Archive for the ‘Public Sector’ Category

19 Lessons from the Affordable Care Act’s Roll-out

Monday, November 18th, 2013

There seems to be widespread consensus that the Obama administration’s roll-out of its signature Affordable Care Act (ACA) has been a nightmare. Although one may say that “hindsight is always 20/20,” the fact is that this debacle could have been avoided – or at least mitigated significantly. Simply stated, it seems that the people in charge failed to think through this enormous undertaking.

Organizations cannot optimize their performance unless they execute their projects successfully. Toward that end, here are nineteen lessons that leaders can learn from the ACA’s experience and apply to the implementation of virtually any large project:

    1. Create a clear “big picture” of the desired outcome, including users’ expectations of what it will do. Work backwards from that picture.

    2. In advance, gather ALL the people with relevant knowledge and expertise and have them collectively think through what it will take to develop and implement the project successfully. Don’t wait till things fall apart before you go back to ask the experts for their advice.

    3. Insist that ALL players/stakeholders be actively engaged and that everyone’s voice is heard.

    4. Make sure the end result is user-friendly by hiring “interpreters” who can speak the language of both the end users and the experts who are charged with creating the system or process.

    5. Conduct a pilot program with a small sample of the end users. This allows you to get valuable feedback, work out the bugs, and maximize your resources.

    6. Communicate truthfully, fully, and in a timely manner to clients and stakeholders before, during, and after implementation.

    7. Ensure the decision-makers are fully informed about short- and long-term consequences of the project as well as potential pitfalls.

    8. Test the system before rolling it out. Address the deficiencies and re-test. Do not go “live” until the system truly is ready for its debut.

    9. Have one or more experts or nay-sayers play the devil’s advocate role to poke holes in the implementation process.

    10. Create an implementation plan (vs. an action plan).

    11. Assign responsibility and create meaningful, timely consequences for non-performance.

    12. Set realistic timelines for progress and completion. Monitor them continuously and investigate promptly if they are not met.

    13. In the face of evidence that the implementation is not on track, stop and address the problems; do not insist on moving forward anyway.

    14. Make the roll-out process transparent to all stakeholders.

    15. Justify the costs at all stages of the project, beginning with the initial estimates and including any bid amounts. Closely scrutinize cost over-runs as they occur and take immediate action to stop or mitigate them.

    16. Make sure the costs are realistic: not extremely high or low.

    17. If you use a bid process, weigh expertise more heavily than cost. The lowest bidder is not necessarily the best choice.

    18. Don’t tell the experts how they must do the work. Tell them what outcome you need and let them determine the best way to achieve it.

    19. Put the right person in every job.

The above lessons can save you time, energy, and significant resources, not to mention keep your organization’s reputation intact. Many of them cost nothing to implement; others are likely to have a large ROI (return on investment). Why not apply them when developing your next large project?

© 2013 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

Sustainable Labor-Management Collaboration: The “Honeymoon” Doesn’t Have to End

Thursday, November 1st, 2012

Five months into his job, a newly appointed fire chief spoke enthusiastically about the forward momentum of his department, the support from his Board of Fire Commissioners, and the collaborative nature of labor-management relations. Yet during our conversation he twice raised a question that troubled him: is the current harmony between labor and management sustainable?

Although well-meaning colleagues acknowledged that his “honeymoon” period with the union was lasting longer than “normal,” they assured him that it must end. Their confidence in the inevitable deterioration of the relationship, based on their experiences, as well as his own previous negative labor-management experience in other departments, made him question the sustainability of his initial success.

Quite simply, this negative prognosis is wrong. Of course the harmonious relationship the fire chief has established is sustainable. There simply is no reason why it must end. In addition to the many things the fire chief is doing now to nurture and support key relationships, there are other techniques he can call upon to fortify and build on the strong foundation he has created.

