Twenty Key Features of a Conscious Public Organisation

w44

This checklist, drawn from over 20 years working with public sector organisations, as well as recent research in to the field of “Conscious Business” offers a new way to look at public service. Whether it is a local government organisation, a hospital or a public utility, public organisations have tended to evolve into bureaucracies, strongly hierarchical, administratively heavy, and organisational sluggish.

Though many of the features below embody known best practice in public service organisation and delivery, the specific way many of these features are framed, offers a novel way of viewing a public service organisation as a more or less conscious “entity”. An organisation can improve the quality of its consciousness by enhancing and refining its culture and practices.

The following list serves as a useful guide to help reflect on how conscious an organisation is in the public sector.


The Conscious Public Organisation…

1. Ensures its administrative and bureaucratic processes are up-to-date, responsive, adaptive and always rooted in real-time strategy

2. Welcomes, absorbs and utilises feedback as close to the point and moment of communication as possible

3. Practices, as much as legally possible, transparency, both internally and externally

4. Seeks to learn from its history, from its people, stakeholders and external partners; learning from error, learning from success

5. Never confuses role with personality; roles are regularly reviewed

6. Clearly defines, shares and regularly reflects and dialogues on its practical definition of professionalism

7. Has a clear, regularly reviewed code of ethics, embodied in a real-time and “living” governance approach

8. Is aware of its resource flows and costs, in real time; it doesn’t waste a penny

9. Has a strong, shared sense of public service

10. Has a clear sense of its past, present, and future

11. Encourages partnership and collaboration

12. Practises honesty and openness, and never colludes with mediocrity (avoiding the zone of discomfort through “safe niceness”)

13. Minimises jargon, unclear language, spin, unnecessary paperwork and bureaucracy

14. Has regular reality checks through useful performance measurement, management and innovation

15. Ensures that communication enables information to flow quickly, to where needed, and in the easiest form to understand and utilise

16. Discourages politics for its own sake and game-playing

17. Embraces technology appropriately in ways that support and enhance service delivery, as well as improving the delivery of sustainable services

18. Welcomes devil’s advocacy through internal peer assessment, 36 degree feedback, and external viewpoints such as external inspection and assessment, trustees and advisors

19. Seeks home grown solutions to problems and challenges and only seeks external help when this is an authentic addition to the organisation’s knowledge or skill base

20. Ensures any democratic services or public representation authentically inform and guide decision-making and ongoing practice


A Deeper Dive

1. Ensures its administrative and bureaucratic processes are up-to-date, responsive, adaptive and always rooted in real-time strategy

Why? Consciousness is lower when processes are out of date, when they lag behind the present, when they are “sluggish to respond”. Process updates need to be trigger by present circumstances, not by clunkily diarised annual reviews, or slow audit processes. Process ownership needs to be located as close to the point of delivery as possible, backed up by crystal clear updating and on-boarding of updates and improvements. In a conscious public organisation, administrative processes are largely defined by changing needs in the service “field”.

2. Welcomes, absorbs and utilises feedback as close to the point and moment of communication as possible

Why? Because defensiveness doesn’t allow feedback to be quickly translated into learning and improvement. Communication is freshest when it is in the “present”. Delay tends to dilute and degrade the impact and accuracy of communication. Feedback is the life blood of a conscious organisation. Feedback can be positive as well as negative. It can also simply confirm continuity. Real-time feedback encourages real time response and optimal use of resources.

3. Practices, as much as legally possible, transparency, both internally and externally

Why? Because anything that hides or distorts, undermines awareness and thus degrades the consciousness of the organisation. Within legal limits, transparency enables flow of information to the needed places to enable work to flow as needed, both internally and externally. Open communication is thus a foundation for conscious public service.

4. Seeks to learn from its history, from its people, stakeholders and external partners; learning from error, learning from success

Why? Because conscious organisations are continually learning and seek to learn from any useful sources. It can learn internally and also from external partners. It sees problems and errors as opportunities to refine its practises. It never traumatises or crates fear of naming error and sharing learning from it. It also knows how to identify success and to draw out lessons which it shares with all of its internal and external partners, to support “raising the bar” on its quality and service capability.

5. Never confuses role with personality; roles are regularly reviewed

Why? Because people move on and, in a conscious public organisation, people move around, as needed, in a flexible, responsive, adaptive structure. Personality “cults” and power based on personality reduces the ability for quick adaptation and increase dependency of individual subjective positions and viewpoints. Leaders and influences act humbly to ensure the organisation’s knowledge and skill is embedded, not in personality but process. People try to strengthen organisational memory, beyond individual power and control.

