Public Administration CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Professor Andrew Kakabadse (CSR 36)

Having examined the evidence gathered for the Report, I feel that one crucial topic has not been given sufficient attention and that is Engagement.

Engagement or the lack of it is emerging as a deep concern for private and public sector organisations alike. In fact I am currently being sponsored to undertake a global study of why it is so challenging for the leadership of the organisation to win engagement with staff, management and other critical stakeholders. Research highlights that over 66% of the world’s private and public sector organisations have a leadership where infighting, lack of shared vision/mission and fear to speak and raise known concerns are the norm. The Civil Service in the UK is no exception. Add to that the separation of policy input from implementation at departmental level, fast track leadership that is seen to move on before it can be held accountable for its medium/long term actions and the recent experiences of redundancy, stringent attention to costs and declining job satisfaction, it is amazing that the civil service functions as well as it does.

However the signs of disengagement are evident in the Civil Service; a transactional mindset as opposed to focusing on delivering value, low trust in the leadership to find sustainable ways forward, silo mentality,a lack of innovation and an eroding culture of service delivery. To combat such a deep seated malaise research does offer particular steps to take so as to break with the past and nurture a performance oriented culture and a mindset of diversity of thinking.

The first and most crucial step is to hold a penetrating and transparent inquiry identifying the nature and depth of disengagement and the consequences of not addressing this problem. For this reason I totally support your pursuit for a Parliamentary Commission into the workings and future of the Civil Service. The reason independent inquiry is so important is that each enterprise has its own legacy, mindset and habits all of which have to be surfaced before reform can take place. Each organisation is unique and that particular nature has to be captured if meaningful change is to be introduced. My research also emphasises that resistance to change is immense so stringent steps need to be taken to protect such evidence from being ignored.

In depth study of the engagement challenge allows for step two which is for management to admit the lack of engagement that has gripped the organisation and been responsible for the negative culture that has taken hold. Without such evidence research shows that is commonplace for management to continue in denial and when crisis finally comes the leadership blames external conditions and position themselves as faultless victims. As most organisations do not immediately collapse but instead slowly decline, top level denial can become a fabric of the organisation. If relevant and deep seated evidence cannot be gathered there is little point in continuing with reform.

However many organisations do attempt reform but without a sound evidence base. Not being forced to address structural and leadership deficiencies, it is common to solely attempt restructuring where most in the organisation know that path will not work. How could it as issues of poor leadership and an undermining culture are not discussed let alone addressed. The search proceeds for an ideal structure which is often the pet theme of one or two leaders in the organisation but ignored by the rest. So step three is resist just going for restructuring.

Step four is pursue organisation redesign driven by the evidence gathered at the inquiry stage. Here the focus is on the value the is delivered to the Market/community and from that build a structure, organisational processes, a culture and a leadership that is meeting customer/citizen needs of course within the budgetary constraints of the day. The lesson learnt from research is that engagement is realised through aligning resources to value delivery on the basis of scientifically gathered evidence. How many organisations pursue this more sophisticated service strategy balancing financial considerations with value delivery, well from my current study less than 20%.Most private and public enterprises continue to deny that an engagement concern exists and/or search for the ideal structure(on the basis that it has worked somewhere else)and/or enter into greater infighting at senior levels with factions pursuing what they believe to be right strategies which in reality have not been Market tested. So step four can be captured as don’t do strategy; prove it.

Step five involves the contribution of the board. In high performing organisations the board is involved in stewarding change and overseeing the growth of a performance oriented culture and forward looking, cohesive top team. The board has to be positively engaged with the management so that it has access to detailed knowledge of what is going on in the enterprise. Hence the board can be supportive/critical of management and can be helpful in nurturing positive ways forward and be particularly attentive to issues of risk and reputation. I do not detect any signs of that with the current departmental boards. What I see is that at best certain boards are protective of the Permanent Secretary without further knowledge of what is happening at senior management levels or as individual NEDs provide input on certain projects. This is just poor practice which an in depth inquiry should surface and highlight how limited is the contribution of departmental boards.

Global best practice suggests five steps to address engagement and change challenges. The most important step is gather evidence which accurately captures current reality and ensure that that evidence has the exposure and status to be heard. All too often the evidence from such fact finding missions is conveniently shelved because the study was not given the status and respect it deserved.

I hope my comments are helpful.

August 2013

Prepared 5th September 2013