The Business of Government

Having a business background is useful for politicians, but ultimately government is not a business and shouldn't be treated as such.
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Wednesday, November 28, 2012 08:00 EST | 9
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Resurgent phoenix
Resurgent phoenix  
12/16/2012 7:26:25 PM
User Rank City Slicker
Government Employees and a higher Power
The Government employee culture is different but every employee is not the same.  Some Government Employees seek innovative ways to improve the current situation.  Many are working to the best of his/ her ability and sharing with Superiors the knowledge they discover.  Yes, sometimes they may be cast down for doing so, but as budgets shrink and people are laid off things are truly changing.  Unfortunately in the process many are losing jobs, benefits and pay due to cash crisis.  The status Quo is changing and the only way the employees remaining can accomplish a task is to be extraordinarly, innovative and like wbalthrop stated: " working afterhours to prove what the ideal will accomplish."

11/29/2012 11:09:52 PM
User Rank Urban Legend
Re: Attitude and phychology of government employees
I would agree that many times government takes the stance of a "do no harm" position, thereby not alienating but also not enagaging either. Bigger, bolder initiatives involve risks - and potential criticism and failure, however that effort is important.

11/29/2012 12:28:59 PM
User Rank Urban Legend
Re: Attitude and phychology of government employees
Thank you Nicole. What we have fourd effective is to form hush-hush projects on the side, many times in our off hours. i say hush-hush, because if management found out what we were planning they would shut us down. Then, when it's done and working, we can show it off and get support to continue. At that point it has too much exposure to be shut down. This only works when the manager getting mad does not contlrol you directly. When that happens life can get ugly.

Nicole Ferraro
Nicole Ferraro  
11/29/2012 12:04:14 PM
User Rank Staff
Re: Attitude and phychology of government employees
Thank you for that detailed and thoughtful post, wbalthrop. 

I completely understand what you're saying -- if you do something right, it's barely noticed; but if you do something wrong, it's a huge public problem. Might as well take the safest path.

This is a problem, though, because it ensures that no big risks are being taken anymore. I think that this, in part, has to do with the fact that we're now in this fast-paced Internet age of instant gratification. Meanwhile, no one is planning for, or investing in, the future anymore, or willing to make the hard decisions that will hurt today but be beneficial down the line. I don't really know what the solution is but I feel it's one of the biggest problems we face.

11/29/2012 11:01:26 AM
User Rank Urban Legend
Attitude and phychology of government employees
I started my career in the Private sector as a business owner (magazine publisher and restaurateur), but have now either worked for or consulted with government agencies in IT at every level for the past 30 years. What I have observed is that government employees have very different social pressures on them that alter their behavior in negative ways.

There is no reward, no pay off for being innovative and taking managed risks to get a task done. We are under the constant scrutiny of the public and the media, so are constantly on guard. Those that get innovative, which I have always strived to do, bucking trends all along, have one of two outcome: If it works and your successful you get a smile and a nod as your only reward. If it fails, you become an embarrassment, a pariah to be avoided, and there for usually have to quit and move on.

How many times I have seen a new employee come in from the private sector with both guns blazing, ready to solve the worlds problem. After six to twelve months, their will is broken and they devolve into the same pattern of keeping their head down.

A few year ago we were discussing using social networking tools to improve communications. It was shot down because a manager was afraid the public would think we were goofing off if our work included any reference to the word social. We had to change our terminology to make any progress.

This leads to a general attitude of risk avoidance. Keep your head low, don't make any waves, and you might get to keep your head. The result is a loss of innovation and employee morale in that agency. Another side effect is the wasting of money on expensive and complex solutions when a simple and cheap solution could have solved the problem in a fraction of the time. The thinking is that the more you spend, the more you are removed from the blame when the project fails. So, an agency is compelled to spend a millions of dollars for an Oracle solution when an open source solution could have solved the same problem for a few hundred dollars.

On the flip side of attitude, I find that in general people who work for governments are not just trying to get rich. Many of them are selfless individuals, who take the lower pay and poor working conditions because they truly believe they can make a difference in the world or their community. If I were in a real fire fight, and needed someone at my back, I would pick a government employee over a corporate climber any day of the week.

I have always thought that if we could bring the enthusiasm that private industry fosters then we could make government more efficient. To do that though, is going to take a shift in the social contexts that drive those behaviors.

Mary Jander
Mary Jander  
11/29/2012 10:29:01 AM
User Rank Staff
Re: Yes True... need a business acumen
Running cities like businesses results in cost cuts that are, in a word,  merciless. I recall years ago when cuts were made to public assistance for the mentally challenged in the states where I lived and worked. The result was an increase in homelessness and general mayhem in  many neighborhoods.

Nicole Ferraro
Nicole Ferraro  
11/28/2012 5:53:47 PM
User Rank Staff
Re: Yes True... need a business acumen
I think Manny describes the fine balance between using business skills to a city's benefit or to its detriment. As he says, Mayor Bloomberg is a great example of a politician whose business background has been put to fantastic use for NYC. Then there's the opposite situation, where a politician tries to run a city (or state, or country) as though it were actually a business, without taking into consideration that... uh... it's not. I think we saw that with that other individual who attempted to run for President of the USA recently...

Mary Jander
Mary Jander  
11/28/2012 3:36:31 PM
User Rank Staff
Re: Yes True... need a business acumen
It may be a question of priorities, Sure, it's important to understand budgets and the basic math and flow of government finances. But if profit is a priority, that will translate into some decisions that sacrifice the well being of the citizens. Following basic business models  may provide a structure that otherwise takes a bit of thought.

It probably pays every mayor and city council to create a mission statement that clarifies their specific goals.

11/28/2012 1:38:52 PM
User Rank Village Voice
Yes True... need a business acumen
Business is all about the profit and loss and balance sheets... and Governments cannot think like this... The main purpose of the government is to have a sustained growth, well being of the society (may be spend more and incur loss)... but politicians with good business acumen and steer the growth by properly investing government budgets and at the same time keep everybody happy...

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