Further to my blog on crafting a compelling goal aimed at delight clients, Johanna Kroon from Amsterdam asks: "What I would like to know is how these principles apply to public organisations such as the police, child protection services, government agencies etc. How can people who work in such organisations ever delight their customers?"
In 1973, Peter Drucker was careful to limit his articulation of an organization’s purpose to businesses in the private sector, which were driven by marketing: “Marketing is the distinguishing, unique function of the business. A business is set apart from all other human organizations by the fact that it markets a product or a service. Neither church, nor army, nor school, nor state does that. Any organization that fulfills itself through marketing a product or a service is a business. Any organization in which marketing is either absent or incidental is not a business and should never be managed as if it were one."
True, public sector organizations face certain constraints that make it more difficult for them to generate delight.
First, these organizations tend to have stakeholders rather than paying customers. It can be more difficult to identify the stakeholders whom the organization should focus on delighting, particularly if there are multiple groups of stakeholders with differing interests.
Second, private sector firms have more latitude in choosing their clients. Often the key to delighting clients in the private sector is to focus on one set of clients over another. But the stakeholders of public sector organizations are often determined by law. Thus, an organization charged by law with collecting garbage in a city must pick up everyone’s garbage, not just the garbage in certain neighborhoods.
Third, some public sector organizations are deliberately designed to be neutral among different stakeholders. For instance, by definition, the system of justice not only cannot choose who seeks its services, it must also be even-handed among parties, not favoring one group over another.
Nevertheless, public organizations that provide services to the public can usefully address the question of whom their stakeholders are, whether and to what extent priorities can be established among their needs, and whether and to what extent the organization is meeting those needs. The underlying principle is the same: the purpose of public sector organizations is to delight their principal stakeholders, although the constraints under which they operate sometimes make it more difficult for them to achieve that goal.
The Merchant of Venice factor
Even justice systems are subject to the human factor. Although Justice is traditionally pictured as a blind woman, the blind and mechanistic application of legal principles may result in a travesty of true justice.
Thus in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, “mercy seasons justice.” Instead of the blind application of legal principle, Portia comes up with a solution that respond to the human elements in the situation.
In the play, Shylock makes a loan of 3,000 ducats to Antonio, on condition that if he fails to repay, he will give Shylock a pound of flesh. The climax of the play comes in the court of the Duke of Venice. Shylock, a moneylender, refuses Bassanio's offer of 6,000 ducats, twice the amount of the loan he has made to Antonio. Shylock demands his pound of flesh from Antonio. The Duke, wishing to save Antonio but unwilling to set a dangerous legal precedent of nullifying a contract, refers the case to a visitor who introduces himself as Balthazar, a young male "doctor of the law", bearing a letter of recommendation to the Duke from the learned lawyer Bellario. The "doctor" is actually Portia in disguise, and the "law clerk" who accompanies her is actually Nerissa, also in disguise. Portia, as "Balthazar", asks Shylock to show mercy in a famous speech (“The quality of mercy is not strained,” arguing for debt relief), but Shylock refuses.
Thus if the court were to follow blind application of legal principle, it must allow Shylock to extract the pound of flesh. Shylock tells Antonio to "prepare". At that very moment, Portia points out a flaw in the contract: the bond only allows Shylock to remove the flesh, not the "blood", of Antonio. Thus, if Shylock were to shed any drop of Antonio's blood, his "lands and goods" would be forfeited under Venetian laws.
Defeated, Shylock concedes to accepting Bassanio's offer of money for the defaulted bond, but Portia prevents him from taking the money on the ground that he has already refused it. She then cites a law under which Shylock, as a Jew and therefore an "alien", having attempted to take the life of a citizen, has forfeited his property, half to the government and half to Antonio, leaving his life at the mercy of the Duke. The Duke immediately pardons Shylock's life. Antonio asks for his share "in use" (that is, reserving the principal amount while taking only the income) until Shylock's death, when the principal will be given to his daughter, Jessica and her fiancé.
In this instance, justice is even-handed but not blind. Portia engineers a solution that would delight the angels. In a well-functioning legal system, justice is coupled with mercy and takes account of the human beings involved.
Coming soon: can--or should--an education system delights its clients?
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