Thursday, February 9, 2012

Transformation in the Indian Bureacracy? Lessons from the Private Sector

"The need for transformation in the public service is urgent... and it is entirely possible."

So said Prof Leonard Joy in the opening panel at the "International unConference on Leading Organisational Transformation for Effective Service Delivery" hosted by UNICEF and that Centre of Excellence for Change Management in Chennai, India.

The unconference started with a prayer. Then the noted dignitaries in the civil service lighted the Kuthuvilakhu, a tall, sacred lamp that in the Hindu tradition covered with yellow flowers. For Hindus, this oil lamp symbolises coming out of darkness. It burns to provide peace and understanding. This conference - by public officials for public officials - is seeking a transformation in the public sector. It needs the light of the Kuthuvilakhu and of those gathered here to pull it forward. Villagers are moving out of the village because the water is not doing well. Urban and rural water quality is getting worse. Government is throwing more money on the problem - but this is not solving the challenge.

How does transformation occur? Interestingly, the panel only touched upon this. There was an awareness of some of the critical challenges facing people on the ground including increasing degradation of fresh water sources, the importance of rewarding the power responsive to the public and being the way you do the work and how you deliver. Civil servants can be heros.

The second panel discussed 'meta transformations'. They brought in examples from across various attempts to transform. This included the State Bank of India and HCL tech. Both private sector organisations had undergone an internal transformational process after they had undergone the recognition that there was a pressing need for transformation. HCL has been winning awards around the world in their philosophy. This is a process of putting the 'Employees first, customers second.' Through empowering people in the field to create change in a structured way, one can create cultural change. In HCL, any employee can write to the CEO and get a response in 24 hours. Employees do the appraisal for the managers; this is shown to everyone. This creates a high culture of accountability and managers approach their team as a team. The CEO shares his plan with his employees and the employees are able to give feedback to that. All departments are scored based on service level. They are suggesting to go beyond engagement and instead to focus and measure 'passion'. They have thus created 'passion scores', around delivery, sales, enabling and other areas. This is about democratising the workplace. Their message was loud and clear: transformation can only occur through people.

Questions from the floor spoke to the resignation that the audience had about their own sector. There was a question about if the people in government were somehow different than the people in the private sector. Of course this is not true. People are people. The induction process is different, the incentives are different, but people are the same.

Perhaps, then, the lessons the public sector can learn from the private sector is not so much around the privatisation of critical resources so much as the process through which they successfully enable the humanisation of their organisations.

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