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« Visualizing the difference between 20th and 21st Century management | Main | Endorsements for The Leader’s Guide to Radical Management »

September 19, 2010

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Laurence Lock Lee

I've spent most of the past couple of years working with public administration organizations that are precisely as you describe above. Perhaps my greatest frustration is that I have managed to find many enlightened "radical manager" devotees as individuals who largely engage us to try and help make a difference. Invariably they get moved on to another role and its rare that their replacement is as passionate about the task at hand. In fact in one of our surveys we found that most of the people had been with the agency for more than 15 years but few had been in their roles for more than 3 years .... continually juggling....not a lot of progress. Unfortunately I haven't found a Jim Wolfensohn so most of the action is battling in the middle level "Dilbert" zone.

I must say I'm at a bit of a loss on how to effect "valued" change. In a recent engagement on "Stakeholder Engagement" the results were clear, over emphasis on internal stakeholders, too little emphasis on external stakeholders, a clear need to engage with external partners in a different way i.e. negotiate a value exchange, rather than the "take what we make" status quo etc etc..

In our workshops everyone understood the issues, spoke actively about the changes that are required. I went home happy.

However in the mean time the "invisible hand" of government took charge. "We don't think we can do this....its just not the way we work. We would however like to analyse that data you have in more detail to see if we are over-servicing some of these external stakeholders!"

You mention the use of "proxy" internal customers. Invariably this happens as there is a fear of "opening up to external stakeholders and perhaps setting expectations of a behaviour that can't be sustained...(their own words). You mention Toyota, but I don't think they are anything like a public sector organisation.

So my question is "How can we galvanize the individual radical managers in a way that can achieve systemic change in a level 1 government bureaucracy?"

Geoff Barbaro

G'day Steve, another interesting post but I'm not sure it truly identifies the heart of the issue. Government organisations ultimately answer to and are guided by governments, but governments, leadership, councils and ministers (by whatever title) change.

As a result, the values also change. Here we have organisations that are unable to define stable shared values, because their equivalent of a Board, the Government and/or minister of the day, can change direction at any time.

Defining stakeholders requires the ability to identify the shared values that we all have in common. This sharing of values is why they have a stake in the organisation. How do you define shared values when the role of governments is to define, and often redefine, the values and strategies, and when Governments can be so changeable?

For example, picking up the rubbish. One minister wants the focus to be on refuse collection from businesses to reduce their costs and bring more economic activity. One Minister wants to focus on the city and tourism streets to encourage a better reputation for the city. One wants to focus on residential collection to meet the needs of voters and to allay health concerns. And all of them want to do everything with the lowest costs and the fewest people, and to keep taxes down.

I have worked with a lot of passionate, creative people in government who want nothing more than to delight the customer. And many find ways to do exactly that. But it's a tough environment for radical management.

As for process focus, go back to your post about compulsory accounting techniques and better ways to do it. Then look at the plethora of compulsory requirements on govt depts, such as Freedom of Information legislation, reporting requirements, accountability and consultation standards (often demanded by media, business and the community) and try to recognise the unbelievable costs and inefficiencies associated with these approaches. They force concentration on process and reinforce the process culture. There are better ways to achieve the same results, but rarely without the difficulty of legislative change.

Now if we could ever get governments and politicians to focus on people, not votes, and to try leadership, not popularity, we may get somewhere! Before Radical Management can work in government departments and those who work with them externally, there needs to be an acceptance of Radical Management right at the top - and that is not where even the most senior of people within govt depts are.

Cheers, geoff

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