6. Clearly defines, shares and regularly reflects and dialogues on its practical definition of professionalism

Why? Because public service encapsulates many professional services within it. When these fix too much, they atrophy and become more focused on feeding the institutionalisation of professionalism than delivering authentic service. Professionalism, in a conscious public organisation involves allowing core professional ethics and values to endure from a real, open dialogue with changing circumstances, with meeting real, evolving needs in the service “field”. In a conscious public organisation, professional ethics inform, but are also informed by service needs in the emerging present.

7. Has a clear, regularly reviewed code of ethics, embodied in a real-time and “living” governance approach

Why? Because governance ensures that ethics are realised in practice. When they are not regularly reviewed, they become unnecessarily limiting structures. Governance should guide and enable and only limit in ways that serve security, legality and helpful practise. Ethics are shared openly in a conscious public organisation make sense, and guide conscious behaviour.

8. Is aware of its resource flows and costs, in real time; it doesn’t waste a penny

Why? Because public organisations are spending public money and waste is a waste of public money. Waste is also a sign of lack of awareness and control. Though control in real time may not always be possible or required, it represents a useful ideal compared to more traditional work and resource flow management that runs behind reality. Understanding resource flows also ensures coherence between functions and departments, reduces delays and overlaps. Understanding costs fully ensures resources are effectively and sustainably managed. Service process, like supply chains need to be logical, based on continuity and clarity.

9. Has a strong, shared sense of public service

Why? In a conscious public organisation, the mission is clear and authentic, not spun and jargon-ridden. Public service is vocational for many people. Public service is an “impulse” for many. The impulse to service is clear and well described to all in a conscious public organisation. We all know what we are trying to achieve together, what our “service response” is, and what “good” looks like. Values are real and shared. The “urge to serve well” is genuinely motivational, we feel empathy with our service users. Service is the key driver of the organisation’s purpose and processes. The motive of “service” creates mindfulness in service delivery, a responsiveness and alertness, a sensitivity to the needs of service users, as well as colleagues.

10. Has a clear sense of its past, present, and future.

Why? Because we can learn from the past, the past can haunt us and many public service organisation are cluttered with legacy attitudes and behaviours that hinder present ability to act and move freely. A conscious public organisation harvests the best of its past and moves on from that which no longer works or services it. It can identify evolving “narratives”, learn from history and also forecast the future based on rich past and present data, knowledge and wisdom. It explores scenarios and imagines creative alternatives. It shares its story and has nothing “hidden in the closet”

11. Encourages partnership and collaboration

Why? Partnership and collaboration involve sharing risk, knowledge and practice, as well as creating interdependence and seeking synergy. This enhances consciousness. To achieve trust, we need to be open and transparent, so collaboration also supports the conscious public organisation. At the core of partnership are respect and compassion, as these tend to encourage openness and authentic feedback, which enhances consciousness. Collaboration also tends to evoke awareness of diversity, notions of equality and equanimity which also tend to create climates of openness. Collaboration also encourages advocacy, mutuality and trust, all of which tend to improve the quality of communication.

12. Practices honesty and openness, and never colludes with mediocrity (avoiding the zone of discomfort through “safe niceness”)

Why? Directness, calling thing by their real name, and risking discomfort through honesty all raise consciousness of a public organisation. Evidence based problem solving, encouraging openness, and inducting new employees into a culture of frankness are all key. If we create conversational taboos that reduce our awareness of the potential for the organisation and its services, we diminish consciousness. Mediocrity arises from collusion, and collusion is a failure to truly name and challenge states of under-performance. Skilful and sensitive, emotionally intelligent collusion breaking are important cultural behaviours.

13. Minimises jargon, unclear language, spin, unnecessary paperwork and bureaucracy

Why? Clutter and unnecessary paperwork and bureaucracy all hinder the development of a conscious public organisation. Plain language, accessibility of information and knowledge, simple, joined up thinking that creates “smart” processes all create a conscious public organisation. We encourage and reward clarity, simplicity, lean thinking, reduced paperwork, streamlined processes, and integrated thinking and practice.

14. Has regular reality checks through useful performance measurement, management and innovation

Why? Wisely chosen measures create greater clarity. Managing performance, through local empowerment and trusted overview creates the information and knowledge that can inform awareness of innovation potential in the organisation. In a conscious public organisation, performance measurement and management isn’t a stick to beat employees with; it is used by employees as a vital way to work more consciously. It feeds into innovation ideas going forward. We try to get as close to real time as possible. One example is hyper-local news that allows service users to report performance into same-day changes and improvement.

