The last 15 years have been mostly about steady growth. We are now in a situation of unprecedented reductions where previous non-cashable efficiencies must become cashable. The scale of the reduction would be enough to hole most commercial enterprises below the water line. This is in a time where (unlike commercial organisations), the demand for public services is likely to rise significantly.
There is a distinct and pervasive zeitgeist that the public services are now seen as a drain on the nation’s wealth rather than an investment in it. The measure of public services now seems to be only about what they are costing rather than any outcomes produced. It has of course always been strikingly difficult to track the links between public sector activity and safer, healthier and wealthier communities.
The public services are challenged with a large number of statutory duties and responsibilities, and political priorities which cannot be avoided but which introduce degrees of inflexibility not faced by corporate entities that are scaling down. The cuts that are to come will subject to fearsome and fierce debates over the coming months. Professional, political, personal and ethical loyalties will be under huge pressure. Public service leaders will be pitched against each other as each do battle over who can wave the biggest shroud. Tensions will erupt over whether decisions made are more in the public or political interests.
Meanwhile the public are unlikely to be passive observers as Facebook campaigns mount, Twitter storms erupt and flash demonstrations convene to hold local and national politicians to account. The celebrity culture may hold great sway as national treasures and pop artists choose to wield their influence. This phenomenon has unpredictable and possibly violent consequences.
And in amongst all this, ordinary local politicians, executives and managers will need to be making significant decisions that will have far reaching effects. This is not just about ‘managing change’ or ‘handling complexity’, this is about leading teams of public service workers in bleak cul-de-sacs.
- Do you recognise this context – what would you add or take away?
- Will leadership have to be so different in these circumstances?
- As a leader, what pressures are you feeling most keenly at the moment?
- How do you think your and others’ leadership will have to change over the coming months – what will you need to do (a lot) more of or (a lot) less of... and carry on doing?
- What key skills will be so important that to be unpractised in them will mean seriously poor & inefficient leadership?
- What will you have to do that you have never done before?
- What resources will you draw on to help you get through this?