• Opinion
  • September 10, 2018
  • 6 minutes
  • 2

What will be the future of people management in the public sector?

Opinion: We want to hear your views on how leadership should adapt to growing complexity

This opinion piece was written by Daniel Gerson and Kevin Richman from the OECD. If you’re interested in writing an opinion piece, take a look at Apolitical’s guide for contributors


As the Apolitical community is well aware, public sector employees hold many of the keys to better and more innovative public services. The capabilities of public servants, and those who lead them, need to be continuously assessed and improved to ensure we can adjust and meet challenges that are increasingly complex, interconnected and specific.

Today’s public service leaders are expected to work across organisational boundaries, sectors and jurisdictions. They must balance mission objectives and multiple bottom lines, manage and transform vast public organisations, motivate and inspire their workforces and be trusted partners to an ever-growing list of partners, stakeholders and elected officials.

“Today’s public service leaders are expected to work across organisational boundaries, sectors and jurisdictions”

The OECD is supporting countries around the world to deal with this changing environment. In doing so, we have recognised that innovation is increasingly being discussed as a critical core competency across all public service positions, rather than the domain of a few special stars.

This suggests we need to rethink the ways work and jobs are organised and managed. However, there is a widespread perception that public employment systems are too slow to bring the right skills in and too rigid to re-skill existing employees or reallocate talent to emerging areas of need.

The ways in which many public sector organisations approach people management are often outdated — developed to meet the needs of a bygone era; no longer able to respond to ongoing and emerging challenges quickly and effectively. The term “legacy systems” need not only apply to the digital world.

The first international recommendations

So how should we be managing our public sector employees and setting public employment policy? What should a fit-for-purpose public service look like?

“The ways in which many public sector organisations approach people management are often outdated”

To date, very little international guidance exists to address the complex challenges posed by people management and civil service reform in public administrations. To fill this important gap, the OECD and its member countries are developing the first international Recommendation on Public Service Leadership and Capability — and your feedback is critical to the process. A public consultation in its final week is open to all public employees and interested citizens.

OECD Recommendations are international standards which reflect agreed-upon good practices and principles on a particular subject or policy area: in this case public employment and management. So far the OECD has developed Recommendations in a variety of governance areas, such as digital government, public sector integrity and gender equality in public life.

They are not legally binding, but by adhering to them, it is understood that parties agree to the tenets within and will work in earnest to implement them. The OECD monitors implementation and reports back to the OECD Council and the general public.

Member states and the OECD have already developed a draft of the public service employment Recommendation, with 14 principles of a fit-for-purpose public service under three main pillars:

  • A values-driven public service where commonly understood values guide a results-oriented and citizens-centred culture of leadership and policy and services design;
  • A trusted and capable public service with the ability to identify the skills and competencies it needs, and which aligns its employment systems to bring those skills and competencies in, develop them, motivate and provides the necessary resources for their use;
  • A responsive and adaptive public service with the empowerment, resources and agility needed to effectively and efficiently address fast changing, ongoing and emerging challenges. 

Why we need you

The Apolitical community is filled with forward thinkers pushing the boundaries of what is possible in the public sector. Many of you have first-hand experience with public sector people management and have a vision for the future: OECD wants to hear from you.

How does this draft currently read from your country’s perspective? What would you add, if anything, to make sure the instrument responds to the challenges you have or foresee in the public service? What would you change to ensure that your public employment and people management systems are aligned with the needs of your organisations?

For more information, to review the draft Recommendation and to provide your views, visit our web page: oe.cd/pem-consultation. We are entering the final week of the consultation, open until 14 September, 2018, so don’t miss the last chance for input! — Daniel Gerson and Kevin Richman

(Picture credit: Pexels)

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