I attended the DC Chamber of Commerce Annual Lunch yesterday as a guest of my client, Medstar Health. It’s like the DC business community version of Lollapalooza with the floor of the Washington Hilton being the moshpit. (Hilton is a client as well, working with them on the Old Post Office Pavilion redevelopment competition).
My former boss and the person that influenced my management philosophy the most, Tony Williams, had some great remarks at the gathering around how government can deliver the highest value to its residents and businesses.
In fact, I had been thinking lately about how we have roughly 35,000 employees in the District but they never are really engaged in the strategy for moving the city forward. In the private sector, employees are at the forefront of creating and driving change. But lately, the employees of the District have not been engaged-or empowered-to help create a first class government serving businesses and residents alike.
Williams identified some specific concepts for government-for managers and employees-that we should strive for in the delivery of services to help create a more efficient enterprise.
1). Develop nimble response mechanisms. As part of the Williams Administration, we introduced a system for tackling basic services, such as requesting street lamp replacement and pothole patching. Governments must demonstrate that they can get the job done not only to keep residents satisfied, but to compete for new residents.
And with the advent of Twitter, I think we need to continue to develop technology to serve citizens–we should develop or seek out solutions that incorporate Twitter requests into the District’s service delivery request system–automatically. That is, when someone tweets a “streetlight lamp is out at x location” that tweet gets routed into the service delivery que.
2). Avoid across the board budget cuts. Williams rightfully points out that we must avoid across the board budget cuts. This seems like an obvious piece of advice, but governments too often take the easy way out and say “let’s cut 3% across the board” instead of diving into each agency and each agency program to determine what’s working/what’s not/what fits into our strategic objectives and what doesn’t. This will be even more important as federal budget cuts begin to hit the states and the District of Columbia.
3). Engaging employees in change/invest in people. As I noted above, in the private sector–where i operate–employees are routinely engaged in the process of developing ideas for implementation—for change. In fact, this next generation of employees are even more motivated to perform well if engaged. Governments must begin to engage their front line workers in this conversation. Managers must take the time to meet with and discuss their vision for their agency and incorporate the many good ideas their employees have. Moreover, as Williams noted, we must invest in our people. Technology, new processes for doing old tasks are being born every day. We need to provide our workers the tools they need to get the job done-and done well.
4) Create high performance culture. One of the points Mayor Williams made which I couldn’t agree with more is that we don’t allow/encourage government workers to take risks. In fact, we punish them. In the private sector it is the exact opposite-I ask my employees every day to take risks. It’s through the risk taking and trying new ideas that we create this high performing delivery mechanism and culture. The reams of regulations and laws that govern employee behavior is stifling the governments ability to perform at the highest level, resulting in just basic service delivery. Managers need to change the culture and encourage risk taking, so employees are truly empowered to try new ideas-fail along the way-and learn and grow. This keeps employees engaged and makes them part of the solution of creating a 21st century government that is serving the evolving needs of residents and businesses.