Chapter 3 Empowering Employees to Get Results


Step 1: --Decentralizing Decisionmaking Power

Step 2: --Hold All Federal Employees Accountable for Results

Step 3: --Giving Federal Workers the Tools They Need to do Their--Jobs

Step 4: --Enhancing the Quality of Worklife

Step 5: --Forming a Labor-Management Partnership

Step 6: Exerting Leadership



Take two managers and give to each the same number of laborers and let those laborers be equal in all respects. Let both managers rise equally early, go equally late to rest, be equally active, sober, and industrious, and yet, in the course of the year, one of them, without pushing the hands that are under him more than the other, shall have performed infinitely more work. George Washington

When Nature has work to be done, she creates a genius to do it. Ralph Waldo Emerson

Two hundred years ago, George Washington recognized the common sense in hiring and promoting productive managers--and taking authority away from unproductive ones. One hundred years ago, Emerson observed that we all share a common genius, ignited simply by the work at hand. These American originals defined the basic ingredients of a healthy, productive work environment: managers who innovate and motivate, and workers who are free to improvise and make decisions.

Today, our federal government's executive branch includes 14 cabinet departments, 135 agencies and hundreds of boards and commissions. These entities employ more than 2.1 million civilians (not counting the Postal Service), and 1.9 million members of the military, spend $1.5 trillion a year, and, directly or indirectly, account for one third of our national economy See Note 1 . Their tasks are both massive and difficult. As the National Academy of Public Administration wrote not long ago, "The federal government now manages ... some of the most important and complex enterprises in the world." See Note 2 But it does not manage them well.

Admittedly, "management" is a fuzzy concept, hard to recognize or define. But poor management has real consequences. Money is wasted. Programs don't work. People aren't helped. That's what taxpayers and customers see.

Inside government, bad management stifles the morale of workers. The "system" kills initiative. As Vice President Gore, responding to the concerns of Transportation Department employees, put it:

One of the problems with a centralized bureaucracy is that people get placed in these rigid categories, regulations bind them, procedures bind them, the organizational chart binds them to the old ways of the past--The message over time to...employees becomes: Don't try to do something new. Don't try to change established procedures. Don't try to adapt to the new circumstances your office or agency confronts. Because you're going to get in trouble if you try to do things differently." See Note 3

Cutting red tape, organizing services around customers, and creating competition will start to generate an environment that rewards success. Now, we must encourage those within government to change their ways. We must create a culture of public entrepreneurship.

Our long-term goal is to change the very culture of the federal government... A government that puts people first, puts its employees first, too. It empowers them, freeing them from mind-numbing rules and regulations. It delegates authority and responsibility. And it provides for them a clear sense of mission. Vice President Al Gore Speech to National Performance Review members May 24, 1993

But changing culture is a lot harder than changing rules and regulations. An attitude of powerlessness and complacency pervades the federal workplace. As one veteran of many government reform initiatives observed, "Changing government is a bit like moving the town cemetery. It's much harder to deal with the feelings it arouses than with the relocation itself."

The Quality Imperative

Of course, many thought that turning General Motors around would be impossible. If you talked to their employees, the same undoubtedly was true of General Electric, Motorola, Harley-Davidson, and scores of leading corporations before they embraced a new management philosophy. In the 1970s and 1980s, as technology began to revolutionize everything and global competitors began to take away market share, firms that had grown fat and happy had to face the facts: This wasn't the 1950s anymore.

These firms quickly discovered that economists can be wrong: More isn't always better: better is better. One by one, they began to pursue a new goal--quality-- and to reorganize their entire businesses around it.

The quality imperative is simple: Do everything smarter, better, faster, cheaper. It is not simple, however, to obey. It means dismantling the old ways of doing business. The same tired command hierarchies that continue to bind government are being scrapped daily by companies on the rise. In their place, firms seek new ways to manage and organize work that develop and use the full talents of every employee. They want everyone to contribute to the bottom line--that is, to produce goods and services that match customer needs at the lowest cost and fastest delivery time. The quality movement has spawned many proven methods and mantras, each with its loyal fans: management by results; total quality management; high-performance organization; business process reengineering. But the quest for quality--in performance, product, and service--unifies them all.

