The Private Sector's Lessons for Government
Some of the practices that are common in business could encourage effectiveness and innovation in the public sector.
Governments at every level are constantly inundated with demands that push their budgets, technology and talent from every corner of their constituencies. Yet unlike the private sector, governments and their agencies have to approach solving problems, adapting to expectations and responding to requests from a place where policies and procedures, regulations, and bureaucratic inertia often win out over innovation.
But what would happen if governments applied principles and techniques that are common -- almost inherit -- in private-sector business practices to government programs and management? How would they operate and how would views and interactions with them change? Here are a few ways things might be different:
Talent acquisition and onboarding
A quick look at hiring announcements at every level of government will quickly reveal dusty, old-style job descriptions that are often hard to decipher, overwhelming in background requirements, and -- needless to say -- boring to read. If the public sector truly wants to encourage bright, committed young professionals to enter its ranks, agencies should post job announcements that are clear and accurate as to what will be encountered on day one, including where prospective employees would fit in.
Taking this a step further, governments can increase their recruiting efforts not by only partnering with career centers at schools and in the community but also by reaching out to online business networking sites, forming relationships with experts such as college faculty and making use of current employees to help attract highly qualified talent.
Beyond the hiring process, it's important to create onboarding programs so governments won't lose the talent they've worked so hard to find and attract. Update the materials regularly, and ask each new hire for feedback on missing components.
If you are shopping at Zappos.com or Amazon.com and run into an error with your credit card at 10 p.m., you will easily be able to connect with a customer-service representative to help you sort out the problem online, by phone or by chat. Why? Because these companies recognize that customers want to interact with their services not just from 9 to 5 and that helping them is important to continued positive experiences.
Government agencies with common missions, customer interactions and services -- for example, revenue and motor-vehicle departments that both collect taxes and fees -- could work together to cross-train customer-service representatives to assist outside of normal business hours. And these representatives could be available via chat, Twitter and Facebook. Not only could citizens feel more connected with the government services they use, but these customer-service representatives would be able to help agencies more effectively collect feedback on their systems and operations in something close to real time.
Data sharing and tracking
The private sector has many lessons to share with public-sector agencies in the use and analysis of data. Investing in training and tools to empower employees to easily see and analyze data allows organizations to find insights into their own work, find new opportunities and refine programs. Agencies should encourage data analysis in talent management, measuring results, budgeting, status reporting and project scoping. Data analysis should be embedded into the government culture.
Obviously these will be large hurdles for many government agencies to overcome, but driving toward them can enhance their constituent reach and effectiveness as well as encourage innovation from within.