Change Key To Org. Change
Chasing Good Examples
For most of the 1980s and early 1990s we looked to business and the private sector for new ideas about organizational change. Self-managing teams, the quality movement, empowerment, reengineering, alignment and visioning were new practices and business led the way. Business, in turn, was generally happy to share with the public sector what they had learned.Public education, government and not-for-profits were in the mode of accepting help, acknowledging they were behind the times. They were, and still are, society's identified patients, the problem children. You cannot pick up a paper or have a conversation without hearing about broken public education, bureaucratic government, inefficient and unmeasured not-for-profits.
I think the tables have turned. Openness, commitment and a willingness to change and innovate is beginning to come from the public sector, not the private sector. Business has lost its interest in quality and organizational reform and has moved on to consolidation and shareholder value.
Today's business answer to productivity and growth is not organizational transformation, it is in leaving the country, selling through the Internet, purchasing competitors, and consolidation (mergers in 1997 doubled those in 1996, which was a record year). If you are interested in leadership and management, business is the old story.
Many new stories are coming from the public sector. Police and fire departments are radically changing their relationship with neighborhoods, city managers are sponsoring major quality initiatives and education is bringing customers into the center of their operations. It may be time to rethink our attitude about the public sector and start learning from them.
For the 97-98 school year Superintendent Dr. Eric Smith and his central staff changed the process in a radical way. They took the decision out of their own hands and devised a partnership process which put real choice in the hands of their constituents. Some elements of their strategy were:
o They asked a group of 33 citizens, diverse in backgrounds
and preconceptions about the school system, to recommend how the reassignment
should be done. The group included citizen advocates and parents who had
the task of making the solution as fair, equitable and inclusive as possible.
The results were radically different from the prior year. The final proposal for reassignments was received with little public outcry and even pockets of public support. What is important about this effort is that it was radically different than usual strategies of public involvement, which are more like a courtroom and based on contention and partisan debate.
What we can learn here is that it's possible for an organization
to give real power to its customers. Management invited the public to join
in the traditionally private deliberations. They also acted on a belief
in partnership, the mediating capacity of its customers, and the faith that
genuine connection can impact the outcome of controversial choices.