Capitalizing on complexity – Canadian Government Executive

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May 7, 2012

Capitalizing on complexity

How are leaders responding to a competitive and economic environment unlike anything that has come before? To find out, IBM interviewed more than 1500 CEOs, including 72 leaders from Canada and the Caribbean – half of whom represented the public sector.

Coming out of the worst economic downturn in their professional lifetimes, leaders indicate complexity is the foremost issue. It is accelerating and Canadian public sector leaders see a large gap between the level of complexity coming at them and their confidence that they are equipped to deal with it.

So, what’s going on? Clearly much has happened in the past two years to shake the assumptions of this generation of leaders. Besides the global recession, they have experienced the realities of integration – 22 percent of the world’s population is online, there are nine times more mobile phone accounts than cars worldwide and 63 percent of adults research through social networks and blogs. While mature markets have 1.2 billion people, the emerging world has 5.6 billion.

Increasingly interconnected economies, enterprises and governments have given rise to vast opportunities. But greater connectivity has also created strong – and unknown – interdependencies. Leaders agree, the new economic environment is substantially more volatile, uncertain and increasingly complex.

Against that backdrop of interconnection, interdependency and complexity, Canadian public sector leaders believe that success requires new thinking and continuous innovation at all levels. In effect, increasing complexity calls for leaders to lead with bold creativity, connect with citizens in new and imaginative ways and embrace flexibility and innovation to position their organizations for success. To capitalize on complexity, leaders should:

  • Embody creative leadership: public sector leaders are realizing creativity is critical. That means being comfortable with ambiguity and willing to experiment to create new business models. Creative leaders invite disruptive innovation, encourage others to drop outdated approaches and take balanced risks. They are open-minded and inventive in their management and communications styles, to engage with a new generation of employees and citizens.
  • Reinvent citizen relationships: citizens’ expectations have increased dramatically in terms of quality and value of services. Public sector leaders are making “getting connected” to citizens their highest priority. These leaders are starting to recognize that ongoing engagement and co-creation with citizens results in higher service satisfaction and they consider the information explosion immensely valuable in developing deep citizen insights.
  • Build operating dexterity: leaders are working to master complexity in countless ways. They are redesigning operating strategies for ultimate speed and flexibility. They are addressing complexity through simplified citizen services and interactions. And they are cautiously considering the possibilities of exploiting global efficiencies while addressing local needs.

Taken together, these recommendations describe a shift toward corporate cultures that are far more transparent and entrepreneurial; cultures imbued with the belief that complexity is an opportunity rather than a threat; that risk is to be managed not avoided; and that leaders will be rewarded based on their ability to build flexible and adaptable enterprises.

The good news is that a number of public sector organizations in Canada and around the world have already started to embrace these concepts with positive results.

A number of provincial service delivery agencies have introduced new ways to connect with citizens. For example, Service BC has introduced new formats to encourage ongoing dialogues with citizens, including blogs and discussion boards. It created a board of directors that includes citizens to gain insight into their needs. It is also exploring partnerships with municipalities to extend its presence and further enhance its service.

The Swedish National Road Administration demonstrated strong political will and creative leadership by pursuing the introduction of a road usage tax in high traffic areas during peak hours despite high levels of citizen resistance. With the increased revenue, it introduced improved public transportation and was able to change citizens’ perceptions. The results were impressive: a reduction in carbon emissions of 14-18 percent and increased revenues to fund transportation projects.

In Ontario, the Trillium Health Centre has increased its operating dexterity by implementing a system that offers real-time insight into patient status and treatment efforts, enabling staff to identify bottlenecks, better prioritize treatment and respond to high-risk cases more quickly. In addition, the analytical insight has enabled the organization to anticipate emergency loads and adjust staffing levels and equipment in response.

Public sector leaders are signaling the need for a new direction in response to powerful pressures and the opportunities that accompany them. Canadian public sector organizations can start now to implement some of the changes that will prepare them to successfully navigate this complex economic and competitive landscape.

 

Karen Gardner is Associate Partner, Strategy and Transformation, with IBM Global Business Services (karen.p.gardner@ca.ibm.com).

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