Archive for the ‘People’ Category

Change The Lens: An Open Letter to Barack Obama (And All Government Leaders) On The Best Way To Improve Government

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

obama

This year’s election season generated a lot of enthusiasm from all sides. The record-breaking voter registrations and the long lines at the polls are positive signs of an active democracy. The pundits are saying this election will drive renewed interest in public service the likes we haven’t seen since the 1960s. I hope that is true. The work of government is noble, necessary and too often thankless. But we can’t renew interest in public service until we reform the perception of public servants.

 

Government employees have been an easy target for far too long. Imagine how well a company would perform if the employees were continually berated by the investors, the board of directors and the customers. Imagine how inspired you would be if you were told that your life’s work was “the problem” instead of the solution. While you alone can’t change the attitude of taxpayers and elected officials, you can at least assure the employees that the CEO is supportive of them and their important mission.

Over the next four years, people will be approaching you with any number of initiatives to improve government. Many of these initiatives will be directed at improving the performance of the people of government. On the surface, they may sound well-meaning, but I challenge you to search your heart and ask what assumptions these initiatives make about people. Through what lens do they view the work of government? Are they assuming government employees are looking to avoid work and responsibility? Are they assuming that government employees are motivated by money? Do they assume that the customers of government are all out to cheat the system?

As you embark on your new administration, I challenge you to change the lens. To start with a fresh perspective. To see government employees as they truly are — hard working, creative, mission-driven, passionate people who want to make a difference in the world.

With that perspective in mind, what can you do to radically improve the performance of government? (more…)

Free the Hostages: Sure Governments Are Monopolies. But They Don’t Have To Act Like It.

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

hostage

Difficult economic times have government agencies searching for ways to be more efficient. One solution that’s always trotted out is the concept of outsourcing — turning to the private sector to fulfill functions previously performed by the public sector.

There are definitely times when this solution can be advantageous: When the expertise is too rare and too costly to develop, or when there simply isn’t enough capacity inside the agency to keep up. Good examples include using private collection agencies for outstanding fees and taxes, or employing private after-hours child-abuse investigation units.

In most cases, though, outsourcing isn’t being done to supplement the work of government employees. It’s done to replace them. The assumption behind most pushes for outsourcing is that the private sector can do it better. Many people hold this as a universal truth, that private sector employees are simply better and more efficient than public sector employees. (And after corporate America’s stellar performance in 2008, who could argue?)

But is this true? Are those of us in government defective in some way? Have all of the slow, inefficient, customer-hating people gravitated to one industry? (more…)

Profit Sharing in Government: Motivate Your Employees By Giving Them a Stake in Your Success. Just Don’t Try to Do it With Money

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

helping-handsLast month I wrote an apparently controversial column called “Greed is Good.” (Thanks for all the “fan mail.”) In it, I tried to make the point that government does exist to make a profit; it’s just not measured in dollars. Profit is the outcome or result measure for the private sector. To say in government that we are not here to achieve a profit is akin to saying we are not here to achieve results. Try opening with that one at your next appropriations hearing.

For government, profit is measured in far more important things like quality of life, a clean environment, healthy kids and a vibrant economy. The point of my previous column was that we should be as focused on delivering these results to taxpayers as the private sector is on delivering profits to investors. Once we recognize we are here to achieve a “profit,” we’ll be better able to communicate our value to investors, develop innovative alternatives to achieve more profit — and finally, share our profits with employees.

How could we make profit-sharing work in government?

Let me start with how not to do it. The typical way we have interpreted profit-sharing in government is to give monetary rewards to employees. Borrowing ideas from the private sector, we have tried numerous ways to incentivize employees with money — a merit increase, a pay-for-performance-scheme, a “keep part of the savings” incentive, rewards for offering ideas. These programs have had limited success for a couple of key reasons. First, they are expensive and rarely survive a budget crisis. Second, they are built on some pretty strong assumptions: Namely, that you can motivate people, and that you can motivate them with money. (more…)

The WelcomeMat to Your Culture: Your Hiring Process May Be What’s Keeping Your Organization From Improving

Friday, May 1st, 2009

doormatLast month, I wrote about Buckminster Fuller’s trimtab analogy for organizational change. Essentially, you must identify trimtabs, those few vital changes that would break up the status quo, in order to change the direction of the culture of your organization. These trimtabs are not low-hanging fruit, but rather they are the key systems of your organization. Once you find them, form projects and fix them. At the end of the column, I promised I would share the one trimtab every organization should work on right away: the hiring process. There is no organizational process that I have seen that has a bigger impact on a culture than the hiring process.

I’ve had many frank discussions with executives in which they confess their absolute frustration with the slow, unresponsive, bureaucratic culture they are leading. As one manager said “We’ve thrown fish, we’ve moved cheese, none of it works”.  Despite their best efforts, the culture only seems to endure and perpetuate itself. I usually give the same reply: How is your hiring process? Think about it. What is the first experience a new employee will have with your agency?

One of my workshop participants, a recent hire to government, put it to me this way:

“I had to fill out ridiculously long forms; I couldn’t get hold of anybody to help me; I got notified of my interview a day before; was told the wrong place to go; had to take a test that reminded me of my drivers exam; and then I waited and waited and waited and called and waited some more. Finally I got the offer, showed up for work and goofed around for a month before I could get a phone, a desk and access to the computer system.”

What have we just told our new employees about how we do things around here? You never get a second chance to make a first impression. (Compounding this problem is the generation gap. Many of us grew up being told that if you wanted something, you had to wait for it. The TiVo Generation has a different perspective. When they start a new job, they want to hit the ground running.)

But that’s just the half of it. The unresponsive, cumbersome hiring process may create the wrong impression for new employees, but that pales in comparison to the cancerous effect it has on existing employees. (more…)