Purpose in the public sector is arguably stronger than in any other. How might we harness it to inspire change?
The public sector is under constant pressure to change – no matter whether it is within healthcare, the elderly care, employment, education, sustainability, urban development or handling of the political and administrative tasks that keep society going. However, implementing change in the public sector remains a challenge – which is puzzling considering that it is a sector fuelled by a human desire to make a difference. So why this paradox?
At Implement, we set out to explore and reflect on what it takes for governmental and public institutions to become fit for the future and adapt to constant change. Backed by Thought Leader Jeremy Heimans and several leaders within the industry, we aim to explore and tackle some fundamental questions when it comes to reigniting public purpose:
The public sector is bound by a high sense of purpose but the motivation for the work done in the public sector is not equivalent to this. How can that be?
Listen to Tor Nonnegaard-Pedersen, partner at Implement Consulting Group, introduce the puzzle of public purpose.
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We talk about old and new power. The old power is defined by closed ecosystems, top-down approaches and formal authority, while the new power regime is empowered by open systems and co-creation fostering innovation and change.
Listen to Troels Møller Grosen, partner at Implement Consulting Group, introduce old power vs new power.
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As change management consultants, we sometimes see a resistance to change – an experience that may be a by-product of the actual management efforts themselves. In other words, maybe the way we manage change could be what kills the motivation for it.
If this is true, we need to explore an alternative path to change. One that embraces the notion that human beings love and thrive on change. An approach that ignites our inherent ability to change and works with the purpose-driven passion of people in the public sector – not against it. For this to happen, we – being everyone – need to see ourselves less as managers of change and more as leaders – inspirers, empowerers and orchestrators – of movements.
A thought leader on building purpose-led organisations is Jeremy Heimans, co-founder and CEO of the social impact company Purpose and author of the bestselling book New Power: How Power Works in Our Hyperconnected World and How to Make It Work for You.
For Heimans, a key argument in his book is how power nowadays cannot be seized in the traditional ways. Instead, our hyperconnected world allows ideas and movements to spread and flourish with astonishing speed – and thus, as leaders, we must take on new perspectives in terms of what enables power and change. Or as Heimans puts it:
It’s only a real movement if it moves without you.
Heimans points to three skills that are prerequisites for leaders in order to succeed in managing new power:
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Our culture often dictates that the people who enable change within institutions are disrupters of the “old power” regime. However, for Heimans, the disrupter is the false prophet whereas the shapeshifter, a person with unimpeachable credibility within the organisation, is the person you really need. Shapeshifters are respected people within the organisation, they are almost embedded in the organisational DNA and are often the perfect fit to drive bigger institutional changes.
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Often, the greater purpose of an organisation is perhaps overshadowed by – or lacks a connection to –what we actually do every day at work. It could also be that leadership is limited by yearly budgets or reviews that force us to act and decide within a finite space. This means that we tend to occupy ourselves with short-term objectives whether it is delivering X% extra efficiency this year or reducing citizen complaints by Y%. What these operational objectives have in common may be – at an individual level – a rational understanding of why X, Y or Z needs to happen.
The public sector is under constant pressure to deliver more from less. However, even though this type of management may deliver short-term gains, it tends to undermine our ability to see the greater purpose.
Below you can dive into perspectives from municipalities’ leaders and public representatives. They share their experiences from dealing with the above-mentioned challenges in their lives as leaders and why they find the reignition of the public sector important.
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“People, life, smile” – a poem by Stine Johansen, Municipality CEO
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"There is an enormous potential in showing employees and customers trust. More often than not, they will live up to the trust shown to them.”– Sune Knudsen, COO, Danish Design Center
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“There is no place or organisation where there is a need for more top-down management. The setup is already overmanaged and the top-down approach overshadows what is actually important.” – Jesper Zwisler, Municipality CEO
On the topic of reigniting public purpose, the experts leave us with three takeaways:
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The crowd is challenging traditional leadership. Here’s how to harness its energy. by Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms.
Three beliefs for change as a movement
– more than meets the eye.
Article in Danish: Paradigms for control in the public sector.
Driving end-to-end business performance transformation through finance, data and risk management.
Implement Consulting Group