Socitm: Traditional management structures ‘unsustainable’ in digital age

Digital leaders need to address top-down, rigid management hierarchies that could stifle innovation in the public sector, Socitm has said.

Councils need to embrace new ways of working – Photo credit: Pexels

In a briefing note the body, which represents IT professionals in the public sector, says that the status quo is “unsustainable” and that digital leaders need to embrace a new way of thinking quickly.

The note, The Digital Mindset, is part of a briefing series available to Socitm Insight Khub members. It acknowledges that changing attitudes will take time – often longer than it does for technologies to be developed – and sets out 15 steps to help digital leaders make the transition.

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Many of these relate to changes that digital leaders may have to make to their management style.

Traditional top-down management hierarchies are unlikely to work well in the digital age, the note says, and can stifle innovation.

Instead, digital leaders need to establish a culture of change and improvement and consider managing a team by outcomes rather than inputs.

“Old constraints about when and where work should be done can be incongruous with new digital thinking and ways of working,” the note reads. “They are born of rigid hierarchies and top-down command and control.”

Instead, everyone should be treated as “a valued, responsible and well-motivated adult”.

In addition, digital leaders will need to develop the skills to sell digital ideas to relevant service managers – for instance by including them in the design process from the start – and become more comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty.

“The digital world is complex,” the note says. “Relationships between cause and effect often only become clear after the event or they may just remain somewhat fuzzy throughout.”

It advises leaders to embrace the agile way of working, and take small and quick steps towards a clearly defined end-goal, which is likely to include taking calculated risks.

Socitm acknowledges that this “doesn’t fit comfortably with the conservative public sector”, but says that this needs to change if local authorities are to provide services that can cope with increasing demand.

At the same time, the body recommends looking for win-win situations. For example, it says that open standard and open data should benefit both the buyer and the supplier, which will reduce adversarial relationships and in turn improve the service being delivered.

The note also recommends that digital leaders build the right infrastructure and team – something that has become more difficult after years of austerity.

As such, digital leaders should look beyond traditional recruitment channels and may need to be “reconsidering past cutbacks in current staff development expenditures”.

Socitm emphasises the idea that, although some people are digital natives, others will need to work on improving their digital mindset or risk being left behind.

The role of digital leaders is not just to think digitally themselves, but also enthuse their team to do the same, the note says.

It adds: “Exercising a digital mindset, and being digital as a consequence, needs to be holistic and, by definition, cannot be left to any one group of organisational stakeholders.”


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