Public sector versus private sector – misconceived attitudes to change

Published by Tony Quinlan on

We’ve just finished our series of change masterclasses around the UK – Change Management for the Public Sector. And it’s highlighted for me the glaring error in too many assumptions that people on each side of the public/private divide make.

Not all private sector workers (or even companies) are driven by profit. Not all public sector workers (or even organisations) are driven by community/altruism/politics – or a safe long-term job.

And when we’re talking about real change, culture change, these are not just mistakes, they’re dangerous assumptions that sabotage the best efforts of the change makers.

More below…I’ve heard these assumptions made by senior directors and frontline workers in client organisations in the past year. Too much.

Why does this matter?

Because the assumed differences make it too easy to dismiss any potential learnings from the “other side” – I’ve heard both local government and central government departments over-simplify change in the private sector: “they can always pay higher bonuses”.

Similarly, I’ve heard big multinationals and local companies talk about “civil servants” as safe, easy jobs. With “noble goals” to drive change and people.

In our recent experiences, both are wildly inaccurate, but conveniently dismissive attitudes.

The more interesting places to look are at the similarities across the divide and the tools and attitudes used to deal with those. And that’s what we’ve been spending our time doing recently.

But we still spend too much time convincing each side of the value of the other…