The Opening Door to Government Transformation

When the elections are over, a new crop of leaders will face the same old challenges. Let's hope they will approach those challenges with new thinking.
by , | October 15, 2012 AT 11:00 AM

Next month's elections will bring a lot of new faces to the ranks of government leadership, inspiring hope that this time around something different will take place in our efforts to transform government to be more efficient and effective. This transformation is needed now more than ever: A booming economy does not appear to be on the horizon to swoop to the rescue, so the challenges of tight dollars and expanding citizen needs aren't going anywhere soon.

These new leaders will face two options: admit defeat and cut, cut, cut, or look at the challenges through a different set of lenses.

As a career business executive and management consultant all too familiar with many cycles of this reality, I know exactly where I would start if I were a newly elected government leader. Just as any successful CEO would do, I would start by getting tightly focused on what matters the most. Here are the first five things I would do to set in motion real government transformation:

1. Establish a clear set of goals with measurable outcomes.

2. Set improvement targets to focus resources and innovation.

3. Launch specific initiatives to make improvements.

4. Define clear ownership and accountability for results.

5. Report results regularly, honestly and publicly.

Experienced leaders know that success is a matter of focus--deciding that some things are simply more important than others. In tough times, focus gets our eyes on what we prize and forces us to set aside secondary opportunities. When we create measurable outcomes, we use measures as feedback mechanisms to validate what is working and what is not. Can you imagine playing basketball without a scoreboard? Yet too often in government there's no concrete evidence of effectiveness.

Once our focus was clear, I would establish improvement targets to challenge the organization. Improvement targets get us to think differently about how we get the work done. Targets give us the incentive to study what others have done and to dig in deeply into how we do things today. In the end, the targets inject new energy into the work we must do well.

With targets in place, I would charter specific initiatives to meet those targets. The initiatives legitimize improvement and open the door to innovation. Initiatives give permission for many of the ideas that already exist but have never been given a home.

But initiatives need clear ownership and accountability. Someone needs to be responsible for driving the effort and delivering the results. That someone needs the resources necessary to be successful, because accountability without authority is meaningless.

Finally, it's essential to report results and do so with complete transparency. That's simply because success and struggle both are rich with lessons. Falling short is not the same as failure; it just means there is more work to do.

Government transformation demands leadership--leadership that knows that what we need more than ever is real results. Here's hoping that this year's elections will produce a fresh crop of just that kind of leaders.