10 public/private partnership commandments
Public/private partnerships are, by definition, comprised of public and private sector employees working under unified management toward a common goal.
These partnerships are becoming increasingly common for the engineering and construction management of large capital projects because of insufficient resources within the public agency, civil service rules that make it difficult to downsize public staff upon project conclusion and the potential benefits that arise from taking the best of both the public and the private sectors.
Lessons learned from previous public/private partnerships can provide valuable insight to those considering entering into such an arrangement. Recognizing and developing a plan to deal with the difficulties presented in the blending of personnel from different corporate cultures is necessary for a project to succeed.
The benefits of partnerships can best be attained when all participants understand potential pitfalls and work to overcome them in pursuit of the common goal.
The following “commandments” are designed to assist in the process.
I. Create a new identity for the project team. Employees often take pride in their employer, and, while retaining corporate identification is positive, it is imperative that the team create a new identity.
Care must be given to the selection of the team name, as this often becomes the name of the project itself. This is important in any project that has public involvement or a community relations component, so it is necessary to stay away from names with negative connotations.
II. Develop new rules for the project team. Partnerships are a whole new ball game with a combination of both public and private rules. The formation of team rules disrupts normal chains of command as well as the officecomfort factors,, to which employees have grown accustomed. It is important that all team members work the same schedules, observe the same rules of office etiquette and work within established administrative hier-archies. Normally, private employees will need to exhibit more personal flexibility and re-orient themselves to operate under public rules.
III. Relocate the project team to one location. One way to get personnel to operate as a team is move them to one location. Experience has shown that personnel not located with the team have a difficult time interacting with their colleagues. Similarly, if the project team is located in separate offices, each group sees itself as a separate entity, and teamwork suffers.
IV. Establish goals. A clear understanding of the team mission is critical to the project’s success. A mission statement should be developed. Questions should be asked, such as: What is the purpose of the team? How can it achieve its mission? One way to enlighten team members is to prepare a presentation regarding the mission, then post it around the office.
Achievable short- and long-term schedules should also be developed. Nothing builds team pride, productivity and cooperation like successfully meeting goals.
V. Do not tolerate employees who refuse to cooper, ate. A team is defined as two or more people working together for a common purpose. One member’s failure to cooperate can disrupt the whole team. Excuses for not cooperating should not go unchallenged.
Management personnel must also spend time with potential troublemakers to try and show them the necessity of cooperating. Differences must be explained and the stand taken that there is strength in diversity. Those in management must guard against dissension by reminding members that the success of the project is continent upon collaboration.
VI. Treat all employees with fairness. “Organization by employer,, (assigning key roles to private personnel first due to experience and reassigning the positions later to public employees) may not be best for team unity. Public employee team members should be eased into key positions quickly after they have had the opportunity to learn the requirements and responsibilities of the position from more experienced personnel.
Additionally, private sector employees must recognize that, at some point, the owner may move public employees into key positions, which would thus ensure a smooth transition from the public/private partnership upon the completion of the project.
VII. Recognize that success produces envy, and envy produces snipers. Other departments within both organizations may not take kindly to a successful partnership. Snipers on both sides may criticize the partnership, and this criticism might produce audits, extra scrutiny of budgets and indiscriminate transfers of public personnel. Since there is generally no defense against this kind of sniping, project managers it should be aware of how certain actions will be viewed by others.
Regardless, it is important to have solid documentation and the patience of Job. It is also imperative that managers do not respond in kind.
VIII. Communicate with everyone who should be “in the know.” If the partnership is successful, people should be told. Communication should be viewed as a type of preemptive strike against critics, as well as a means of documenting progress, organizing data and showing creative skills. Progress reports should be sent to everyone in the organization associated with the project.
Videos or photos that offer messages tailored to specific people also should be sent out regularly.
IX. Remember: The team that plays together stays together. People work better with others when they are socially comfortable. Social relationships cannot effectively be built in the office environment alone – they are best developed outside. A potluck lunch, softball game, birthday celebration or a holiday party can help.
Social time together will help build a team faster.
X. Do not forget staff assigned to the partnership. Projects may last for 10 years, but they do end. Consequently, it is necessary for employees to keep up some ties with their home offices.
It is perfectly acceptable to encourage occasional low-key meetings of just the public or private sector employees (so the spirit of team unity is maintained) to help them keep their “corporate identity.” Any divergence from the norm can result in difficulties and lead to questions regarding the wisdom of the change.
Change can provide the opportunity for major improvements in project delivery. Public/private partnerships offer a means to effect the change necessary to allow for work that is done faster, better and cheaper.