. Rather than changes to the 'hardware' of government architecture, in other words organisational structures and systems, it's the 'software' that needs upgrading -- the mental models and everyday practices used in the public sector.

They're talking about culture change. And so is the Prime Minister. His BPS programme calls for a state sector "change in culture" which, he said, "the Government expects and is going to support". …

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