When we talk about transformation, especially digital transformation, then most organisations do not actually mean transformation, they mean “change” and familiar change at that.

Transformation will be announced with speeches and posters, there will be cascades and all staffs. The seriousness of the transformation will be marked by the appointment of someone from outside to lead it. There may be lanyards.

No, there definitely will be lanyards.

Such fake transformations are doomed. The person brought in to lead it will be manageably different, in the public sector this often means someone from banking, a sector renowned for successful business change and customer satisfaction.

The transformation will follow a typical MBA pattern. Which is exactly the same pattern which will be followed by competitors and rivals. Which leads to the “cartels of likemindedness” which have done so much damage to British retail and financial services over the past 25 years. Everybody follows the same instruction book and the leaders move from one organisation to the next.

Real transformation is about the fundamentals. “Do we meet a user need?”, is the basic question. Only after answering that can you move on to how.

Too often in both public and private sectors alike organisations presume that they have a right to exist. Their “transformation” programmes therefore never transform, they merely reinforce.

Whatever one thinks of that blogpost by Dominic Cummings, he does at least speak about the processes of transformation. The challenge is to ensure that those are rooted in that core question of user need.

It may or may not be “Super-talented weirdos” which we need but we definitely need to move on from the public sector hiring comfortably familiar people from those highly bureaucratic parts of the private sector like banking, oil and big retail if we are to see the kind of transformation in the public sector we need. One that will empower the many highly committed Civil Servants out there to meet the needs of users.

One thought on “Transformation as Euphemism”

  1. I ran my own small business for 30 years. During all that time I banked with Nat West (part of RBS). Regularly, yearly or sometimes more often, I was required to produce a business plan with budgets, cash flow forecast, SWOT analysis and so on. “There’s no way you can run a business if you don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. If you can’t plan it, you can’t do it”, one smug under temporary assistant, deputy interim manager after another told me.

    They can have no idea just how much pleasure I have got from watching RBS (and its Nat West division) fail to extricate themselves from their abject failure to plan for anything throughout the 12 long years since the 2008 crash.

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