Visual Management in Government

Shaping Space for Success: The Power of Visual Management by Stewart Liff

Visual management can help your agency deliver better service. Combining performance management, human resources management, organization design principles and fine arts shapes your environment to positively influence your employees and improve overall performance.

Take a moment to look around at your workspace. What do you see? Unless you’re at the Pentagon, you likely see a typical government office with people situated in workspaces that are bland, uninspiring, not particularly functional, and rather non-descript. There are probably few, if any, references to the organization’s customers, mission, or history. There are probably no more than one or two areas that celebrate the work of the employees. Finally, it’s likely that very little performance data, at either the group or individual level, is posted throughout the organization.

There may be pictures hung up on the walls in the work areas or the hallways. They may be of flowers, landscapes, or the local area, or exhort the value of teamwork. All told, no one pays much attention to them. Most people are not particularly proud of their work area and rarely—if ever—bring family members around to show off their office.

Does this sound harsh? Perhaps, but this is what I’ve seen during my career as a federal employee and consultant to the government. Given limited budgets, frequent changes of direction, typical government bureaucracy, and other challenges, the workspace ambience is a low priority. It rarely inspires anyone, shares information, shapes the outside world’s view that the agency is doing well, or promotes improved performance. That is where visual management can help you.

Imagine Inspiration from Your Work Space

Imagine working in an organization where the space is designed to support integration and alignment of organizational systems; that helps people feel, see, hear, and touch your mission, vision, and values. It is a space that makes employees feel proud and inspired to improve performance; it highlights key information in ways that cannot be ignored; it simplifies and improves the way information and results are delivered; it keeps people focused on the real mission and goals of the organization; it highlights organizational purpose; it clarifies the core work of the organization; it focuses attention on performance, and addresses performance issues at many levels; and makes the work more meaningful and fun! That is what visual management can do and has done in a number of government and non-government settings.

To see the entire article, go to: http://www.thepublicmanager.org/docs_articles/current/Vol41,2012/Vol41,Issue01/Vol41N1_shapingspacefor.pdf

This article is reprinted with permission from the Volume 41 Issue 1 of The Public Manager © 2012, The Bureaucrat, Inc

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David Dejewski

This is a great idea! I’m already thinking of ways I can post customers and other inspiring things on my walls.

What is it about the Pentagon that you consider different? Sure, there are cool displays in the hallways (which one could spend hours exploring), but actual work spaces are like any other.

Henry Brown

Worked for an organization which had procured a 32″ monitor and placed it in the working area. It displayed a “real time” dashboard representation of the progress of a major project. It had a significant impact on most levels of management because it provided them with a real time status instead of having to sit through the 30 minute PP presentation…. It seemed to be less of motivation for the team members, some of us rarely saw the real time dashboard because we worked in a different office and have heard from other’s that it got to be something that they didn’t pay much attention to.

Stewart Liff

In response to Dave’s comment, thank you for th ekind words.

The Pentagon has some remarkable displays that really connect employees and visitors to the history and mission of the military. That is what I was referring to. Beyond that however, they do not leverage the space as well as they could. There are few if any employee displays, little performance information posted, etc. My point was that they have a great beginning but a lot more could certainly be done if they tried an integrated visual management approach that also included the employees, performance information, accountability, etc.

I would be happy to discuss this further with you if you would like.

Stewart Liff

In repsonse to Henry’s comment, posting performance data works best when the employees know what it means, have a stake in it (e.g. appraisal and rewards), frequently discuss it and can influence the data. Otherwise, it doesn’t amount to much. If yan organization does this well and then adds the other visual managment elements, that’s when the concept will really change the organization’s culture and performance.