Building a Performance Culture in the Public Service
The theme of the forthcoming PPX Annual Symposium - From a Compliance Mindset to a Performance Culture – gets to the heart of the challenge posed by results-based management. One of the keynote questions is “… what level of cultural change is needed to encourage the effective use of performance information in driving program excellence?”
There are numerous ways of framing an answer, many of which will surface and be addressed during the symposium. As a background to the discussion, I’d like to share the results of a benchmarking exercise that we have done, especially for those interested in culture change.
At the macro-level of organizational culture change, it helps to think in terms of four well-researched culture stereotypes as described, for example, by Charles Handy in The Gods of Management.
The four types of organizational culture are:
- Power culture (power and influence oriented)
- Role culture (bureaucratic role and status oriented)
- Task culture (goal and results oriented)
- Person culture (individual achievement oriented)
Bearing in mind that no organization is purely of one culture type, the following is a brief summary description of each.
The Power-oriented Culture
In a power-oriented culture, it is the control of resources and personal charisma that counts. People who are most comfortable in a power-oriented culture tend to like uncertainty (including risk) because uncertainty implies freedom to manoeuvre. Decision-making tends to be intuitive and relationships base on personal trust and empathy.
The Role-oriented Culture
Authority in the role culture stems from one’s role or position or title, where the organization chart is a diagrammatic way of showing who is entitled to give orders to whom or via whom. The flow of information and activities is directed and steered by a complex of rules, systems and procedures that tend to maintain the steady state. Those most comfortable in a role-oriented culture tend to value order and predictability.
The Task-oriented Culture
The task-oriented culture is the culture of the group – the group of experts focusing on a common task or problem – where self-development is encouraged and mobility among organizations is not frowned upon. Those comfortable in a task-oriented culture tend to thrive on variety and problem solving, where respect is earned on the basis of expertise and professionalism.
The Person-oriented Culture
The person-oriented culture values, above all, individualistic freedom. Organizations in which this culture predominates tend to be populated with people who gather in organizations, communities or partnerships out of convenience to themselves. They wish to make a difference to the world, but it does not have to be through power or people or resources – it does not even have to be noticed to be a source of personal reward.
The desired shift from a compliance mindset to a performance culture is an avowed long-term objective of the Public Service. To quote the Clerk of the Privy Council from several years ago, he recognized “… the need to restore a better balance between oversight and flexibility and to remove unproductive restrictions that prevent public servants from managing for results rather than simply managing by rules.”
In terms of the above classification of culture types, this would be represented by a shift from a predominantly role-oriented bureaucratic culture to a predominantly task-oriented culture.
We benchmarked this shift in a large government department with a random sample of 72 of its employees using the instrument (relative strength index) described by Handy, where respondents were asked to rate their current culture-type profile (the typical GoC organization) and their preferred culture type profile (the ‘ideal’ GoC organization). The result is visually represented in the graph below, which shows an existing role-oriented culture with strong undertones of the power orientation in contrast with their preference for a task culture with an increased person orientation.
This pattern is what would be expected of a bureaucratic organization in transition to becoming more task/results oriented and is consistent with a general long-term cultural trend, in Western society organizations, towards the more task and person oriented types.
The change from a predominantly role-oriented culture to one in which task orientation predominates is a long-term leadership challenge that is not readily amenable to a programmed solution. However – like any change that depends upon attitudes, values and behaviour – self-awareness is a key necessary condition for ultimate success.
As you prepare to attend the PPX Symposium on the shift to a performance culture, give some thought to the culture type that predominates in your own organization and whether it is suited for a shift from compliance to performance.
- In your experience, what is the predominant tendency in your organization?
- Is it a combination of culture types?
- To what extent does your organizational culture accord with your own personal preference?
- If a culture shift is necessary, what can you do to support it?