Before we dive into best practices, let me start by addressing some common misconceptions that the private sector has about the public sector. Reframing these misconceptions will help you bridge the gap between these two seemingly disparate entities. Hint: they’re not as different as you may think.
The public and private sectors have different conceptions of time. Most private sector companies operate on a quarter-to-quarter basis. Meanwhile, in the public sector, an average regulation can take around five years to come through. That said, within those five years, there are elements and pockets of speed as well. In order to execute in five years, you’ll need to be on a tight agenda throughout. In other words, the public sector works equally as fast, but across a larger timespan.
Through the pandemic and in the now post-COVID world, the public sector has had no choice but to innovate. My work at The Adecco Group is centered in the space of employment, so it is obvious that with the massive shifts in the world of work, governments have to adjust as well. We are reimagining how and where work is carried out, how people are organizing their days, what new forms of contact are needed. In tandem, labor ministries and administrations across the world have had to adapt and respond to these changes – they’ve been innovating too.
Frankly, if the public sector weren’t customer focused, it simply wouldn’t survive! The “customers” of the public sector are the people – its taxpayers. The administration needs to serve its constituents, the people who voted them into office, and communicate the results it is achieving. Customer focus is key.
In the public sector, we are driven by KPIs – we thrive on them and they form a measure of our productivity. It’s the same case for the public sector as well. Ultimately, the public sector needs to justify its actions to taxpayers. Increasingly, I see public sector representatives who are keenly focused on measuring their results and ensuring that they’re achieving the goals they set out for themselves.
Hopefully, these misconceptions have highlighted to you that there are several points of alignment between the public and private sector. Finding points of common ground might not be as challenging as you may have thought.
With this in mind, here are my top three tips for anyone who wants to build successful collaborations with the public sector.
Build a deep understanding of the administration you’re dealing with. Understand their broader policy agenda and priorities, and figure out where and how your initiative slots into the bigger picture. This will help you reach out to public sector stakeholders in an empowered way, knowing how collaborating with you can help advance their agenda.
This is absolutely crucial. Just as you would go about building relationships in the private sector, the same applies to stakeholders in the public sector. By building relationships and laying a foundation of trust, you’ll be able to further your initiatives much more effectively. Make sure you’re communicating with clarity around what you’re hoping to achieve – being open and transparent goes a long way. To get started on building strategic relationships, I’d recommend joining a private sector federation, as you will be joining a body of credible, like-minded businesses that will help you then position yourself to reach out to the public sector.
Understand the longer timeframes, and plan for this when you’re setting goals. Don’t expect to get something done immediately. The public sector makes decisions in conjunction with several constituents, so your strategy should take this into account.
In the UK, we were able to enter into a hugely successful public-private sector partnership recently, around the topic of menopause. We realized that due to the effects of menopause, women leave the workforce or don’t enter it at all. A colleague of mine (from the private sector), Helen Tomlinson, built a unique advocacy program and was just recognised by the UK government as the first Menopause Employment Champion, participating in a multitude of working groups, consulting and negotiating between various stakeholders across the private and public sector alike.
Another example is in the area of skills development. In order for the public sector to offer effective work readiness programs, it’s important to understand which skills are in demand within the private sector. In that sense, structured and ongoing collaborations between the public and private sector are incredibly effective. The Adecco Group, for instance, has had a great partnership with the Belgian government, which even led to a visit of his Majesty the King of Belgium to Switzerland, where he met with Swiss stakeholders and institutions championing work readiness solutions. This meeting facilitated private sector know-how to the public sector.
If you’re thinking about pursuing a public sector partnership, I hope the examples above inspire you to get started and showcase how rewarding the synergy can be. Go ahead and open those doors.
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SVP Head, Group Public Affairs