Ask most people working in government agencies and NGOs why they chose their vocations, and they’ll tell you that they wanted to make a difference and thought a career in the public sector would be rewarding. But they may also say that the reality is very different. When we interview public-sector workers around the world, we commonly find people who are frustrated, unenthusiastic, and full of angst. While 89% of private-sector employees say they are proud to work for their organizations, only 59% of public servants agree.
How can it be that people who should have the most fulfilling jobs in the world are generally far less engaged and productive than those we encounter in the private sector? The root causes, we believe, are organizational cultures that are strangled by rules. Myriad rules define the public-sector workplace—rules spelling out procedural red tape, layers of decision making, regulatory compliance, and employee safeguards. These rules are put in place for the best of reasons, such as to ensure fair hiring practices and prevent corruption, favoritism, and the influence of special interests. But as rules proliferate, they often congeal into inefficient, costly bureaucracies that slow decision making, stifle initiative, discourage cooperation, and frustrate employees.
It doesn’t have to be like this. In our work with thousands of organizations globally, we have seen how public-sector leaders can achieve a step change in performance by adopting an approach that The Boston Consulting Group calls Smart Simplicity. This approach helps them simplify their organizations, take a systematic view of challenges, and create norms that promote the good behavior or actions needed to help the organization achieve its mission. The result, in our experience, is employees who approach their work with greater pride and passion and feel more fulfilled in their careers.