Here are some of the things the fire chief has done or is doing that have enabled his success in creating an environment of collaboration between labor and management:

    – Created and communicated clear boundaries around what behaviors are and are not acceptable

    – Minimizes the likelihood of surprises by engaging in on-going communication with the union president

    – Does his homework when issues arise, and then speaks directly with the union president to discuss and resolve them so they do not escalate unnecessarily

    – Honors the expertise and creativity of employees and stakeholders by Inviting them to participate in on-going conversations about how best to achieve the department’s mission

    – Listens to the responses he receives, considers the feedback carefully in making decisions, and incorporates it as much as possible

    – Shares information freely and honestly with others

    – Continues to expand the circle of leadership down into the organization

    – Uses the best interest of the community as his touchstone for decision-making

    – Treats others with respect whether they agree or disagree with him

Here are some techniques I suggested that the fire chief might consider using to ensure the sustainability of collaborative labor-management relations:

    – Look for successes and opportunities rather than dwell on failures or challenges

    – Change the conversation to focus on the level of public safety being provided rather than on where to cut resources

    – Ask purposeful questions that require actionable responses – e.g., instead of asking, “Can we do XYZ?” ask, “How can we do XYZ?”

    – Re-awaken employees’ sense of purpose and passion for their work by asking them to remember why they joined the department, and to recall the hopes, dreams, and aspirations they had for themselves and the organization

    – Identify what things he can and cannot control, and focus on those that he can influence

My prediction: by staying on the path he has chosen and perhaps adding a few techniques such as those described above, this fire chief not only will defy his colleagues’ prognosis, he and his employees will create a sustainable culture of harmonious and productive labor-management relations that will continue long after he has retired. This outcome can only serve his community well, both now and in the future.

Who says the honeymoon has to end?

© 2012 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

14 Common Mistakes Made by New (and Not So New) Fire Chiefs

Monday, October 29th, 2012

After working with four new fire chiefs over the last six years, I’ve noticed some dysfunctional patterns of behavior that, if not corrected, have a significant negative impact on the new chiefs’ ability to create and maintain their departments’ forward momentum. Based on my observation and experience, here are fourteen of the most common mistakes:

    1. Setting a poor example by making self-care a low priority

    2. Answering the questions asked (e.g., “How will you cut your department’s budget?”) instead of changing the conversation by asking their own questions (e.g., “What is the level of public safety you wish to provide the community?”)

    3. Missing opportunities to educate the community and decision-makers about the impact of budget cuts on public safety

    4. Communicating what the department does rather than focusing on the value it provides

    5. Creating time management nightmares for themselves by consistently scheduling back-to-back meetings

    6. Reverting to their firefighter training and instincts when they feel overwhelmed

    7. Maintaining a task focus instead of developing a strategic orientation

    8. Trying to accomplish too much right away

    9. Responding immediately to all requests

    10. Failing to identify and enforce clear boundaries and priorities

    11. Neglecting to schedule regular time for reflection and strategic thinking

    12. Delegating ineffectively or not at all

    13. Not holding others accountable for lack of results

    14. Maintaining a rigid command and control structure in a dynamic environment that requires situational agility and the widespread sharing of information among all employees

© 2012 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

Storytelling: Key to Organizational Success

Sunday, September 30th, 2012

Do your employees and colleagues share stories of individual and team successes as a matter of course? If not, your organization likely is falling far short of its potential greatness. Among other things, stories demonstrate clearly shared values as well as desired behaviors and results that are rewarded.

Several years ago, while attending a funeral service for a firefighter who had died in the line of duty, I overheard one firefighter say to another, “We don’t seem to tell stories about the great things we do except at funerals.” This comment caught my attention in part because I knew that these firefighters and their colleagues were frustrated because the public, politicians, and administrative decision-makers don’t know what they do. Yet their practice is to downplay their successes, brush off expressions of gratitude from those they help, and keep their stories to themselves. Instead of sharing their experiences, in effect they are story hoarders. So it’s no wonder that the public is uninformed.

Storytelling doesn’t have to be complex or describe superhuman feats. To the contrary: some of the most compelling and inspiring stories I’ve heard involve very simple acts that had tremendous results. Stories are a very powerful way of showing who you and/or your organization are, and what you stand for.

One of my favorite stories involves a female paramedic called to the scene of an incident at which her male colleagues were unable to help the patient, a homeless man who was belligerent and refused to allow them to treat him. She walked over to the man and asked him, “How can I help you today, sweetheart?” The man broke down in tears and said, “It’s been years since anyone called me that.” The paramedics then were able to treat the man. This simple act of kindness embodies the care and compassion that is characteristic of this agency. Yet I would be willing to bet that only a handful of people have heard it.

