It is not hard to imagine our public services being transformed in a few short years. The volume of digital transformation projects and the introduction of Artificial Intelligence into core first line activities, such as call centres across the UK, will be disruptive to say the least. Gone are the days of reconfiguring the office space to accommodate desktop computers and training staff to use online forms, this is change on an unimaginable scale; or is it?

I was reflecting recently on how much this new wave of change reminded me of the huge systems implementation and then systems integration projects of the 1990’s. Indeed, this was an era so weak in delivery of timely (and sometimes tangible) business benefits that change management was borne out of necessity. When I started with Andersen Consulting in its pioneering change management division we were tasked with developing training and communications to correspond with the launch of the new systems. Everyone thought this was all you needed to do to make the introduction of the new systems a complete success. Of course, what actually happened was the systems (which had been developed in darkened rooms by consultants who never saw the light of day) were resented by staff and sometimes rejected altogether as “not fit for purpose”.

Suddenly, senior management teams were faced with huge technology bills and nothing to show for it in terms of improvements and savings. Instead, they faced intransigence, subterfuge and, at best, significant duplication as staff insisted on doing everything manually alongside the new systems (to ensure it was done properly and safely.)

Luckily, some clever people worked out that the whole process was flawed not just the system design. The command and control approach to implementing the new systems was not as strong as the staff determination to resist the changes. We now know of course that this approach works against a fundamental human desire – to be involved or, as we now call it, engaged.

Change management grew and the number of Change Consultants expanded even quicker. Everywhere you turned, there were change consultants developing communication campaigns, running business design workshops and developing computer-based training to create an experience close to the new systems and get early feedback on the problems and opportunities for improvement.

Skip forward 25 years and you will see some similar behaviours amongst the architects of tomorrow’s digitally enhanced world. Very often, the latest advancement is developed in a lab in Cambridge and then shipped to client sites via the cloud – all ready to use!!! Does it work? Yes. Will it dramatically improve the business? Possibly. Is it “fit for purpose”? Who knows? No-one thought to involve the staff again. The potential benefits of artificial intelligence are significant for both business process and human participation in our public services. This really could be a tremendous opportunity to enhance the lives of the working population and free up valuable emotional intelligence to work more closely with our disparate, frayed and ageing population.

However, for our public sector services to thrive, we need more public sector leaders to adopt the mindset of a Change Maker. A Change Maker thrives on change and has a mindset finely tuned to the positive aspects of every change to support the people around them. They prefer to work in teams and are open to diversity – intuitively knowing that the future will require different, game-changing, thinking. The one thing that Change Makers do better than anyone else is involve people at every stage of the process of change and transformation – from the clarification of the vision for change through to the successful delivery and capturing of lessons learned.

In short, the top-down view of change, driven by executive mandates and programme offices is redundant. Although it does make sense to monitor the progress of the various projects along the way, it makes even more sense to ensure the plans are owned by those who feel they have a vested interest in making them happen in the first place!At The Change Maker Group, we develop Change Makers using the DELTA change model, a people-centric model tested over many years and with thousands of individuals and teams in every sector. If you would like to know more, get in touch.

Simon Phillips is the Founder of The Change Maker Group. Contact him [email protected]

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