We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them. Albert Einstein
Effective immediately, I am no longer doing Continuous Improvement projects. Sorry – I.just.can’t. Yes, ‘continuous improvement’ is in my job title and in my division’s title. No, I am not quitting my job.
Decades of Improvement…initiatives
With the help of our awesome Legislative Library I did some research about improvement programs in Minnesota government. ‘Continuous improvement’ has been in existence in some form as far back as 1913 (103 years!). Here are a few examples:
- 1913: Governor Adolph Eberhart created the “Economy and Efficiency Commission.”
- 1963: Governor Elmer Andersen created “New Dimensions for Minnesota.”
- 1978: Governor Rudy Perpich created the “Governor’s Task Force on Waste and Mismanagement.”
- 1983: Governor Rudy Perpich created the “Commission on the Reform of Government.”
- 1991: Governor Arne Carlson created the “Commission on Reform and Efficiency (CORE).”
- 1999: Governor Jesse Venture created the “Big Plan.”
- 2004: Governor Tim Pawlenty created “Drive to Excellence.” (In late 2007, this is program that started my division.)
- 2010: Governor Mark Dayton created “Better Government for a Better Minnesota.”
Why the long list? This is not to show that any of these initiatives didn’t work. Each was relevant at the time and had its own merits. These programs come about in various administrations for two main reasons:
- Near term issues that are unique to that particular (political, social, economic) climate. That’s a good thing.
- There hasn’t been enough sustainable success in integrating continuous improvement work into state government culture. That’s a problem.
We Solve Problems That Change Lives
When I meet with leaders across the 24 cabinet-level executive branch agencies, I ask them if they have any problems they’d like to solve. We don’t talk about improvement methodologies like Total Quality Management, LEAN, Six Sigma, Lean Six Sigma, or any specific tools. My team and I listen, learn, and then work to solve the problem. We do still use continuous improvement methodologies and tools. We stay with the project, even managing implementation if needed.
We’ll still count the number of people we train. We’ll still keep track of our improvement work, project by project. But we’ll measure our success by the success of the government services problems we solve. The ‘business’ problem is our problem. A recommended improvement idea doesn’t count if it doesn’t get implemented.
The near-term issues are many. Here are a few sample of ones we are facing today: increasing performance expectations, shrinking workforce, aging population, public pressure for greater accountability and transparency, increasing customer expectations, declining or static budgets, increasing employee retirement rate. These are all problems that need to be solved.
People are still coming in to work each day to ‘do continuous improvement’. One doesn’t come to work and say, “Today, I’m going to do diversity!” or “Let’s go do some HR!” Please stop making continuous improvement an ‘event’ and start making it part of the natural way everyone looks at solving problems in their agencies. Then, when the next Governor arrives, s/he will be able to focus on current, near-term issues impacting Minnesotans, knowing government staff are ready to continue improving services.
FYI: original published here on LinkedIn June 3, 2016