People Development

why public sector leaders need some private sector attitude

Carla March

Want to hear some bad language?

The affordable housing crisis.

Universal Credit direct payments.

An overburdened NHS.

A stretched social care system.

An expanding, ageing population.

Government spending cuts. 

Enough already.

This has been the changing landscape in the public sector for at least the last 10 years. So why are terms such as ‘commerciality’ and ‘profit’ still seen as dirty words in some circles?

People in the public sector often have a strong sense of vocation. They take pride in their role providing valuable services to fellow human beings. And that’s exactly how it should be. But that belief can be counter-productive when it’s positioned as directly incompatible with a commercial mindset – a mindset that can empower them to do more, and more impactful, work.

The fact is, people in the public sector often need to be more commercially savvy than their private counterparts. When you’re working under huge financial constraints, being commercially creative, and exploring new and successful business models, can be the only way to achieve your aims. Isn’t profit something to be encouraged and celebrated, when it’s ploughed straight back into the delivery of crucial services?

And even when senior leaders in public sector organisations ‘get’ the need to be commercial and understand the power of making a profit, this understanding never quite seems to trickle through to the front line. 

But driving innovation and realising savings can’t simply be achieved with operational or functional changes. Yes, shiny new digital solutions will help streamline processes – but where is the mindset change that will make sure the design of your customers’ digital journey matches anything they could experience commercially?  Where’s the value in investing in improving customer experience, when customers have no choice of supplier? Who in their right mind would want to invest in a commercial organisation that loses money? 

These concerns can’t be swept under the carpet. They need to be tackled head-on, taken apart, discussed. And this requires leaders to be incredibly skilled in communicating a finely-tuned, compelling story for the whole organisation around ‘why we need to do things this way’.  It takes inspiring, agile and, yes, commercially-minded leaders to drive sustainable improvement in a sector that is suspicious of private sector strategies and words. 

In all industries and organisations, being able to role model the appropriate leadership behaviours and inspire confidence in your teams is essential. And yes, it’s hard. But it’s also the only answer for a sector that needs strong leaders more than ever before.

Our approach to transformation includes “9 Things Leaders Do”, helping leaders create a service-led culture which delivers great outcomes for residents, businesses and the environment.  Want to know more?  Contact me on 01483 739400