Government Transformation: HBR research and perspectives

As a partner of a strategic consulting firm working with the Government of Canada on major transformation initiatives, I take great pride in leading a Learning Organization, intent on researching, developing and actively sharing our intellectual property, methodologies and knowledge.

To continually challenge our way of thinking and connect the dots between our learning resources, methodologies and service offerings to our clients, I often read the Harvard Business Review (HBR), whose articles are as foundationally relevant today as they were 25 or even 50 years ago.   Recently, I was prompted to think about the state of managing in a time of change when reading a recent HBR article that claimed 83% of Public sector re-orgs fail (Making Government Re-Orgs Work April 2017).  Given the current flux related to new strategic approaches directed by the GC Policy on Results, what can we learn to enhance our likelihood of success on government transformation initiatives?

  1. Focusing on the client

In the HBR Article, Obsess Over Your Customers, Not Your Rivals (May 2017), the principle of focussing on your client, not your competition, readily applies to any service-oriented organization.  For me, the relevant points were the need to immerse yourself in the world of your client to understand them better, and to look at competition not simply from the standpoint of external competitors but as any obstacle that stands in the way of your client’s transformation initiative and desired outcomes.

  1. Focusing on the outcomes

The HBR Article Are You Solving the Right Problems? (January 2017) posits that one of the key challenges in problem-solving lies in the complexity of approaches used to diagnose problems. In response, the authors describe seven (7) practices for reframing problems and finding creative solutionsWhat was striking was the onlinecasinogo common-sense approach used in all of these practices, beginning with the need to identify desired outcomes (not outputs) before problems could be reframed and solutions developed.

A related article, 5 Questions Leaders Should be Asking All the Time (September 2017)  challenges conventional thinking, as it focuses less on finding the right answers, but more on asking the right questions to inspire curiosity, creativity, and deeper thinking.   When critical thinking is required on many of our complex, transformational initiatives in the GC, this is important when considering different lenses and viewpoints before addressing and prioritizing our clients’ most profound problems.

  1. Focusing on change and learning

Addressing the sustainability of proposed solutions, the HBR article Building a Learning Organization (June 2017) observes that the success of continuous change and improvement in an organization can only be sustained by a commitment to learning.  I was struck by how problem solving or re-engineering can be done successfully if seen in a new light brought on by learning, and how the dangers of taking old approaches to new problems would likely result in failure.   Defining the Learning Organization on the pillars of Meaning, Management and Measurement re-enforced the need to harbour these principles in any major transformation.

In closing, I would encourage you to review these articles on your own and ask yourselves the following questions:

  • Do you agree or disagree with the research outputs and messages they are trying to convey?
  • What are your key takeaways and how would you apply them to major transformations in your organization?
  • Are there other sources of research that you would recommend to your colleagues before embarking upon a major transformation?


Denis Barbeau is a Systemscope Partner and engineer with more than 15 years of experience helping public sector clients to successfully address significant organizational and business challenges. As the Practice Lead for Strategic Business Consulting, Denis’ experience and specializations include business planning and transformation, organizational redesign, governance and integrated process management. Denis’ broad experience in the public and private sectors, coupled with excellent communication skills, allows him to leverage best practices for a wide variety of organizations and propose achievable solutions for the benefit of his clients. In 2008, Denis was named one of the National Capital Region’s Forty under 40 by the Ottawa Business Journal. The awards recognize business people under the age of 40 for their career accomplishments, professional expertise and community and charitable involvement


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