If storytelling is not an integral part of your organization’s culture, here are three compelling reasons why you might want to change it:

    1. Sharing stories serves to socialize people, establish norms, and demonstrate the behaviors and results that the organization values.

      As a new employee at FedEx in the late 1970s, I was told the story about a courier who was rewarded
      for hiring a helicopter to deliver a package by 3 p.m. after an avalanche closed the road to the customer’s home. The lesson I took away: the company valued
      risk-taking, and rewarded those who took its commitment to outstanding customer
      service seriously.

    2. Stories demonstrate in concrete ways the value that people provide day after day.

    The story about the female paramedic is one of hundreds of stories I have heard during
    the years that I have worked with clients in the fire service that demonstrate how, in
    large ways and small, its members serve the public. Sharing those stories, especially
    when times are tough, or you’re so caught up in the weeds that you can’t see the
    larger picture, can help to re-establish perspective and remind you of why you do what
    you do, whatever your occupation.

    3. Stories help organizations and their employees define and celebrate who they are and what they stand for.

    Human beings generally like to feel that we are part of something bigger than ourselves.
    Stories show us what makes an organization great, who it is when it’s at its best. If
    you’ve forgotten, I invite you to think back to the time that you were hired by your
    organization. What were your hopes and dreams for your future, and that of your new
    employer? Tell yourself your story of what made the organization attractive to you, and
    what your aspirations were. No doubt you will re-discover what it was that brought you
    there in the first place.

In short, organizational success depends heavily on the stories its employees are willing to share with each other, and with the world. You can spend a lot of time telling new employees how important the organization’s values are, and what the behavioral expectations are. Or you can rely on true stories to convey the message in much more powerful, succinct ways.

When is the last time you shared one of your stories?

© 2012 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

The Paradox of Self-care Teleseminar

Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

Would you like to be able to focus your energy and attention in ways that enable you to inspire greatness in yourself and your organization? Paradoxically, it is only by taking care of ourselves first, by religiously making ourselves our top priority, that we are able to shine, to provide exceptional service to others, and to achieve our purpose in life or our mission at work.

Recently I addressed this topic in a one-hour teleseminar called “The Paradox of Self-care: Inspiring Greatness in Yourself and Your Organization.” During the call we covered topics such as:

    o Creating a YOU-centered life
    o Developing and sustaining the mindset required to make yourself your top priority
    o Using language to transform your world
    o Breaking through obstacles that prevent you from living your passion
    o Inspiring yourself and others to greatness

If you are interested in learning how to make YOU your top priority so you can inspire yourself and others to greatness, I invite you to listen to my teleseminar. Then let me know what you think!

© 2012 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

Language Leads to Results – But Maybe Not the Intended Outcome

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

This morning’s L.A. Times reported that so many Los Angeles city employees were watching the streaming video of yesterday’s Olympics on city-owned computers that administrators feared the system would crash. In response, the city’s chief technology officer sent an e-mail “imploring” employees to stop watching the Games on-line. Specifically, she was quoted as saying in an e-mail sent to city employees, “We are experiencing a high volume of traffic due to people watching the Olympics online. I respectfully request that you discontinue this as it is impacting city operations.” (Emphasis is mine.)

What was she thinking? Aside from ignoring the fact that taxpayers don’t expect to pay city employees to watch the Olympics (as was pointed out by some City Council members who saw the memo), the language she used was all wrong. Why? Because when you “request” someone to do something, you are giving him/her the option to NOT comply. In this situation, not only is there a real danger that the City’s “struggling” computer system could crash if the on-line viewing continues, but allowing employees to watch the Olympics on the taxpayers’ dime is unethical if not illegal. So why would you ask someone “respectfully” to perhaps consider stopping behaviors that have such potentially dire consequences?

If the intention is to have city workers stop watching the Olympics on the city’s computers, then administrators need to tell them to stop it – immediately. The language must convey the urgency of the message and the degree of choice (if any) the recipients have, and it must specify the desired action. For example, “Effective immediately, all City employees must use their computers for work-related purposes only” conveys a high degree of urgency, removes any element of choice about whether or not to comply, and describes the desired action.

