Posts Tagged ‘best’

Running Business Like A Government: There’s A Lot That Government Does Right. The Private Sector Ought To Take a Few Notes

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

bank-execs

If there is a bright side to this economic meltdown, hopefully it’s that people gain a new appreciation of what it’s like to manage government. I couldn’t help but chuckle when one of the failing bank CEO’s was brought before Congress and asked what he did with the multi-billions of taxpayers dollars his company had received. He seemed genuinely outraged that anyone would dare ask how the money was used.

The CEO’s outrage turned to indignation when one of the congressmen had the nerve to ask the dreaded “but-for” question. The congressman simply asked, “Could you please tell us how many more loans you have made since you got this money?” To which the CEO exclaimed that it was impossible to keep track of funds separately and that no one could possibly separate these dollars and show the direct impact those specific dollars achieved.

Really? Because that’s what we do in government every day. I remember a colleague of mine who had to fill out four different time sheets every month because his time was split across four separate programs and grants, each of which demanded full accountability for time, money and results. What the bank CEO said was impossible is actually business as usual in government. So rather than giving you advice on how you can help improve government, I thought we would take some time to gloat and perhaps reflect on what we do really well.

Here’s what government can teach businesses about their operations: (more…)

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…)

A Mug Full of Change: Employees Don’t Need Another Mug With A Catchy Slogan. They Need Context.

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

mugIn my closet, I have a change mug. Each night, before I place my pants in the laundry basket, I empty my pockets and deposit the change in an old coffee mug. I noticed the other day, however, that my change mug was actually a “change mug.” That is, it was a mug left over from one of the numerous change initiatives I have experienced in my time in government. This one was a relic from the Total Quality Management days, complete with a picture of a non-smiling W. Edwards Deming.

 

I remember when I first got this mug, because its presence had been forecasted by one our organizations’ great cynics. I was pretty new to government and had been volunteered to represent my agency on the bigger department’s TQM steering committee. (I was to learn later that this was a clear sign the organization thought I was expendable).

This was my first change initiative, so I enthusiastically embraced it and felt with all my heart that it was going to change the world. With the zeal of the converted, I started proselytizing cubicle by cubicle.

Until I met Gerry, a 30-year veteran of state government. (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…)

Greed is Good: Making a Profit Doesn’t Always Mean Making Money

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

 

Greed is good?

Last fall I had just completed a workshop about the concepts in my book We Don’t Make Widgets when I was approached by one of the participants. She said, “Look, I get where you are going with this: We do have widgets and processes; we have customers; we should try to improve our operations. But” — and I knew exactly what was coming — “you just can’t run government like a business.”

In my most sympathetic voice I said, “I understand your feelings. When you say we can’t run government like a business, which aspect are you are most concerned about?”

Her body then contorted and convulsed, like someone who’s been told they have a bug on them. “Businesses are so … so … greedy,” she said. “All they care about is profit.”

“Exactly,” I replied. “Now imagine if we were as greedy about profit as the private sector. How great would that be?”

The look on her face said what I’ve heard a thousand times: “We’re not here to make a profit.” Except that we are. It’s just not measured in dollars.

In the private sector, the performance outcome is obvious — money. We in the public sector are here to achieve a profit also, but it’s shown in the form of results. As I contend in my book, the purpose of any organization is to maximize return to its investors by building better widgets for customers in more efficient factories. Investors? ROI? Customers? Have I lost you? Let’s step back.

(more…)

Guerilla Warfare: How to Create Change When You Are Not in Charge

Friday, May 1st, 2009

guerilla-warfareNearly every management theory — and all the accompanying books, consultants and seminars — starts with the same assumption: You need great leadership to pull “this” off, whatever “this” is this time. Whether it’s performance management, strategic planning, process improvement, customer service or some other strategy du jour, they all start by saying you need “buy-in from the top.”

That’s one of the main reasons conference attendees often leave more discouraged than excited. They recognize that while they “get it,” the people leading the organization will never reach enlightenment.

In the workshops I lead, I get three very predictable reactions. Senior managers always say, “This is great, but I don’t think we can get buy-in from the front line.” Front-line workers always say, “This is great, but senior management will never go for it.” And the middle managers just say, “Tell us what you want, and we’ll do it.” Everyone is waiting for Godot.

So how do you create change when you’re not in charge? That’s probably the question I get asked the most after addressing an audience. When top leadership is not supportive of a change initiative, you have only one recourse left — go underground. Here’s how:

1. Find a supportive manager. Guerrilla warfare starts with two people — a brave change agent and an enlightened manager. No matter how backward your organization may be, there is at least one manager who “gets it,” who wants to make her unit the best it can be. Find this person and indoctrinate her. Attend a seminar or conference together. Take her to lunch. Give her an article, a book, a Web site — just do something to pique her interest. Discuss how the proposed change initiative (its concepts and methods) will impact the things she cares about.

Often, this enlightened manager will be you. In that case, you play both roles. Be the change agent you want to see elsewhere. That is, you may not be able to impact the whole (more…)