Social Impact Services Teach Tech A Lesson

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In 10 years, public service and social impact organisation case studies will dominate Harvard Business Review not those of tech firms.

What we are now seeing is that Agile reaches far beyond the world of IT; proving highly effective at developing innovative solutions to the wicked problems in…no, not the pharma, finance, or even tech sector, but in public service and social impact organisations.

Yes, instead of the cool tech companies in Silicon Valley, public service organisations in the UK are becoming the Agile organisation examples.

I know it might sound strange. However, below the surface, tech firms and public service organisations have some critical elements in common. The former deals with great technical complexity, the latter with social complexity. For both, the challenges are immense; competitive pressures for one and austerity budget cuts for the other. However, the combination of social complexity, lack of control over the ‘system’, and austerity measures linked with an intrinsic passion to support the more vulnerable, led to a greater push for organisational innovation than that in the tech sector.

Take the UK for example. Public service organisations faced a cut of 30-50% in their budgets, while social problems and demand increased.

So, out of necessity, UK social impact services developed Agile leadership and cultures, which go far beyond running projects using Scrum.

The transformative generation of public sector leaders doesn’t just leave Agile to the project teams; they know that they play a key role in it. Yes, they recognise that sometimes command and control are needed or even a detailed project plan when faced with a complicated solvable problem. They also know much dealing with social issues is steeped in complexity.

As a result, more and more public sector leaders are developing a coherent Agile approach and, as part of this, are embracing a more adaptive leadership capacity and style. They start to shape their organisation and culture towards agile, self-managing teams (i.e., a Tealtype organisation).

This coherent approach provides an Agile basis on which real productivity gains can be made and innovation sustainable. More importantly, people with real problems will be helped!

My view is that this development is gaining strength and I predict that the ‘hero’ firms featured in books and cases in the next two decades will be public service and other social impact organisations.

In the 1980-90s, the shining examples came from manufacturing (e.g., Toyota). In the 2000s-10s, the admired companies were tech firms (Google, Amazon, Apple). In the 2020s-30s, the organisations we learn from will be increasingly government and social impact organisations.

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