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[This article is one of my favorites on quality in government. The copy I have has no date or evidence of original source of publications. My guess that the article was written around 1988 or 1989. --Tom Glenn] Tom Glenn ran the TQM BBS, which was moved to Clemson University for over ten years, until 2008 when it was closed and the Curious Cat site took over hosting some of the material.

Quality Improvement and Government: Ten Hard Lessons From the Madison Experience by David C. Couper, Chief of Police, City of Madison, Wisconsin

For the past four years, I have been working hard to implement a new way of thinking within the police department as well as within city government in Madison. This new way of thinking involves quality improvement methods similar to those used by many companies in the private sector, particularly in the manufacturing arena. These methods have been highly successful in providing not only better quality products and services, but have done so at a lower cost. Attempting to put these principles to work in the public sector--where the ever-changing world of politics often collides with the autocratic forces of the bureaucracies--has been a unique and challenging experience for me, more difficult than I would ever have imagined.

Although my progress has been slow and the path difficult, I believe more than ever that these methods apply to the public sector. It does require, however, some bridge building to see how Dr. W. Edwards Deming's 14 points apply to government. After all, who are the "customers" (citizens, employees, other departments)? How does the reduction in variation apply to service systems (can services-delivered be equated with manufactured products)? How do we eliminate the annual rating system (particularly when evaluation is part of performance pay)?

The answers haven't come easy for the private sector, nor are they easy for public agencies. With this in mind, the following are some lessons I have learned from my experiences of the past four years. I hope they can help others traveling the same road in government bridge the gap.

POLITICS IS LIKE WAR. WINNERS DON'T ACCEPT LOSER'S PROGRAMS EVEN IF THEY ARE GOOD.

Most newly-elected politicians attempt to negate programs and successes of their predecessors; even the good things they accomplished. They want, instead, to implement their newly proposed programs which they feel must be unique and different from those of the past administration. Every new administration (especially if the winner is from a different political party than the loser) starts as though it were the first, rather than building on past knowledge and experiences. It's as if every new explorer ignored the maps and journeys of their predecessors and had to personally explore the world and draw their own maps. In this kind of system, there is very little progress.

QUALITY IMPROVEMENT AND POLITICS DON'T MIX VERY WELL.

I don't believe they can't mix, only that they don't mix very well. Politics in America is very short-sighted-a year, two years at the most, is all good politicians will invest before they expect a "pay-off." Simply speaking, a quality improvement effort won't pay off in such short time periods. The irony is that good politicians must start doing this for our future. In the short term, quality should be implemented because it is the right thing to do. Quality improvement cannot be viewed as a particular politicians "program." If it is, it will last only the tenure of that politician.

IF LEFT ALONE, GOVERNMENT WILL MAINTAIN TRADITIONAL WORK SYSTEMS AT THE EXPENSE OF NEW AND BETTER WAYS OF THINKING AND WORKING.

Maintenance of the status quo at the expense of constant improvement is the single most stifling force in government. The nature of government has been to maintain the status quo. The trouble with this is that it leaves no opportunity for growth and improvement. Government has maintained a 19th century authoritarian work system despite a growing realization in the private sector of new and more effective ways of doing business. In bureaucracy, authority, technology, and specialization are more than people, creativity, and improvement. Many of the real problems of quality and productivity can be overcome by vision, leadership, a well-defined mission, teamwork, innovation, and constant systems improvement. These things are the responsibility of leaders, not workers; they are not things that bureaucracies do very well.

THERE ARE AT LEAST TWO KINDS OF POWER USED BY BOSSES: POWER BY FEAR AND POWER BY ENABLING OTHERS.

There are numerous ways bosses use power. Most of these work to empower bosses, not other employees. Using fear to get things done is the most common management technique in government today. It is easy to use fear tactics because our culture supports them--bosses order, workers do. It seems that simple. But is it the best way? Bosses who use fear have employees who don't talk to them very much and they receive very little information from the rank and file--information they need to make good decisions. Bosses who empower their employees treat them as adults, excite creativity in them as well as throughout the organization. There is an atmosphere of trust and respect between the people who work there and the organization's leadership. Leaders who empower others appear, from what I've observed, to have gained more power through this sharing process.

