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Leadership Must be the Driving Force for Efficiency

leadership; efficiency

Competition drives efficiency. In the free market system, competition is the driving force for companies to bring new products to market and to make their organization more efficient.  This benefits consumers and encourages innovation.

Private industry knows all too well the penalty for lack of efficiency – they will close their doors.

Unfortunately, the driving force for government to be more efficient is not there. If a government organization is efficient – great. If we are not efficient, we will hear complaints, but our very existence is not in question. Government will be here no matter how inefficient we are.

The underlying problem is that governments by nature are monopolies. We don’t have two city councils competing to out-innovate each other in the same city. Unfortunately, government doesn’t have an outside force to foster innovation as private industry does. 

While we are not in the profit making game, we still need to offer new services and make our organizations as efficient as possible.  New services are brought to market by listening to our citizens. They tell us what we need to offer. And quite regularly, new services are offered.  However, efficiency often takes a lower priority.

This is where the top leadership of your government entity must enter the picture. The city or county manager, department director, or program manager needs to instill efficiency into all aspects of government. This includes the external services we offer such as restaurant inspections, issuing building permits, and providing medical care. Efficiency also needs to be in place for internal services such as issuing paychecks, and on-boarding new employees.

We owe it to our citizens to be more efficient for several reasons. First, we are dealing with other people’s money. They have entrusted in  us to provide needed services and it is our obligation to provide those services in the most efficient manner possible.  The second reason is the tremendous pressure to lower the overall cost of government. At last count, the US Federal debt is approaching $20 TRILLION dollars. The days of states, counties, and cities looking to the federal government to fund programs is quickly evaporating.

But how can top management be the driving force for change?

Simple – by instilling Lean into the culture of your organization. Lean takes the waste out of a process. It makes it easier for people to accomplish their tasks. Lean takes a fresh approach to decades old processes by mapping the “current state” of the process and looking for wasteful activities. This work is done with the input of the front line workers who do this task day-in and day-out. They know the process better than their supervisor because they are the ones actually doing it.

Some tools used by a Lean organization include:

  1. Process Mapping is a visual depiction of a process. It uses ovals to represent start and stop points, rectangles to represent activity, diamonds to represent decision points, and arrows to represent direction of flow. A process is first depicted in the “current state” meaning this is how the process works now. Each step in the process is then classified as either “Value Added,” “Required,” or a “Waste” step. Then the process is redesigned to produce a more efficient flow.

  2. Rapid Change Events can last from several hours to several days. A facilitator brings together subject matter experts to discuss a problem area. Maybe a process is taking too long, or is too cumbersome. By looking at a process and using some creative brainstorming a new process can be developed and quickly put into place.

  3. 5S is a method to improve efficiency through physical layout. Too often our copier rooms, medical storage rooms, and public works facilities become a resting place for stuff no one wants anymore. By having to move this stuff around it wastes valuable time and causes defects, such as not knowing what supplies we have. 5S is a method to organize the material used daily and discard the material that is no longer needed.

Government will become more efficient over time – it has to. It is just a question of how long it will take. Since there is no outside force driving efficiency, it is up to you, the leader to implement this change in your organization. We owe it to the taxpayers to be more efficient.

About the contributor: Richard Baron leads the Lean and process improvement efforts at Coconino County in Arizona and is an ICMA member. He is the author of the business novel Streamline – Your Path to Government Efficiency Starts Here.
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