FREE SPEECH ZONE | Leading state government agencies

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Governor Mark Dayton called for the reform of government services in his State of the State address on February 9, 2011.

Here’s how to transform Minnesota state government to reduce costs dramatically, increase revenues, improve customer service, and increase employee quality of work life:

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First, find good leaders-especially front-line supervisors–who have the natural talents and skills honed by leadership experience to provide a tough love leadership style that both cares about people and demands excellence from employees.

Where do we find such leaders? I believe that the leaders are already within the state agencies. Many are stuck in the middle prevented from moving up the management ranks by executives threatened by their brains, values, work ethics, and imaginations. Look around and notice those who achieve excellence in everything they do, who live true to their values even when it gets them in trouble, and who are unafraid to tell the truth to people with power. Those are the leaders you need.

Government agencies do exactly what they were designed to do. And those designs can change to enhance performance significantly. Politicians need to establish the big goals and then get out of the way and hire professionals to partner with managers and workers to transform how government works.

Here’s how:

  • Develop a clear vision for the state and for every government agency with specific big goals,
  • Hire workers on the quality of their character and then on their possessing the talents needed for the job,
  • Let employees do what they are good at,
  • Invest in supervisor development because people quit their immediate supervisor, not the state,
  • Provide the tools employees need to do their jobs well,
  • Negotiate with unions to make work rules and work processes more effective, efficient, and flexible. If unions refuse to participate in good faith, use the adversarial process,
  • Set clear and achievable goals linked to the vision, mission, and strategy of the agency–and involve employees. Everyone should have: financial, customer service, process improvement, and learning goals,
  • Provide immediate and ongoing feedback to employees,
  • Give employees recognition-but not bribes,
  • Care about employees as people; encourage their development and listen to their ideas and opinions. Provide a fair process where people get their say on matters that impact them,
  • Award salary increases based on performance with a portion of salary “at risk” and earned via exceptional achievements,
  • Streamline the disciplinary process to improve accountability. The union exists to assure workers of a fair process, not to protect incompetent or destructive employees who are cancers on an organization,
  • Fewer employees will be needed in a redesigned organization. Do not lay people off-involve them and use employee talents to change work processes, which they know better than anyone. Downsize by attrition, buyouts, and early retirements,
  • Implement efficiency training for all and also have targeted “Manhattan Projects” in high budget/high inefficiency programs, and
  • Hold employees and managers accountable for achieving their objectives AND living the values of the organization.

Involving and engaging the talents of employees is difficult work that requires good, tough-love leaders. Many change efforts fail due to lack of courageous and committed leadership. But this work grows people, evolves organizations, and delivers phenomenal business results: efficiency, productivity, customer service, and cost savings.

I know because I’ve done it as a leader and taught it as a consultant.


Tom Heuerman, Ph.D. is a former Secret Service agent, executive at the Star Tribune, and management consultant. He is retired and lives in Plymouth, MN