The Importance of Innovative Thinking in the Public Sector

by Lorrie Ray

Bulletin,  HR Expertise and Support,  Public Employers

Public sector employers provide vital services in our communities, and they must have the workforce and the technology to provide those services to their citizens. The economic recession brought out the best in public sector employers who worked hard to make operations more lean and responsive to community needs. Public libraries working with schools to implement video and audio technology for students and others to use was just one example.

Public employers can also use innovative thinking to continue to improve the workplace. Are there slow application processes, inflexible work schedules, and other factors that make your workplace unattractive to millennials and younger workers you need for the future? Do you have a culture that is service-oriented, or is it mired in procedure that is pleasing to no one? Have you implemented the technology that is a basic expectation for those growing up in the digital age, or do you have mounds of paperwork due to outdated practices?

Workplaces that support vital operations include:

  • A strong positive culture
  • Exceptional services by employees who want to be exceptional
  • The right combination of technology and human capital

While branding your organization aids in recruiting, culture is critical to retain great employees. Organizations must have managers who are trained to coach rather than deliver orders. They must be a workplace where employees are encouraged to collaborate to solve problems, without being micromanaged, and the mission and vision of the municipality, county, state, or district create an overriding focus that employees believe in. Cities that encouraged employees to come up with better processes during the recession, while also promising to reassign rather than discharge employees, had conversations across departments that involved leaders listening to employees who were on the front lines.

Creating this focus involves understanding how your citizens’ needs are changing and provides that perfect opportunity to listen to what employees are facing in their daily work. Are there more homeless that need help in your communities? Libraries have again been at the forefront by inviting social workers to their locations, and understanding from employees patron issues that arise as a result. Are traffic patterns changing due to more modes of transportation? Public works employees are helping to design retrofitted roads and paths that meet needs these changes are creating.

We all know that jobs existing today may not be here in the near future. That does not mean that there will be less work for employees, only that the work will be different. To use a simple example, organizations that have gone paperless still have filing to do. It is now done differently. The concern among those studying the changes is that organizations that have stable structures based on laws and rules – which often describes the public sector – will have difficulty leveraging technology to create what are called ‘super jobs’ – jobs where employees use technology to greater effect.

Part of this work can be done by leveraging your membership with Employers Council. We have worked with teams to improve effectiveness, facilitated conversations to assist with planning, and coached executive and emerging leaders so that they can inspire and motivate employees to provide that exceptional service.

About the author
Lorrie Ray

Lorrie's experience in the variety of problems typically facing employers includes resolution of civil rights cases before state and federal administrative agencies, federal wage and hour disputes and state law claims, employment discrimination, wrongful discharge and health and safety laws. She is also a frequent lecturer on employment law matters. Previous to working at Employers Council, Lorrie worked at the U.S. Department of Labor Office of the Solicitor for a little over three years, prosecuting wage and hour cases for the Department.