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3 Killer B’s of Government Effectiveness

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Africanized honey bees, also known as killer bees. Africanized honey bees, also known as killer bees. Texas Cooperative Extension, Jerrold Summerlin/AP

On the topic of government effectiveness and efficiency there are so many pundits giving opinions on what makes government more effective, it’s pretty difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. Setting aside what government should do to become more effective, let’s target three things it shouldn’t do. These effectiveness killers—the killer B’s—must be avoided at all costs. Each one has the ability to derail all the hard work and dedication agencies have put into increasing their ability to execute their mission.

1. Boundaries

Lack of coordination across agency boundaries is a big problem for government agencies. In tackling the massive issue of improving government efficiency and effectiveness, the Government Accountability Office rightfully sought strategies for reducing fragmentation, overlap and duplication. The trick to breaking through the boundaries is to find places where solutions were already built or working before “inventing it here.” How many times do we see agencies build solutions over and over again when a best practice or a functioning system is located right next door? Smart agency and department heads must be willing to stand up, put on their coats and take a “field trip” to other agencies to see the same system or program in action—enabling sharing, learning and adoption, to reduce time, cost and risk. Pride of authorship needs to become a thing of the past. Don’t let boundaries become roadblocks.

2. Budgets

Improperly linking budgets and priorities can create difficulties for agencies, resulting in a lack of clear direction, an inability to tangibly measure results and an unstable foundation for an organized system to promote business process improvement. In a period of constrained budgets and increased pressures, agency survival is predicated on the ability to be more economical, effective and efficient. This requires continuous evaluation of the effectiveness of key programs and their links to the underlying budget. Bottom line: Not all spending is equal. Spending must be linked to real measurable success that enables an agency to deliver outcome-based results.

3. Blurred Lines

A rudimentary Internet search of the term “effectiveness” yields results discussing use of flu vaccines and ability of different sprays to contain mosquitos. In these cases, outcomes—or the effectiveness with which the missions are accomplished—are simple: how many children will be saved, and how many mosquitos will be killed. There is a clear, bright-line connection that can be drawn from the stated purpose and goals directly to the results. The results are wholly consistent with the original mission. Agencies need to use research, preparation and strategic planning to clearly delineate mission success. This, in turn, leads to the ability to manage and measure organizational outcomes and track them back to original goals with laser precision.

While agencies strive to find the right strategies and tactics to achieve operational effectiveness, it’s equally critical to avoid getting stung by the killer B’s. Each of these issues can knock agencies off course and undermine months of success, and avoiding them requires frank and honest self-evaluation. Take five minutes to conduct the OE Mini Audit, developed by the Center for Organizational Excellence, which is a quick self-assessment of your organization’s effectiveness and strength across six dimensions.

Lyn McGee is vice president of client solutions delivery at the Center for Organizational Excellence, a management and technology consulting firm.

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