The bottom line: if you expect people to behave the way you want or need them to, you have to communicate clearly and specifically exactly what you want. Otherwise you may be waiting a long time for a result or behavior that will never happen.

© 2012 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

Recognition of Excellence in Leadership: Malcolm Quillen

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

I’d like to recognize the exceptional job that is being done by one of my clients, the Georgia School Nutrition Association (GSNA), in investing in the future of our country. Comprised of school food service professionals in the state of Georgia and associated with the national School Nutrition Association (SNA), the GSNA’s mission is to advance the availability, quality, and acceptance of school nutrition programs as an integral part of education. These dedicated professionals truly understand the importance of educating the public about the critical role of good nutrition, and they are committed to ensuring that school children get the nourishment they need to shine educationally.

At the national association’s annual conference this month, Malcolm Quillen, the GSNA’s 2011-2012 President, was one of three state presidents recognized and honored for his extraordinary leadership during the year he led his organization. The SNA President’s Award of Excellence recognizes state association leaders and their organizations for their extra effort to achieve excellence in five key areas: membership development and retention, professional development, legislation and regulation, communication and outstanding state initiatives. By partnering with corporations and other organizations, GSNA has been able to leverage its resources far beyond what it could have achieved on its own. Malcolm was tireless in his advocacy of good nutrition, and his passion inspired others to follow his lead. He has worked with other leaders at the national and regional levels as well as at the state level, and has led efforts to institutionalize nutrition-related practices through legislative action. If you would like to learn more about the wonderful work done by the Georgia School Nutrition Association, I encourage you to visit its web site.

Congratulations Malcolm! You set the bar very high for your team, and inspired and enabled them to reach it. You also worked hard to ensure your colleagues will be successful in meeting or exceeding it in the future. With dedicated professionals like those in the GSNA, the school children in Georgia have very bright futures – and by extension, so do we all.

© 2012 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

City Governments are NOT in the Job Preservation Business

Monday, June 25th, 2012

Last month the Los Angeles Times reported that in an effort to avert layoffs of city workers, local labor leaders accused the mayor of waging a “war against women” because the proposed layoffs, part of a plan to close an estimated $238 million city budget deficit, would affect female workers disproportionately. One leader was reported to have said that the city “,,,is remiss in not factoring in how cuts might affect its gender balance.” Several days later, an editorial in the Long Beach Press-Telegram opined that these labor leaders were greatly overstating the seriousness of the situation. In a twist that defies logic, the editors then re-framed the situation as a fight between “reproductive freedom” and “religious freedom.”

Both pieces completely missed the point, which is that city governments are NOT in the business of preserving the jobs of their employees. Broadly speaking, their mission is to provide a reasonable level of public safety and create an infrastructure that will enable people to live, work, and visit there. Although creating jobs may be a by-product of carrying out their missions, city governments do not exist either for the purpose of creating jobs, or of preserving jobs they no longer need or can afford.

Having said that, city governments ARE obligated to honor the processes in place for firing employees. Often those processes are spelled out in union contracts and must be negotiated because they affect workers’ terms and conditions of employment.

When the economy is good and city revenues are robust, politicians tend to expand the number and types of services provided to include those that are “nice to have.” The public wants these additional services, and politicians who depend on their constituents’ votes to keep their jobs are glad to oblige. As the number of services increases, more city workers are hired. Salaries and benefits, including pensions, become a larger percentage of city budgets. People get used to the additional services, and as long as taxpayers continue to foot the bill, politicians are happy to supply them.

However, this symbiotic relationship is disrupted when the economy takes a drop. City revenues fall, often dramatically, so that at the same time that there are greater demands on public services, there is less money to pay for them. Something has to give. In a service-based economy, there are few alternatives to reducing or cutting services, which means the people who provide them are no longer needed.

The question comes down to this: should taxpayers continue to pay the salaries of city employees who, through no fault of their own, are no longer providing the services they were hired to perform? Though the workers are willing and able to continue to carry on, cities no longer can afford to pay them, and politicians cannot justify asking taxpayers to fund their continued employment – especially when many of those taxpayers are themselves out of work.

