Akintola Benson Oke
The importance and indispensability of strategy, strategic planning, and strategic management has been proved and validated over the years and, in fact, over the centuries. Yet, some organisations are not always readily open to embracing a culture of strategic management. We wish to ensure that the Lagos State Public Service is not one of those organisations and further that, strategic planning and the propensity to innovate become ingrained into the innermost fabric of the service such that long after our own years of service have passed, the Lagos State Public Service will remain positioned to compete with her peers, not only in Africa, but also globally.
It has been said that “public institutions represent a major investment for a country. Their existence is externally justified and primarily aimed at improving the lives of citizens. Much hype has been made on increasing the accountability in government and public institutions. To achieve their goals with transparency to its constituency, an institution must think and act strategically. This requires the use of strategic planning models and framework.” In the same way, I posit that the map to a ‘better place’ for the Lagos State Public Service is a culture of strategic management coupled with an innovative spirit.
What does the Lagos State Public Service stand to benefit from institutionalizing a culture of strategic management and innovation? In an article titled ‘Introduction to Strategic Management,’ Ryszard Barnat listed the benefits of strategic management for organisations such as the Lagos State Public Service as follows: It provides a way to anticipate future problems and opportunities; It provides officers with clear objectives and directions for the future of the organisation; It results in more effective and better performance compared to non-strategic management organisations; It increases officers’ satisfaction and motivation; It results in faster and better decision making; and
It results on cost savings. Moreover, Ryszard also stresses that strategic management offers the following process and personal benefits: It allows for identification, prioritisation, and exploitation of opportunities; It provides an objective view of management problems; It represents a framework for improved coordination and control of activities; It minimizes the effects of adverse conditions and changes; It allows major decisions to better support established objectives; It allows more effective allocation of time and resources to identified opportunities; It allows fewer resources and less time to be devoted to correcting erroneous or ad hoc decisions; It creates a framework for internal communication among personnel; It helps to integrate the behaviour of individuals into a total effort; It provides a basis for the clarification of individual responsibilities; It gives encouragement to forward thinking; It provides a cooperative, integrated, and enthusiastic approach to tackling problems and opportunities; It encourages a favourable attitude towards change and; It gives a degree of discipline and formality to the management of an organisation.
I can readily think of a number of insightful epigrams that validate the need for strategic thinking and management in both organisational and private lives. It is already accepted wisdom that “In absence of clearly defined goals, we become strangely loyal to performing daily acts of trivia.” Thus, the famous genius, Albert Einstein said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” Similarly, William A. Foster noted that, “Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction and skillful execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives.”
Similarly, innovation and the readiness to innovate will stand the Lagos State Public Service in good stead. In Public Sector Innovation: From Ideas to Action, a publication by Ernst & Young, it was noted that “Innovation is no longer just a buzzword. It is now seen as a potential solution to all problems and has become ubiquitous in both the private and public sectors. In the private sector, the need to be innovative has an obvious driver: staying ahead of the competition and delivering products and services that will increase market share and drive shareholder value.”
The publication then further noted that the “case for innovation in the public sector, however, is less well defined but has many similarities. As governments strive to balance priorities — including the effective allocation of resources and meeting public expectations — it is becoming increasingly clear that new approaches are needed. Governments will have to innovate and find ways to make difficult things easy in the areas of service delivery, process improvement, regulation and policy implementation.
Thereafter, the publication addressed the challenges involved in defining what innovation means in particular circumstances. It noted that, “private sector organizations struggle to define what innovation means and to effectively implement an operating model to enable it. This can be caused by many reasons, but some include: Lack of a defined innovation strategy; No specific innovation process or framework; Limited budget or leadership capacity and; The sheer size of an organization, with larger businesses tending to be bureaucratic and slow moving.”
Now, in addition to all the challenges enumerated above, the publication notes that, “On top of this, the public sector must deal with public scrutiny, and the traditionally risk-averse approach of governments. So how can the public sector effectively innovate to serve citizens better and more efficiently? The first step is clearly understanding what is driving the need to innovate — whether it’s better allocating resources, keeping up with citizens’ expectations, working with the private sector to ensure a competitive economy, or attracting the next generation of public sector leaders. Second, public sector organizations need to clearly understand what it is they’re trying to innovate — services, processes, regulatory models or policy design and implementation. And last but most important, public sector leaders need to clearly understand what operating model they intend to use to enable innovation given their specific needs, circumstances and talents. In innovation, as it has in some other areas, government can learn from the approaches.”
With those insightful observations, you will agree with me that the Lagos State Public Service will benefit from a healthy dose of ingrained innovativeness. Next, I will like to briefly discuss strategies for inspiring innovation in public service organisations such as the Lagos State Public Service. In this discussion, I will be borrowing heavily from the ideas and opinions expressed by Nicholas D. Evans in his article titled, “5 Ways for Public Sector Leaders to Accelerate Innovation.” At the heart of it, I hope that it would be appreciated that these are different approaches that can help to further advance the way ideas of the Lagos State Public Service are sourced, shared, scoped and shepherded through the innovation process, so that the service can improve the yield of ideas moving through their pipelines.
The first strategy that the Lagos State Public Service may adopt for stimulating and sustaining innovativeness is the “Inside-Out Idea Flows” strategy. In the field of open innovation, defined by Chesbrough and Bogers as “a distributed innovation process based on purposively managed knowledge flows across organizational boundaries”, there are both inbound and outbound idea flows. Outside-in idea flows have been well popularized and have become a common approach to access crowd-sourced or citizen-sourced ideas from outside the four walls of the organization.
Benson Oke writes from Lagos