Long-term trends, like climate change and the ageing population, and immediate factors, such as surges in people accessing services during COVID-19, have led to greater scrutiny of government services. Against this backdrop it is understandable that there has been an emphasis on developing digital services that are more efficient and provide improved citizen experience (CX).

This is right, but there needs to be equal weight given to improving the experience of the employees who make those services possible. Motivated and empowered employees are the heart of any good citizen-facing service. So, while all departments must continue to explore ways to improve the experience of service users, this process must also include a similar transformation of their employee experience (EX).

Obviously, this is going to be an ongoing process, but for UK public sector workers the starting point is clear.

What’s the purpose?

When asked as part of the recent ‘Public service as a career of choice’ report, 86% of UK public sector employees said that their work aligns with their desire to do something meaningful. Any EX transformation must, therefore, reflect this feeling of purpose and connect with employees on a deeper level.

Often organisational structures or processes can get in the way, preventing employees from achieving this purpose. Typically, this challenge is addressed through the three lenses of culture, process and systems.

Leaders might ask ‘how do I improve employee satisfaction?’, ‘what’s the right organisational structure for us?’, or ‘how do I implement this new HR system?’. Whilst these are all elements or outcomes of an improved EX, taken separately they will have limited impact. Defining a clear purpose helps establish a north star that will enable public sector leaders to create a unified EX.

By keeping purpose in mind, leaders can then return to the cultural, procedural and systemic elements of EX with renewed clarity and confidence. For example, if an organisation’s main purpose is ensuring that citizens feel they have been treated fairly and according to need, they might approach these elements like this:

  • Culturally, they might reward teams for achieving higher user satisfaction scores rather than by the volume of contacts processed.
  • Procedurally, they might give frontline teams more power and information to resolve citizen problems quickly rather than escalating to other teams.
  • Systemically, they might automate responses to routine requests, getting people the answers they need quickly and giving employees more time to work on complex cases.

EX purpose in action

A recent project we worked on is a great example of how to align these three strands. In this instance, we were brought in to develop a new employee application that would combine multiple existing services in one place. The organisation had attempted this in the past with limited success, so when we became involved we decided to take the whole process back one step and ask why we were doing it.

Looking beyond the application, we asked employees to feedback their experiences in the broadest possible way and incorporated feedback from other stakeholders. Anonymity encouraged honesty and we were able to define a clear purpose for the organisation around respect for the individuals that made it up.

This purpose enabled us to establish a series of principles we would work from when transforming the organisation’s internal processes and developing a single digital application. At the macro-end, it helped identify priority areas that should be addressed first, like providing users with more insight into their personal career progression opportunities. It also informed more specific interventions, like telling individuals of promotions before organisation wide announcements so they could tell friends and family first.

Rather than cogs in a machine, this new application treated people as individuals. It gave them more time to do the things that they valued most, both in work and their free time. And it was all possible because we had established and agreed a clear purpose upfront.

Connecting EX and CX

In the above example we followed a clear process of research and listening, setting strategic direction and then embedding this strategy into deliverables. However, there is no point developing an internal purpose that is completely at odds with the overarching organisational priorities. Of course, that doesn’t mean they need to be one and the same, but it’s important to continuously examine how the two connect.

In the private sector, improved CX is about customer loyalty, retention (revenue upside) and reducing friction (cost). For public sector, CX is all about reducing friction – not just cost but anything that gets in the way of fulfilling purpose or delivering a service. Users come to public sector services because they need them, so defining and aligning internal and external purpose can help answer these needs more effectively and efficiently. As with EX, this aligned purpose can help identify ways to remove cultural, procedural and systemic barriers.

Given the public sector is a policy-led environment, talking about purpose publicly can often be difficult for government organisations. However, there are a number of ways in which they can begin to align internal and external purpose without risk of politicisation:

  1. Look for a purpose that transcends policy changes. This does not need to be as grandiose as “making a citizen’s life better every day”, but could instead be grounded in “clarity, fairness and effective service provision” or around “helping citizens navigate complex decisions”.
  2. Ask your people how they think their goals align with this organisational purpose as part of the listening phase of your EX programme.
  3. When defining the principles, keep checking back to see how closely they match-up to external objectives.
  4. Decide how to measure the impact of your EX programme and think about how metrics will map to organisational objectives.

Delivering for the public

Growth in the volume and complexity of the demand for public services shows no sign of slowing, and if departments are to deliver efficiently and effectively, transformation is essential. A two-pronged approach should be taken that balances the need for excellent citizen-facing services with seamless employee experiences based on a strong foundation of purpose. Those that get their EX purpose right will empower a more motivated and supported workforce that is better able to answer citizen needs.

Accenture’s ‘Public service as a career of choice’ explores the importance of purpose for public sector employees. By combining survey data with the Net Better Off framework, it highlights five key priorities for governments as they support their employees to adapt, develop and succeed. Connect with An, Dan and Mark to discuss how these insights and the approach could be applied to support your teams. 

An Lloyd-Wiggins

Director – Song, Health & Public Sector Lead, UK & Ireland

Mark Jennings


Dan Moran

Managing Partner – Karmarama, part of Accenture Song

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