As the government embraces a new ‘Innovation Strategy’, we need to consider how we can best prepare our people, places and processes to embrace new ways of working. From redefining what we mean by ‘workplaces’, to continuing to challenge our cultural norms - innovation should be at the heart of everything we do.
Equal components, intrinsically linked
Our research shows that the ‘three Ps’ (people, places and processes) are all of equal importance in the workplace. In order to innovate, we need to develop our own strategies that directly deal with the challenges we’re facing in these three areas.
We know that more process automation is welcomed across the public sector. However, despite this, many respondents report that we’re all still too reliant on paper-based processes. Aspiration is something that kept cropping up throughout the survey report. Whilst we have the motivation to change, often we find ourselves restricted by legacy ITC infrastructure, a lack of digital skills or a gap between digital aspirations and practical processes.
Processes: exploring possibilities and challenging the status quo
When you start to consider process automation, it can be overwhelming. Knowing what to do, when, and what to prioritise can be difficult. Not to mention the myriad conflicting objectives that add to the confusion.
Starting simple is key and making sure you include your people (remembering that each of the ‘three Ps’ are equally important) will help get things off the ground. List your current processes but also take time to shadow people as they work. You’ll find that often there are unnecessarily time-consuming processes that could be simply automated, but people haven’t realised it yet.
Once you have a definitive list of processes, you’ll need to start prioritising. Start with processes that can be quickly and easily automated. Make sure you also consider which processes will have the greatest impact. Remember that this isn’t simply a money-saving exercise - taking mundane, repetitive tasks from your workforce will free up staff to undertake richer, knowledge-based tasks - something that means you’re getting more out of your people, and they’ll be getting more out of their working day too.
Our research suggested that there is considerable enthusiasm across management and senior management to enact innovative digital transformation - and yet this isn’t being realised in practice or reflected across the workforce. Can we assume that these designs are simply out of step with the practical realities? Is this to do with senior management’s lack of understanding of the challenges that come with working with legacy systems and processes?
If we continue to remember the intrinsic links between the ‘three Ps’, then we must challenge any inconsistencies in transparency across all grades. Management must be willing to listen to teams and take on board the real-life challenges of transformation. After - all, it’s these people that do the work day to day and understand the current processes better than anyone else. Management must be willing to not only be open to new ways of working, but to become more open and collaborative.
People: the importance of workplace culture
Our research identified something that many people on the ground already know - government does not yet have a ‘transformation-ready culture’ (despite reams of comms and claims to the contrary). In reality, there continues to be resistance to smarter ways of working in practice, and we are still constantly challenged by a lack of transparency and - even more crucially, perhaps - trust. So, why is this? Why can’t we practice what we preach?
One area we have identified that needs improvement is actually core management skills and approaches. A good manager isn’t born - they can be taught - and our research suggests that considerable improvement could be made in this area. The ability to develop transparent, trusting relationships with your team members is crucial to a modern workplace culture - not least because the definition of the ‘workplace’ is being challenged, leaving managers with less physical proximity and visibility of their team during the working day.
The ability to line manage successfully must include the ability (and willingness) to have those difficult conversations about meeting objectives, workload and discipline. Approaches like coaching should be encouraged and offered to management wherever possible, but also more junior team members should be offered the same training. If we all understand how these management tools and approaches are used, we can all make the most out of them.
Another approach that is gaining in popularity is seconding senior Civil Servants out into industries that reflect their own workplaces. By doing this, they can take advantage of significant learning opportunities. The way that commercial industry tackles workplace culture (with such a significant drive towards profitability as well as workplace happiness) can be incredibly inspiring, and many lessons can be learnt, and ideas brought back to the public sector workplace.
Places: a new approach to the modern ‘workplace’
Although the majority of us understand the myriad benefits of workplace innovation, we must also bear in mind the original driving factor behind these changes was far from culture-focused. The need to rationalise office accommodation is, at its heart, a money-saving exercise. However, with it comes an amazing opportunity to change the way we work for the better and bring our industry more in line with the rest of the working world. Flexibility, work-life blend, agile working practices and digital skills will - if enacted properly - make our workforce better, happier and more productive.
Paper continues to be a barrier to our success. GDPR and ‘clear desk’ policies, although sometimes hard to implement, actually offer an amazing opportunity to challenge the status quo.
You can use GDPR to your advantage when you are looking to enact significant change:
● use it as a tool to help start conversations with senior management
● it can help your teams understand why you are enacting these changes
● make it the excuse you need to enact new policies and new ways of working
Bringing together the right ICT infrastructure with cultural innovation could see us revolutionising the workplace - but it’s not always easy. We implore each and every person who reads our report to think creatively - find ways to get over the hurdles we’ve identified, take direct responsibility and become a small part of this huge opportunity.
Interested in exploring how your work could benefit from process and workplace innovation? Use the contact form and get in touch.