With changes to the way social housing (and many other services like the NHS) is funded in the UK, it’s forcing these organisations to fundamentally address the way that they make money. Money matters, and without it most organisations of this sort wouldn’t exist. There seems to be a drive amongst the current political environment to not support long held public sector organisations or socially important organisations with public money, and force them to move to a more commercial model where they have to make money in new and interesting ways.
You’ll find now in a lot of public sector organisations, financial models where they are growing new business areas with the sole aim in mind of making money so that they can continue with their core purpose. That makes sense to me, and is a reflection of the evolving world of work we live in.
As I’m part of the social housing sector, I see what this change means, and how it affects organisational development. And although we’re more a social enterprise than we are public sector, we do still receive government grants, so are tied up with and into public sector challenges.
For the workforce in these organisations, they’re faced with some real challenges in the new focus. For many, they are used to a laissez faire approach to work, which is now no longer acceptable (if ever it was acceptable in the first place). The move to becoming commercial organisations equates for many to losing the heart of what they are there for. When I worked in the NHS, many nurses and health practitioners were uncomfortable with commercialisation of the hospital even though they understood it had to happen otherwise services would be shut.
That’s a real barrier to overcome when it comes to staff motivation. In care and support organisations, staff don’t really care about making money, they care about helping people who need it, and helping them to try and live an independent life. Then they’re hearing about how they have to act commercially, and it’s a whole new world for them.
This need for commerciality often means these organisations are seen as becoming more ‘corporate’. I find it hard to understand that as every organisation is a corporate entity. But that’s not what is meant here. What is meant here is that decisions get scrutinised, processes become tighter, procedures become formal, and the feeling is that staff can’t be trusted. Comparisons start to get made with the likes of banks and big companies like Amazon or John Lewis.
And for some, they don’t like this new approach. It’s far removed from their reality.
And the one remaining challenge, which exists for all organisations no matter the sector, is how to be more collaborative. In the face of commercial imperatives, and battling the perception of becoming more corporate, how do we cultivate a collaborative culture? Is collaboration conducive to those purposes (Yes, it totally is). Does collaboration actually work? Why should I collaborate if others don’t?
It matters to discuss these things with staff, and that’s where OD happens at its best. For those of you working with these organisations, this is part of the reality many of the staff face, and I’m hopeful it provides an insight into what they face. For those of us who are practitioners in these organisations, it means we have a mammoth task on our hands of helping move people to a completely different way of working.
For all the talk of Gen Y and how they’re going to change the world of work with their new demands and their technology, I actually don’t care about them. What I care about is how to help the staff who’ve been around for 20 years, do their job really well, but need to understand the changed world, and how they can adapt best to it. In terms of neuroscience and psychology, that’s the hardest thing to shift. We’re dealing with 20 years of working practise to completely re-write and help them do that in a safe and comfortable way.
That’s what the challenge of tomorrow is about. Gen Y will be fine. They’ll adapt and get on. It’s everyone who doesn’t live that lifestyle because they’ve never needed to, and now they need to be commercial and corporate and collaborative, that’s the space where OD will find its challenges, and that’s the space we can help people be their best.