Dealing with crises will always be part of the Government’s DNA — recent years simply highlight that the ability to adapt rapidly and act with agility is vital. What’s important is to learn from each crisis and address the root causes of problems to prevent them from recurring and worsening backlogs further.
Future-proofing departments and teams means empowering people on the ground to shape solutions and drive change. When individuals and teams feel ownership and accountability, productivity and morale increase. Quite simply, people power works.
People are your strongest resource
Government objectives can be influenced just as much by media headlines and public opinion as they are by strategy. Priorities can be swiftly changed and focus lost, causing backlogs to reach an all-time high.
The situation has been exacerbated by the redeployment of people into new roles during the pandemic, shifting societal challenges and funding gaps. Technology, digital innovations, and automation are commonly cited as solutions. But unclogging backlogs needs people to shape these solutions and deliver results faster.
Five practical ways to tackle backlogs
Reducing the backlog burden requires focus and commitment, but it can be achieved by:
- Prioritising leadership development: provide real opportunities for people to demonstrate leadership capabilities, removing barriers to achieving their goals. When leaders empower their teams to be autonomous, continuous improvement follows.
20 of the NAO’s value-for-money reports, and 21% of their total recommendations, are related to problems with government’s operational management capability. (Improving operational delivery in government – NAO, 2021)
- Increasing visibility of planning, reporting and governance: feature KPI dashboards in offices and meeting rooms and make them accessible virtually. Daily visibility of caseload numbers coming down gives teams direct accountability.
Sharing reporting increases engagement, identifies opportunities and drives results. Teams who collectively set their own goals are happier and achieve better results.
- Developing universal ways of working: training leaders along with their teams ensures skills are shared and leaders understand pinch points, barriers and opportunities. Future coaching can then be done in-house with a focus on supporting people rather than directing them.
Take a ‘team by team’ approach to ensure uniformity in ways of working, reaching across and through departments.
- Implementing process change and operational readiness at every level: deploy both top-down and bottom-up approaches – tactical improvements can be more effective than strategic change. Leaders gather insight from those at the coal face, looking across teams and departments to find common issues and synergies. Small and simple tweaks to processes can make a dramatic difference.
Baringa’s work with HM Land Registry to tackle service backlogs saw planning ownership returned to each of their 14 regional offices. Through direct involvement in shaping ways of working and removing process inefficiencies, caseworker engagement levels have consistently increased, delivering 15%+ uplift in productivity.
- Creating a Centre of Service Excellence: build a culture of independence and ownership to establish a sustainable model of continuous improvement. Create matrices of skills and experience so that everyone works to their strengths. Take a truly people-led approach by measuring and celebrating success – driving productivity through reward and recognition.
People-led change enables faster outcomes and increased benefits
Building a culture that recognises hard work and great ideas improves retention. Retaining vital skills and experience makes teams more effective; recognising and rewarding talent makes people stay.
Change and progress are only possible by harnessing the civil service’s greatest resource – people. Backlogs will only be brought down by empowering and engaging individuals and teams. It’s time to put your people first – develop individuals, support teams, and finally beat the backlog burden.
NB.: This article has been published in the September issue of Civil Service World. Read the digital edition now.
About the author
Mark McLeary works in Baringa’s Government and Public Sector team. He specialises in operational excellence and managing legislative and operational delivery programmes across government departments.