Changes of heart

A new language of leadership is needed in the public sector, prioritising behavioural and attitudinal change over ‘tickable tangibles’, argues Lynn Hull, Partner at Stillpoint Associates…

Approaching organisational change by putting the human element first means actively developing respectful behaviours for greater collaboration, openness and resilience. These traits are essential for existing and succeeding within a climate for change. Only when this happens can change be sustainable. And change has to be sustainable - for within the public sector there will be no going back to the old ways of operating. These huge changes require what is being termed a new language of leadership, supporting and nurturing already empowered employees. The enormity of this shift cannot be ignored and it has to start with leadership as it manifests organisationally in its many different forms.

Pressures on any top team are high. They are striving to meet the needs and demands of a diverse range of stakeholders, while working to ensure organisational survival and success. The question has to be asked: in the new world, can the traditional ways of monitoring and measuring, centring on tickable tangibles, continue? We have become used to working to outputs and yet it is representative of deficit thinking - lots of focus on weaknesses, risks, downsides, an articulation of what is ‘best’ long before anything has happened. In this perspective, checks and balances are crucial - and indicative of a lack of trust. Not all that far from Taylorism when you think about it.

Despite adherence to statutory requirements, little weight is given to the fact that success is achieved, or not, through employees - not just their skills and knowledge, but more importantly their attitudes and behaviours, their relationship to work and to their colleagues. Such ignorance often results in a dysfunctional vacuum between the policymaking ‘top’ and the operational ‘bottom’.

Where has this desire to focus on tickable tangibles come from? For decades, management good practice has shunned looking inwards at self and personal contribution, in favour of a focus on external processes and outcomes.

This lack of conscious introspection has created a phenomenal resistance to tackling behavioural change. This reluctance has been explained away by the huge assumptions that behavioural change is simple and will follow once the external changes are imposed. The lessons, however, are very clear. Human beings do not work in this way, and are incredibly ingenious in findings ways around the required change. The result - unsustainable change.

Some of the great business schools are recognising that our Western system has evolved valuing only our intellectual capacity - the head - which explains our desire for models, frameworks and analysis. Now thinking is changing. There is a growing recognition that a focus on the heart and the self has an important part to play in successful organisations where greater value is given to intuition, to feelings, to creativity and innovation, to the true celebration of diversity. So, rather than rip out the heart, why not put it back? The result will inevitably be a significant shift in attitudes.

While efficiency and new forms of engagement remain at the top of the agenda, it is pointless to assume they can be successfully and sustainably achieved while leadership follows the old path. Seismic shifts of this nature offer a huge opportunity to do something different. Here nature can provide some lessons, for while we perceive it as moving seamlessly from season to season, it is a process of upheaval, death and renewal. Winter, for example, is a period in nature when there is little apparent activity, yet death is normal, as is preparation for renewal. Putting behavioural change first reflects this process. Old ways have to die in order to lay the foundation for growth, for blossoming.

Organisational change needs heart; heart is founded in attitudinal and behavioural change and is created by knowing how to look inwards to self. Leaders have this responsibility and need to lead with authenticity, never more so than at this time. Attitude is infectious - for good or for bad.

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Publication: 
HR & Training Journal: Issue 13

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