ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

February 1998


Business And Sports, One-On-One

Measurement On The High Seas

Scientists Develop Formula For Multinational Teamwork

Part-Time Statistics For Full-Time Results

Volunteers Wanted: Must Be Team Player, Success Minded


Chasing Good Examples
by Peter Block

Individual Change Key To Org. Change
by Cathy Kramer


Brief Cases
Business News Briefs

Views for a Change

Book Review


Chasing Good Examples
by Peter Block

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 Example
An interesting public innovation recently occurred in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District in North Carolina. The district frequently has to reassign students to different schools as a response to population shifts and utilization of school resources. In a city with a history of moving students to achieve racial balance, the task of reassignment is a very sensitive issue. Historically, reassignment has been a volatile political and public relations nightmare. In 1996 it led to battles in the newspaper and ultimately court cases which are still unresolved.

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.
o They began with a series of dialogue meetings in each school building. Volunteer parent facilitators who were trained in mediation skills by an outside group ran these meetings.
o The administrators and teachers were engaged as participants in the process, along with parents and citizens. The sessions were held in each school building and were attended by anywhere from four to 100 citizens and staff.
o The meetings were structured in a circle and held in libraries and learning centers to reinforce the intention of real conversation rather than self-interested debate.
o The decision making with the group of 33 took place after the lengthy dialogue process. The dialogue was treated as important as the decision.

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.
The public sector operates in a fishbowl, under the close scrutiny of the press and citizens that look upon them with disdain. In the face of this, they are increasingly betting on methods of quality and participation, and may be the source of the next generation of innovative ideas about organizational change.

February '98 News for a Change | Email Editor




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