THERE'S AT LEAST TWO REASONS WHY BOSSES ACCEPT QUALITY IMPROVEMENT: FEAR OF FAILURE AND INTROSPECTION.

When bosses are afraid they may lose their job or the company may begin to falter, they will try anything--even quality improvement methods. The second primary reason I have observed is they have become introspective in their own right. They try it because quality seems to be the right thing to do. They are people who get excited about new ideas and seek out the best methods of running their organizations. Government has not experienced the kinds of crises that the private sector has had to endure. Therefore, for government to move forward and adopt this new philosophy, it will take leaders who are introspective, forward-thinking, and risk-takers.

EMPLOYEES DO WHAT THEY THINK THEIR BOSSES WANT MORE THAN BOSSES THINK THEY DO.

Employees watch their leaders more closely than anyone imagines. Employees key in on the negative as well as the positive things they do. Bosses set the tone and pace of the workplace. If the boss uses fear to suppress creative behavior it may be years before an idea surfaces again in their organization. On the other hand, bosses who encourage their employees to think and be creative are surprised at the results.

YOU CANNOT EXPECT UNIONS OR FRONT LINE WORKERS TO "CARRY THE TORCH" FOR QUALITY IMPROVEMENT.

Although implementing quality improvement methods is in the interest of all employees, the fear that permeates governmental organizations and the lack of power employees have makes it a mean trick to say that the quality revolution will start within the ranks of front line workers and their unions. Managers have hundreds of ways to block union efforts to improve the quality of work. It is a mistake to think that an organization can transform itself without employees and their leaders working together. Only by working together can quality improvement methods become a way of doing business in government.

THE GREATEST DETRIMENT TO QUALITY IMPROVEMENT IS "COWBOY" MANAGEMENT.

American managers have been trained to "shoot fast from the hip" and to take immediate action, with "six-guns blazing," even if it proves later to be the wrong course of action. The cowboy analogy goes further: cowboys work alone, they are strong, silent, macho, and always know what needs to be done. What cowboy management does is disregard the importance of the group, input from front line workers, the need to have mutual respect and trust between managers and workers, teamwork, facilitating open communications, and acceptance of women and minorities in the workplace. Cowboy management should be as out of date in the workplace as a cowboy in Manhattan.

THE SECOND GREATEST DETRIMENT TO QUALITY IMPROVEMENT IS THE WESTERN EGO.

By ego, I mean the "I" over the "we." It means hanging on to America's greatest and most damaging myth--that the individual is better than the team. This nation was built on teamwork, not individual, independent effort. The ego is particularly damaging to organiza- tions in the political world. We should always remember that few sports teams with the league-leading scorer go on to win the championship. It is teams with the best cooperation, harmony, and teamwork that take home the big prize.

IT'S A LOT EASIER TALKING ABOUT QUALITY IMPROVEMENT THAN DOING IT AND DOING IT IS A LOT HARDER THAN YOU CAN IMAGINE.

Talk is cheap. Trying things, trying new methods involves personal risk. This is a lesson I should have been wise to as a teacher. It was much easier for me to explain to my students what they should do than it was for them to do it. Once you take on the challenge to drive fear from the workplace, institute leadership, trust, respect and joy in work, the real task has only begun. Few are willing to take that risk--even if it seems to be the right thing to do. Once you decide to take the risk, seeing the results of your implementation efforts will take you much longer than you expected-maybe twice as long. It is a long-term, five to eight year effort.

Related:

Book by by David Couper and Sabine Lobitz - Quality Policing: The Madison Experience. David Couper was the chief of police in Madison, Wisconsin for over 20 years.

© 1996-2017   John Hunter
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