There are no easy answers here. City workers who lose their jobs must find other ways to support themselves and their families. Like their counterparts in the private sector, they face a very tough job market. There is no denying the toll this situation takes on individuals and families. The reality is that city governments are not in the business of preserving the jobs of their employees. In fact, politicians have a fiduciary responsibility to ensure that taxpayer money is NOT spent on services that no longer are provided. City leaders do, however, have an obligation to negotiate the terms and conditions under which workers will be terminated. They may move the now-displaced employees into other jobs for which they are qualified, help them find other jobs outside the city, or let them go. City governments simply are not in the business of preserving jobs for their workers.

Going back to the situation in Los Angeles, it makes no sense to use the gender of city workers – or any other demographic characteristic – as a criterion for deciding which services to cut and which ones to retain. In fact, making employment-related decisions based on those criteria is illegal under federal and state laws. From a human perspective, it is gut-wrenching to tell people that economic conditions have resulted in cutbacks that will cost them their jobs. Yet to assert that the city has an obligation to keep people on the payroll when their jobs have disappeared simply is not true. Preserving jobs for city employees who can provide services no longer being offered simply is not part of any city’s mission.

Instead of trying to divert attention from the real issue – even when the diversions represent legitimate concerns – labor leaders would better serve city employees and taxpayers if they spent their time seeking viable alternatives to the layoffs and, failing that, negotiating fair separation agreements for their members.

© 2012 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

The Power of a Strengths-based Approach to Organizational Strategy

Monday, April 30th, 2012

Winning the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of its unparalleled public service is emblematic of the vision to which one of my clients aspires. While this may seem ambitious, wait till you hear this: the client developed this vision in spite of the fact that it is a public sector agency whose budget has been decimated over the last 3-4 years, with no relief in sight. Yet while the politicians who make the financial decisions focus on slashing services to meet the available resources, leaders of this organization are articulating a bold vision.

What in the world are these leaders thinking? Have they lost touch with reality completely? To the contrary: in fact, they are totally in touch with the reality of how taking a strengths-based approach to developing a strategy for their organization’s future can ignite the imaginations of employees and stakeholders, compelling them to reach heights they previously had not even considered.

Rather than dwell on weaknesses and things that suck the life out of their employees, leaders of this agency have chosen to identify its strengths and the core factors that make it what it is, that give its employees life, and that energizes them. These leaders have chosen to begin with the end in mind, creating a picture of unparalleled public service that is made possible by focusing on the agency’s strengths and successes. They now are developing the action plan for a strategy that will take the organization from where it is today to the heights to which it aspires.

Will this agency really win the Nobel Peace Prize? It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that regardless of how many or few resources it is allotted by the political powers-that-be, the organization will look far differently, perform at much higher “altitudes,” and provide measurably greater levels of service simply because its leaders chose to aspire to the outcomes made possible by the organization’s strengths and successes rather than to focus on what services they should cut due to the budget shortfall.

Our reality is whatever we do with the hand that we are dealt. So let me ask you this question: does it make more sense to you to build a future by focusing on your organization’s strengths and proven successes, or by dwelling on how to provide minimal services? Which option will get your organization to its “Nobel Peace Prize?”

© 2012 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

Public Safety: Top Priority or Collateral Damage?

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

During the first few years of the economic downturn, police and fire departments across the country often were protected to the extent possible from budget cuts, layoffs, and furloughs. After all, isn’t public safety a core function of local governments? More recently, however, that automatic protection has been removed – as arguably it should be. However, in their zeal to cut their budgets, politicians and administrators seem to have gone from one extreme to the other in how they treat these agencies – and by extension, the services they provide. Instead of being a top priority, public safety suddenly seems in danger of becoming collateral damage in the political budget cutting process.

By “political budget cutting” I mean a process in which politicians and administrators resort to ineffective resource allocation tactics such as engaging in “proportionate sharing” or choosing to retain programs and services that are popular with constituents but non-essential, instead of setting priorities and making the tough decisions that they were elected or hired to make. One reason why the proportionate sharing tactic is ineffective is that it lumps essential and non-essential services in the same basket, and subjects them to the same percentage cuts without considering the fact that providing public safety and infrastructure are the only reasons government exists, whereas things like staging parades or providing pretty hand-printed proclamations to constituents are not core government functions. If public safety is, in fact, the top priority of a city or county government, then why do those whose job it is to allocate resources treat it exactly the same as they treat services that clearly do not represent life and death matters?

