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Commercial Maturity: Theme 6 - Culture, Skills and Engagement

89% of organisations globally say that commercial awareness is needed to achieve main business outcomes. And, with 8/10 councils saying they would have to raise tax or cut services without their commercial activities, this is one of the most prominent and urgent topics in the public sector.

But for many organisations, it can be difficult to know where to start. Others may struggle to reconcile the idea of being commercial with the core purpose and values of public service. The Commercial Maturity Model from Human Engine sets out six key themes that we think organisations will find helpful when adopting a commercially minded approach to solving the complex problems of today’s world.

Culture, Skills and Engagement

In a CIPFA survey, only 4% of respondents said they had the commercial skills they need in their organisations. And the Public Accounts Committee has acknowledged that new commercial activities may require skills in short supply. The need is clear but, for many working in the public sector, the change might be daunting or even uncomfortable. Most people working in the sector do so with a strong public service ethos; asking them to adopt a more commercial approach will require a huge shift in mindset, as well as a focus on new skills. Our view is that it’s not about the commercialisation of public services, it’s about being obsessed with creating value.

Here are some tips from us about what to consider:

Start at the beginning. Feature your commercial mindset in your recruitment campaigns and use it to attract talent from a broad range of sources. Include the ethos and benefits of a commercially minded approach in staff induction, to set the context from the start.

They say culture eats strategy for breakfast, so make sure yours is well fed. Communicate clearly, consistently and often. Explain how a commercially minded approach is aligned with your organisation’s core purpose and will protect and enhance frontline services.

Define commercial skills broadly and make them fit your organisation. It isn’t all about sales, it’s about using the skills and tools of commerce to add value to public services. Creativity, adaptability and influencing are every bit as important as sales, marketing and finance.

Go back to the blueprints. Depending on the scale of your ambition for change, you could be looking at some serious organisational rewiring. All departments need to be on-board, particularly key support services like Finance, Procurement and HR. It’s out with cost centre management, in with profit and loss.

Don’t expect overnight returns. Just as you wouldn’t expect quick returns from long-term financial investments, expect to give investment in your workforce time to mature.


Human Engine has launched a Commercial Academy for the public sector, providing the knowledge and skills people working in the sector have told us they need to face today’s challenges. Check out our content our get in touch with us at

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