Posts Tagged ‘Innovation’

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.

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