Don’t Hide the Issue

In the children’s movie, Robots, Rodney Copperbottom grows up hearing his role model, Mr. Bigweld, teach the world, “see a need, fill a need.” I won’t ruin the movie for you, but let’s just say that he ends up living this mantra out to its fullest. What I love about the movie (aside from its comical moments) is the inherent lesson we can all learn.

John Bernard, author of Government that Works: the Results Revolution in the States, sat down with Emily Jarvis on Emily’s Corner to discuss a similar piece of advice for government employees.

John Bernard is our Mr. Bigweld. He reminds us to return to the basics. However, his advice goes more along the lines of: “see a problem, talk about the problem.” A simple concept, but one that is often overlooked.

In 2014, reports surfaced that 40 veterans died while waiting for their appointments at a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical facility. Although there were a multitude of problems at the VA, the main issue was an organizational one. It was an issue that remained unresolved until the heath care backlog became national news.

Transparency could have helped the VA, before the situation became dire. Bernard referenced seven states in his book that are working on improving their accountability processes, as well as working on increasing their transparency from within. He found, “the need to eliminate the fear that hinders employees, at all levels, to share bad results or malfunctions in the system.”

In order to achieve transformation, first, Bernard said the government needs leaders to change the norm.

Bernard referenced John F. Kennedy by sharing the necessity of expressing a clear goal for all to follow. When Kennedy spoke about putting a man on the moon, Bernard said, “he set a very measurable goal and the statement set in motion one of the most expansive periods of technological development and job creation. It really had a huge impact on the nation.”

When leaders are clear with their employees about expectations, Bernard told us, we begin to create a new community of thinking. This new community of thinking should be based off of the understanding that govies have to discuss the problems. In turn, there should be a mutual understanding that employees are not reprimanded for sharing bad news. “Do not blame the people…look at the processes,” insisted Bernard.

Another key point to remember is to create a new cultural system for your employees to follow once an issue has been identified. Bernard reminded govies that the success of a changing culture is tied to the creation of “events where the new pattern of behavior is actually observed, rewarded, and appreciated.” By following through with the new open communication, leaders and govies alike, can expect to see a new pattern of behavior, new tools, and new mechanisms enacted which will continue to lead in eliminating the fear of sharing. Consequently, you will have a new culture that is not only willing to attack the problem, but will follow through with the necessary course of action to resolve the issue.

The amazing thing is this system has already been executed successfully in various examples. Bernard pointed out that the state of Washington set up a program titled Target Zero, which is meant to reduce traffic fatalities. The ultimate goal is to eliminate them entirely, but the clear mission helps employees understand where the agency is meant to go moving forward. Since 2000 to 2012, Washington has been able to reduce the number of fatalities from 658 to 439 by targeting high areas of drinking and driving, and particular timeframes to match up with the focus patrols.

So govies, go out and become the new Mr. Bigweld in your company if you are in a position of leadership and inspire a change in management. For other awesome govies, go out and be fellow Copperbottoms and make sure that the lesson will not be forgotten!


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