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Research topic | McKinsey Center for Government

Government transformation

Large-scale government transformation programs are easy to talk about but difficult to execute—our research shows that only 40 percent of such efforts meet their objectives. By drawing on our experience, proprietary research, and global partnerships, we help national leaders understand what it takes to turn big ideas into big wins.

In both the developing and the developed world, governments are responding to increased demands and shrinking budgets by launching large-scale transformation programs. These concerted, multiyear efforts aim to improve and sustain government performance through coordinated programs of initiatives and interventions. Typically spanning multiple departments and agencies, such programs are inherently ambitious. As a result, many do not live up to expectations.

The McKinsey Center for Government (MCG) seeks to create the conditions for success by providing government leaders with the resources to design and deliver large-scale change, both across an entire national government and within individual agencies.

Our expertise

Government transformation programs aim for not just incremental improvements, but significant and sustainable impact in the form of economic growth, better public services, higher government productivity and increased efficiency, or all of the above.

Government-wide transformation

Based on our proprietary research, the expertise of our global network of external advisers and partners, and McKinsey’s practical experience supporting the transformation programs of close to 90 governments, MCG has developed unique perspectives on government-wide reform.

We have identified the primary success factors in large-scale government transformation programs—factors that relate, among other things, to how leaders define aspirations, set targets, plan for the short and long term, take risks, and empower teams for implementation. We have also developed a five-step process highlighting the critical steps, design options, and best practices in government-wide transformation.

Agency-level transformation

MCG’s insights into how to effect change within a government agency are informed by our extensive research, as well as McKinsey’s experience in more than 2,600 agency-level transformation programs in a variety of fields, including health care, education, energy, and public finance.

We have found that government organizations must pay equal attention to aspects related to performance (for example, budget targets) and organizational health (for example, leadership and management) to bring about and sustain change. We have isolated the critical organizational-health factors—leadership turnover and workforce tenure, to name two—that agencies should consider when designing their transformation programs. We have also identified specific change-management techniques that enhance a public-sector program’s chances of success.

Research and collaboration

We have undertaken detailed studies of 40 large-scale national or regional transformation programs in both developed and developing countries, and we are continually adding to our knowledge base in government-wide transformation. In the next phases of our research, we plan to study less successful cases to identify the factors that cause transformation programs to underperform. We are also developing tools to support transformation leaders (such as the heads of delivery units and key public servants) in the implementation process. 

To deepen our understanding of agency-level transformation, we surveyed more than 1,000 US government leaders about their experiences with change programs—a dataset that we have compared with responses from more than 5,000 private-sector leaders. In addition, we have engaged with more than 50 government leaders in two-day executive training programs as part of our Change Leaders Forums. Our plan is to extend our survey sample to more countries and investigate next-order questions, including how transformation approaches vary across different types of government institutions. We will host interactive forums to invite input from relevant parties in the coming months, and, in the meantime, welcome any initial reactions.

Featured insights

A duty to modernize
article | McKinsey on Government

'A duty to modernize': Reforming the French civil service

François-Daniel Migeon heads the agency charged with modernizing France’s public services. In this interview, he reflects on the challenges of large-scale government reform.

The case for government reform now
article | McKinsey Quarterly

The case for government reform now

June 2009—The expanded role of governments means that taxpayers will pay more for public services—and will demand more in return. To meet these expectations, the public sector must transform itself.more

Reforming the public sector in a crisis An interview with Swedens former prime minister
interview | McKinsey Quarterly

Reforming the public sector in a crisis: An interview with Sweden’s former prime minister

June 2009—Göran Persson has lived a story that should encourage leaders around the world: how to stay in power while pursuing a harsh crisis program that requires sacrifices throughout society.more

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Ian Jefferson

Ian Jefferson

Principal

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