Starting is Easier Than Stopping


Bob Tiede (@bobtiede) writes on leadership at his website, www.leadingwithquestions.com.  On his list of ten questions leaders need to ask themselves, Bob has this nugget about change: “When is the last time I abandoned a program?”

Yikes! That is a tough one for us govies. We are skilled at identifying problems and developing solutions, which often involved developing some sort of a new service, AKA, a new program.  We certainly take feedback on these programs and modify them as we go along so that they are more efficient, or incorporate a new technology, or can be done a bit more cost-effectively. But it is a rare thing to completely abandon a program or a service once it is in place.

If we are honest, we are excellent at rationalizing our continued support for programs that have really run their course. We say that they still meet the needs of some people (although that universe of people might be very small, pushing the cost of service delivery per person into unreasonable level). Or we remember when the program was new and innovative, and maybe even won awards – but those days have long passed by. The reality is that sometimes we have self-identity wrapped up in a program, or there’s fear of causing someone’s job to change (or be lost) if the program is discontinued. The biggest fear of all, I think, is the fear of creating a public outcry or controversy, which is something that most public agencies work hard to avoid.

The problem here is that good governance takes tough choices and the courage to make them. Rather than avoiding change for the sake of avoiding conflict, we should lay out the reasoning behind our proposed changes, and involve stakeholders in our decision-making processes. If it is best that a program end, we make the business case and have the discussion with our elected officials and in our communities of interest.  Most controversy doesn’t come from the actual decision; it comes when we avoid the discussion about the change. So having that engagement before the final decision is a critical step.

Stopping one thing to start another is absolutely essential to letting our organizations evolve and keep pace with changing circumstances. It is unrealistic to think that our organizations can just continue to add new programs and never discontinue the old ones.  It is unsustainable, and perhaps even silly, to think we could.

Abandoning something we do now makes white space in our work time and resources to do the next important thing. It’s one trick from the private sector playbook that we should steal and bring into our public agencies in an intentional way.  Some questions I’m starting to ask:

  • Does anyone actually read and use this report we created?
  • What is the purpose of this workflow? What is the goal of this process?
  • What would we be doing if we had more time available?

Have you abandoned a program lately? Let me know on Twitter at @LoriSassoon.

Lori Sassoon is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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