Since this is my first blog entry, I thought I would introduce myself and my organization first and then try to dodge all the tomatoes that may be thrown my way.
My name is Jeff Press and I am the Executive Director of the Center for Radical Improvement. The Center is dedicated to bringing passionate people together around radical ideas to solve big problems. We do this by providing alternative, retreat-like learning experiences led by inspiring new thought leaders, change agents and authors from around the country. We exist to constantly challenge conventional wisdom and common thought around the ways organizations typically try to improve. Our medium for disseminating this information comes in the form of retreats, breakfasts and workshops that are all very interactive and hands-on in nature. We don’t believe in trying to tackle any issue from 30,000 feet and we won’t bore you with big books of PowerPoint slides and tons of theory. Everything we do is driven by application and we encourage every participant to come with a project or process to improve at one of our events so they can apply all the tools in real-time. You can learn more about the Center at www.c4ri.org.
Now that my one paragraph “plug” is over, I thought I would jump right into what has been a hot issue for a while now, pay-for-performance. Many of my thoughts are directly in line with what Ken Miller talks about. Ken is one of our long-term partners and a long-time friend. He has authored two books, “We Don’t Make Widgets: Overcoming the Myths that Keep Government from Radically Improving” (published by Governing Press) and “The Change Agent’s Guide to Radical Improvement” (published by the American Society for Quality).
I would like to start off by saying that government does exist to make a “profit”, it just isn’t measured in dollars. Profit is the end-outcome measure for private sector organizations and that is the result they are looking for. If we said that government doesn’t exist to make a profit, that would mean that we weren’t here to achieve results. That being said, the “profit” that government achieves is far more important than money. It could be in the form of making our roads safer, creating neighborhood parks for people to enjoy or cleaning up the environment. In government, we need to focus on these issues as heavily as the private sector does on achieving their profit. And in the end, we need to share that profit with the taxpayers and our employees.
One of the ways we have tried to share our profit in government is through pay-for-performance or other monetary rewards and the assumption is that we can motivate people with money. You may be familiar with an article that came out in 1968 written by Frederick Herzberg called “One More Time, How Do You Motivate Employees”. In it, he states that you can’t motivate employees. You can move them to do what you want to do by supplying positive or negative reinforcements but that is not the same as motivation. Motivation is in intrinsic and comes from within. We need to be able to harness that mentality with each of our employees and set them up for success and that doesn’t necessarily mean giving them more money.
In all of the workshops we do, we ask our participants what drives them to get up in the morning and go to work. We have never received the following two answers “higher pay” or “easier workload”. That’s not to say that we can’t keep up with the times. Private sector organizations are making very attractive offers to the next generation to go work for them, and unfair pay is an extreme demotivator. However, the number one answer we’ve seen time and time again is “I want to feel like I’m making a difference”. People will often talk about how they didn’t join the government workforce to get rich. However, in reverting back to my previous point about how we measure “profit” in government, they certainly did join government to get “rich”, just not in the monetary sense. They get “rich” by seeing their connection to the end-outcomes their department or agency is achieving and knowing that they are making a difference.
Just like profit sharing in the private sector, we have to give government employees a stake in their profit. It is our duty to fix the systems and processes of government first, so they can see their connection to the end-outcome. If we don’t allow government employees to achieve their full potential by trapping them in dysfunctional systems we are doing them a disservice by not allowing them to achieve their “profit”. W. Edwards Deming said that 96% of our problems are system problems and 4% are people problems. Employees will only be able to produce what the systems allow yet all of the focus tends to be on the people which is based on the faulty assumption that improved individual performance leads to improved organizational performance. All work happens in systems and the systems are spread out geographically (cross-department or cross-agency) and often times we are unaware of all the connections, overlap and waste. In addition, we will often times give conflicting performance incentives where an incentive is offered to do something that completely contradicts the goals and objectives of the next person in the process. When we lose visibility of the system and the sub-processes, we lose our focus and because the systems in government are often tough to get our arms around (“squishy” or “intangible’) we try to improve what is most tangible, the people.
My final point is that monetary rewards are not evil. I would only caution you not to use them as your first step to improving employee performance. If you want to give monetary rewards to your employees that’s great, but fix the dysfunctional systems and processes first, allow them to see their connection to the end-outcome you are trying to achieve, and then, reward a project team or a special change agent with something extra.
I welcome your dissenting opinions, thoughts and ideas. However, I ask that you only throw one tomato at a time.