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Austerity and Innovation: (For/N)ever the Two Shall Meet?

In a recent GovernmentExecutive – Management Matters article, Jeffrey Neal makes a simple (in theory) yet revolutionary (in practice) argument: in this time budget restrictions and making more happen with less resources, leaders are in a perfect position to create innovation in their agencies. On all levels, innovative thinking can create major cost savings: from SES outlooks on down to us team members.

The Defense Logistics Agency, for instance, was able to transform its support services offices in less than a year using a combination of data-driven urgency and hard-driving leadership styles. They consolidated seven separate offices into two entities; revamped outdated processes and focused on what should be a core driver for all public servants: customer service. Many battles were had along the way, but the end result was undeniable: in a nan-second according to government time, one of the larger, more complex elements of a federal support agency was transformed and is producing amazing cost-savings to the tax payer. The DLA used poor results, not lack of funds, as its driver for change – but in this budget climate, bad results and little resources are more closely linked than ever. Who among us can still justify any programming without demonstrating its effectiveness?

Jeff’s example of the DLA’s new approach to IT Systems and Human Capital Management has a ton of lessons for us govvies: from knowing how to pick your battles, to how to fight those battles you pick tooth-and-nail, to how to take agency success and translate it as a best practice throughout the government: all great stuff to be sure. This innovation can’t have been an easy one to implement: those of us in the human capital realm know how silo-ed and standardized the field can be.

We spend a lot of energy trying to grasp on to what little funding we can, to justify our business as usual approach to, well, business as usual. What if agencies took this financial austerity as an opportunity to be leaner, meaner, and more streamlined in how we do business? Maybe this is a time to take a critical look at how things are done, and see how we can do better?

What are you and your agencies doing to turn austerity into innovation? There’s a lot of lip service to this idea that floats around government – but talk is becoming less and less cheap. I know there are some amazingly innovative initiatives out there: let’s hear ’em!

* The views expressed here are my own, and in no way related to my home agency or the federal government.

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