Unlocking the “Captive Value” in Government
When we consider the nature of optimal work, almost everyone agrees on the one model to avoid – government.
The stories and experiences are part of our collective national legend. Scandalous layers of bureaucracy, soul-draining procedures, wasteful duplication and serial cost overruns, as well as mind-numbing regulations that are as dense as a triple canopy jungle. Work guided by process instead of purpose, seemingly impervious to improvement or reason, driven by the lowest common denominator.
It is no small wonder that Gallup consistently finds citizen trust in government at an all-time low, while a recent Harvard Institute of Politics finds particularly low trust levels among the newest generation of voters, Millennials.
Interestingly, the citizenry is not alone.
What is less apparent, but more meaningful, is that individual federal workers intuitively understand the need for innovation to improve the delivery of government services, and the vast majority are committed to do so. However those same workers do not believe that management encourages or rewards government workers for having this vital sense of initiative.
The Partnership for Public Service, in conjunction with private sector firms, examined the issue of innovation in government and the elements that foster and drive innovation in the public-sector space. According to the survey, 90 percent of government employees reported that they were always looking for better ways to do their jobs. However, only 55 percent felt that they were encouraged to be innovative, and only 33 percent believed that their agency would reward creativity and innovation.
Far removed from our common stereotype, federal workers are in fact motivated to improve the way they do their work, but simply do not feel that there is priority or benefit from management in doing so.
This represents a failure of executive vision; a lack of performance leadership by federal managers, writ large, which has left untapped the enormous “captive value” of the federal workforce. At a time of large-scale, public sector austerity, this value can serve as a “no cost” force multiplier across the federal government, liberating a wellspring of creativity and inspiration that has the power to transform outcomes.
The survey is a warning to the upper echelons of the federal government, and particularly to our political appointees, charged with charting a long-term course for effective, accountable government.
Program by program, the federal government must embrace performance engineering as a tool to foster performance leadership among executives, to connect management to employees through clear vision, goals and methods, and to embrace a culture of rigor as a cornerstone of program, process and practice evaluation so that organizations can constantly evolve, intelligently.
The raw talent and ambition exists. We need a concerted effort to “humanize” work, to un-cap that latent potential. This is necessary not simply to attract and retain the best and brightest in our federal workforce – which is essential - but more importantly as part of a concerted effort to restore citizen confidence in our public institutions.