Working for Big Brother, Performance in Portland, And the Cash Myth

Plus: Giving oversight some teeth, looking at some pretty graphics, and more management news
by | December 16, 2010
 

Are you working for Big Brother? And if so, is he wasting his time? We've just come across some blog posts referring to the use of GPS systems in police cars. The ability to track a police car can obviously be of real use in a number of ways, not least of which is helping keep officers safe. But apparently some men and women in uniform aren't happy with the idea that the chips are also used to make sure they don't leave their assigned zones (perhaps simply to use a cleaner restroom or have a meal in a friendly restaurant). This leads us to ask you all two connected questions: How much time do you think your boss spends making sure you're doing what you're supposed to be doing? And how much of that time is wasted and just makes you feel less trusted? We also invite supervisory folks to weigh in on the topic from their perspective. You can reach us at greenebarrett@gmail.com.


Portland, Ore., has long been cited as a leader among cities for its use of community surveys and performance measurements. It continues to deserve that recognition based on a review of two reports that came out recently. If you've been dubious about how important this kind of information can be or are just looking for a city that puts it together well, take a look at their community survey results and their service efforts and accomplishments report.


People aren't going to turn down cash incentives, but that doesn't mean they're the most efficient way to motivate people involved in complex tasks (as opposed to purely mechanical, assembly-line type efforts). In fact, typical cash bonuses can even result in worse work. At least that's the point of a captivating lecture by Daniel Pink, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us. Autonomy, the capacity to get better at something and the possibility of making a real contribution are all better motivators than cash, says Pink. Take a look at this animated video featuring a talk by Pink, which we discovered on Open Culture's website. It's engrossing.


Where are the teeth? We've just read a piece by John Lyon in the (Fort Smith, Ark.) Times Record that's left us a bit bewildered about exactly what's meant by the word "oversight," with regards to the lottery commission in that state. The first annual report of the state's lottery found that "officials failed to prepare financial statements in accordance with generally accepted accounting principals; entered into a contract with a vendor that cost more than the contract reviewed by the oversight committee; issued travel reimbursements that were not properly documented or exceeded the maximum rate without prior approval; and hired people without prior background checks."

Our problem isn't so much with the Arkansas lottery, but with the apparent lack of power the oversight committee has in keeping it in check. The biggest step it's taken so far is to increase the frequency of audits to see if the lottery is cleaning up its act. But, as Lyon reported, the oversight panel can't do much more than be a "spotlight" to generate change.


Here's another really interesting video. We don't think the content (world health trends) is necessarily central to a number of state and local government jobs, but the incredible use of graphics to illustrate its points is — we'll bet — unlike anything you've seen before. And if you have seen better, please let us know.


The Connecticut Office of Legislative Research (a terrific resource) just came out with a "backgrounder" on the indicators of municipal fiscal distress.

Obviously, the importance of various factors differs depending on the individual state, so others couldn't simply pick up Connecticut's approach and apply it. But the Connecticut OLR's work provides a nice model of the different indicators that a state can use to see which cities are in the greatest fiscal distress.

The indicators attempt to gauge property tax wealth and the town's ability to fund services, considering such elements as bond ratings, debt as a percentage of property tax wealth, dependence on state aid and the local unemployment rate.

Three towns were among the bottom cities for all six indicators used: Bridgeport, New Britain and New Haven.


A great quote that's older than we are still holds true (if adjusted for inflation): "It's a terribly hard job to spend a billion dollars and get your money's worth." — George M. Humphrey


How can people responsible for performance measurement efforts in state and local government make the most of their work? We came across six potent principals. They were offered by Jonathan Breul, executive director of the IBM Center for the Business of Government (and, truth in advertising, someone we've worked both with and for). He was addressing his comments toward federal agencies, but we think the same ideas apply at all levels of government. Here, his six guiding principles:

1) Start a movement with a vision and a sense of urgency

2) Establish clear governance

3) Have a data-driven discussion

4) Radically simplify business processes

5) Invest in transformative innovation

6) Embody creative leadership


One of us recently had the flu. Convalescing took the form of drinking lots of ginger ale and watching endless television. The thought occurred, along the way, that if we were running a state or city department of economic development, we'd work very hard at getting somebody to make television shows in our state that show it to its best effect. It's our guess that when people think of traveling to another state, they're frequently influenced by the TV-related impressions they've gathered.

While we know a fair amount about states and cities, here are the knee-jerk impressions one might get from a slight fever and too much daytime television:

People in New Jersey are tough cookies, and a little scary (The Real Housewives of New Jersey, Jersey Shore). People in New York state are either involved in crime (Law and Order, etc.) or live remarkably pleasant lives without doing much work (Seinfeld, Friends), except in Queens, where they work and have families (Everybody Loves Raymond, King of Queens). Scranton, Pa., is a most peculiar place (The Office) and Los Angeles is positively indefinable (Two and a Half Men, NCIS: Los Angeles and The Brady Bunch).


The holidays are nearly upon us, and this time of year also marks the fourth anniversary of this Management letter and our contributions to it. So this felt like an appropriate opportunity for both of us to take a moment to extend sincere thanks to you readers for all the support and interest you've shown. Over years working with magazines — some of which had circulations that numbered in the millions — we always yearned for a more personal connection with our readers. And we have it here, though your e-mails (even the vaguely rude ones!).

Please help us make the B&G Report better next year than it ever has been. Tell us what you want us to write about. And, by the way, we don't particularly mind when you tell us you like us. Meanwhile, we wish you the best of holidays.

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