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Calling Government by another Name is Still Government

December 17, 2010 - Ernest Hohmeyer
Should We Act Together? This is always an exciting time of year to read the broad spectrum of business magazine’s as they focus on trends for the coming year. It is a great time in particular to pick up publications that you normally do not subscribe to as it may give you a fresh perspective.

One apparent theme is that if you want to succeed you need in many cases to throw out traditional business thinking and to challenge yourself to think out of the box. Government whether it is local, state or federal is a business and perhaps real solutions to our rising taxes also require challenging and innovative thinking.

Perhaps this could be extended to the recent discussion concerning Saranac Lake’s effort to become a city, our local tax base and even on issues related to the comprehensive plan. Several business trends may be apropos for government including how businesses can be successful in slow or non-growth markets and collaborating in new ways never before imagined.

Growth with Less In the fall issue of Growth + Business in an article “Growth through Focus” a theme was presented for achieving more with less. A key point was that in these tough economic times you may not be able to seek growth in terms of “extending product lines” or by entering new geographic regions. This “growth through more” strategy that relies on “more” products in the store, “more” brands and “more” markets may not be possible for an economy that is sputtering.

Instead, the article suggests that “growth with less” or as they put it “growth with focus” may be more successful. Kraft Foods is used as one example for this approach. What is interesting here is the 7 step strategy that is outlined from “vision to execution and measurement” in order to effectively “do more with less.”

The effort here is about quality and not quantity, about simplicity in terms of vision, organizational design and execution. It also talks about a different approach to planning and leadership where leaders are not asked to be visionaries that ‘know all the answers” but who are facilitators who “inspire their people to discover the answers.” The ideas expressed included not wasting time on long-winded strategic plans or studies that take so much energy they have not created the culture to take action. Here the suggestion is to plan shorter and act longer.

And here is a key point relative to local government that is also a big business: when considering how to grow the traditional model organizes “teams within the boundaries of business units” (or in my analogy municipal boundaries) versus forming network teams and ‘communities’ that cut across organizational boundaries and hierarchy.”

Is Our Community a Municipal Boundary? Does this thinking have relevance for municipal and tax issues? Are we attempting to find too many solutions in the narrow confines of a municipal ‘boundary” instead of creating “network teams” that truly cut across “organizational boundaries”?

Are we defining “community” as a village boundary or a county that may have been appropriate a 100 years ago but that does not reflect living, working and transportation patterns of our community today that it can be argued stretches from Vermontville to the east, Paul Smiths to the north, Tupper Lake to the west and Lake Placid/Wilmington to the south? How many of us shop in more than one of these communities or go to the movies in Tupper or Lake Placid? How many of our outlying communities shop or go to the hospital in Saranac Lake? Do we not all share a common economic foundation? Should not an effort that considers our “community” take in all of these stakeholders?

Instead of focusing on the complex issue of boundaries and the planning, cost and perhaps more importantly the time and energy it will take, is it possible to take action on items that by themselves may not solve anything momentous but taken collectively the result will be a reduction of our taxes, not only from the village and the town but the county as well? Can we work on solutions that represent our whole “community”?

Co-creative Enterprises In the Harvard Business Review in an article entitled “Building the Co-creative Enterprise” the theme of the article is to “give all of your stakeholders a bigger say, and they’ll lead you to better insights, revenues and profits.” Here the article again points to an antiquated model that focuses on a defined set of customer requirements (or in my analogy tax payers) and focuses on streamlining existing processes.” In other words, companies worry about how they deliver their services to their customer (or taxpayer) and how do that save time and money. How often have we heard that government officials have asked “department heads” to reduce their operating budgets? Very little time though is spent on inviting customers (taxpayers) to “participate directly in the design of products and services.”

The article argues that people are “inherently creative and want to engage with organizations; they don’t want to have products and services imposed upon them.” Think about the new way to communicate via the social networks of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. and the interest to communicate with each other in a participatory manner. It seems there is a desire to share and create each other’s experiences. In this “Co-Creation” approach, all stakeholders are involved including customers, employees, suppliers and communities strategize how the service can generate value for each one of them.

Solutions Based on the 19th or 21st C? We live in a world of municipal boundaries that were built in the 19th C. We try to answer the call to state mandates and a stagnant economy by working on solutions within our respective boundaries.

Too often our political leaders believe they need to be visionaries that know all the answers or since their title is “lawmaker”, they believe their success will be viewed on the number of laws they pass instead of facilitating all stakeholders where leadership is about simplicity and taking action even on simple steps.

There is no magic marketing bullet that will save our businesses just a lot of hard work on small items that collectively may help us to flourish. Do real solutions for our community today get lost in the language of villages, towns and counties? If we think like a real community and involve all stakeholders can real growth occur in simple solutions?

In the 21st C do we really need 4 levels of highway departments, 2 separately run airports, and multiple levels of local government? Is not the real objective to raise the quality of services in the most cost efficient manner and if so should the discussion be on products and services and not corporate boundaries?

Should we ask our political leaders to continue to lead their respective boundaries or to facilitate a greater “community” by using ‘their people to discover the answers?”

 
 

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