Creating Innovative Procurement Organizations in the Public Sector – Part I – Workforce

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Is procurement innovation in the federal government possible? What does that look like?

In this first part of my procurement innovation series in the public sector, I want to focus on how to encourage frontline workers to be more innovative and help drive change internally.

First, how do we define an innovative organization? A truly innovative organization is one where engagement is done by everyone throughout the organization, towards a common goal of executing new ways to reach the organization’s goals.

Innovation is not merely an amorphous concept. In regard to procurement innovation, it is experimenting with different techniques and methods to achieve successful outcomes and changing how the government buys the goods and services needed to perform its mission. From increasing procurement velocity, to lowering costs, changing the status quo of many procurement enterprises across the federal government is at the top of issues for many federal executives.

So where does leadership fit into the equation? Getting leadership buy in is critical and foremost for any innovation effort to work, but the real difficulties are to get middle managers and frontline supervisors to be innovative. Even more challenging may be to convince frontline workers that being innovative should be part of their job to begin with.

To help with these issues, and with the understanding that creating innovation initiatives are needed to help drive transformation across government, the Office of Federal Procurement Policy continued their transformation drive with the memo “Myth-Busting #4” – Strengthening Engagement with Industry Partners through Innovative Business Practices”.

What is the real answer then? One word: Leadership.

So then, how can federal leaders create innovation? How can these leaders transform the agency to pursue innovative ways of achieving the organization’s mission?

Driving Innovation Through Frontline Workers

Innovative organizations are not created overnight. It is a challenging change management endeavor, driven by leaders who establish the necessary conditions to bring out innovative ideas within everyone.

Frontline workers are driven by risk. In many cases leaders talk about change and subsequent initiatives, but without creating the implicit contract that leaders support the frontline workers and will provide top cover and support to experiment and take risks, change cannot happen.

Further, and to become effective as innovators and change agents, frontline workers must understand the organizational goals and what is trying to be accomplished, why it is trying to accomplish that, and how it might achieve that goal.

By understanding the big picture, combined with knowing that the organization’s leadership supports them, the ability to change culture is possible.

One of the best examples of this type of contract was created through the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) cancellation of the $1.5 billion Flexible Agile Support for the Homeland (FLASH) procurement. DHS executives owned the mistakes, created an environment where experiments were encouraged, and provided opportunities for lessons learned and more ways to innovative. DHS continues to innovative through its Procurement Innovation Lab and expand innovation throughout its culture.

In Part II of this series, we explore how a focus on goals and purpose can help drive change towards an innovative enterprise.

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