I am not ignoring the fact that public safety costs represent a major component of many, if not most, local government budgets. There is no question that the levels of fire and police pensions have become unsustainable in many areas. (At the same time, let’s not forget that when pensions are negotiated through a collective bargaining process, as most are, both parties have to agree to the terms and conditions of the contract. Public sector employees are not the “bad guys” simply because they accepted the very generous pension and benefits terms their politicians offered them.) It is clear that unsustainable public sector pensions must be addressed. More immediately, however, let’s focus on how we can ensure that public safety is treated as the top priority by politicians who must cut budgets, rather than as collateral damage.

Everyone has a role to play to ensure that public safety is treated as a top priority rather than becoming collateral damage. Here are a few suggestions:

Fire departments and police departments:
– Educate the public and decision-makers about what you do, how you do it, and most importantly, the impact your actions and choices have on public safety. Things that are obvious or second nature to you because your training is in the fire service or law enforcement are not on the public’s, or too often the politicians’, radar screens. You have a moral responsibility to educate people on the likely consequences of actions that affect public safety. Don’t make them find out through experience. And don’t allow politicians to hide behind the excuse that they didn’t know what the consequences would be.

– Educate your stakeholders in ways that are personally meaningful. By that I mean, describe to them specifically what the impact on public safety will be if a given service is taken away, or delayed, or partially provided, or reduced in quality. For example, one of the proposals in Long Beach is to reduce the number of firefighters on engines from four to three. Some people seem to think that this is a reasonable to response to budget cuts in tough times. Those are also the people who have no idea how that change affects public safety. Citing dozens of studies that show why this idea has a serious negative impact on safety is not helpful in making your case. Instead, explain the likely consequences in personal terms so people can “get” it. Few people know that if they are trapped in a burning house and an engine with only three firefighters arrives on scene, federal law prohibits those first responders from entering the house until a fourth person shows up. It’s your job to tell them.

Politicians and administrators:
– Instead of focusing primarily cutting dollars, begin by deciding what level of public safety you choose to provide to the community. To do otherwise is to shirk your responsibility and put the public in jeopardy. Articulate that decision clearly to the public. Tell your law enforcement and fire service managers what you want the public safety “picture” to look like, and let them inform you what resources are required.

– If the necessary resources are not available, ask your public safety experts for options that come with clear explanations of each one’s impact on public safety. For example, how is “actionable” response time affected by each option? (By “actionable” response time I mean the amount of time it takes for officers or firefighters or medical personnel to arrive and take immediate, effective action to resolve the emergency, not merely the amount of time it takes for them to arrive on scene and wait for additional personnel and/or equipment.)

– If you SAY that public safety is your top priority, make sure your decisions and your actions match your words.

– Prioritize the services you choose to provide given the available budget. I am NOT advocating that public safety comprise 100% of the budget – far from it. Quality of life is an important issue that should be considered in the mix. The question is, where should it rank on the list of priorities relative to public safety?

The public:
– Lean about what public safety providers do to keep us safe, what changes are being proposed, and how those changes will impact the safety of our communities.

– Consider the big picture. Times are tough, and government isn’t able to afford all the “nice to have” services it has provided in the past. Decide where public safety should be on the list of priorities.

– Ask questions – of public safety officials and of politicians and administrators. Engage in constructive dialogue with others in the community.

– Let’s not forget that politicians are in office because a majority of those who voted cast ballots for them. It’s up to us to speak up and tell them what level of public safety we want and are willing to pay for.

– Become active advocates for what we believe, and back up our beliefs by voting for politicians whose actions match their words. If they are acting out of personal interest rather than out of the community’s interest, it’s up to us to hold them accountable and vote them out of office. Otherwise we are enabling their “me first” behaviors.

The bottom line is that public safety is everyone’s business. We all have a stake in ensuring that our communities are safe, and each one of us has a role to play. When any one party abdicates its role, especially in times of extraordinarily tight budgets, public safety is in danger of going from top priority to collateral damage. It’s up to all of us.

What will YOU do?

© 2011 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.