HomeBlogUncategorizedIt May Not Be Sexy, But It’s Necessary – The One Big Thing That Gets in the Way of Success for Government Leaders

It May Not Be Sexy, But It’s Necessary – The One Big Thing That Gets in the Way of Success for Government Leaders

As a government Executive or senior leader, you are elected or appointed to “get things done” on behalf of your citizenry.  

This blog is to promote AWARENESS of a critical aspect of getting things done that commonly challenges government leadership, the ability to execute, which can be a game-changer for what can be achieved.

Execution is the process of successfully connecting a Leader’s goal, initiative, or strategy to HOW the work performed by business units and the people within them, so that the desired result is achieved.

 Yet governments are difficult environments in which to execute successfully:

  1. It can be very difficult to sort, organize, and prioritize among the countless demands for time and attention from multiple sources, such as customers, governing bodies, operating units, political officials, and of course, the crisis du jour – all asking to be addressed in addition to the daily mission-work of government with the same resources. 

  2. The priorities and timelines of elected officials and social policy executives often differ from the requirements of effective execution, which are operational in nature. 

  3. Leaders, who tend to change more frequently than staff, must navigate the static bureaucracy’s “ways of doing things,” priorities, and the scarcity of skills and tools for analysis and change.

  4. Government leaders may not be selected, nor taught to execute effectively.  This skill is often not considered when appointing leaders in government.

  5. Leaders often do not know how to (or feel comfortable to) engage units outside of their area of authority for support to do work that depends upon the cooperation of external entities.

  6. Bureaucratic staff may not be practiced or skilled in adapting to changes that deviate their daily patterns to implement new initiatives, nor in adopting changes that result from leadership initiatives.

These truths of government can easily mislead and wear down the best-intentioned government leaders – which results in incomplete and poorly executed initiatives that do not successfully achieve the desired outcome, and in turn feed the cliché that governments can’t deliver.

Mistakes in government also take a long time to correct due to resource constraints and a commonly static culture.

Below are examples of common government initiatives to create improvement that are unable to overcome challenges with execution.

Type of Project Example Challenge Result
Technology projects. A Director-led initiative to automate a government-wide paper-based process that he oversaw. As the director of the department, he unilaterally selected the software and vendor and worked with them to implement the software and train staff.

· Not taking the time to plan the project properly before taking action.

· Lack of engagement with customers and staff to define the problem to be solved with technology.

Government leaders relied on the vendor to provide leadership in areas that belonged to the government.

· Automated bad business practices.

· The system created rework because it was not properly integrated with other technologies used in the process.

· The system was difficult for users to understand and to standardize efficiency.

Initiatives that require cross-department or cross-agency activity to be achieved and sustained.  A Director-led initiative that created an inter-agency council to share critical information across the organization by meeting monthly.

· No executive champion to highlight the importance and authority of the initiative.

· Buy in to the approach was not gathered from sister agencies.

Pre-defined expectations by the Director prevented open dialogue from others that would create viable outcomes.

· The initiative and staff were disbanded without results achieved, but with significant resources expended.

The sister agencies lost tolerance for collaboration even though the need for it remained.

Initiatives that require change and new practices to be sustained across business units and within business units.

An executive-led “stat” initiative that requires unit leaders to periodically discuss performance in a specific area.

A Director-led initiative to improve overall performance that uses weekly senior meetings with divisional leaders to discuss the issues and identify actions to address them.

· Executive/Senior leaders allot less than half a day each year to review plans and assure results.

· Leaders at all levels struggle to make accountability changes in staff who are not performing.

Leaders and staff are often not prepared to lead the required culture change in how staff engage, and process changes in how work is performed in the Divisional units.

· People perform new activities by rote and quickly as possible so they can get back to their perceived work.

Unit leaders report only positive results without real engagement about the challenges they face.

All these initiatives generated some benefits, yet the challenges faced by government leaders got in the way of them achieving their intended goals.

But governments can deliver!  Government leaders CAN create deliberate and measurable results

The key is to execute initiatives in a way that reveals how to achieve success.

 The picture below illustrates the steps that must be taken to reach any goal and fulfill any initiative.

Successful execution links what a Leader wants to get done with a process of exposing reality and acting on it.

The solution to poor execution begins with Leaders being AWARE of the connection between their actions and the results that are achieved.  Next is to take the steps to Execute effectively.