Managing Change: delivering public sector reform

Public Service Events’ inaugural conference

Wednesday 7 December 2011, the Barbican, London

Notes from Chloé Gallien

Cindy Vallance, Steph Klaric and myself attended the above yesterday.

Details of programmes and speakers can be found on:

 Although the question of “what turns an ordinary project into one that really delivers beneficial change?” was very interesting, the conference did not, unfortunately, quite live up to our expectations. It suffered from not even a passing reference to universities being made as well as from an overexposure to talking head presentations by middle-aged white males from Whitehall..  (See my “tips for conference organisers” at the end).  There were, however, a few “take-aways” for me, which I have noted below:

Some recurring themes:  

  • The importance-  and difficulty-  of disseminating learning :�
    • How to learn quickly from models that worked?
    • How to ensure that lessons, from successes as well as failures, are propagated and learned, not just observed?
    • Also to ensure that people know- and talk- about successes not just failures?


  • The importance-  and difficulty-  of getting buy-in and  overcoming resistance to change:
    • Useful to use simple, stakeholders’ analysis to identify allies, “neutrals” and “blockers”; important not to focus on “blockers” but to strengthen allies’ commitment and work with them to convince “neutrals”.
    • Have clear map of how projects link with organisation’s strategic objectives
    • Be absolutely clear and honest in all communication, about what is driving the change but also about the scope and constraints of the initiative.
    • Do not be afraid of sharing bad news and do not avoid difficult questions or conversations.


  • How to resolve tension between needing to “get on with things” and get results and the equally important need to think things through before acting?


Idea of the day

Providing a “conversations wall” in a prominent place where everyone in the organisation is encouraged to write or use sticky notes to post ideas/suggestions/comments/quotes/drawings/ photos on a monthly theme.


Quotes of the day

“We are talking about a mindset, not another manual.”

“Change is not fun.  It is a route to a much improved future.”

“There is no change without risk; we just need to be able to manage that risk.”

“Everyone wants authority by no one wants accountability.”

“People change one person at a time.”

“Consultants can do many things but they cannot transform your organisation for you.”

“Don’t share a solution; share a problem which everyone is involved in solving.” It made me think of another quote heard on another occasion: “One needs to develop a shared plan rather than share a developed plan”.


“We never communicate enough.”


Tips for conference organisers:

  • Provide speakers with  participants’ lists before hand and ask them to ensure that they try and  adapt their  presentations accordingly
  • Try and think of varying the presentation formats as well as the type of presenters.
  • Ask your speakers to avoid unexplained acronyms,  over- crowded slides,  or  slides which are illegible at the back of the room


One thought on “Managing Change: delivering public sector reform”

  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Chloé. One item that stuck in my mind was the consensus that while there is often a great focus on process and technology in relation to projects and initiatives, what is sometimes ignored is the ‘people’ element of change. Large projects are often as much about culture change as they are about the specific project goals. At the session, Professor Chris Brown referred to Jerry Johnson’s work on culture and the cultural web which is worth thinking about when considering changes.

    The Cultural Web identifies six interrelated elements that help to make up what Johnson and Scholes call the “paradigm” – the pattern or model – of the work environment. By analysing the factors in each, we can beging to see the bigger picture of organisational culture: what is working, what isn’t working, and what needs to be changed. The six elements are:

    1.Stories – The past events and people talked about inside and outside the organisation. Who and what the organisation chooses to immortalise says a great deal about what it values, and perceives as great behavior.
    2.Rituals and Routines – The daily behavior and actions of people that signal acceptable behavior. This determines what is expected to happen in given situations, and what is valued by management.
    3.Symbols – The visual representations of the organisation including logos, how plush the offices are, and the formal or informal dress codes.
    4.Organisational Structure – This includes both the structure defined by the organization chart, and the unwritten lines of power and influence that indicate whose contributions are most valued.
    5.Control Systems – The ways that the organization is controlled. These include financial systems, quality systems, and rewards (including the way they are measured and distributed within the organisation.)
    6.Power Structures – The pockets of real power in the company. This may involve one or two key senior executives, a whole group of executives, or even a department. The key is that these people have the greatest amount of influence on decisions, operations, and strategic direction.

    We can have numerous sub-cultures in a place like the University; what can we learn from those that are positive in our own ‘sub-culture’ that we can replicate elsewhere?

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