15. Ensures that communication enables information to flow quickly, to where needed, and in the easiest form to understand and utilise

Why? Because email overload and information explosion and clumsy storage stifles decision making and blurs our clarity as an organisation. A conscious public organisation values “fast rigour, durable delivery” – information is targeted, personalised and shared intelligently.

16. Discourages politics for its own sake and game-playing

Why? Some public service organisations are directly involved or driven by politics, such a local government or health services. Political “manouvering” and power-playing distorts clarity and consciousness and will undermine the practice of being a conscious public organisation. Where politics is about dialogue and open decision making, and where influence is rooted in trusted motives, politics can have helpful purpose. Where it is used to create and realise hidden agendas, to manipulate and create “win-lose” outcomes, to build local empires or undermine others, it destroys conscious organisation.

17. Embraces technology appropriately in ways that support and enhance service delivery, as well as improving the delivery of sustainable services.

Why? Because technology can support and enhance conscious organisation. Automation, improved capacity and capability, safety and visibility can all be delivered via wise technology choices, often in more cost-effective and flexible ways. A conscious public organisation has an ongoing technology ethos and strategy, is in touch with new developments and is grounded in new knowledge and skills.

18. Welcomes devil’s advocacy through internal peer assessment, 36 degree feedback, and external viewpoints such as external inspection and assessment, trustees and advisors.

Why? Because bureaucracies can become “immersive” We get too close to processes, too identified with administration, rules and procedures. Challenging ourselves, asking difficult questions, regularly self-critiquing are enhanced by welcoming external views, criticism and challenge.

19. Seeks home grown solutions to problems and challenges and only seeks external help when this is an authentic addition to the organisation’s knowledge or skill base

Why? Because many public sector organisations tend to be consultant-addicted and undervalue local knowledge and experience. Status from hierarchies can blind the leadership to ideas, suggestions, experience and solutions from within the organisation. In a conscious public organisation, external help is added to a vibrant and regularly tapped internal knowledge and skill and expertise. Departments learn from each other, there is work shadowing, and people are acknowledged and even rewarded for being good organisational “citizens”.

20. Ensures any democratic services or public representation authentically inform and guide decision-making and ongoing practice

Why? Because public organisations have direct accountability to voters and tax-payers. Service users are the key interest group in the delivery of services and are seen, not only as recipients, but also vital commentators on the design and management of those services. Representation and regular dialogue are viewed as critical to the quality of consciousness of the organisation – via ideas, suggestions, criticism, values clarification, and quality feedback.

Discussion

These features help to define a conscious public organisation. A conscious public organisation is more able to be “present” for its stakeholders. It operates more in real time, avoids over-complexity and processes that inhibit awareness and responsiveness. The challenge is there!

A conscious public organisation redefines itself in terms of a more authentic approach to communication, to workflow and simplicity. Service is viewed as an “impulse”, a vocation that can be realised in the present through a recognition of the whole timeline of the organisation – past, present and future. It abhors spin and jargon, values clarity and transparency, and locates process ownership as near to those delivering those processes as possible. Leadership is about real-time overview, being “in touch”, present and awake.

Real public service is about being conscious as an organisation. Is it time to finally wake up?

First steps

So how does an an organisation in the public sector go about becoming a more conscious one? The first step is to practise open dialogue. Opening up the conversation about “how conscious is our organisation” can be a beginning. Methods such as Open Space Technology and Future Search can support this conversation. A thorough look at the organisation’s timeline, especially its history can also be an important first step, especially identifying how legacy behaviours and attitudes are negatively affecting the organisation’s ability to be responsive and alert in the present.

An audit of “how we know what we know” may also be a useful starting point. Here we look at how we measure processes, identify how we are performing, some examine our methods of feedback. How do we “sense” needs in our service user base ? How “real time” is the feedback we gather, internally and externally?

Simplifying administrative process and seeking out more joined up thinking – integrating across functions and departments; mapping the flow of key service delivery processes and looking for bureaucratic over-complexity and bottlenecks can help us to create simpler, more agile structures.

We can also examine our organisation culturally. What current rules, habits and “norms” inhibit openness, create lack of transparency, encourage “hiding” and defensiveness? This may surface conflicts which require difficult yet necessary dialogue, acknowledgement and resolution.

Essentially, opening up, resolution, reflection and clarification are the watchwords for those first steps to becoming a more conscious public organisation. Challenging collusion and speaking and dealing plainly with each other will be part of an organisational “exorcism”. Leadership will need to walk the talk, and also talk the walk.

The benefits? More flexible and responsive public services; more authenticity and genuine commitment. More supportive and transparent, more effective and efficient organisations. A greater sense of contribution; a stronger feeling of purpose. It is well worth it.


Visit our Conscious Business Realm

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s