September 1, 1996
ichael Hammer's vision of the soul of new organizations offers an unsettling version of the future federal workplace. As a result of presidential and congressional commitments to a balanced budget, domestic agencies face a 25 percent cut in spending over the next five years. Consequently, security is no longer a given. Also, the rise of the demanding customer, as Hammer describes it, is as true in the public sector as it is in the private sector. After all, less than 20 percent of Americans believe the federal government does the right thing most of the time.
However, Hammer's premise that results-oriented employees will be rewarded by their customers will have a hollow ring to many public managers. They are likely to find their organizational soul divided between two worlds. Debates in the past few decades have centered around what government should do, rather than whether or not the customer is happy. This means that paying attention to the customer-which private sector firms are assured is the path to success-doesn't necessarily have the same result in the public sector. Public organizations respond to a traditional hierarchical model of accountability-to the President, Congress, the Office of Management and Budget, the General Accounting Office, etc. These institutions are not necessarily good surrogates for agencies' customers. As a result, customer-responsive public organizations still face penalties and punishments such as being caught up in across-the-board cuts.
Yet Hammer's observation that customers don't care about organization and structure-that they care only about results and value, and not effort-is driving a great deal of public sector behavior these days. Just look at agencies, such as NASA and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, that have responded successfully to these pressures. They have created better value for their customers and greater opportunities for their employees.
So while Hammer's vision may not apply to the broader issues of governance and the traditional forms of accountability at the core of the public sector debate, it does strike a chord at the agency level. The key challenge for public managers is achieving greater autonomy from the traditional measures of accountability in exchange for a greater focus on customer results, through such means as the Government Performance and Results Act. Only in this way can they make sure they do not have a soul divided.
John Kamensky is deputy project director of Vice President Gore's National Performance Review.
September 1, 1996