“We will constantly provide the highest possible standards of care and the very best customer and staff experience”…this text is taken from the vision statement of a Public Sector organisation that was subsequently placed in Special Measures by regulators. The following values were displayed in the entrance to Enron’s offices; Integrity, Communication, Respect, Excellence…you can get away with saying whatever you want about how good the car is as long as no-one actually wants to try driving it!
But why do organisations, especially Public Sector ones, engage in the creation of such rhetoric, why do they constantly talk the talk as if it were a meaningful substitute for walking the walk, its increasingly embarrassing and its fooling no-one. It might have succeeded in hoodwinking the majority of people in the BI (Before Internet) era, but now it just looks silly and insulting at best, and downright duplicitous and misleading at worst.
Has any one of us ever emerged from a restaurant with our nearest and dearest and said, “the food may have been lousy darling but the vision statement was to die for”? Probably not. So why do Public Sector bodies spend so much effort, not to mention oodles of taxpayers money, developing missions and vision statements that don’t reflect the reality of the experience or the aspirations of their service-users?
Unfortunately in the Public Sector, the creation of strategy, or saying something, is often the substitute for the delivery of meaningful results. For some reason we in the Public Sector seem to love nothing more than a good strategy, in the absence of something more useful to do we like nothing better than to come together to develop a strategy…what happens after the strategy is developed seems almost unimportant; after all what could be more vital and strategic than “creating the strategy”. Issues of implementation are singularly unimportant, we triumphantly wave our completed strategy documents in the air as if to tell the waiting world we have cracked it, we have boxed the issue off, there is no need to worry about Poverty, Education, Crime, Health, Childhood Obesity, Unemployment or Affordable Housing because now we have a strategy, its as if we think the very presence of the “S” word will send shivers down the spine of whatever previously intractable problem society was facing…hurray, the cavalry is coming and our strategy is riding over the horizon. But experience of the success of Public Sector strategies would suggest they are more often the cavalry of General Custer than the precision strikes of the SAS…but of course there is no need to worry, because all that is needed is another fresh strategy!
But to a taxpaying public that are increasingly looking for real help and solutions, the never ending emergence of countless numbers of strategies just feels like more hollow-promises and empty rain-clouds, or as I heard someone recently say, dinners that pass the belly. Strategies that aren’t the precursor to action and impact are meaningless.
In the Private Sector its execution that’s respected, its not how sexy your strategy looks or how many pages its written-over…Public Sector strategies should be judged in hindsight by those they were designed to help, not celebrated in advance by those who create them.