I read an article that said public sector organisations were obsessed with getting it right. Getting it right involves embracing the latest management theory, responding to the agenda of whatever political party is in power and adopting a new business model. The article suggested that instead of constantly reorganising services and restructuring management in an attempt to get it right organisations should concentrate on doing the right thing.

I think the author had in mind identifying what was important and where leaders should put their time and effort.

I like the idea of doing the right thing rather than trying to get it right but for me doing the right thing is about values. The public sector in its enthusiasm to be more businesslike, more efficient and more competitive has neglected the values that made us different from the private sector.

Who talks now of the public sector ethos? Some would have us believe the only way the public sector can be as efficient as the private sector is if services are provided by the private sector but funded by the state.

Maybe aiming to be as efficient as the private sector is the wrong aim.

So yes, I do think it is time to talk about values.

Public sector values are about prompting the interest of the wider community, they are about services for all not just those who can afford them. The public sector ethos is that the state has a duty to help and protect the poor, the vulnerable and the disadvantaged. These are the values that underpin the NHS and local authority social services, housing and schools. 

Adopting a more businesslike approach in the public sector was appropriate when the agenda was to improve quality. Dropping the “take it or leave it” approach and replacing it with being customer focused had to be an improvement. Business planning, benchmarking, league tables, targets and annual appraisals were useful tools borrowed from the private sector to help us manage performance and make sure we got value for our money. But we have moved way beyond improving services and delivering efficiencies. In the current financial climate the public sector is required to reduce services and manage down demand. We have become finance led.

Public sector values would see us practice driven. We would again be talking about patient and client rights, improving the quality of services and empowering service users. We would be measuring success in terms of quality of life, reducing the gap in life expectancy between the rich and the poor and celebrating the increasing numbers of over 80s.

Of course we will have to spend more on our public services and naturally we want to ensure this money is well spent but if we don’t do the right thing we won’t be able to distinguish between the private sector and the public sector.

Don’t make decisions on an empty…bladder?

Did you know you make better decisions when your bladder is full?

Mirjam Tuk and her colleagues from the faculty of behavioural science at the University of Twente in Holland have just been awarded the Ig Nobel prize for their research into the effects of bladder control on decision making. The Ig Nobels are awarded for research that “first makes people laugh and them makes them think”.

This made me think about a manager I worked for who always left it untill the last possible moment before going to the toilet. It was an open plan office and she sat opposite me. I knew she routinely left it to the last possible moment because she would tell me. ”I need to go. I needed to go before I took that phonecall. I thought it was just going to be a simple query. I really need to go now.”

Not that she needed to tell me: for the last ten minutes she had been standing up, talking on the phone and contorting her lower body.

I assumed this behaviour was the result of a combination of a small bladder, too much coffee and an inability to terminate a conversation. But now I think about it she was a well regarded manager who went on to get a top job in the Department of Health. I had always assumed her success was down to ambition, enthusiasm, experience and a lot of management skill. Clearly she had secret weapon! 

Just another thought you know when you go for an interview and they place a glass of water on the table in front of you, rather than take a few small sips may be you should down it in one. Makes you think.