Government and public service organisations face unique needs and conditions as they plan for disruption—how can they learn, adapt and emerge stronger than before?
The last two years have shown that government and public service organisations must be able to adapt and respond to change quickly, to maintain critical operations and services—as well as provide extraordinary supports and services to people, businesses and communities. As we continue into a prolonged era of disruption and uncertainty, resilience has quickly become the foundation on which governments orient their strategies.
But how rapidly and successfully did government organisations respond to change during the last two years? According to a global survey from Deloitte, during 2020, only 23 per cent of government leaders completely agreed that their organisation “can/could quickly adapt and pivot in response to disruptive events” (compared to 30 per cent of leaders who felt that way, across all sectors).
And while COVID-19 certainly brought the need for resilience to the forefront, we know this topic has been on the minds of executives for years. In fact, data from Deloitte also shows that more than 60 per cent of CXOs think we’ll see “occasional or regular disruptions of this scale going forward.” Most of these CXOs highlight climate and future pandemics as the most likely causes of future disruptions.
So, will governments relax the resilience muscle they exercised during the pandemic or seize the moment to strengthen it to be better prepared next time?
Cultivating resilience in government poses unique challenges
At Deloitte, we define resilient organisations as those that “plan and invest for disruption and can adapt, endure and rebound quickly in a way that enables them to not only succeed in its aftermath, but also to lead the way to a ‘better normal.’” Furthermore, it’s important to note that “resilience is not a destination; it is a state of being. A resilient organisation doesn’t ride out a crisis, returning to business-as-usual once disruption ends. It instead transforms” and adapts.
The case for cultivating and improving resilience in government is clear. For example, in Canada alone, Deloitte data shows the right investment in national resilience could boost GDP by more than 1 per cent per year over the next decade—an increase of more than $350 billion in national GDP by 2030.
But building more resilient governments requires a much broader scope of activities than in other industries—with governments facing more intense public scrutiny, given the critical services they provide. By taking a more holistic view of resilience, governments can realise they can be a strategic enabler of other policy priorities. This holistic approach can also support a fundamental shift in how governments respond to change: from more intense and reactive responses to greater continuity and management through ongoing disruption, so governments may better advance their broad agendas.
Governments may consider focussing on resilience with two lenses:
Resilience traits governments can adopt
From our research, we identified salient characteristics of the most resilient organisations. We see the following nine as key opportunities for governments to reimagine the dimensions for resilience to tackle the unique challenges they face. To promote and strengthen their resilience, governments may strive to be:
Governments can also look to go beyond legacy business-continuity work and “band-aid” solutions to more holistic and proactive strategies that include investing in talent, building organisational culture built on learning and addressing risks associated with modernising government services. Technology, including scenario modelling and analytics, can significantly increase preparedness, as can creating and discussing comprehensive crisis response scenarios and playbooks.
It’s important to note that adaptability in government is more expansive and nuanced than adaptability in other industries. Governments see the need to react and adapt to changing conditions and expectations themselves (e.g., by delivering their services online), but can also leverage their ecosystem to help deliver those services with agility. Smart procurement and flexibility in allocating talent are critical.
a. Internal: Organisations that support products and services with a team that are able to pivot and respond more effectively.
b. External: Governments can seek to foster more deliberate collaboration with one another at every level, as well as with ecosystem partners and providers to effectively build a more resilient society.
How can government leaders build trust? This is often a politicised challenge today; however, being more transparent with how the business of government is run and communicated to people can help avoid perceptions of mismanagement or even corruption. This transparent approach, in turn, can help cultivate trust and build long-term resilience.
Among government leaders who say their organisations are cultivating resilient cultures, 77 per cent globally say their organisation has “a reputation for valuing employees,” 74 per cent say it has “done well demonstrating a commitment to transparent ESG,” and 70 per cent say it has “a reputation for helping the community” (2021 Deloitte Global Resilience Report).
In particular, the ability to be smart and use technology to prepare for and even preempt disruptions can help foster anticipatory government—where governments proactively design procedures to anticipate life events and prevent problems (rather than react to them) regularly and successfully through data management. The most resilient have sound data management already in place.
Governments can also demonstrate employee-centricity and cultivate resilience by promoting resilience in their employees and leaders themselves. That is, how well they can face and overcome stressors and challenges while at work? Factors such as an individual’s personality, personal life, psychological and physical health, community, financial situation and access to workplace resources all impact employee resilience. Government leaders have reported increased mental health strain during COVID-19. To improve employee resilience, government organisations can proactively tackle it—giving leaders and employees at all levels resources, programmes, strategies and a work culture/design that supports their well-being, while also working to break down stigmas around mental health challenges.
Connecting the dots
In both times of crisis and more stable conditions, people depend on governments for service continuity and, importantly, service excellence—and governments strive to deliver. That’s why the most resilient governments, organisations and leaders themselves seek to “connect the dots,” tying together the above traits—and the processes, ecosystems, technologies and people related to them—to better anticipate and successfully respond to change. And change is a certainty in the future.
As government organisations navigate what’s ahead, it’s important to remember that resilience isn’t about trying to return to the previous status quo. It’s much more transformative—requiring new competencies and the ability to predict conditions and outcomes and respond with more agile and precise policy interventions.
For government organisations, reimagining resilience—and embracing the characteristics and principles associated with it—can help them prepare with confidence for what’s next.