Posts Tagged ‘government performance’

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…)

The Crazy Cycle: The Crushing Effects of Backlog and How The Golden Arches Can Help You Avoid Them

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

Climbing a Pile of FilesI wrote in a previous column about the incredible opportunities available to speed up the operations of government. I stressed that it’s not a people issue. Rather, it’s the systems of government that are dysfunctional.

Research and my own personal experience have shown that in most processes the labor or work time is less than 5 percent of the total elapsed time. For example, it may take 60 days to get a health permit, but the actual labor required to produce one is likely measured in hours. It may take three months to fill a vacancy, but the sum of all the labor adds up to less than a week.

Where does all the time go? Again, it’s not a people problem. Individuals are deluged with tasks, and most of them are doing those tasks the best they can. The lost time happens between the tasks.

One of the biggest time culprits is backlog — the piles of work in front of each person, waiting to be done. Quite often the problem in government is not that we are slow, just that we’re behind. If you are overwhelmed with backlog (and with the rash of hiring freezes sweeping the nation, you may soon be), I’m going to give you a piece of advice that I know may severely underwhelm you. The secret to dealing with backlog is to never get behind in the first place. (Send all thank-you emails to ken@changeagents.info.)

Underwhelmed? Well, let’s look at this pearl of wisdom a little more closely. This diagram depicts a typical backlog situation: (more…)

Competing Interests: What Toothpaste and Tax Forms Can Teach Us About Simplifying Government For Citizens

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

 

toothpasteI thought April would be a good time to write a column about taxes and a topic people in government love just about as much as taxes — customers. As many of you may know, one of my previous jobs in government was as deputy director of a large state agency responsible for taxes and DMVs. Much like the “I learned in Kindergarten” book series, everything I ever needed to know about customer satisfaction in government, I learned there.

 

I learned that people don’t like the word “customer.” I learned that telling auditors “the customer is always right” doesn’t win friends. I learned that customer-service training washes off the first time there is a two-hour line and the computer stops working. But most importantly, I learned about competing customer interests — a reality we all face in government at every level in every agency.

One of the push-backs I get in my workshops about customer satisfaction in government is, “Ken, this would all be so easy in the private sector. They just have to worry about one customer. But we have multiple customers with competing interests.”

I sympathize with that sentiment. In many ways, the concept of customer in the private sector is much easier, but the reality is that the private sector struggles with the same issue we do.

Let’s use a very simple example: toothpaste. Our common notion of customers is of someone who walks into a store, buys something and walks out happy. So when it comes to that tube of Crest, determining who the customer is seems like an easy exercise. If I walk into Target and buy a tube of toothpaste, I am the customer. There, that was easy. (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…)