Government has recognized the quality imperative. In 1987, the U.S. Department of Commerce instituted the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. Now the object of fierce competition, it recognizes private firms that achieve excellence by pursuing quality management. In 1988, the Federal Quality Institute began awarding the Presidential Award for Quality to federal agencies that do the same. The Presidential Award criteria, modeled on Baldrige, set new standards for federal government performance. The President should encourage all department and agency heads to manage with these criteria in mind.

Changing the Culture: Power and Accountability

Companies do not achieve high quality simply by announcing it. Nor can they get to quality by hiring the services of the roving bands of consultants who promise to turn businesses around overnight. They do it by turning their entire management systems upside down--shedding the power to make decisions from the sedimentary layers of management and giving it to the people on the ground who do the work. This rewrites the relationship between managers and the managed. The bright line that separates the two vanishes as everyone is given greater authority over how to get their job done.

The Federal Quality Imperative

The Presidential Quality Award sets forth seven principles to identify excellent government agencies:

Leadership: Are your top leaders and managers personally committed to creating and sustaining your organization's vision and customer focus? Does your effort extend to the management system, labor relations, external partnerships, and the fulfillment of public responsibilities?

Information and Analysis: Do your data, information, and analysis systems help you improve customer satisfaction, products, services, and processes? Strategic Quality Planning: Do you have short-term and long-term plans that address customer requirements; the capabilities necessary to meet key requirements or technological opportunities; the capacities of external suppliers; and changing work processes to improve performance, productivity improvement, and waste reduction? Human Resource Development and Management: Is your agency's entire workforce enabled to develop its full potential and to pursue performance goals? Are you building and maintaining an environment for workforce excellence that increases worker involvement, education and training, employee performance and recognition systems, and employee well-being and satisfaction? Management of Process Quality: Does your agency systematically and continually improve quality and performance? Is every work unit redesigning its process to improve quality? Are internal and external customer-supplier relationships managed better? Quality and Operational Results: Are you measuring and continuously improving the trends and quality of your products and services, your business processes and support services, and the goods and services of your suppliers? Are you comparing your data against competitors and world-class standards?

Customer Focus and Satisfaction: Do you know what your customers need? Do you relate well to your customers? Do you have a method to determine customer satisfaction?

But with greater authority comes greater responsibility. People must be accountable for the results they achieve when they exercise authority. Of course, we can only hold people accountable if they know what is expected of them. The powerless know they are expected only to obey the rules. But with many rules swept away, what is expected from the empowered?

The answer is results. Results measured as the customer would--by better and more efficiently delivered services. If the staff in an agency field office are given greater voice over how their workplace and their work are organized, then the customer deserves to spend less time waiting in line, to receive a prompt answer--and everything else we expect from a responsive government.

Our bedrock premise is that ineffective government is not the fault of people in it. Our government is full of well-intentioned, hard-working, intelligent people--managers and staff. We intend to let our workers pursue excellence.

Vice President Al Gore Reinventing Government Summit Philadelphia, June 25, 1993

So how do we change culture? The answer is as broad as the system that now holds us hostage. Part of it, outlined in chapter 1 , lies in liberating agencies from the cumbersome burden of over-regulation and central control. Part of it, detailed in chapter 2 , hinges on creating new incentives to accomplish more through competition and customer choice. And part of it depends on shifting the focus of control: empowering employees to use their judgment; supporting them with the tools and training they need; and holding them accountable for producing results. Six steps, described in this chapter, will start us down that road:

First, we must give decisionmaking power to those who do the work, pruning layer upon layer of managerial overgrowth.

Second, we must hold every organization and individual accountable for clearly understood, feasible outcomes. Accountability for results will replace "command and control" as the way we manage government.

Third, we must give federal employees better tools for the job--the training to handle their own work and to make decisions cooperatively, good information, and the skills to take advantage of modern computer and telecommunications technologies. Fourth, we must make federal offices a better place to work. Flexibility must extend not only to the definition of job tasks but also to those workplace rules and conditions that still convey the message that workers aren't trusted.

Fifth, labor and management must forge a new partnership. Government must learn a lesson from business: Change will never happen unless unions and employers work together.

Sixth, we must offer top-down support for bottom-up decisionmaking. Large private corporations that have answered the call for quality have succeeded only with the full backing of top management. Chief Executive Officers--from the White House to agency heads--must ensure that everyone understands that power will never flow through the old channels again. That's how GE did it; that's how we must do it as well.