How Do You Engage Middle Managers in the Public Sector in Innovation Efforts?


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I do not have a clear answer to the above question so I hope you can help with some ideas on this challenge.

It builds on my understanding that many innovation programs in the public sector do quite well when they engage the employees. Occasionally, you even see good progress in getting the leadership onboard for innovation. However, everyone I talk with on innovation programs in the public sector still seems to struggle with the middle managers.

In this context, I view middle managers as people who act as the buffer between senior management and non-management workers. Some got promoted because they are trying to build a career in the public sector. They still have the drive and passion as they try to reach higher levels.

Others got promoted because they were doing a good job and the only way to get a bigger paycheck was to become a manager even though they might not even like this very much. This is the same in the private sector. It would in many cases be better to give high-performing people more money and more recognition in their current job rather than promoting them to a management position, but organizations are not really built for this.

Many middle managers do a good job every day, but there is also a fairly large group of middle managers that seems to have lost the passion and kind of work on cruise control. Others are simply just too busy getting things done. They do not have the time or mental free space to engage in new initiatives and they do not really understand what innovation is and why this is relevant for them and their organization.

How do you reignite these people in a way that makes them take an active role – and accept the responsibility that comes with it – in bringing more innovation into the public sector?

My early thoughts focus on identifying what these people like about their jobs or what are the things about their jobs that bother them so much that they might take action on changing this. You need to find areas that really interest them in a good or bad way in order to get them involved.

As you identify this, you can start looking into ways of engaging these middle managers to help make a difference. This could be dedicated programs for middle managers only or programs that involves all employees as well as external partners but where middle managers are given the control on what happens.

Some questions for you:

Building on the above: What could such programs look like?

In general, what do you see as the best ways of engaging middle managers for innovation efforts in a short as well as long-term perspective?

Physical interactions are quite important for collaborative innovation efforts, but office space in the public sector is often based on cubicles that do not really allow for the informal networking and interactions that can feed collaborative innovation. Are there ways – besides remodeling entire office buildings – to get around this?

I could ask many more questions, but I think you get the idea by now. Let me know what you think of this!

By the way, you might be able to find some inspiration and insights on innovation in the public sector in these blog posts:

Open Innovation and Crowdsourcing in the Public Sector – 12 Great Reads

Open Innovation Similarities and Differences: Public vs Private

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Stefan Lindegaard
Stefan is an author, speaker, facilitator and consultant focusing on open innovation, social media tools and intrapreneurship.


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