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Making the Most of Limited Resources in the Public Sector

Nick Cotter, Head of Organisational Development  and Jo Potter, Managing Consultant,  Oakleigh Consulting Ltd.

In this article, Nick Cotter and Jo Potter examine the role of Organisational Development in preparing public sector organisations for the difficult times ahead.

The Context

Recent announcements indicate that the public sector is in for a pretty rough time over the next 3-5 years as the government struggles to balance the books. Whilst some parts of the private sector start to see the ‘green shoots of recovery’, the public sector is likely to experience severe cuts in expenditure and is predicted by the CIPD to be forced to cut its workforce by up to a third.

With workforces reduced and pay levels severely controlled, how can public sector organisations get the most out of their more limited staffing resources and how can they also keep them motivated to deliver ever increasing levels of customer service in the context of reduced budgets?

Organisations will need to be able to manage in tough and uncertain times by using a more robust approach to prioritisation whilst maintaining motivation and improving performance. They will also need to manage reducing their staff complement whilst retaining and developing the best people both for now and the future.

Organisations will need to be prepared for:

  • Restructuring driven by the need for significant cost reductions and/or new and innovative ways to service the market.
  • More rapidly evolving strategies and business objectives, which require more effective execution, more  frequent communication and faster organisational responsiveness
  • More creativity and innovation to reduce internal costs and to create external opportunities
  • A shift from an individual employee rights culture (often operating at the expense of organisational effectiveness) to an outcomes focused culture.
  •  A shift from a culture of defensive routines (such as evidencing compliance to procedures), to a culture of taking calculated risks to deliver services more efficiently.
  • Communicating dramatic change programmes
  • Improving management and leadership effectiveness for the smaller population of remaining managers
  • Helping managers and staff deal with the “survivor syndrome”. (Don’t expect those who keep their jobs to necessarily feel grateful)
  • Using experienced managers and consultants to support younger managers who have not had to work in this type of economic environment before
  • Improving engagement, influencing and communication skills to help motivate, focus, and retain key talent.
  • Use of external consultants in areas where they can help with cost reduction, added value for the customer and  eliminating internal conflict, which has it’s own unseen costs.

Public sector managers will need to be even more skilled in a number of specific areas in order to tackle the challenges ahead. They also need to be able to understand what causes people to avoid taking actions, and what the manager’s role is in perpetuating this type of culture. In particular managers will need to be able to:

  • Identify cultural and societal changes and ensure they are able to lead and influence staff responses to these changes.
  • Develop an organisation that ensures staff work as a team and focus on the key priorities
  • Treat the failure to act as the only true failure and  encourage people to learn from mistakes
  • Encourage open communication and be prepared to talk about their mistakes, and share what they have learned
  • Challenge those who humiliate, marginalise, or exclude others
  • Develop new and innovative ways to respond to changing service requirements and to reduce costs including working smarter, managing projects more effectively, and eliminating defensive routines.
  • Lead, coach, support and  motivate staff in difficult and uncertain circumstances
  • Praise and acknowledge those who are willing to give bad news
  • Communicate (often bad news) to staff whilst demonstrating empathy for people’s concerns and giving them as much information as possible about what will happen to them, why it will happen and when
  • Give people as much influence as possible over what happens, when things happen, and the way things happen to them; let them make as many decisions about their own fate as possible

The Role of Organisational Development

Organisational development programmes can challenge people into new ways of thinking, and new ways of working to deliver strategy more effectively within the context of rapid change.

A good OD programme designer will achieve this by developing a deep understanding of an organisation’s strategy, current needs, existing culture, and key external factors. They will then customise development programmes and other interventions to deliver the individual, team and organisational development outcomes required. Effective change programmes work by targeting the psychology of individuals and groups, addressing issues within their workplace and delivering sustained changes in behaviour and performance.

Various methods exist to develop the greater organisational effectiveness that is required in these difficult times. These include the following:

Organisational diagnosis and development – changing the way the organisation works

The diagnosis and development stages are crucial in helping to clarify the strategic and operational issues that the organisation faces and assessing what these issues mean for its people, their capabilities, structures, governance and culture. In a period of budget restrictions, this work can help to ensure that priorities are clear and that scarce resources are focused on achieving what is really important. It can also help to ensure that culture, values and staff competencies are geared towards achieving these priorities.

Competencies – the qualities required to be successful

Competency frameworks will prove themselves to be even more essential as a clearly focused organisational culture and specific skills and competencies become ever more important. Competency frameworks (and individual performance against them) are also useful in a redundancy situation since they can help in determining which staff are particularly important to retain in an organisation and which staff are less so.

Customised leadership and management development programmes

Programmes that enable participants to hone their management and leadership skills and to develop new skills and competencies can help to develop greater confidence in handling the difficult times ahead.

Team Effectiveness

Improving team effectiveness is particularly important when every ounce of value needs to be utilised within the organisation. The stresses and strains of an economic downturn on an organisation can exacerbate any pre-existing fractures or lead to the creation of new ones. These need to be avoided or mended speedily if the organisation is going to ride out the storm with no lasting damage.

Coaching and Mentoring – improving individual performance

This is a confidential process by which the coach helps key individuals diagnose the situation and draw on their own resources to help develop themselves and their organisation. Coaching is useful to develop individual performance in terms of leadership, staff motivation, communication, giving bad news, and dealing with the fall out from a redundancy programme.


In an environment of financial cuts and job losses, it might be tempting to avoid changing the way things are done, batten down the hatches and try to carry on with business as usual. It might also be tempting to cut training and consultancy budgets, along with leadership, management and team development programmes. However, in these difficult times, managers will need all the help they can get and the range of support provided by OD can give them the support they will undoubtedly need.

If you have any questions about the subjects covered in this white paper or you would like to find out more about how Oakleigh Consulting could help your organisation, please contact us on 0161 835 4100 or email us.


You may publish, quote or reproduce any white papers on this website on the condition that Oakleigh Consulting Ltd is notified, properly credited (and linked to) as the source, including our URL: www.oakleigh.co.uk.


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