Addressing the human factors in public/private partnership

If employees and other stakeholders are not a priority, problems are guaranteed to arise

Why is the human impact of public/private partnerships usually neglected?

Professionals answer this in a variety of ways:

 • People are a less measurable asset than logistics.

 • Leaders are so preoccupied with strategy, tactics, and techniques that frequently the really crucial human factor becomes, at best, an afterthought.

 • If addressed at all, there is the erroneous belief that there is plenty of time after events begin to take care of any problems. In fact, there is serious risk in doing too little too late.

Here are some suggestions for a smoother transition when entities become involved in public/private partnerships:

1. Involve those most familiar with the employees, from all partner organizations, at the earliest possible juncture and commit to addressing all issues and processes from a “people perspective.”

2. Develop a cultural assessment that helps the groups identify their differences and appreciate all that they have in common.

3. Develop forums – in all areas and at all levels — for sharing institutional history, vocabulary and acronyms, formal and informal networks, management and work styles, and institutional processes.

4. Identify expectations and problems and design a realistic process for addressing them. Remember, the people who do the job every day know how to solve the problems, so include employees from all departments and all levels in the planning.

5. Develop a strategic plan and unified goals, objectives and overriding messages that reflect the partnership effort.

6. Communicate even when there is nothing much to say. Silence erodes trust and rumors start when there is a lack of information. If legal considerations prevent early communication, then promise that you will share as much as possible as soon as you can. Many employers have lost their key skilled people because they could no longer wait for “the shoe to drop.” Sadly, in many cases it never does, but how are people to know what’s ahead if they’re kept in the dark?

7. Continually discuss the reasons for the public/private relationship and the rationale for decisions made along the way.

8. Be sure that transitional teams are developed very early on for all pivotal areas and layers of the organization, and that team members are fully representative of the employee base. Facilitated sessions are the most successful because it’s easier for someone who does not have a stake in the outcome to be completely focused on the process.

9. Based on cultural assessment and mapping, use appropriate work teams to merge processes and make decisions regarding small issues (such as what forms to use) and larger strategies (such as how to handle citizen issues). While deciding upon best practices and new policies, sub-cultural assimilation will be a by-product.

10. Provide leadership and supervisory training as though it were a completely new, startup organization — because it is.

11. Label the transition activities as a learning process for all. It is a reminder that new territory is being experienced and goes a long way to explain the confusion and occasional chaos that will inevitably be present.

12. Set up periodic re-evaluations over the first two or three years that ensure problems will be addressed long after the partnership is formed.

Employee satisfaction

Too little time and too few resources are devoted to agreeing on a common vision and on a smooth integration process that ensures both business continuity and enthusiastic support for the new plan.

Keep in mind that employee satisfaction can be responsible for the success or failure of community partnerships because in every area there are bound to be incompatibilities when two or more organizations try to work together. But when the impact on humans is recognized and addressed, even diverse organizations can emerge as productive and satisfying.

Remember, just because the plan looks good doesn’t mean it will work. If employees and other stakeholders are not a priority, even impressive protocols are not enough.

When you think you don’t have time to devote to the human impact, ask yourselves how much time it takes to deal with dissatisfied employees, inefficient processes and upset and ill-served citizens or customers. One way or the other, it’s not a matter of taking the time, it’s how you prioritize the time it’s going to take.

Gerri King, Ph.D., is a social psychologist and organizational consultant who works throughout the US and abroad. Gerri is the president of Human Dynamics Associates, Inc. in Concord. This article is the second of two parts.