Doing things differently in government

Two weeks ago I managed to seriously fracture my humerus bone. I had to have surgery to put a titanium plate with 8 screws into my arm so that the bone could heal properly over the course of the next 6 months. While the benefit of having surgery after a fracture is not having to wear a cast, the discomfort and limited mobility is quite similar. After 4 days at the hospital I thought I was ready to go back to my regular routine (those that know me also know that inactivity is not exactly my friend).

Very quickly upon coming home I realized that my ability to do things in the same manner I did them before was not possible. This was an external factor (the fracture of my bone) that I had no control over. What I did have control over was and still is to figure out new ways of doing things to achieve the same outcome, or an even better one than before.

A few simple examples of things I have learned to do differently over the last 2 weeks:

  • floss with one hand
  • open med containers with my feet
  • put on a shirt with one hand
  • type even faster on my smartphone due to necessity
  • finally get around to using voice recognition on my smartphone (via the Dragon Dictation app)
  • create a dedicated ab-only workout routine as a workaround to the fact that I’m not allowed to strain any major limb muscle groups
  • really focus on breathing, relaxation and sleep as my health regiment since they usually tend to take a backseat when I’m busy with life
  • appreciate my wife at a whole new level as she took on the role of full time nurse in addition to her full time job
Yes my arm will get better, and yes this really is not that major of a hurdle. The reason I’m blogging about it is since I see a similarity to what is currently going on in government (i.e. fiscal restraint). The cutbacks are coming and everyone is worried about how they are going to get the same things done with less money . What everyone should be thinking about is how they are going to do things differently to achieve the same (or better) results given their handicap (i.e the external factor that cannot be controlled). I give full credit to my colleague and fellow blogger Nick Charney for bringing this to the forefront of my attention at a recent MARCOM committee planning meeting (coincidentally this was a few hours before my arm incident).
Certain technological elements are hopefully already on their way to being addressed as stipulated in my blog post on Shared Services. However the biggest gains are surely going to come from new behaviours, or rather, the “people” side of things. A few examples
  • Empowerment: The amount of pure “command and control” operations I have seen as a consultant for government in this town (Ottawa) is quite unfortunate. “The times they are a changing folks”. Empower your staff and you’ll be surprised at the results.
  • Untethered offices: If employees were trusted to work from home during morning rush hour alone, that would potentially save millions. Better yet, if employees were allowed to work from wherever they feel they could get the job done in the most efficient and effective manner, that would likely reduce the horrendous job dissatisfaction rate and above average sick-leave.
  • Open-data: Government needs to learn that in certain cases it’s better off acting as a platform and source of valuable info for other organizations instaed of trying to do everything on their own. See my blog post on “How using a marketing approach could help Open Data
These kinds of terms are hitting the public service like a ton of bricks (even the politicians have finally caught on). Are they being implemented? Not nearly as much as they should, however by necessity, they will over time.

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Jeff Ribeira

I feel your pain, Mike. A couple of years ago I had a similar reconstructive surgery on my left shoulder along with a full arm cast on the right. To say the least, it was tough, and similar to you I never would have been able to get through it without the help of my wife, friends, and a bit of modern technology (and I mean that literally and figuratively). It definitely gives you a different perspective on life and relationships though, that’s for sure. I too remember having to find creative ways to do what were once routine and simple tasks. I think you’ve got a pretty apt analogy going here with many governments facing similar challenges. It’s not ideal, or even really enjoyable to do it, but when you’ve got no other options, you do what you gotta do to survive.

Carol Davison

Yes as tax dollars dry up we need to change the way we conduct business. 1. Measure the results I produce in accordance with organizational performance goals. Stop measuring the hours I sit in the office. 2. Stop training on incentive awards. They are going to disappear with funds. Instead I suggest implementing a results only workforce environment. How can I get govloop to let them do a webinar?

Stephen Watson

Sticking with your analogy, I suspect you also did less during the last two weeks. With tighter budgets on the way, government managers should think about their operations to identify low value tasks and services that can be eliminated. Do less with less.

Best wishes for a speedy recovery. I don’t think government budgets are going to recover nearly as soon.