So it looks like a debt deal will be reached today.
No matter what the final legislation looks like, one thing is certain: there will be massive cuts.
And I've got to admit something - I'm excited about it.
You see, there are two responses in times of austerity:
- Retraction: Cut programs and personnel to preserve
- Reinvention: Come up with creative approaches to do more with less or to do something completely different.
The temptation for leaders in the coming months will be to focus on the first response while neglecting the second. But I firmly believe in the following statement:
Nothing sparks creativity like a lack of resources.
I would argue that now is a great time to do both: retract AND reinvent.
Here are three ways that government can achieve both:
1 - Buy out bored, biding-their-time employees. In a previous organization where I worked, there were a lot of retirement age employees who were dozens of very nice people that had spent their careers serving customers...but who were simply holding on to the job and not performing at previous levels. They were waiting for a more ideal date to retire, padding their pensions in the process. The organization offered buyouts to those employees in order to reduce staff size and achieve cost savings. I have no doubt that your agency, city or state government office is filled with these folks. And these budget cuts are a great opportunity to offer them an elegant exit into a well-deserved retirement.
2 - Abolish old (and new) buildings. In a previous post ("Mr. President: Tear Down Those Walls"), I said "Forget 'design.' Think 'destroy.'" Let's take a careful look at Federal building utilization and make tough decisions to eliminate and consolidate space. In my previous post, I outlined several reasons for this action (they reinforce silos, create long commutes, steal green space and suck energy), but I'd also add that demolishing old offices and denying new building requests could generate new ways of being: What if we set up co-working centers on a regional basis? What if we co-located employees based on function instead of agency? What would be the cost savings if we allowed more people to work remotely? These are the questions that every agency needs to start asking.
3 - Institutionalize incentives for creativity and opportunities for collaboration. Once we right-size staffing and foster new configurations of the working environment, the time will be ripe for re-thinking the way we think about performance. With fewer people and offices, "work" becomes less about job title and function and more about (virtually) assembling the right people for the right projects. We can think more about task accomplishment rather than time allotment. How can we scale the President's SAVE Award - maybe even mandating some variation of the process in every agency? How can we adapt programs like the Presidential Management Fellows (PMF) where employees with a proven skill or experience rotate from agency to agency to solve challenges or consult with key stakeholders to replicate their success?
So those are some of the reasons why I'm saying "bring on drastic budget cuts."
What do you think?
Are we in a moment of crisis or opportunity...or a bit of both?
What are your ideas for maxing out the era of austerity that is about to engulf us?