Ten thoughts from 10 years in the Public Sector; #4 Values…

…stop promising me Marilyn and giving me Homer Simpson.

I used to work with a guy who said that when your values are clear your decisions are easy. I think he borrowed this phrase from Roy Disney. When I first heard him use this phrase I thought it was simplistic, but with hindsight I can see that he was right.

VALUES-downloadThe value of values doesn’t seem to count for much in the Public Sector. In the Public Sector we are awash with Mission Statements that aren’t worth the paper they’re written on. These statements are created in ivory towers, printed, framed and then slapped up on the walls of countless buildings around the world, they are like the promises you make as a child when you have your fingers crossed behind your back. You say what you think is the right thing but you don’t mean it, in the Public Sector you don’t even know why you should mean it. It’s another example of the Public Sector trying to behave like the private sector, imitating the actions without understanding what they are doing.

It’s a sunny Saturday morning as I’m sat here typing this, and right now if I want to access many of the Public Sector Services that spend millions of pounds (your pounds and my pounds) telling me that they are here to help me when I need them, I can’t get hold of them. I can’t get hold of them because they are not there. The offices are closed, the shiny offices, offices so well equipped with equipment, furniture and technology that the average small business can only dream of, these offices are closed. If these offices were private sector factories they would be working shifts and sweating their assets in an effort to compete. But not in Public Sector land, there is no-one at the reception desk in Public Sector land, no-one is on the end of the phone or available on email. It’s as if we will only ever have need of Public Sector Services during office hours; their office hours. The Local Council, The GP Practice, The Highways Department, The Job Centre, The X-Ray Department at the nearest Hospital, The Business Support Agency, The Housing Association and Health Services; no-one is available. Even the Local Fire Service uses volunteers at the weekend!

So what has this got to do with values? Values underpin an organisations stated reason to exist, this stated purpose or mission is just empty rhetoric if it is not driven by the right values and supported by the right behaviours. Great brands understand the value of values, they create promises that resonate with the values of their audience and they consistently deliver on these promises. Companies that excel at Services Marketing understand the importance of being responsive and reliable, they know what makes their customers tick, they understand the customers world and they meet customers on their terms and make their services available in the places these customers inhabit, physically and virtually. Successful brands understand that you communicate and succeed based on your deeds, not by spouting good intentions in the form of Mission Statements.

I should say at this point that the overwhelming majority of people I’ve met in the Public Sector have values. They are intelligent, well intentioned and indeed many of them are passionate about making a real difference. But bad systems prevail over good people and Public Sector employees are constrained by poor systems and ways of working that conspire against their best efforts and the real needs of the public they are paid to serve.

So where do we go from here? Perhaps firstly we should stop expecting so little from our Public Sector Services, after all most of us will give them more money in taxes over the course of our lives than we will ever give to any one business alone, lets take every opportunity to remind our Public Sector Services of who they are here to serve, to make promises they can keep that matter to their customers.

And in the meantime try to plan your emergencies to occur during the week!


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