Public sector executives and employees know that their organisational milieu is subject to frequent change. These changes are often referred to as Machinery of Government changes, and the acronym ‘MOG’ evokes a range of associated thoughts and feelings. The negative end of this spectrum of thoughts and feelings includes fear of job loss, frustration associated with disruption of work processes and relationships and, sometimes, a ‘quit and stay’ approach that leads to lower productivity.
Changing the interconnected structures and processes of government is obviously a complex effort, and it is not my intention to suggest that it is not sometimes necessary or appropriate. When the then PM brought indigenous affairs into his own Ministry he had a legitimate purpose in mind, as did the Andrews government went it brought the Ministries responsible for economic development and transport infrastructure together in Victoria.
Nor do I suppose that it is not the subject of careful planning and disciplined execution. The APSC, for example, has issued thoughtful guidelines to support executives in managing MOGs.
Rather my view is that the effort involved in MOGs is sometimes incomplete. It can short-change the investment required to re-engage the hearts and minds of the individual involved. The name itself invokes a mechanical analogy.
I’ve seen individuals who have survived multiple MOGs over many years and governments doing essentially the same job in essentially the same way. Their executive leaders may come and go and their payroll system may change, but the tasks they perform and their sense of mission remains unchanged.
This could be seen as a good outcome, of course, to have people at the coal-face soldiering on in the delivery of needed public services. Or it could mean that the strategic intent of the MOG has not filtered down to the people who presumably matter to the delivery of organisational outcomes. Either way, however, who would want to feel like a cog in the machinery of government?